This infographic explains the meaning and the origin of the word ‘avyakta’ (unmanifest) and it’s connection to the spiritual path and spiritual enlightenment.
Avyakta is a Sanskrit word. The verb root present here is ‘anj’ (a~nj), which means smear with, anoint, to apply to ointment or pigment.
The word ‘anjana’ which means kajal, a pigment applied to the eyebrows to blacken them comes from this verb root ‘anj’.
Kajal makes the eyebrows distinct and well defined. Once applied, the eyebrows become more manifest with clearer boundaries.
The word ‘akta’ is an adjective, which also comes from the root ‘anj’. It means ‘smeared’.
When you add the prefix ‘vi’ to ‘akta’, it becomes ‘vyakta’; vyakta means anything that is manifest, defined and has a boundary. Anything that can be observed or witnessed through sense organs and mind and by the awareness is vyakta or manifest.
The word ‘vyakti’ means identity, person, distinct or defined. It also comes from the same root. When you identify yourself as a person, you automatically feel separate from the universe. According to Vedanta, this sense of separation is the cause of the psychological suffering.
Avyakta is the opposite of vyakta. Avyakta is the undefined and boundlessness. When you lose the sense of separation, you realize that you are avyakta. You realize that this avyakta is the only truth there is. Avyakta is synonymous with absolute reality, Brahman, Tao, Satchitananda etc. When you realize you are that, you no longer identify yourself with a person, a mind or body, or anything that is manifest or defined. If anything has any definition or seen as distinct from the rest of the world, avyakta is not seen anymore.
Avyakta is like the screen of infinity where the everchanging manifest world is being played. It is the unmanifest which manifests itself as distinct objects or things. The essence of anything that is manifest is the unmanifest or avyakta. The objects on a screen doesn’t have any separate existence other than the screen itself.
Tat Tvam Asi – You Are That
For more elaboration of this screen analogy, read the following links:
Your life is the most beautiful mystery
And the screen which plays your private history;
Your life is the truth, consciousness, and bliss
That can’t be pointed out as that or this.
The life screen is the only truth you know;
All that are manifest move in its show;
This essence of life is your true nature;
Knowing this ends the distress and torture.
The one truth that pervades the time and space
Shines in the heart and showers love and grace;
By the veil of darkness it is concealed;
By nonstop inquiry, it is revealed.
That one truth is called by various names;
Deep inside you, it eternally flames;
It is the immortal life and the way;
Look inside, you can find its sparkling ray!
From the dawn of life, seers have seen this
And were reborn by its transforming kiss;
Unless you’re reborn as a wide-eyed kid,
It remains tucked away by a dark lid.
Those who mourn will be appeased by its shade;
Their craving thirst will be killed by its blade;
Those who cleaned their heart are blessed by its touch;
The mere words can convey only this much.
Neither moth nor rust can impair this truth;
None can steal it and none can cause your ruth;
No spade can cut it and fire can’t burn it;
Water can’t wet it and wind can’t dry it.
The birds of the blue sky don’t sow or reap;
About tomorrow, they don’t grieve or weep;
Like those blissful birds, you can become free
Then You’re not the wave, but the boundless sea!
Listen to this good news and wipe your tears!
Wake up from your dream and destroy your fears!
The guiding good shepherd is inside you
As a light that shines with a golden hue!
Whoever has ears, let them hear this song;
With their friends and foes, let them get along!
The kingdom of heaven is filled with love
where the peace descends on you like a dove!
Bhavacakra or Bhavachakra, known as the wheel of life is painted in the Buddhist temples in Tibet and India. It is a symbolic representation of the wheel of life.
Here is the gist of Bhavacakra:
- Ignorance of mistaking non-self as self-leads to aversion and attachments.
- This, in turn, leads to volition, action and the pleasant or unpleasant consequences of the actions.
- Depending on the consequences, a person enjoys or suffers the fruits of his action.
- The 12 nidanas give a clear picture of dependent origination. It states that everything is interconnected with various casual links. Nirvana or liberation is the only thing which is not affected by dependent origination.
- The five aggregates are impermanent and clinging to them causes suffering.
- There is a way to get liberated. It is called as eightfold path.
This is a mandala and can be used for meditation. To know more about the mandalas, read the following posts:
- A Shamatha Meditation Based on Symbolism, Visualization, Mnemonics and Classical Conditioning
- The Truth About Yantras, Chakras, Temples, Tantra and Agamas
(I will make a detailed video about this shortly. Subscribe to my Youtube channel to watch the videos in time: http://bit.ly/shanmugamy )
Here are some useful infographics which give the details about various aspects of Bhavacakra mandala.
(You can also interpret these realms as the periods of your current life. For example, a person might be in any of the following realms for a few months:
Sometimes we are like devas, very happy and pleased;
Sometimes like asuras, even though happy we don’t feel content and this leads to craving, attachment and aversion;
Sometimes like humans, being more responsible and showering love to friends, families and others;
Sometimes like animals, just eating and sleeping;
Sometimes like a hungry ghost, deprived of our needs and feel totally dissatisfied, frustrated and helpless;
Sometimes like beings of the hell, going through extreme suffering that seems to be endless.
The idea is to convey that none of these states are permanent and a proper spiritual practice is the only way to find permanent bliss in life.)
I have started uploading videos on Youtube on a regular basis, in order to help spiritual seekers who are truly seeking self-realization. I would like to inform this to the regular readers of this blog so that they can take advantage of it.
Here are some of the recent videos that I have uploaded:
Videos regarding Spiritual Enlightenment:
Sadhana Chatushtaya – Fourfold Qualifications for a Spiritual Seeker
The following video addressed a very important but forgotten concept in non-dual traditions. I have given a detailed speech regarding ‘Sadhana Chatushtaya’ and I will be soon writing a post regarding that.
Conversations About Spiritual Enlightenment
This is a series and it has casual talks addressing spiritual seekers regarding various topics. These speeches address the friends I have, who have been reading this blog and my Quora answers. This video series will address many things discussed in this blog, including some questions asked by the readers regarding the spiritual path and spiritual enlightenment.
There are some older videos too. You can watch them on my Youtube Channel here:
In this post, I am going to address a very important topic. Because there is a certain misunderstanding that exists among the spiritual seekers when it comes to logic and reasoning. Many blind followers of certain cults accept whatever nonsense that is said by their leader as the truth; They do not want to use their reason for any reason at all. So, I am going to address the following question in detail: What is the place for logic and reasoning in spiritual path?
Is it completely absurd to use your nature-given reasoning when it comes anything uttered by your so-called Guru who has a long beard and claims to be enlightened?
Everything has a place and use in life and also has its limitations. You cannot use your eyes to pick up things and you cannot use your hands to watch a movie! Anybody who is even debating if the hands are better than eyes or vice versa is being completely childish and immature.
So, why do certain Gurus keep saying that you cannot use logic to figure things out on the spiritual path? Because it is true in certain situations but not applicable to every nonsense you hear. Here are some reasons why reasoning alone will not help:
- Lack of premise
For any logical conclusion, you need a premise. For example, consider the following statements:
- There is smoke coming out of that house.
- Therefore, there is possibly a fire burning inside the house.
Statement #1 is the observation. Statement #2 is the logical conclusion you came up with based on the observation. But what premise is this conclusion based on? The premise is, “If there is smoke, there must be fire”.
So, the following two things have to be kept in mind:
- Without necessary premises, you may be missing the knowledge of something important. Without that knowledge, your conclusions could be wrong. If you think that smoke doesn’t need fire to exist, then you will not be able to infer that there is a fire in the house (after seeing the smoke).
- If the premise is wrong, your conclusions will be wrong. This is bound to happen even if your explanation is completely logical.
If you are not spiritually enlightened or self-realized yourself, you will misunderstand the behavior of an enlightened person. Because you will be interpreting his behavior while assuming that he is still functioning in duality or with a separate sense of self. You cannot understand how it feels like to function without a sense of separation when you yourself are bound by separation and duality. Why so? Because an important premise is missing here; only spiritual enlightenment can give that premise because the premise is not something intellectual; it is experiential. Read this for more info: Is Spiritual Enlightenment Known or Experienced?.
Only when you live as a liberated person, you understand how an enlightened person perceives the reality. This understanding is the premise you need to logically talk about that unaltered, unclouded, impersonal, unified, authentic non-dual experience of reality that lacks a sense of separation, sense of psychological time, sense of psychological lack and a self concept . Here, the problem is not with logic itself; the problem is just the absence of premise. You need to first work on getting to know the necessary premise before you can meaningfully and accurately talk about it.
Let me give you an example to make it even clear. A stomach pain is experiential. But you can logically talk about stomach pain to another person because you have experienced stomach pain and the listener has also experienced it. If you have not experienced stomach pain before, you lack the necessary premise to talk about it. Read this for more clarity: Why Is Spiritual Enlightenment Indescribable?.
2. You cannot think your way to enlightenment
When it comes to spirituality, the means to liberation involves meditation. Meditation is of two-fold: 1) Practices that are designed to develop concentration, discrimination between the witness and the witnessed, non-attachment etc. They make you completely prepared. 2) Insight-oriented practices which are called by many names such as mindfulness, self-inquiry etc which is a non-doing, inquiry and observation based meditation.
So, just thinking about enlightenment or analyzing a verbal testimony that attempts to describe non-duality will not clear any of your doubts. If you come to conclusions about the nature of non-duality only based on thinking alone, it will be wrong. Because, as we saw already, you are missing out on an important premise.
3. The spiritual practice is not about anything objective.
Here, by the word objective, I am talking about anything that can be observed with your awareness: the shape and color of the dog, the smell of bullshit, a thought, a feeling, a physical sensation etc.
In spiritual practice, our main interest is not on anything that is objective. You are supposed to first realize that there is a self-evident, attribute-less, pure conscious experience of reality in which everything that is observed has an ontological existence. And this is the pure subject. As for as your experience is concerned, it is like a screen of pure conscious experience where the world along with matter, time, space, movement, non-movement etc happens. In the Jain philosophy, the witness, along with matter, time, space, movement and non-movement are called as dravyas. These six substances are considered as eternal. But this is not contradictory to the two fold truth of Purusha and Prakriti. The five substances apart from the witness are nothing but the further enumeration of Prakriti. The movement and non-movement already represents rajas and tamas respectively. Jain philosophy eliminated sattva because it is just a balance of rajas or tamas. Instead it added time, space and matter. These differences are not a problem since they are just working models which are used in spiritual practice. In fact, instead of 6 dravyas, one can try coming up with more numbers. This is how 24 tattvas in Samkhya, 36 tattvas in Kashmiri Shaivism, 6 koshas in Vedanta and 5 aggregates in Buddhism are defined. They are just enumeration of basic units of one’s conscious experience. I have explained more about it here: The Truth About Yantras, Chakras, Temples, Tantra and Agamas.
In Sanskrit, this witness is called as Atman. There is another meaning for Atman which is spirit. But in many spiritual traditions, people did not use that word to mean ‘spirit’ at all. In fact, the actual meaning of the Sanskrit word ‘Atman’ is ‘Self’. The sentence ‘he saw himself in the mirror’ is translated as ‘sah darpane Atmanam pasyati’ in Sanskrit. Here, Atman is declined in objective class as ‘Atmanam’. But this word is translated as ‘soul’ in English, which actually gives a wrong meaning. Because, soul in English is always associated with a spirit or some invisible entity that lives in the body. But in Jain philosophy, Atman is just a witness.
“That which is the soul is that which knows, that which is the knower is the soul, that by which one knows is the soul”
– Acharanga sutta – 171 (A Jain text of 5th-4th century BCE compiled based on the teachings of Mahavira.
Here in 6 dravyas of Jain philosophy, the witness is the subject and the five other substances are objects. When you are thinking about something, your thought is certainly dealing with something that is objective. Even if you think about absolute reality, it is still objective because you are only dealing with a concept that is imagined or cognized in your mind. Above all, the thought process which is employed here is also objective because you can observe it.
Spiritual practices like self-inquiry require being a passive witness to everything that is objective; When you do that, you don’t identify yourself with the thinker but see the thought process as separate from the space of pure awareness in which everything is happening.
Here, your intellect actually plays an important role in helping you discriminate between the witness and the witnessed. But the practice of witnessing or self-inquiry itself doesn’t require a contemplative thought process or a series of logical steps. It just requires a choiceless awareness of your mental processes. So, an obsession with thinking or analysis will make you miss the point and stop you from doing meditation at all.
Anekantavada and Seven Valued Logic In Jainism:
Have you heard contradictory statements in the context of spiritual enlightenment similar to the following?:
- a) There is free will; b)There is no free will
- a) You cannot do anything to be enlightened; b)You have to do many things to be enlightened.
- a) You are already enlightened; b) You are not enlightened.
- a) There is self; b)There is no self.
How do you resolve these contradictory statements? What if I told you that both a) and b) are true in each case? In a way or in some sense, both are true.
I will explain it completely. Before that, take a look at this infographic:
Blindmen and the Elephant:
“A group of blind men heard that a strange animal, called an elephant, had been brought to the town, but none of them were aware of its shape and form. Out of curiosity, they said: “We must inspect and know it by touch, of which we are capable”. So, they sought it out, and when they found it they groped about it.
In the case of the first person, whose hand landed on the trunk, said: “This being is like a thick snake”. For another one whose hand reached its ear, it seemed like a kind of fan. As for another person, whose hand was upon its leg, said, the elephant is a pillar like a tree-trunk. The blind man who placed his hand upon its side said, “elephant is a wall”. Another who felt its tail described it as a rope. The last felt its tusk, stating the elephant is that which is hard, smooth and like a spear.”
This story is a very famous one and present in almost all the spiritual traditions. Now, the question is, is the elephant’s tail same as the elephant itself? In some sense, they are the same and in some sense, they are not. Each part of an elephant is a distinct feature and points to one specific aspect of an elephant. Jain tradition calls it ‘Naya’. A naya is a partial presentation of the nature of the object and is relative. But ‘Pramana’ is a comprehensive presentation of an object and it is absolute. Here, the elephant is the pramana and its leg is a naya.
Let us say you are looking at a real elephant right now. Is the elephant that you see this moment the same as the elephant you see the next moment? In some sense, yes but in some sense, no. In a practical sense, it is the same elephant that you have been staring at for the past few minutes. But in reality, the elephant which was present one second before and the elephant which is present now is not identical because some change has taken place there.
Does a self-exist? A solid, concrete self doesn’t exist when you look at it objectively. At any point in time, what you observe in your consciousness is an ever-changing phenomenon which includes thoughts, emotions, sensations etc. Each of them has an independent existence as they arise and pass away. The same occurs in the body. Your body 24 hours ago is not identical to your body right now, because, certain things have disappeared, certain things have appeared and certain things have changed locations in the body. So, whatever you call as self can only have momentary existence because the collection you refer to as ‘self’ doesn’t exist in the same form the next moment. But Self as the underlying pure awareness hasn’t changed even a bit. If you call this awareness as Self, it does have a continuous, unchanging existence.
So, Self as the substance or essence exists continuously as awareness. But self as a form only has a momentary existence. Because, the next moment, you have a slightly different form. Jain philosophy calls the substance as ‘dravya’ and the form as ‘paryaya’. So the correct answer to the question ‘Does a self-exist?’ would be this: In a way, self-exists; in a way, it doesn’t exist.
But the problem with such two-fold description is that it usually ends up getting misunderstood. This is very true when it comes to spirituality. The language cannot faithfully convey the true ontological nature of anything. So, in a way, it is also indescribable and this has to be conveyed along with the two-fold description, making it a three fold one.
With what we have seen, we can come up with three different premises which are equally true:
- In some sense, self exists.
- In some sense, self does not exist.
- In some sense, it is indescribable.
Apply the same to free will. Does free will exist?
Certainly, you aren’t a robot. At every moment, there appears to be a choice. So in a practical sense, free will does exist as it appears to exist for everyone. But does free will really exist?
Think about any action that you decided to do today. Did you have complete control over the decision you made? It appears so. Ask yourself, ‘Why did I do that?’. Today I went to a movie. Why did I do that? Because I felt bored. Why did I feel bored? Because the television was not working today in my home, due to some technical problem. Why was there such a technical problem?
When you inquire this way, in two or three steps, you will reach something that you had no control over. I did not have any control over my television set going bad.
If you think about it, you would see that you have no control over even what the next thought of yours is going to be. What you think the next moment is based on what your brain spots as a retrieval cue or something that needs to be reminded to you. If your boss scolded you harshly yesterday, you would be getting those thoughts many times today. This way, each and every reaction is tied to a previous cause or a co-related factor which has a previous cause. There are countless such interlinked cause and effect relationships in the universe which cannot be traced back to its origins. Because past means infinity.
Every decision you make has its roots in multiple factors that you had no control over in the first place. In fact, everything happens according to the natural laws that govern the universe. You can’t decide anything against the natural law; because your decision itself is controlled by nature.
People keep asking me if one becomes like an autopilot after enlightenment. What makes you think that you are not in auto-pilot right now? But talking about this is kind of tricky because people usually misunderstand it. Saying that you don’t have a free will gives a nihilistic view or a pessimistic view. But that comes from a misunderstanding. Because in some sense, you do have a free will.
With what we have seen, we can come up with three different premises about free will which are equally true:
- In some sense, free will exists.
- In some sense, free will does not exist.
- In some sense, it is indescribable.
Each of the above statement is a ‘naya’. It expresses partial truth but incomplete by itself. But the complete and comprehensive truth or Pramana cannot be put into words; it has to be seen or understood by yourself.
The concept of free will is tied to an idea of a separate, personal self. So, you get a complete picture of the nature of the free will only after enlightenment. Because enlightenment removes the sense of separation or duality from the equation.
With these two examples, we get the following basic format. (Replace anything with the word ‘that’:
- In some sense, that exists.
- In some sense, that doesn’t exist.
- In some sense, that is indescribable.
As I said, the above three statements are equally true and each of them convey the truth from one point of view only. So, each statement is incomplete by itself. But when we accept these three statements as true at the same time, then it is possible to come up with four more statements based on these three premises. Logically, all the seven statements should be true as they are based on these original three premises:
(1) In some sense, that exists. (syadasti).
(2) In some sense, that doesn’t exist (syatnasti ).
(3)In some sense, that exists and that doesn’t exist (syadasti nasti ca ).
(4) In some sense, that is indescribable (syadavaktavyah).
(5)In some sense, that exists and is indescribable (syadasti ca avaktavya sca ).
(6) In some sense, that doesn’t exist and is indescribable ( syatnasti ca avaktavyasca) .
(7) In some sense, it exists, it doesn’t exist and also indescribable (syadasti nasti ca avaktavyasca).
This sevenfold logic is called as Saptabhangi vada. The statements you see in the brackets are the Sanskrit translations. Notice that each sentence starts with ‘syad’. The word ‘syad’ generally means ‘maybe’ but in this context, it means ‘In a way’ or ‘In some sense’. That is why this doctrine is also called as syadvada.
The bottom line is that, when you don’t have the complete picture that gives you the absolute truth about anything, any verbal description of that would be only partial. So, multiple statements stated from different points of view are needed to even get the slightest hint of what the complete picture might be. Because of the requirement of such multiple statements, the doctrine is also called as ‘Anekanta vada’, which literally means ‘many-sidedness’.
When you hear contradictory teachings, this doctrine will remind you that it appears to be contradictory only because of the verbal expression. It is just an inadequacy of the language. So, rather than getting confused, this doctrine will remind you to work towards your liberation so that you can get the direct perception of the truth. Until you see the elephant, don’t insist that what you are holding is the complete truth about the elephant.
Experiencing the reality non-dualy and living a life without a sense of separation is something indescribable. If a person hasn’t gone through a spiritual transformation and has not gained knowledge of non-duality by experience, then he wouldn’t understand it by any amount of verbal communication.
He is missing an important premise that would allow him to logically analyze the non-dual experience of reality. Only self-realization can give him that premise. If he tries to capture the nature of non-dual reality without experiencing the reality that way, then his conclusions would be similar to the conclusions drawn by the blind men about the elephant.
A spiritual seeker is like a blind man, who is groping in the dark and trying to follow the rays of light that are sometimes visible, which may lead him to the ultimate liberation.
For such a blind spiritual seeker, spiritual teachings may seem contradictory to each other just like the conclusions of the blind men seemed contradictory to each other. But those contradictions seem to exist simply because of the lack of a complete picture. Once the person acquires the vision to see the elephant there won’t be any contradiction.
So, it must be understood that these seemingly contradictory descriptions of non-duality are given to compensate for the lack of the complete picture. Each one of them is true in some sense but each of those contradictory descriptions in isolation is incomplete by itself. It is similar to how saying that an elephant looks like a pillar is an incomplete description but true in some sense (as the leg of the elephant is like a pillar.) This doesn’t in any way mean that there are multiple truths.
I wrote this post for two reasons:
- Recently, I have been getting many questions which are all about how life and the experience of reality are going to be after spiritual enlightenment. Well, that is something that you have to see for yourself. Don’t try to grasp it with the mind, it won’t happen.
- When I write anything critical about some modern-day gurus regarding their misleading statements, I get a response from the guru’s followers saying that I am using logic to analyze those statements (as if it were a sin). Here is what I want to say to them:
a) Just because it is related to the spiritual path, that doesn’t mean that there is no room for reasoning at all. Using your reasoning is especially necessary when you are depending on a guru in someway, who has the potential to exploit you economically and psychologically. If a guru tries to convince you that doing a free labor for his organization or donating a huge fortune to them will somehow favor your spiritual growth, you need to certainly use your brain. Whatever I have explained above is not an excuse to be dumb and intellectually lazy. In fact, intellect plays a very important part in helping you to understand spiritual teachings and also to discriminate between the witness and the witnessed.
b) I do have the necessary premise to talk about non-duality because I am not living in duality anymore. So, I can very easily detect odd, misleading and nonsensical things said in the name of spirituality.
c) People need to understand the difference between something which is illogical and something which is beyond logic (something for which you don’t have the necessary premise).
Here is an example of something illogical:
1)all crows are black.
2)all crows are birds.
3)Therefore, all birds are black..
Now, if you try to make an 8-year-old boy understand about sexual pleasure, that is beyond his current level of understanding, simply because he has not experienced sexual pleasure. So, he cannot use logic to understand it until he experiences sexual attraction. (this is what I called beyond logic or to be more precise, beyond his current level of understanding).. Once he is 15 or 16 years old, he will understand. After this understanding, he can use logic to discuss it with other people who also know about it. Because he has a new premise now, based on his experience.
A Yantra is nothing but a map for meditation. The map can be used externally to build temples and internally to practice Yoga. A Yantra represents something called a Mandala.
Here is a raw skeleton of a simple Mandala:
If you want to construct a room only for meditation (certain Tantric meditations that I will discuss shortly), you can construct a beautiful room with this map. The circle at the center is a place for an idol or a statue. This statue itself should be designed in a way so that each aspect of the statue represents a deep meaning. This central idol is surrounded by three small idols around it. The idea behind such a place is to create an emotional association with meditation by decorating this room, playing melodious songs, by making it a practice to take bath before entering the room etc. When you meditate in this place every day, just looking at the map or mandala can trigger a meditative feeling in you or make you ready to meditate. It can capture your attention in a minute and change your thought flow to something that is advantageous to meditation. This works based on something called ‘classical conditioning’.
If you want another example for classical conditioning, then do this: think about the days when you fall in love for the first time, wear the same kind of perfume that you were wearing in those days and listen to the song that you heard often those days. It will remind you of those beautiful days. This can be used to your own advantage. This is the science behind Yantras and temples. It is based on psychology, not based on physics or chemistry.
There is also a kind of meditation that you would do with these yantras and the temples modeled using Yantras. Let me first give you a model of another simple Yantra here:
It has four surrounding deities instead of 3. This was actually the very common form of design when people started to use these things in the very beginning. Because these four surrounding deities represent four directions. Almost all religious groups in ancient India including a lot of folk religious practices had deities for directions. These deities were simply absorbed into Tantric practices as devices. This also helped those religious practitioners to convert their superstitious religious sentiments to a psychological device.
Here is an example of Vajrapani mandala in Vajrayana Buddhism following the same model:
First, I will explain how you meditate based on this Yantra. You have to visualize yourself as the central deity and visualize the four deities of four directions as the extensions of yourself. This is the basis of Vajrayana and Tantric meditations. With more practice, you can visualize the mandala quite accurately.
You can make it more effective by constructing a temple using this mandala. When you fill the temple with unique sense perceptions like lamps, smell of camphor and flowers, chants etc and keep the place free from other distractions, then doing tantric meditations in such a place will gradually associate all these sense perceptions with meditation itself. So, an exposure to even one of this sense perception will be helpful to a great extent by changing the course of your thought stream and making it inclined towards meditation.
The energy you feel when you enter such a place comes from your own body and not from the mandala. Because a rush of emotions certainly affects your body as much it affects your mind. (When a teacher enters a noisy classroom on the day when you forgot to do your homework, does the energy of sudden fear you feel come from the teacher or happen in your own body?).
During the Vedic period, there were no temples or idols. Temples emerged as the result of people who started practicing these meditations in the late 1st millennium BC, probably a couple of centuries after the period of Buddha. Almost all Shiva temples are built with Shaiva Agamas and all Vishnu temples are built with Pancharatra or Vaikhanasa agamas, which are Tantric agamas that deal with these things in detail. (Sri Ramanuja played a major role in promoting Pancharatra. He replaced Vaikhanasa with Pancharatra in Sri Rangam temple and most of the other temples too. Tirupati temple is an example of the temple which follows Vaikhanasa agamas).
The beauty of such mandalas is that, the people who created it made sure that each aspect of it has a deep spiritual meaning. So, this accomplishes another purpose as well, by acting as mnemonic devices. When you understand how it works, you can take advantage of all the benefits it offers.
For example, Pancharatra has a concept of Viyuha in which there are four deities: Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna, and Aniruddha. Here, Vasudeva represents the Purusha or Shiva or the absolute; Sankarshana represents Prakriti or Shakthi; Pradyumna represents the mind (your likes and dislikes) and Aniruddha represents ahamkara (ego). In some tantric texts, nine deities are used instead of four: (1) Vāsudeva, (2) Saṅkarṣaṇa, (3) Pradyumna, (4) Aniruddha, (5) Nārāyaṇa, (6) Nṛsiṁha, (7) Hayagrīva, (8) Mahāvarāha, and (9) Brahmā.
But just buying a Yantra and keeping it in the home will do nothing. You need to understand what each aspect of Yantra represents and use it for meditation after completely understanding the design, the purpose and the pointers that the Yantra represents. Because all these are psychological.
But there is another purpose for Yantras which is the most important one. After some point, you should start seeing your own body and mind representing a Yantra. You understand yourself as a living temple and locate each deity at a particular place in your body.
Let us take the above image as an example. This is a Shatkona, my favorite one. The symbol has two triangles.
- The regular triangle represents the absolute and each side of it represents Sat, Chit, and Ananda which means truth, consciousness, and bliss.
- The inverted triangle represents Prakriti and her three states or qualities: Sattva (balance), Rajas (activity), Tamas (inertia or lethargy).
The union of these two triangles represents the union of Purusha and Prakriti, which is actually the essence of non-duality. So, this star is a perfect symbol of spiritual enlightenment itself.
If I have to use this mandala for a temple, then I would need 7 deities, one for the central deity and 6 for the surrounding ones. If I were to internalize these 7 deities then I would need 7 locations in the body. When you are in a cross-legged sitting position, how would you divide your whole body starting from your butt to your head into 7?
This is how you can do it. There is no other way! This is the truth about chakras.
Do you know that initially there were only 4 Chakras and not 7? I will tell you why.
Before the common era and during the late first millennium BC, there was no concept of chakras. But people did have a concept about Nadis. They thought that there is a Sushumna Nadi in the center. People believed that when a person dies, his spirit exits through one of the nine holes of the body. They also believed that if the spirit goes upwards through Shushumna Nadi and exits the body by breaking the top of the head, he will go to heaven. That sounded reasonable to them because if the heaven is somewhere above, then spirit should move upwards. Many texts talk about voluntarily moving the soul or spirit through Shushumna Nadi at the time of the death to make sure that the person reaches the heaven. They called this practice Utkranti. Utkranti was also used to mean traveling from one body to another. It is this Utkranti which is called as Mahasamadhi in modern days.
The concept of chakras actually emerged much later. Chakras are just an attempt to internalize the locations and deities of a mandala or a yantra. It developed just a 1000 or 1200 years before, between 8th century AD to 10th century AD.
- Hevajra Tantra, one of the Buddhist tantric texts during the period of 8th century AD talks about just 4 chakras. The reason they chose four is quite obvious. It is because most of the early Tantric mandalas were based on four directions and assigning 4 deities to each direction. In Buddhist tantras, the following four deities called ‘four heavenly kings’ were used in meditations. The concept is same as the four forms used in Pancharatra. So, during 8th century AD, they internalized these four deities as four chakras in the body.
2. Kaulajnananirnaya which contains the core teachings of Matsyendranath describes a system of 11 chakras. This text is also from the same time period. Please note that Matsyendranath is one of the yogis who is quoted by Sadhguru often. But Sadhguru himself doesn’t know that Matsyendranath talked about 11 chakras and not 7.
3. Abhinavagupta, a great mystic of Kashmir Shaivism had adopted a five chakra model.
4. Sat Chakra Nirupana, another Tantric text talks about a six chakra model.
This is how slowly the system evolved into the current system of seven chakras. They are conceptual and were only meant for visualizations. But it is this concept of Chakras which has become a huge business in the world today.
Here is a picture of Kali Yantra:
First of all, What do these 36 corners represent?
During 8th – 6th century BC, people were interested in going inward to find a way out of suffering. When they explored and enumerated the contents of the consciousness, each sect or group of monks came with different numbers as indivisible entities of one’s conscious field… Buddha came with five and called it five aggregates. Vedanta also came up with five and called it five koshas. Samkhya came with 24 units or tattvas by including sense perceptions, sense organs, organs of actions (hands, legs, speech, excretion, reproduction) and five elements. This way of enumerating the contents of consciousness and coming up with these basic units continued for about 1500 years. Kashmir Shaivism, which is the youngest of all ( which has influenced Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev a lot ) came with 36 basic units. They are called as 36 tattvas. The 36 corners of this yantra represent 36 tattvas.
Each unit was like an atom of the internal world. Vaisheshika, a school of thought in India is called as atomism because it enumerated the contents of consciousness this way and divided them to inseparable things called ‘anu’. But this has been greatly misunderstood by people. There are people who think that these anus/atoms are the actual atoms that we study in Physics.. No, not at all!
Let me explain how this enumeration works. Let us say you look at a tree. You can explore the tree and enumerate its units by dividing the tree into its parts, narrowing down to its molecules, atoms, electrons and quantum particles.
But this is not what we do in spiritual practice. In spiritual path, this is how people see it:
1)When you look at a tree, there is a perception of a form. But where does this perception happen? It happens within the field of consciousness. So, a visual sense perception is actually one of the 36 units.
2)This visual perception is accomplished through eyes, hence eye as a sense organ is also one of the 36 units.
3)Is what is perceived a solid, liquid, gas, the heat which reacts with these three or the empty space in which it occurs? It is a perception of a solid structure. And this solid nature is made as one of the 36 units too, making it as one of the Panchabhutas.
4)Now, what kind of feeling does this perception create in the consciousness? It may create like, dislike or a neutral feeling. This is called manas and it is also one of the 36 units.
5)Does this perception trigger a memory? Oh yes… So memory or Chitta is also one of the 36.
6) What did I use to discriminate all these things? I used my intellect. So intellect or Buddhi is also one of the units.
7) Who is doing all this? It is just happening but it gives you an illusion that ‘you’ as a personal entity separate from the existence is doing it. This is ego or Ahankara is also one of the 36.
This way, people enumerated the contents of consciousness which was helpful for them to discriminate between the awareness and the contents of awareness.
So, this enumeration has got nothing to do with physics or chemistry as many people tend to believe. It is a process of deep investigation of the contents of the field of your conscious subjective experience itself.
The central Bindhu in the Kali Yantra or the central Linga in the Linga Bhairavi yantra represents the Atman, witness or your true nature. The 5 inverted triangle around the Bindu represents the Vedantic way of enumeration which is 5 koshas. They represent your body, breath, your mind, intellect and experience/bliss.
The eight lotuses represent Prakriti or nature and symbolize another way of enumeration. The eight things are solid, liquid, gas, heat, space, activity, inertia and balance. This is a bit outward focused and was probably added to symbolize the nature as we observe it through our five senses. A meditation using this Yantra will require a very complicated visualization.
I can go on and on and explain why Yantras have played a very important role in the spiritual history and how useful it is in meditation. Because using a Yantra has multiple purposes:
1)Taking advantage of classical conditioning and easily get into a meditative state.
2) Mnemonics to remember certain core pointers.
3) A map to construct temples.
4) Helps in the ‘doing’ oriented meditation like Shamatha, Ashtanga yoga etc because of the requirement of complex visualizations.
5)Prepares the ground for ‘non-doing’ oriented meditation: self-inquiry/mindfulness. This is the most important part. Everything that is done in a spiritual path is done to prepare oneself to the direct approach towards spiritual liberation.
When a seeker asked Ramana Maharshi about Shri Yantra, he replied very beautifully with no mumbo jumbo or nonsense:
19th April 1937
A respectable and orthodox gentleman asked about Sri Chakra.
Ramana Maharishi: It has a deep significance. There are 43 corners with sacred
syllables in them. Its worship is a method for concentration of
mind. The mind is wont to move externally. It must be checked
and turned within. Its habit is to dwell on names and forms,
for all external objects possess names and forms. Such names
and forms are made symbolic mental conceptions in order to
divert the mind from external objects and make it dwell within
itself. The idols, mantras, yantras, are all meant to give food to
the mind in its introvert state, so that It may later become capable
of being concentrated, after which the superb state is reached
I recently wrote a detailed post on my blog by making use of all the concepts used in Tantric meditations. You can read it here: A Shamatha Meditation Based on Symbolism, Visualization, Mnemonics and Classical Conditioning
It is about a 3-level meditation that also includes a Yantra, but a visually appealing one: