By Laura Samper
Tantra and Mandalas
When I look at the stars, I wonder how all this is possible. What is this incredible and mysterious force that propels Earth through the dark cosmos? What is this bright light sparkling in the middle of the deep black sea? I use to go to the beach and sit in silence to watch the sky during the hottest nights.
I would choose a quarter of the sky and stare at it, hoping to catch a glimpse of a shooting star, like everyone else. I was told that if I saw one I could actually wish for something special and, magically, this thing would come to me without effort.
Is this how the Universe works?
Planets, stars, eclipses, and other celestial phenomena have always triggered me. Full moons are especially intense. Sometimes I feel like I’m on an emotional roller coaster and other times I feel fully energized. It also gives me the sense of Oneness and connectedness. The circular and elliptical movements of the Cosmos really amaze me.
Like Sufi dancers… They spin in an attempt to imitate the Earth’s rotation so they can connect with God. For them, the first dancer is the Sun and they act as if they were the planets in the Solar System moving around it. This is an ancient, beautiful, and devotional meditation called Sema, practiced since the thirteenth century and created by the beloved poet Rumi.
Sufis have the intuition that the movement of the Earth is no different that the movement of the body.
One night, I was at the beach for almost 40 minutes trying to catch a shooting star. I couldn’t see anything else but what was already there. I felt upset. I really wanted to see something special.
My mind was in control.
I was its momentary prisoner and I couldn’t seem to do anything about it.
-So, what were all the meditations and yoga practices for, huh?
(Yes, making peace with your mind is a moment-to-moment job, and yes, I sometimes fail at it).
I tried to close my eyes but I felt this was useless, so I started walking away. I looked up again in another attempt to catch a shooting star. Instead, I saw Venus right in front of me. I walked a few steps to the east without noticing that she was there, brighter than ever.
I felt calmer, somehow.
She suddenly became my meditation. I got lost in her beauty. I was drowning in her sparkling colors. I forgot about the shooting star for a moment.
Her intense light mesmerized me. My breath started to slow down as I began to realize that I didn’t need to wish for anything else but my own tranquility.
Venus is indeed a magical goddess. On June 6th, she finished creating a beautiful mandala in the sky. Her movement forms a mysterious shape in the sky in alignment with the Earth. It takes 8 years for her to complete a cycle. And last Monday, she began a new one. What a magical time to be alive!
In Tantra, the Universe is a manifestation of the Divine. As with Sufis, this spiritual path is accompanied by great symbolism, which is known as sacred geometry. It’s not a dance but it’s a visual and drastically reduced image of the Cosmos. In Tantric terms, these shapes are called yantras (which means instrument) or mandalas, the most pictorial versions—just like Venus’s dance.
During Tantric rituals, yantras are used as a means for connecting with the sacred and as an instrument of concentration and visualization.
This month, Hridaya Yoga Retreat: Module 2 classes are given in Nitya Hall, where there is a beautiful painting of the Shri-Yantra+. Since I usually arrive late—okay, not late but just in time—the hall is already organized and I have to place my mat right in front of it. It’s a lovely coincidence, though.
At first, I didn’t know anything about this mysterious figure, but as with Venus in the night sky, it completely hypnotized me. There’s a point in the middle of the triangles that calls my attention no matter what I do. It goes something like this:
- What are you looking at?
- I’m just seeing your abstract beauty.
- Don’t be such a smarty-pants. What do I make you feel?
I just can’t answer. I try to figure the shape out. I count the triangles, the circles and the petals. What for? If I discover that there are 7 or 9 triangles it doesn’t do anything for me, like the shooting star.
That point in the middle keeps calling me, though, as if I want to go inside the yantra and get lost in it. Venus made me feel the same way that night at the beach. Both reminded me of coming back to myself, somehow.
I realized, again, that anything I want or need is not outside myself. The human mind forgets this all the time, that’s why it is so important to feel with all our heart. Sufis don’t dance like this because they want to look a certain way, but because they want to feel God within themselves. It’s a beautiful performance, indeed, but it’s not meant as a show.
You don’t get to see the actual mandala that Venus forms in the sky, but you can feel her presence. It’s a particular view on things that gives them life or not. The yantra on its own is a lovely puzzle for the mind, but it doesn’t do much if you don’t try to interpret it beyond thoughts.
I’m learning how to touch the world with my heart. Sometimes I get lost and go after shooting stars when I have the entire galaxy right before my eyes.
+This is a note for all of you lovely spiritual geeks, in case you want to know the exact meaning of this beautiful yantra. This is a fragment taken from the book Tantra, The Path of Ecstasy by Georg Feuerstein, which you can borrow from the school’s library next time you come visit!
By far the best-known yantra is the shri-yantra or shri-cakra, which is a symbolic representation of Shri, one of the many female forms of the Divine. This is the most sacred symbol of the Shri-Vidya tradition, still flourishing in South India and other parts of the subcontinent. This yantra is composed of five equilateral triangles, of progressively larger size, representing the female power (Shakti) aspect of the Divine and four equilateral triangles, also of progressively larger size, representing the male consciousness aspect of Shiva. Most commonly, the Shakti triangles point downward and the shiva triangles point upward. (…)
The forty-three interlaced triangles form a fourteen-corner structure, and the fourteen corners also house one deity each. In fact, each of the triangles is the dwelling place of a deity. The central point (bindu), which is also called the “wheel entirely made of bliss,” represents the great goddess Tripura Sundari herself, to whom the yantra as a whole is dedicated.
The various parts of the shri-yantra are said to correspond to the various parts of the human body. (…) The shri-yantra, which has been found to have a fascinating mathematical structure, is a good indicator of the metaphysical sophistication of the Shri-Vidya tradition, which is the most influential Tantric branch still active today.