Mantra, Yantra and Tantra: Part 'B'
Continued from Part XXXVII
In the earlier part, the intricacies of the structure and function, interlink and relationship, and qualities and significance of Mantra, Yantra and Tantra were dealt with in considerable details. Apart from their general influence and impact on human health and well-being, nature and environment, spiritual realm, and so on, they are also associated with the invocation and worship of various deities in Hinduism. They were considered relevant and necessary in Vedic age and they have retained their relevance and importance till date. With the passage of civilization and time, there has been some modification in their methodology of observance, scope and procedures but all the three disciplines have abundant use and application in the Hindu way of life.
Just to recapitulate and illustrate above, during the Vedic period Mantra, Yantra and Tantra were valued as the elements of the sacrificial observances and procedures with mantras for invoking natural gods, yantras for making the sacrificial pit in specified formations and tantras to condition the body for the sacrificial ceremony. In the modern age, mantras are not only used to invoke and please the intended deity but also for a variety of other reasons including peace and prosperity of mankind. Similarly yantras are used for invoking and worship the intended deity by drawing or inscribing or moulding it on the specified medium while tantras as erstwhile rituals for self-purification and transformation have now ramified to both good and bad causes; Tantra used for pure and selfless cause is called ‘divine Tantra’ (White Magic) and the one used with evil motive or causing harm to others is ‘Tantrikta’ (Black Magic).
Symbolizing Universal Energies with Gods
Other major religions and many atheists in the world often criticize and mock Hinduism for their numerous gods and goddesses and their symbols as idols, image, mantras, yantras and so on. Some other people who do not viciously attack but out of sheer confusion or curiosity are inquisitive as to why there are so many gods and goddesses in Hinduism and what purpose is served by worshipping multiple deities. This only reflects their ignorance and lack of understanding of the Hindu culture and traditions. Even many Hindus suffer from fallacies including in their belief of thirty-three crore (three hundred thirty million) gods and goddesses.
Actually, gods-goddesses in Hindu represent various forms of cosmic energies including natural forces. For instance, Indra is the god of rain and thunder; Varuna, the lord of wind and sustenance of life; Agni, the master of sacrifices and wealth; Rudra, the god of storm and lightning; Surya, the source of light and power; and Vayu the lord of beauty and intelligence. In the Vedic age, thirty-three natural gods were visualized under the categories of eight Vasus, twelve Adityas, eleven Rudras and two Ashvins. More gods and goddesses were recognized in post-Vedic era to symbolize numerous energies in the universe. According to Vedas, Brahman is the ultimate source (powerbank) of all energy and creation of gods, humans and all other tangible and intangible objects in the universe. Even the famous Tridev (trinity) comprising of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are manifested forms of Brahman representing His creative, preservative and destructive energies.
Also in the aforesaid truth lies the major difference between Hinduism and other religions of the world, particularly Abrahamic ones. While Hinduism has a belief in Brahman (addressed with many names in different languages) as one God and the universal source of originating and absorbing all energies in the universe as also all other gods and goddesses as His manifested forms, other religions hold God as one and largely treat all tangible and intangible energy sources as consumables created by Him for the consumption of the faithful (followers of that religion). This is also the reason why Hindus tend to personify all natural objects, including life-sustaining objects like trees, rivers and mountains and venerate them, while followers of many other faiths simply tend to claim their right on them as consumers.
Let there be no doubt about the fact that the ancient Indian sages and scholars had the wisdom and knowledge unfolding the secrets of universe in the Vedas and Upanishads. All gods-goddesses represent different energies of the universe and post-Vedic scholars have continued to explore different forms of energies duly symbolizing or personifying them as deities through images and idols and invoking through mantras, yantras and tantras. As there are numerous energy forms, so there are numerous gods and goddesses too. To quote a few instance, to tap the water energy of clouds, we have Indra as rain god; to tap the energy of all purifying fire, we have Agni as fire god; then Sun god is there as source of light and power; wealth goddess Lakshmi as source of wealth; and the wisdom and knowledge is represented by the goddess of wisdom Saraswati. As creation, sustenance and destruction are the most potent and all-encompassing energies in universe, they are symbolized by the might trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, respectively.
Among the hundreds of prayers and mantras invoking numerous divinities , some of the most common ones are Aum, Gayatri Mantra, Mahamrityunjay Mantra, Pavamana Mantra, Shanti (peace) Mantra, Shiva Mantra, Vishnu Mantra, Lakshmi-Ganesh Mantra, and so on. Similarly, some of the common yantras are Sri Yantra, Mahamrityunjaya Shiva Yantra, Vishnu Yantra, Mahakali Yantra, Kuber Yantra, Narayan Yantra, Mahalakshmi Yantra, Saraswati Yantra, Hanuman Yantra, Swasika, and so on. Going by the original intent of Vedas, all healing techniques such as meditation, worship and prayer are part of Tantra practices and some well-known tantras are Bhairav Tantra, Dhyaan Tantra, Paak Tantra, Kaam Tantra etc. While some mantras and yantras invoke individual gods or divine energies, the fundamental mantras, like Aum, Gayatri and Mahamrityunjaya mantras, concentrate on the one and only ultimate reality. Some of the more popular and important ones are briefly explained here.
Aum or Om
Aum is the most basic and important shortest Mantra and symbol in Hinduism in as much as almost all sacred mantras use it as prefix. This is also known as the Pranava Mantra and the sound is known as the Pranava Nada, symbolic to Brahman (God) Himself. This is commonly regarded as the sound-form and word-form of the unmanifested Brahman. Therefore, it is considered the most fundamental and powerful Mantra, and is prefixed and more often suffixed to all other Hindu prayers and mantras. Its importance could be understood by the fact that Hindu scriptures, particularly Upanishads, symbolize soul, space, all manifested deities and even food with Brahman Who is ultimate recipient of all offerings.
In Sanskrit, Aum is written as number “3” with a curved line going out from its centre on the back side of three with a moon shaped curve and a dot above three. Ancient rishis held that Aum is the vibratory sound by which Brahman brings all material things into manifestation. According to many scholars and Indologists, the three letters of Aum represent vibrations inherently associated with the creativity in universe. Of this, “A (Akaar)” represents the vibration that brings into manifestation the created universe, “U (Ukaar)” represents the vibration that preserves what is created and “M (Makaar)” represents the destructive vibration that dissolves the manifested universe back into the Infinite Spirit.
The recitation is traditionally preceded by Aum and the formula or phrase “bhur bhuvah swah" in this Mantra is known as a great mystical utterance. It is believed that sage Vishvamitra had created this Mantra which remained equally popular both in Vedic and post-Vedic texts.
Bhur bhuvah swah
Tat savitur varenyam,
Bhargo devasya dheemahi
Dhiyo yo nah Prachodayat.
(Rigveda, Mandala 3.62.10)
This is one Mantra that has been translated both in literal and epitomical sense by many saints and scholars, the simplest and easiest being one made by Swami Vivekananda: "We meditate on the glory of that Being who has produced this universe; may He enlighten our minds.” However, the essence of all translations is same, which is somewhat as under:
“May we meditate on the almighty God, the embodiment of spiritual energy, the remover of sufferings, the bestower of happiness; Who is supreme, and Who is the embodiment of knowledge and light. May the divine Lord enlighten and inspire our intellect and destroy our sins and ignorance.”
The Mantra invokes the supreme divine to enlighten intellect in pursuance of a righteous path. In a way it is the most selfless prayer because if a person is gifted with right wisdom, he could easily pursue the righteous course staying away from sins and consequent sufferings. It is commonly believed that the Gayatri Sadhana alone may lead the seeker to health, success, victory, wealth and even salvation. Scholarly narratives have been written on its methodology of recitation and application for the cure and healing, good memory and mental stability, cure for vermin bites, acquisition of wealth, dispelling evil spirits, and so on. According to the Devi Bhagwat Purana, goddess Gayatri is ultimate reality and the Gayatri Mantra originally comprising of 24 syllables in Rigveda represents as many forms of goddess, with one form for each syllabus.
Sages and scholars have held that there are no other mantras like Gayatri Mantra in scriptures. Irrespective of the state of cleanliness, posture or general condition of the seeker, one can resort to Gayatri Jap for various accomplishments as well as tapas (spiritual practice). Chronicled in Rigveda, the most sacred and oldest Hindu scripture, this Mantra is seen as a potent means of divine awakening of the individual mind and soul, and its union with the Supreme Soul (Brahman). The Gayatri Mantra is not restricted to any particular religion or sect of worship or community; instead, it is of universal nature meant for every living being in the world. Although it is abundantly used by Hindus at various occasions and purposes but it symbolizes the heritage and spiritual treasure that is for the benefit of the entire humanity without exclusion.
The Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra is yet another very important and powerful Mantra which is considered to have a large potential to bestow health and happiness besides restoring calm and serenity in the face of death. In the Vedas, it is mentioned in Rigveda (primary citation), Yajurveda (3.60) and Atharvaveda (14.1.17).
Mrityor mukshiya mamritat.
(Rigveda, Mandala 7.59.12)
(O Almighty, the three-eyed one, we worship you the virtuous supreme being, Who is the bestower of the wealth and nourishment; We know, His (Shiva) grace may release worshipper from the bondage of death, and not from immortality.)
The mantra is the unification of three words, Maha (great), Mrityun (death) and Jaya (victory) i.e. the great victor of the death. According to Hindu mythology, the mantra is also referred as Mrita-Sanjivini Mantra because of its "life-restoring" abilities. As per a legend in Shiv Purana, Rishi Markandeya was blessed by Lord Shiva with this Mantra. When Lord Chandra (Moon) was cursed by King Prajapati Daksha and was on verge of dying, the latter’s daughter Sati requested Rishi Markendeya to save him with the grace of this Mantra. The underlining theme is if the person concentrate on his (hidden) third eye which lies at centre behind the two eyes, it gives strength to feel three-eyed one (Lord Shiva) that brings happiness, tranquility and peace in life. Though immortality is not possible but some extension is possible to the imminent death by the powers of Lord Shiva.
Unlike Gayatri, a stricter protocol is prescribed to chant this Mantra. A seeker must have bath, wear clean clothes and adhere to prescribed time with eyes closed and concentrated on the third eye - an area behind the two eyes. The third eye gives strength to the seeker to feel Shiva (God) and be connect with him. Different routine and number of the Mantra recitation is illustrated in Shiva Purana to get rid of mortal fear and diseases, achieve fertility and success, and relief from untimely death. An idol of Shiva or Linga placed near the devotee while chanting enhances the energy and vibration as well the consequential benefits derived from the Mantra. Rudraksha being considered dear to Lord Shiva, its recitation is done with a Rudraksha mala. Improper and wrong pronunciation and violation of recitation protocol might yield opposite results.
Mahamrityunjay Mantra is also called the “Triyambakam Mantra” referring to the three eyed Rudra, the ferocious form of Lord Shiva. The mantra is also believed to uplift people from the failure and other maladies of life while restoring health and vigour of the physical body and ushering in calm and happiness of the mind. Thus it serves as a healing force and protective shield to avert negative influences around us. Both Mahamriyunaja Mantra and Gayatri Mantra hold very high spiritual and religious significance among Hindus. While the Gayatri Mantra is meant for spiritual purification and guidance, the Mahamrityunjaya Mantra is significant for healing rejuvenation and nurturance.
The Shanti (Peace) Mantras are usually prayers for peace found in Hindu scriptures, particularly Upanishads. They are characteristically invoked in the beginning of some subjects. Similarly, they are commonly chanted at the beginning and closure of the religious rituals and discourses in many cases. It is believed that the reciting of Shanti mantras brings peace and tranquility in the minds of people and surroundings as also removes obstacles in the work undertaken. A few more pronounced ones are cited here:
Dyauh shantirantariksam shntih
Prithvi shantirapah shantirosadhayah shantih
Vanaspatayah shantirvisvedevah shantirbrahma shantih
Sarvam shantih shantireva shantih sa ma shantiredhi
Aum shantih shantih shantih.
(Aum! May peace radiate there in the whole sky as well as in the vast ethereal space everywhere; May peace reign all over this earth, in water and all herbs, trees and creepers; May peace flow over the whole universe; May peace be to all gods and the Supreme Being Brahman; May there always exist in all peace and peace alone; Aum! Peace, peace and peace to all beings!)
Sarve bhavantu sukhinah
Sarve santu nir-aamayaah
Sarve bhadraanni pashyantu
Aum shantih shantih shantih.
(Universal Prayer inspired by similar verses in Atharvaveda and Brihadaranyaka Upanishad)
(Aum! May all be happy and prosperous; May all be free from illness; May all see what is auspicious; May no one suffer in any way. Aum! Peace, peace, peace.)
Asato ma sadgamaya
Tamaso ma jyotirgamaya
Aum shantih shantih shantih.
(Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.3.28)
(Aum! Lead me from the unreal to real; Lead me from the darkness to light; Lead me from death to immortality. Aum! Peace, peace, peace.)
A large number of Shanti mantras are available in the Upanishads and other Hindu texts. These mantras invariably begin with Aum and conclude with Aum followed by “Shanti” (peace) uttered thrice. The underlying overtone of uttering peace thrice is to usher in calm and serenity and eliminate obstacles in three realms. These three realms and obstacles are: Adhi-Bhauika (physical) comprising of external world such as people, wild animals and natural calamities; Adhi-Daivika (divine) from extra-territorial / extra-sensory world such as deities, spirits and ghosts; and Adhyatmika (internal) from own body and mind such as disease, pain, laziness and shirking attitude. Shanti mantras are believed to remove obstacles from realms of human surroundings.
Sri Yantra (or Sri Chakra) is the most popular and important Yantra, which is considered an all-encompassing manifestation of the entire Universe. It represents the supreme goddess as Tripura Sundari - the beauty of three worlds: namely, Bhu Loka, the physical plane representing consciousness of the physical plane; Bhuvar Loka, antariksha or the intermediate space consciousness of Prana; and Swar Loka, svarga (heaven), the consciousness of divine mind. It embodies the union of both masculine and feminine aspects of the Divine. Sri Yantra is the symbol of Tantra in Hinduism following the Shaktism tradition. Sri Yantra has same status and importance among other yantras as Aum Mantra to other mantras.
The Yantra represents the totality of creation and existence, and adherents own unity with the cosmic existence. The four upward-pointing isosceles triangles in the Yantra symbolize the masculine embodiment of the Divine (Shiva), while the five downward-pointing triangles represent the female embodiment (Shakti). It’s nine constituent triangles vary in size and shape and intersect to form total fourty-three smaller triangles, organized in 5 concentric levels. Together they represent the cosmos spread and non-duality of existence. In the middle, the power point (bindu) represents the cosmic center. The triangles are circumscribed by two concentric circles comprised of eight and sixteen petals, symbolizing the lotus of creation and reproductive vital force. The entire configuration is framed by the broken lines of an earth square, representing a temple with four doors open onto the regions of the universe.
In essence, Sri Yantra is an important device for the worship of the primordial cosmic energy which is the cause for the creation, maintenance and destruction of the universe. It is believed to usher in several benefits to the seekers in terms of spiritual wellness and material wealth. It is considered to be the ultimate remover of all negativities and obstacles in life and its surroundings by spreading positivity, peace and harmony.
As Aum is the most basic and shortest Mantra so is Swastika as basic and simplest Yantra, and many people believe that it is only next to Aum in importance. Swastika is engraved or drawn on the walls of temples, other holy places and devotional objects. Besides, it is printed or drawn on the Kalash during social and religious rituals. It is also commonly used at entrances and doorways of houses, on the starting page of some financial statements, Diwali decorations and mandalas constructed for rituals such as weddings and other social occasions. The word swastika has been used in the Indian subcontinent since fifth century BCE and is derived from the Sanskrit root Swasti, which denotes good health, luck, success and prosperity. Many Hindus wear Swastika comprised of metals like brass, silver or gold as pendant.
In diverse traditions of Hinduism, Swastika is found in both the clockwise and counterclockwise pattern conveying different meanings. The clockwise pattern is called swastika which is considered a solar symbol suggesting the motion of Sun with its traditional way of emerging from the east, ascending to the south towards the midday and then moving to the west at the end of the day. The counterclockwise pattern is called sauvastika which symbolizes night, and in the tantric traditions it is designated icon for the goddess Kali. This symbol also represents Karma, action, motion, wheel, and even lotus. According to the Arya Samaj which is a sect of Hinduism started in the nineteenth century, the Swastika represents "Aum" written in the ancient Brahmi script.
Bhairava, also known as ‘Mahakala Bhairava’, is a tantric deity worshiped by many Hindus, particularly in Shaivism and Shaktaism. He is considered as a fierce manifestation of Lord Shiva associated with annihilation. Despite ferocious appearance, Bhairava is believed to destroy fear of Sadhakas (devotees) protecting them from the dreadful evils like greed, lust and anger. The Shiva Purana and other texts have legends how Mahakala Bhairava, Ashta Bhairavas and Ashta Matrikas, and sixty-four Bhairavas and equal number of Yoginis were created including its purpose. In many Shiva temples and some exclusive Bhairava temples, idols of Bhairava usually with four hands with drum, noose, trident and skull with terrifying looks accompanied with dog (as vehicle) are found. Practitioners of tantrik tradition see Bhairava as the protector of universe guarding it from all the eight directions with common belief that his worship leads to prosperity, success and good progeny besides safety from premature death. Bhairavi, a fierce and terrifying manifestation of Shakti (Devi), is the consort of Bhairava.
Bhairava Tantra has some esoteric and obscure Aghori and Kapalika traditions considered by many as non-Puranic forms of Shaivism. The Kapalikas traditionally carried a skull-topped trident (khatvanga) and empty skull as a begging bowl. Aghories and kapalikas usually also smear their body with the ashes from the cremation ground and revere the fierce Bhairava form of Shiva. In a major deviation from all other Hindu traditions, things like blood, meat, alcohol and sex are included as part of their rituals. Some aghoras even resort to “shava sadhana” (ritual worship involving corpse as altar) to invoke mother goddess as “Smashan Tara”. The aim of these tantric practices ranges from salvation, knowledge, appeasing the deity, material motives and even dark motives of harming others or gaining control over the spirits. Quite obviously, these traditions are extremes in their own way and contrary to orthodox Hinduism.
Thanks to the ancient Indian sages and scholars, no other cultural and religious tradition in the world ever had such a fact-based, holistic and scientific approach towards physical and spiritual world exploring truths of universe both at macro and micro levels. The three disciplines of mantras, yantras and tantras are interlinked and interdependent, invoked in tandem and have extra-ordinary potential to tap numerous energies in the universe. It appears quite reasonable and in fitness of things to acknowledge the miraculous abilities and powers of these energies by symbolizing or personifying them as deities or gods. Imagine the turbulence and havoc that fire, wind or water could cause when not in control and at rampage. So simply treating these energies as consumables, as some other religions and cultures do, indeed appears unfair and irrational.
We could easily acknowledge and appreciate the need of symbols, gods and goddesses and sadhana (devotion) vis-à-vis tapped and untapped energies of the cosmos provided we sincerely endeavor to learn and understand the scientific reason or viewpoint behind it. On the contrary, when people follow these principles simply out of fear or greed without rhymes and reasons to serve a particular need, they are often caught in the web of manipulative quacks and roguish elements for exploitation, who are present in all societies to serve own vested interests. There is yet another aspect: In the perceptible world if an experiment is carried out in a wrong way, it leads to failure or even disastrous results; in the same way, if the mantras, yantras and tantras are invoked in an erroneous or wrong way, it is likely to lead to undesirable consequences.
Continued to Part XXXIX