Indian mythology and Hinduism are characterized by a number of complex symbols. Many of these are the familiar and beautiful mandalas we see all the time. But the Yantras of the Vedic tradition in Hinduism are vastly complicated. Far beyond the ornaments which some of these symbols have come to be, the modes of thought and mythological beliefs and practices embedded in these symbols are part of a deep cultural tradition still practiced to this day. Though modern Hinduism is now a distinct religion or mythological system, it is historically linked to the ancient Vedic system native to Northern India. The two systems branched away from each other but they share a common origin. The spiritual practices which gave rise to these symbols and the beliefs which attend them are deep and rich and require life-long study to fully grasp. Of all the complex symbols of the Vedic system, possibly the most important is the Sri Yantra.
One of the most important symbols in the tantric tradition of Indian religion and mythology is the Sri Yantra. The Sri Yantra, or Sri Chakra, is used in the Sri Vidya school of Hindu Tantra. A Yantra is simply a mystical diagram. The term literal translates to machine or contraption. The Sri Yantra contains the mystical diagram which represents a map from man’s material existence toward enlightenment. To this end, the Sri Yantra is a kind of road map toward enlightenment in Indian mythology. The Sri Yantra represents the microcosm of the universe as well as the human body, although as we will see, the idea of a microcosm becomes complicated with respect to the Sri Yantra. In Indian religious practices it is one of the most sacred symbols and it is often referred to as the mother of all Yantras.
The earliest references to the Sri Yantra are from a Indonesian transcription which dates from the seventh century C.E. However, scholars believe it existed in Indian prior to its introduction to Indonesia. The place of Yanta nd the Sri Yanta in particular is of an ancient origin and precedes modern historical dating practices.
The Sri Yanra represents the goddess Shri Lalita. As the goddess of the three worlds she is known as the Tripura Sundari. These worlds consist of the physical plane or the plane of consciousness (Bhu Loka), the intermediate plane (Bhuvar Loka), and the divine mind or heaven (Swar Loka). As the object of devotion within the practice of Sri Vidya, the Sri Yantra also represent the divine masculine and feminine divine principles. Within the sacred geometry there are four upward-pointing isosceles triangles. These represent the goddess’s masculine principles, or Shiva. The five downward-pointing isosceles triangles symbolize the divine female principles, or Shakti.
The whole of the Sri Yantra consists of a series of interlocking triangles surrounded by two concentric rings. These are surrounded by gated geometric forms. Each of the triangles described above form forty-three small triangles. Each of these ttriangles are believed to house a deity specific to the various stages of the journey through the Sri Yantra toward enlightenment.
The purpose of the Sri Yantra is for an adept to contemplate the stages of the journey through the intricate shapes contained in the symbol. By doing this and adept can come to know the not only the journey toward the center of the Yantra itself, but also the journey toward enlightenment. It is both a symbol of the journey and the journey within the mythological Vedic system.
It is believed among adepts and among those who practice the Vedic system of Hinduism that the Sri Yantra is a revealed symbol rather than one which was discovered. What this means is that the symbol came to consciousness by the highest practitioners of this form of spirituality. It is of a sacred origin and order and not of the world of human consciousness. Thus, the Sri Yantra can only be properly understood as a spiritual practice. It is not considered to be part of a system of knowledge which can be “learned” in any conventional way. One must come to the enlightened space of the Sri Yantra through the spiritual journey.
To further complicate the form of the Sri Yantra, it appears in both a two dimensional form and in a three dimensional form. As a sacred symbol, it can appear as two-dimensional form for the sake of contemplation. But the true form of the Sri Yantra is three-dimensional since it is a function of a three-dimensions within which we actually exist. We can already see that the beliefs invested in the Sri Yantra compound the further we come to understand it.
Since the deities which occupy the various spaces within the Sri Yantra are by definition formless and timeless, they must be represented in a form which can make contact, at least in the minds of the adepts, with this timeless and formless mode of being. Thus the complex geometry is designed to evoke a mathematical system which goes beyond simple forms and structures. That the Sri Yantra is vastly complex, and the various correspondences believed to exist (from Earthly to the divine), is a function of this reach toward the divine sphere which exceeds Earth-bound thought and consciousness.
The Vedic system within Hinduism utilizes a vastly complex system of sacred geometry. Each of the geometrical forms corresponds to both a place in the world, in the divine place, and in the human body. It is beyond the scope of this article to break down the entirety of this sacred geometry. There is a vast field of scholarship on this sacred geometry. It is enough for now to understand in the Sri Yantra, each geometric form (triangles, the directions of the triangles, circles, and exterior square gates) represents a space within the human body, complete with tis representative female, male, and divine form. Each of these shapes also corresponds to a physical space, including an architectural design which follows the same mathematical logic of the Yantra. Finally, all of the shapes corresponds to a divine space which is also of a geometrical order. By way of contrast, the Judeo-Christian system historically followed a logic of the Great Chain of Being. In this, everything corresponded by an analogous relationship along an ascending line of lowest order (plants and animals), to the human and earth-bound, up to the divine. In the system within which the Sri Yantra functions, this system of correspondence is simultaneous. As one contemplates a terrain in the body, one is simultaneously operating in the other spheres of influence. Thus the adept must experience the spiritual journey in body, mind and spirit, but also as a physical journey through the world and through life.
The spiritual and sacred geometry of the Sri Yantra, and the entire system of Yantras, finds its place in everything from forms of meditation to architecture. So complex is this sacred geometry that contemporary scholars have traced out the vastly complex mathematics of fractal geometry within the system of Yantras. As the complex relationship between mind, body, and divinity reach ever outward and inward, so the physical structures follow the same logic. These architectural structures also adhere to the sacred geometry of the Sri Yantra.
As with the system of correspondences detailed above, each deity symbolized and embodied in the Sri Yantra is also an integral part of the experience of the Yantra. One does not “pray” to a deity in this system in the way one prays in other religious systems in which prayer functions a sdirect plea or form of praise to a deity. In the Tantric system, and in the practice of contemplation and meditation which characterizes the spirituality of the Sri Yantra, one pray to each deity in its symbolic space within the Yantra as one simultaneously contemplates the respective realms and domains in the phases of the journey. To contemplate the Sri Yantra involves a form of meditation which attempts to place the mid and body on each plane at the same time. Though this seems contradictory or even impossible from the point of view of an outside, it is the fundamental practice of this form of Hinduism. Thus the role of Sri Yantra is as an intermediary form and site of contemplation for a vast spiritual experience which defies a specific place.
At the center of the Sri Yantra, the main deity takes its place. All other deities occupy their respective positions as emanations of this main deity. Thus the outward directions of the triangles and circles each represent various states and stages of the mian deity. Again, none of these stages are ever fully distinct because the number of deities are in fact emanations of the main deity rather than distinct entities unto themselves.
Beyond its ancient origins, the Sri Yantra has found a place in contemporary spirituality as many people are drawn to this form of complex non-western spirituality. There are sites which offer full courses in the study of the Yantras and offer a focus on the Sri Yantra in particular. As mentioned above, modern mathematics has made it possible to study and conceive of these mathematical symbols in ways which only further their complexity.
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