A mandala is a magic circle, in which one performs tantric rites. It is a focus of cosmic powers. During worship and other tantric practices a mandala becomes the centre of the universe in a symbolic sense and in a far deeper sense beyond normal comprehension. A tantric mandala is usually laid out according to a fixed plan; in fact the making of the mandala is a tantric rite in itself. As we have already pointed out under the heading entitled ‘Tantra – The Universal System’, everything in the manifested world is in essence a mandala. Each and every object is a focal point of consciousness. There is not one thing that is not a mandala. Everything is a point of manifestation of Shakti… an expression of the underlying consciousness. It is for this reason that deep concentration on anything, and we mean anything, can bring about higher awareness and realization of the deeper nature of that object. But almost every person lacks sufficient power of concentration to do this. Instead, the power of the mind is dissipated in all directions. But the power is there to be used when the individual is ready; it only needs to be tapped. It is for this reason that devotion is an important, though not indispensable, part of tantric meditative practices. It increases, supercharges the power of concentration. Concentration becomes far more powerful and piercing when it is backed up by emotional feeling or reverence. Each person is a mandala, each thought is a mandala, each deity, each chakra . .. each and everything. The guru too is a mandala – a very powerful one in fact. This may be a little far away from the normally accepted meaning of the word mandala, but as far as we are concerned the guru is indeed a mandala. He in a sense, draws down cosmic consciousness, acting as a magnet through which this consciousness expresses itself most obviously and clearly. He radiates the inner light of consciousness to everyone … he glows with it. It is through the guru that cosmic powers are unleashed, attracted and transmitted to the disciple. This is the grace of the guru mandala.
Sexual union is also a powerful mandala. That is why it can be a means to meditation. When a man and a woman make love, then they are creating a magic circle, a mandala.
The definitions that we have given are wide. For the sake of tradition and simplicity, we will define a mandala more specifically as a centre or special place, possibly consecrated by special rites, which is used for tantric practices. This means, when you are doing your yoga practices, you are really creating a mandala, a magic circle. You are creating a centre and trying to tune in with, invoke and harmonize with higher consciousness. Do you realize this? You are really performing a rite when you do asanas, pranayama and other practices. Of course, there is probably no worship involved as such, but it is nevertheless a form of rite. Remember this point if you have a tendency to scoff at rituals.
What is a yantra? A yantra is a specific form of mandala, which consists of geometrical shapes and figures, and sometimes diagrams of deities (especially in the Buddhist tantra system). This is also a deified form of an aspect of existence, though it is less obvious. A yantra is a particularly powerful form of mandala and deep concentration on it can lead to higher realization of its nature.
The Sanskrit word yantra is such a descriptive word and is perfectly apt for the name of this form of mandala. According to the dictionary, it means an instrument, a machine, an apparatus, an implement. And this exactly sums up the mystical diagram in all ways. It is indeed an implement, a machine (though not an electrical or mechanical one) because it acts as an instrument for tuning in with consciousness. It is indeed a machine – a machine to induce states of meditation. It is a spiritual machine.
One yantra we have given at the end of this topic is called shree yantra. It is the most well known of all yantras and is a particularly powerful tool for inducing meditation. It acts as a powerful point of focus for spiritual aspirants. If your concentration is intense enough, then it can bring higher realization. At first it is a mere geometrical configuration, but by deep concentration and reflection one is sucked through the centre, so to say. One realizes the nature of the yantra, and simultaneously the nature of the sadhaka himself. All you have to do is to concentrate on the yantra and plunge through the middle.
Mandalas and yantras are an indispensible part of tantra; without them tantra would not be tantra. Without them tantra would fail to give the result that it does. We are not asking you to believe in the power of mandalas and yantras, but at least keep an open mind and in the future practise for yourself, so that you can know from your own experiences.