Mantras and Mandalas
By: Dr. John Weldon
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2000|
|This excerpt from their Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs defines terms and explains how mantras and mandalas fit into many new age practices.|
Mantras and Mandalas
(from Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs, Harvest House, 1996)
INFO AT A GLANCE
Description. Mantras are sacred sounds and mandalas are sacred pictures (usually four-sided) employed for specific spiritual purposes such as occult forms of meditation, enlightenment, and contact or union with various gods and deities.
Founder. Use of mantras and mandalas is most frequently associated with traditional Hinduism and Buddhism. Many mantras and some mandalas are held to have originated as a supernatural revelation from the gods or spirits with which they are associated.
How do they claim to work? Mantras and mandalas function as a means of “focusing” the mind, e.g., in meditation and visualization, and thus to assist the seeker along a given spiritual path.
Scientific evaluation. Not applicable.
Examples of occult potential. Mantras and mandalas are often part of a larger program of occult instruction and may help in developing psychic powers, occult enlightenment, or contact with spirits.
Major Problem. Traditionally, mantras and mandalas have clear connections to the spirit world and present other hazards, such as the development of altered states of consciousness. Unfortunately, the false perception of most Westerners who use these methods is that they are relatively innocent or harmless forms of spiritual practice.
Biblical/Christian evaluation. As pagan implements or forms of idolatrous worship, use of mantras and mandalas is biblically prohibited.
Potential dangers. The hazards of occult practice in general.
Introduction and Influence
The dramatic rise of occult practices, New Age religions, plus Hindu, Buddhist, and Sufi gurus in America has brought the magical and symbolic acoustic and visual accompaniments associated with such religions. Among these are mantras and mandalas, both of which, once consecrated, offer a representational form of worship common to much paganism.
Mantras are sacred utterances thought to mystically represent the essence of religious literature or the deities they invoke, thus conveying supernatural knowledge and/or power. They are used in religious worship, ritual, and meditation.
Mandalas are complex circular and usually four-sided diagrams offering a symbolic representation of a larger cosmic reality or aspects of it. Mandalas are also used in religious worship, ritual, and meditation.
Although mantras are more well known in America through such Hindu practices as transcendental meditation, mandalas also play a key role in the New Age revival of Eastern religious practices. In this section, mandalas and mantras are considered together because of their similarity in purpose and effect. Both are religious methods having similar goals: ultimately, to help achieve occult enlightenment: To do this, they frequently invoke various gods and deities. Ultimately, both forms of occult practice seek to unite the individual with the larger cosmic order. The primary difference is that while mantras are believed to achieve their efficacy through sound and vibrations, mandalas attempt to achieve the same through visual and symbolic means. And both methods may be used together; for example, a person employing a mandala in Buddhist meditation may also be chanting a mantra for a similar purpose.
Mandalas and mantras are frequently employed in Eastern religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism. Mandalas, for example, are “fundamental to the ritual and meditation of Hindu and Buddhist Tantrism.” However, one or the other may also be used by individuals in various magical practices or occult religions, such as the Church Universal and Triumphant. Mandalas may be used in Jungian psychology and other forms of potentially occult, occult, or fringe psychotherapy. For example, in Jung’s analytical psychology, “the mandala conforms to the microcosmic character of the psyche.” Among his patients, Jung felt that the spontaneous production of a mandala was a step along the path in what he termed the individuation process, a central concept of his psychological theory. Mandalas are also found in the sand paintings of some Native Americans and in Hindu and Buddhist architecture (a Hindu temple viewed from the top is often a mandala).
Mandalas and mantras have almost infinite variations. In referring to some 70 million mantras, Harper’s Dictionary of Hinduism points out that “mantras are of infinite diversity and are thus all things to all men.” In a similar fashion, mandalas have an unlimited diversity since their complex symbolic designs are capable of endless variations.
Both practices have a long and complex history, the detailing of which exceeds the scope of an introductory work. Our major purpose is to document the pagan or occult nature of these methods. Along the way we will briefly discuss similarities between these techniques, including the following: their relationship to a) the alleged spiritual structure and purpose of the cosmos; b) meditation and visualization; c) magic, occult practice, and the development of psychic powers; d) occult enlightenment; e) the spirit world, i.e., various “gods” and “deities” of occult and pagan religious traditions. We will close with a brief assessment of the potential dangers that these practices represent to adherents.
Relation to Paganism
Standard descriptions of mandalas and mantras show a relationship between their use and pagan gods or supernatural cosmic forces. Concerning mandalas, Harper’s Dictionary of Hinduism describes them as follows:
Basically they consist of a circular border enclosing a square divided into four triangles; in the center of each triangle, as well as in the circle at the center of the mandala a deity or its emblem is depicted.
The Encyclopedia Britannica describes mandalas as follows:
The mandala is basically a representation of the universe, a consecrated area that serves as a receptacle for the gods and as a collection point of universal forces.
Mantras are also associated with pagan gods and deities:
A properly repeated hymn or formula used in ritual worship and meditation as an instrument for evoking the presence of a particular “divinity” (devata [god]); first uttered by an inspired “seer” (Rishi) and transmitted orally from master to disciple in a carefully controlled manner.
Mantras may also be the actual name of the god being invoked; many advocates believe the mantra is one essence with the deity, or that it contains the essence of the “divine” guru’s teachings.
That mantras are (or can mystically “become”) the essence of the deity, or the mystical essence of religious teaching, underscores the reverence in which they are held. A contemporary mantra, “nam-myoho-renge-kyo,” in Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism, is believed to mystically represent and inculcate the entire essence of the Lotus Sutra, the central scripture. In other words, in these few syllables the “doctrinal” teaching of an entire Sutra is believed to be mystically embodied.
In Hinduism even a single syllable is believed to mystically convey the teaching of an entire Veda, or major scripture:
The most potent mantras are those embodied in a “seed,” or monosyllabic form, and such seed mantras are held to be the quintessence of complex teachings. For instance, an elaborate doctrine of occult knowledge set forth in a work of 100,000 verses can be reduced by a rishi [occult seer] to a single short chapter; this may be further condensed into a single verse; and the verse finally concentrated into a single syllable. This syllable if correctly transmitted to a pupil can, it is thought, communicate to him the substance of the entire doctrine contained in the 100,000 verses.
In the bija (seed) mantra just mentioned, this “is the most powerful of all mantras, for it potentially can become the concept or the deity it represents. Thus the sacred symbol om is said to evoke the entire Veda or… the three greatest Hindu gods, Brahma, Visnu, and Siva.” Because mandalas and mantras are held to invoke, represent, or contain the essence of the gods, such magical application ultimately qualifies their use as a form of spiritism. Plainly, mandalas and mantras are vehicles through which supernatural forces can be contacted for occult knowledge and power. Their source of power is said to be the spiritual forces contacted through proper practice.
Although this theme of contacting personal spiritual forces—gods or spirits—may be lacking in an official definition, the source of power is always assumed to be supernatural. For example, one definition of a mantra states that while no single definition is entirely adequate to convey its full significance, the mantra is “a formula, comprising words and sounds which possess magical or divine power.”
Mandalas and mantras are said to symbolically represent or embody the true spiritual essence of the universe or ultimate reality. In other words, the sound of the mantra or the diagram of the mandala, once consecrated, mystically embodies ultimate reality and/or spiritual potency of the entire macrocosm:
Typically a mandala presents a central Buddha figure, who is surrounded by a pantheon of subordinate deities, positioned in a geometric composition. This galaxy of super-mundane beings is to be interpreted as a manifestation of the Universal Buddha or the Brahman of Hinduism, the primordial One from which the universe emanates and to which it returns. In short, the mandala serves as a cosmoplan, a spiritual blueprint of the universe. As such, it schematically maps the origin, operation, and constitution of the cosmos by disclosing its pattern of spiritual forces.
In pagan religion, typically, the spiritual powers of the universe are the various gods and goddess who act as subordinate deities regulating certain universal functions. The purpose of the mandala is not merely to portray these deities but to link the one who visualizes the mandala to the spiritual power it represents. The number of deities in a mandala may vary from a few to 100 or more:
Because the mandala is understood as a microcosm which embodies the various divine powers that work in the universe, the number of deities is limited only by the imagination and industry of the artist. Thus, many mandalas present the viewer with a bewilderingly intricate configuration, a composition which must be carefully read….
Regarding mantras, some are “convinced that the mantra is a form or representative of God himself, the phenomenal world being the materialization of the mantra….”
In occult theory, sound is said to be one of the most primitive and powerful forces in the universe. Consider the following about how the mantra, sound vibrations, and universal forces may interact:
… Mantras derive their most consistent and plausible rationale from an emanationist metaphysics in which all levels of reality come forth from, and continue to be permeated by, the same source or power. In this scheme sound (sabda) has a primary place…. Thus, sound and its vibrations (spanda) are able to interrelate and interact with all elements and all levels, stimulating resonance or sympathetic vibrations among them. Moreover, every emanation or manifest form, every distinct type or class of reality or being, is produced by and corresponds to a specific configuration of sound-vibration which in turn corresponds to and is expressible by a simple linguistic and cognitive form. This precise correspondence of being, sound, thought, and language is a key assumption underlying this rationale for a mantra’s effectiveness.
Also basic is the assumption of a correspondence between each microcosm and the macrocosm. All individuals, having come forth from and continuing to exist within the same sacred power, have the potential to experience, manifest, or become any being or “divinity” by reforming their psychic power (cit-sakti) through the concentrated, intentional repetition of the proper mantra.
Because of their alleged cosmic power, the use of mandalas and mantras in occult meditation, visualization, magic, and psychic development is common.
- See http://www.wildmind.org/mantras.
- See http://www.graphics.cornell.edu/online/mandala/.
- Keith Crim, gen. ed., Abingdon Dictionary of Living Religions (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1981), p. 455.
- Ibid., p. 456.
- Margaret and James Stutley, Harper’s Dictionary of Hinduism: Its Mythology, Folklore, Philosophy, Literature and History (NY: Harper & Row, 1977), p. 181.
- Ibid., p. 178
- q.v. “mandala,” “mantra,” Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th edition, Volume 6, Micropaedia, p. 555.
- Abingdon Dictionary of Living Religions, pp. 457-58.
- Richard Cavendish, Man, Myth and Magic: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Supernatural, Vol. 13 (NY: Marshall Cavendish Corp., 1970), p. 1728.
- Encyclopedia Britannica, p. 582.
- Harper’s Dictionary of Hinduism, p. 180.
- Abingdon Dictionary of Living Religions, p. 455.
- Ibid., p. 456.
- Harper’s Dictionary of Hinduism, p. 181.
- Abingdon Dictionary of Living Religions, p. 458.