The Mandala: An Image of the Invisible (4 of 6)
Part 4: The Matrix and Diamond Mandalas of Esoteric Buddhism
21. The Mandala of the Two Realms: Introduction and Background
In our previous essay in this ongoing series on mandala design and the philosophy of meditation, we discussed in depth how Mahayana Buddhism approaches meditation, prayer, and the afterlife state.
In this article, we are going to build on that discussion by examining case studies of two notable Buddhist mandalas once emphasized in the esoteric meditation disciplines of the Mahayana sect: the Matrix Mandala (i.e. the Womb Mandala) and the Diamond Mandala. Together, they are called “The Mandala of the Two Realms”.
In the course discussing of these two important Buddhist mandalas, we will also be further exploring the fundamental ideas of Esoteric Buddhism (picking up where we left off in our previous article), while also unpacking more details about its approach to meditation and the mystical experience.
To begin with, I want to offer a little background information on these two mandalas and discuss how they fit into Mahayana Buddhism’s larger story and themes.
As we discussed in the intro sections to our previous article in this series (titled “Faith, Prayer, and the Afterlife State”) , when the Mahayana School first emerged, it did so as a modification and adaptation of the original Buddhist “sangha”.
With this new dispensation, a new emphasis was placed on the deification of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Arhats, which together comprise a Hierarchy of spiritual powers who together control the destiny of human evolution.
As part of these modifications that the Mahayana School made to the original Buddhist doctrine, the historical Buddha was no longer positioned as the centerpiece of the faith. Instead, he became integrated into a larger spiritual hierarchy alongside other great sages, arhats, bodhisattvas, and buddhas.
Together, this entire spiritual hierarchy forms the internal anatomy of the Universal Self, serving as the agents and instruments (or “hands and feet”) of the Great Lord. Through them, heaven ensures its dominion over Earth and the Divine Plan for human life is protected and ensured.
This Hierarchy operates through a chosen terrestrial institution and its ambassadors. This institution is generally called the “Esoteric School” or “Mystery School”, but has gone by different names and forms in different cultures and time periods.
The Esoteric School is an archetypal human institution: it’s part of the innate design of human life. Always there is a version of it in existence in some form; never is it completely absent from human affairs.
In the Buddhist view, the threefold hierarchy of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Adepts are the masters and custodians of this Esoteric School, with the Adepts in particular being the hierarchs or hierophants who directly overshadow the terrestrial institution.
As the Age of Aries moved into the Age of Pisces, the old pagan world order came to a gradual but inevitable collapse. As it did, the institutional metastructure that supported it underwent a death-rebirth phase, with a new institutional paradigm coming into formation gradually over the course succeeding centuries.
Philosophy was first born as a public-facing institution ~900 years before this transition point. This period, ~6th century BC, was the age of the "Great World Teachers”: when Pythagoras, Gautama Buddha, Lao Tzu, Zoroaster, and others emerged to found the first public organizations dedicated to philosophical teachings.
When they was first born, these early philosophical schools existed as extensions of the Mystery Schools or Esoteric Schools of their time and place. At the time, these Esoteric Schools were still thriving under the protection of an inner caste of priests and holy men who lived and worked within the great religious temples and monuments of the ancient world.
With the collapse of the pagan order of institutions, this protective over-structure fell apart and ceased to be a viable host for these Esoteric Schools to perpetuate themselves within. Consequently, this esoteric institution had to look for a new host and in philosophy they found one.
Having, centuries earlier, already given birth to Philosophy out of itself, the Esoteric Schools utilized the transition of ages to make a move into this new institutional vehicle, one specially designed to receive it.
When the Esoteric Schools moved out of their old home in the pagan religious institutions and relocated into the new institutional vehicle of Philosophy, they did so by implementing major renovations to the philosophical doctrines and internal organizational structures of the philosophical schools they had already established.
For example, in the West, we find Pythagorean and Platonic Philosophy evolving into “Neoplatonism”. This new, modified form of Plato’s original doctrine explicitly incorporates and synthesizes important elements of the ancient Greek mystery teachings, one’s that Plato, as an initiate of those Mysteries, was, in his time, not allowed to explicitly make transparent to the public.
Neoplatonism first emerged in Alexandria during this transition period between Aries and Pisces. Alongside it, a host of other new esoteric philosophical sects also emerged. All evidence a direct connection to previous pagan Mystery traditions, revealing new aspects of the old mystery teachings that had been forbidden to be publicly revealed before.
Examples of these other new esoteric traditions that arose during this period include Hermeticism, Gnosticism, and Cabalism. Public teachings about astrology and alchemy probably also first emerged during this time.
In the case of Buddhism, this internal transformation of the school or “sangha” took form as the split between the Hinayana and Mahayana schools, with the Esoteric School moving to inhabit the Mahayana branch (as we explored in our previous article).
The esoteric doctrines contained with the ancient Mysteries, when re-encoded and re-expressed in the outer language and symbolism of Buddhism, became the system of teachings now known as Mahayana Buddhism.
The legendary Arhat Nagarjuna is credited as the ambassador responsible for importing the esoteric doctrine into Buddhism and is therefore credited as the “godfather” of the Mahayana School.
Here’s where the story of the Matrix and Diamond Mandalas begin. According to legend, these two mandalas are part of the greater revelation of esoteric teachings that Nagarjuna brought into the Buddhist system from the Mystery Schools, where it “been preserved in the ‘Iron Tower’, where it was guarded by ‘napas’ (or serpent deities).”
The connection between Mahayana Buddhism and the ancient Mysteries is important, because it is from the revelation by Nagarjuna of their esoteric teachings that the Mahayana sect first derived its own occult meditation practices and disciplines.
The “Mandala of the Two Realms" is an important element of the esoteric disciplines that were created within the Mahayana School using the esoteric knowledge brought into Buddhism by Nagarjuna. This mandala is actually a set of two sibling mandalas that are intended to be paired together.
In the esoteric initiation rituals of the Mahayana sect, these two mandalas would be presented on opposing walls facing each other, the Diamond Mandala on the West-facing wall of the temple and the Matrix Mandala on the East. In between the two was an altar where the mystery rituals associated with these mandalas would be performed.
The design of these mandalas is rooted in an exact science. As Manly Hall explains, “with the true mandala, the design is prescribed and unalterable, and its meaning is the same for all who understand its symbolism.”
He continues: “all genuine mandalas have descended from the remote past with virtually no changes or modifications made. They are cosmic patterns on the level of universal truth and, by extension, reveal the internal composition of man’s nature.”
In this way, the mandala “helps to preserve traditional doctrinal patterns for study and meditation. … They preserve the purity of the descent of fundamental ideas.”
The exactness required for a mandala to become “activated” as an archetypal symbol suggests that these symbolic devices could not be made by accident; they would have to have been derived from a previous source who had already attained mastery over the symbolism and geometry involved in making one.
Once the esoteric doctrine moved into Buddhism, thereby forming the Mahayana School, the occult expertise of mandala design would have been applied to the task of formulating a special set of mandalas for use in this new school.
Manly Hall elaborates on the basics of this process: “Meditation images were usually created by monks or mystics who received the substance of the symbol during a mystical experience. In most cases, also, these devices trace back either to the founder of the sect or to great teachers that arose through the centuries. The mandalas, therefore, are not subject to revision or emendation. They may be copied, … but for the most part are traditional forms, unchanging and untouched by the inconsistencies of mortal life.”
Of the mandalas that would emerge out this process, two in particular, termed “the Mandala of the Two Realms”, were revered as being especially important in the esoteric rites of the Mahayana sect. In the sections below, we will explore the main ideas portrayed in these mandalas and discuss why they were deemed so significant.
22. The Use of Mandalas in Esoteric Practice
As we’ve been exploring in our ongoing series, mandalas are meditation devices that, through the expertise of their symbolism and design, contain the power to activate and release archetypal energies within the psyches of those who meditate upon them.
By meditating upon archetypal symbols and ensouling them with qualities and attributes derived from one’s philosophy and religion, the images one is visualizing may become “awakened” and enlivened”.
The point of esoteric meditation exercises is to catalyze this process by focusing the subjective consciousness of the person upon archetypal imagery, sounds, and forms. Then, through the transpersonal realm of psychological archetypes, an intermediary link between individual awareness and Universal Consciousness is established.
To create this “breakthrough” psychological experience of universal consciousness, the design of the mandala must be exact, its arrangement being “strictly according to Canon.”
If the design parameters of the archetype that the mandala is attempting to capture are respected, then “a certain magical overtone is created and the Mandala is bound to the cosmic archetype by what Paracelsus called ‘sympathetic magic’.”
What this means is that if the mandala is exact and if the initiate is properly prepared, then the conscious and unconscious realms of the psyche can be united together in a mystical experience. The effect of this “sacred union” is the illumination of God’s inner “psychic mechanism” in its full, collective splendor.
Here, one experiences "the divine totality, permeating everything; an invisible light, stronger than any visible luminosity. It flows in upon the individual as a living force, … illuminating all the dark parts of the soul and causing them to rejoice.”
In this way, the mandala is “like a mystic maze, challenging those who meditate upon it to examine all its parts with an ever receptive appreciation until they find, somewhere in the remote distances of a simple symbol, Self and God, and discover the two to be one.”
Because its design is primarily targeted toward stimulating the unconscious aspects of the human psyche, the inner meaning behind a mandala’s symbolic design can never be entirely explained in rational, analytical terms.
The goal is not to “memorize the elements involved, as the Western might do,” but rather to “unfold one's inner life through a series of conscious experiences in which the parts of the Infinite Plan seem to actually come alive within himself.”
Thus, as Hall explains, “it is difficult to secure any definite description of the meaning of mandala designs. … The deities represented can be described, the symbols enumerated, and the colors defined. When these are brought together however, a psychic quality is engendered, and it is the impact of this quality that constitutes essential meaning.” Therefore, “meaning, in the ordinary sense of the word, is not applicable to these figures. They cannot be explained; they can only be experienced.”
The Mahayana body of teachings are often called “The Great Vehicle” because it provides a framework of symbolism and a method of meditation which promise, if properly followed, to bring the disciple into a culminating experience of mysticism and spirituality.
Hall explains that “the development of the Great Vehicle is inevitable if the steps are taken in their proper sequence and if the individual maintains through it a clear cut personal integrity.”
Mandalas such as the Diamond and Matrix Mandalas are a critical part of this Great Vehicle: they were “venerated and used in meditation in order that the divine plan or scheme could be impressed upon the heart and consciousness of the viewer.”
Through these magical devices, “the mystic in his meditation has a deep experience of the great plan of existence.” An immense universe, one that transcends all human imagination, is revealed, one that is “an infinite extension of life, law, and purpose manifesting through will, wisdom, and love.”
23. The Symbolism of the Diamond and Matrix Mandalas
Mahayana Buddhism features a variety of mandalas consecrated to different members of their divine hierarchy. Among these, the Diamond and Matrix Mandalas are held to be of particular significance because they depict the ultimate principle of this hierarchy: the Divine Self.
This principle of Universal Self is depicted in the Japanese branch of the Mahayana School in the form of the supreme Buddha “Dainichi Nyorai”, who is also called “Mahavairocana”.
It is to Mahavairocana that the Diamond and Matrix Mandalas are consecrated. In both mandalas, he is the entity seated in the center, meditating upon his lotus throne.
Around him is unfolded an internal hierarchy of spiritual and psychological powers and agencies, each serving as a subsidiary aspect of the manifest consciousness of this single Universal Self.
The Diamond and Matrix mandalas serve as master maps or blueprints of the inner organizational structure of the Buddhist hierarchy.
The key to deciphering these blueprints is to understand that both mandalas are premised upon the fundamental idea that Unity underlies diversity. This Unity impresses its power over the visible world through invisible processes, which is what these mandalas are attempting to describe and depict.
As Hall explains, the design of each of these mandalas is based upon the reality of an “eternal Deity who presides over existence and is diffused throughout all of creation.” In each of these mandala designs there is thus the “implication of archetypal unity, which follows the Pythagorean concept that division occurs within Unity, but Unity itself is undivided.”
In these mandalas, the central location of Mahavairocana indicates his position as the One behind the Many, with the hierarchies of deities surrounding him representing his “reflexes and attributes.”
As Manly Hall explains, Dainichi Nyorai is the meditating Buddha “who is the seed of existence.” He is the whole that contains all parts; he “represents total existence in its absolute form.” He is the world as a whole, infusing “all time and space, causing every atom to be seminal with his own vital essence.”
Hall continues: “Although Dainichi appears as an absolute monarch, he actually rules over only the extensions of his own consciousness, for there is nothing else in all of existence. … In the radiant nature of Dainichi Nyorai, all things are forever One. Unity is reality; diversity is an illusion. … All mysteries of consciousness exist within the seed of Mahavairocana. There is but one life in all of space and all manifestations of existence, from the celestial to the terrestrial, are rooted in this one life and sustained by its eternal vitality.”
Mahavairocana is therefore “the ever-burning flame, bestower of life and light, and guardian of the Law. As a spectrum of many colors is inherent in the white light of the sun, so the ethical and moral attributes of the Divine Plan flow forever from the spiritual sun and Eternal Illuminator, Dainichi Nyorai.”
Being the One above the All, Mahavairocana is the source and foundation of every other Buddha, Bodhisattva, or other archetypal figure contained within either mandala.
All aspects and elements of the mandalas “derive their power from Dainichi Nyorai, who is serenely sitting in the crimson heart of the world.”
“In the center of the great throne room of the matrix mandala, with its four gates, is seated Dainichi Nyorai (Mahavairocana). He is seated in the heart of a red lotus flower and is attended by four Dhyani Buddhas, each with a Dhyani Bodhisattva, which has emanated from its parent Buddha.”
With Dainichi Nyorai at the center of each, both mandalas are read from the center to the circumference. The hierarchy of deities surrounding Dainichi are arranged in hierarchies that decrease in power as one moves to the periphery of the mandala.
In the Womb or Matrix mandala, Mahavairocana’s “symbolic entourage consists of twelve assemblages of deities arranged in courts or compartments. Each group carries a symbolic object by which its activities can be recognized and the requirements of its worship properly indicated.”
In the Diamond Mandala, the diagram “consists of nine squares or rectangles of the same size, corresponding to the center of the lotus and eight petals. The central square is the source of activity of the diagram. It is centered on Dainichi as the Great Illuminator - his is the center of the five circles of the central square.”
In the Diamond Mandala, Dainichi is featured not only at the center of the mandala but also at the center-top, where he poses with a hand posture (mudra) indicating the union of the two realms.
While both mandalas are centered around the same archetypal Buddha, Mahavairocana, each is intended to depict a different aspect of this divine being.
As the author of the book Japanese Mandalas informs us, “broadly speaking, the Diamond World mandala represents reality in the Buddha Realm, the world of the unconditioned, the real, the universal, and the absolute.” By contrast, “the Womb World mandala represents reality as it is revealed in the world of the conditioned, the individual, the particular, and the relative. Each mandala is fully meaningful, however, only when paired with the other.”
Manly Hall elaborates further on how these two mandalas compare:
“Using the symbolism of the Oak tree, the Matrix Mandala is the acorn and the Diamond Mandala is the complete tree which has grown from the acorn.“
Another way of looking at it is that the Diamond Mandala describes the process of First Cause by which Mahavairocana Buddha, as the Divine Self, is first brought into formation. This mandala therefore describes the archetype of creation as it exists in the world of “indestructible forces.” The Matrix Mandala, by contrast, represents “the world womb”, representing the Universe in a continuous state of divine unfoldment.
Overall, the Diamond Mandala represents Mahavairocana in his perfect or archetypal form, while the Matrix Mandala represents him in the state of becoming.
In Buddhist initiation rites, “the lower grade unfolds the mysteries of the Matrix Mandala, while the higher grade bestows the radiance of the Diamond Mandala.”
Before approaching these mandalas, "a student of esoteric Buddhism may take regular lessons for a period of from ten to twenty years with a priest who is recognized as an outstanding authority. … Gradually, the student becomes familiar with the complete iconography of Mahayana Buddhism and comes to realize that every image is a revelation of Cosmic Law moving into activity.
At the same time, the disciple must develop his inner resources by practicing disciplines of self-purification and self-realization.
It is necessary for the student to come to a close and personal understanding of each element of the mandalas’ iconography because each aspect comes into play in the meditation exercise.
For example, it is of vital importance that the student understand the meaning and significance of the four Dhyani Buddhas that surround Mahavairocana Buddha in a quaternary pattern in each of the mandalas.
As we’ve discussed previously, these “Celestial Buddhas” represent the Rays or Mind Powers of Mahavairocana. Together they manifest the consciousness of Mahavairocana within the world of creation.
In our previous discussions of the Dhyani Buddhas, we stated that, archetypally, there are seven Dhyani Buddhas. Only five are pictured in these two mandalas, however. Why the discrepancy?
The answer is that we are currently in the Fifth of Seven Ages. All Seven Dhyani Buddhas are made manifest only at the end of the Seven Ages; for now, the consciousness of only Five of these Seven Buddhas are available for use to draw upon.
It is interesting to note that in these mandalas, the five Buddhas are portrayed in a quaternary pattern, with four Buddhas forming a cross within which the fifth (Mahavairocana) is enthroned. This fifth Buddha is actually the first and represents “the one before the many”.
Sometimes, this first Buddha is termed simply “Vairocana”, with the title “Mahavairocana” referencing the divine consciousness that encompasses the entire diagram and therefore exits behind or above (“maha-“) the emergence of this First Buddha. Here, Mahavairocana references eternal life, while Vairocana is the first conditioning of this eternal life.
24. Seed-Letters and Sacred Names
The Diamond and Matrix Mandalas each exist in two forms: “In one, the vast hierarchy is represented by groupings of figures portraying deities. In the other, Sanskrit letters are substituted for the images.”
In the higher grades of the Mahayana esoteric rites, the disciple is presented with an alternative form of each of the two mandalas. In this alternate form, the overall design layout of the mandala is kept the same, but the symbolic imagery contained within it is substituted for a more advanced and technical form of symbolism: the seed-letter or “Bija” symbol.
These seed-letters are “characters from the Gupta Sanksrit alphabet” which are “substituted for deities according to a precise system.” These letters are called “Seeds of the Buddhas”.
Here, elegant, flowing Sanskrit letters take the place of pictographic images. These letters are each associated with a sound. Thus, “each image has a keynote. When this is recognized, the elaborate group of letters becomes a perfect harmonic picture of the esoteric concept involved.”
In Esoteric Buddhism, the seed-letter is considered the most advanced of all symbolism. No image is used to identify any of the metaphysical principles. “This removes completely the stigma of idolatry and demands those viewing the mandala to call upon their own inner resources when contemplating the design.”
Thus, by substituting abstract geometric shapes for other symbols more wisely used, ideas were rescued from ungainly forms and the confusion of an elaborate mythology.”
Through the seed-letter, the mind bypasses its instinct to become attached to “name and form” and instead becomes directed right into the experience of the intended archetype.
Regarding the idea that the Bija or seed-letters are the “seeds of Buddhas”, Manly Hall remarks that “all things have their secret names,” meaning each Buddha and Bodhisattva posses an innate “vibratory keynote.”
Seed-letters and the sacred tones and sounds associated with them (mantras) are designed to resonate the mystic with the “secret names” (i.e. vibratory resonance) of the Buddhist divinities.
In this way, “things name or declare themselves out of their own natures and substances to the inner ear of the meditating monk.”
Manly Hall goes deeper into the esoteric use of these “seed-letter” diagrams:
“The Sanskrit letters and their related sounds are used in magic and to summon divine beings. Like seeds, these letters are believed to contain the germ of deities, elements, and conjurations.”
It was from the desire to discover and contact these archetypal beings through the use of their seed letters that “a divine science of numerology, cabalism, and mantra arose in both the East and West.”
This divine science is exact: those who follow it precisely, while also being themselves “without blemish, meaning that they hold no mental or emotional attitudes that will distort the mystical experience, will be able to release the seed of the Buddha or Bodhisattva they are venerating” with unfailing success.
25. The Mantra: an Intonation of Sacred Sound
In the Matrix and Diamond Mandalas, the entire design can be represented purely by seed-letters. Using these seed-letters, the meditator is intended to “intuitively transform the symbols into the likenesses of the transcendent beings” they are archetypally connected to.
In the esoteric rites of not only Buddhism but all other great philosophical schools, the intonation of sacred prayers, sounds, and syllables becomes an important aspect of the meditation process.
Manly Hall informs us that “a considerable part of the Mystery rituals consisted of invocations and intonements, for which purpose special sound chambers were constructed.”
If properly performed, these ritualistic invocations of sound and prayer can trigger a resonance with the same archetypes the disciple is attempting to visualize in their meditations.
In Buddhism, the intonation of sacred sounds and prayers is called a “mantra”.
A mantra is like a sound version of a mandala: it is a "symbolic combination of sounds, just as the mandala is a symbolic combination of basic forms” and images.
Mantras work through “tonal patterns” which are “stimulated by chanting or intoning. The sounds they produce are interpreted as emotional moods, which set up vibratory impulses distributed throughout the field of the person.”
Mandalas should thus be understood as “a scientific sequence of sound, a carefully devised melodic line, which cause an internal motion or rhythm. This motion not only cleanses the system through which it passes, but intensifies the vibration or oscillation of atoms.”
To give an example of how mantras work in the Mahayana system, an entire esoteric program of religious meditation and prayer was built around Amida Buddha. It was premised “upon a simple religious formula which was called the Nembutsu. This was a verbal meditation which translates into english: ‘Adoration to the Amida Buddha’.”
In the Japanese branch of the Mahayana system, this mantra is stated “Namu Amida Butsu”. Hall explains that, in the esoteric rites of Buddhism, “this mantra is to be repeated frequently and is a continuous verbalization of veneration for the radiant principle of eternal love.”
When combined with the right setting, intention, body posturing, and visualizations, the psychological effects produced by these intonations can be extremely powerful.
Bodhisattvas, the second level of the Buddhist hierarchy under the buddhas, are also featured prominently in the Mandala of the Two Worlds. Consequently, each bodhisattva also has a sacred name or seed-letter attached to them.
Each bodhisattva represents an ideal or archetypal expression of one of the qualities of divine consciousness that the Celestial Buddhas radiate out. Being microcosms of the Divine Self, humanity possess the seeds of each of these qualities within itself. The point of evolution is for these soul powers to be developed and released to their fullest potential.
Manly Hall poetically describes the relationship between the archetypes that the bodhisattvas represent and the existence of these divine qualities within ourselves: “There are deep and strange powers locked in the human soul. These powers are like seeds, from which can grow wonderful flowers, plants, and fruits. There is the seed of strength which can produce the hero of the world, who is “superman strong” because he has conquered himself. Then there is the seed of wisdom by which man can become all-knowing. Through this wisdom he becomes aware of the vanity of knowledge, thus mastering the powers of the intellect. There is also the seed of all-bestowing, by which the sattva gains all by giving all. And finally there is the magic seed of immortality, by the mystery of which the man who would save his life loses it, but the man who loses his life for truth attains the life everlasting. A wonderful circle of radiant bodhisattvas embody these mysteries. Seated upon their splendid lotus blossoms, they sit in eternal meditation” and embody these “transcendent wonders” of the human soul to perfection.
“Each of the bodhisattvas had an essential keynote in the form of a radiant virtue. Manjusri was the "sweet voiced" of eternal wisdom; Maitreya, the all-loving server of mankind; Vajrapani, the source of the great strength of reality; Avalokiteshvara, compassionate mercy for all who have suffered; and Samantabhadra, the simple experience of the all-goodness of the Law.”
By sounding out these “keynotes” on all levels of one’s mental apparatus (thought, emotion, sensation, and intuition) one's consciousness becomes identified with them and radiates with their archetypal qualities.
The bodhisattvas embody archetypes that exist within each of us as seed-potentials. We have the ability to develop and bring into perfect expression these qualities in the same way that the bodhisattvas have.
The entire mystery is one of consciousness rediscovering itself and releasing its powers and potentials into active expression. Through the use of mantras, seed-letters, and mandalas, this quest for spiritual re-awakening and Self-expression is brought to a state of ultimate fulfillment.
Through use of these esoteric techniques, “the disciple was not required to journey to some remote part of the cosmos in order to find the abode of the gods. He internalized his faculties and powers, and immediately experienced union with the spiritual quality of a bodhisattva.”
In sum, the occult science of the mantra is based on the premise that “the vibratory power of words influence human consciousness. Every vibration has some kind of effect.”
The priesthood of the ancient Mysteries leveraged the innate vibratory power of sound and targeted it toward awakening and stimulating archetypal elements within one’s subconscious.
In their system, specific tones and vibrations became associated with particular archetypal deities and principles. These vibrations become the “sacred names” of these archetypes; from them, "the essential qualities of the gods themselves could be discovered.”
Manly Hall elaborates: “It is assumed that to create a certain pattern according to the ancient Law is to release within the nature of the worshiper the universal pattern symbolized by that pattern. This suggests cabalistic magic and the doctrine of magical affinities between the macrocosm and the microcosm.”
The same logic supporting the esoteric use of mantras was also utilized in sacred architecture in terms of the geometric design of important temples used in the Mystery rites.
The architectonics of these ancient temples were designed to “key into” the same archetypal deities and powers that mudras and mantras target.
As Manly Hall explains, “buildings erected according to the rules governing the various classes of sacred architecture are consecrated by their design alone. They radiate an atmosphere which can be experienced by the worshipper.”
The same institution which devised mandalas and mantras (the Esoteric School) also designed and engineered the ancient temples where these esoteric disciplines were practiced.
As Hall informs us, “societies of architects and builders, bound together by secret ties, preserved the arcana of symbolic architecture, which had descended to them from remote times. … The Divine Arithmetic behind these monuments shares the key of universal design. Any departure from the most rigid adherence to the sacred rules and laws of (these fraternities) was a violation of both religious and secular laws.”
“Initiates and master builders of this tradition considered architecture itself as vast structure of compassion to be unfolded mathematically and diagrammatically according to laws of dynamic symmetry.”
Plotinus, one of the founders of Alexandria’s Neoplatonic School, elaborates further on these priestly architects, discussing how the ultimate goal of their sacred architecture was to tap into and resonate with archetypal powers existing within the soul - the same powers that the mystic is attempting to contact in their meditations.
“The wise men of old, who made temples and statues in the wish that the gods should be present to them, had in mind that the nature of the Soul is easy to attract. If someone were to construct something sympathetic to it and able to receive a part of it, it would of all things receive Soul most easily. That which is sympathetic to (the Soul) is what imitates it in some way, like a mirror able to catch the reflection of the form.”
Hall further elaborates:
Ancient “public buildings , palaces, shrines, temples, and tombs were mathematically proportioned to affect subtly but profoundly all who viewed them. … The temples to the various deities were designed to place the worshipper in the proper mood or state of mind. Standing in the building, he was overwhelmed by a particular kind of feeling.”
“As these temples were built by initiated artificers, they were microcosms of a larger world, displaying in all their parts the divine purpose and the procession of principles moving forth out of the Supreme Essence or Nature.”
“The governing pattern of the building was determined by the purpose for which the structure was erected. Thus, the temples of gods, goddesses, heroes, and nymphs were symbolic representations, in stone and marble, of the powers, principles, and attributes of these divinities.”
In the design of these consecrated temples, a “basic theme was repeated and amplified, and then variations on the theme were introduced in much the same way as in a musical composition.”
While meditating or performing a sacred ritual within these temples, the initiates of the Mysteries would intone sacred mantras that were designed to “key into” the archetypal energies and principles that the temples themselves were intentionally engineered to tap into and harmonize with.
In this way, the science of sound was an integral aspect of the Mystery teachings and therefore forms a vital part of the esoteric tradition. This tradition is one that we must rediscover and reimplement today in a new format as we work to reclaim civilization and rededicate it toward the fulfillment of a higher spiritual purpose.
26. The Mudra: the Human Body as a Mandala
Alongside visualization exercises and mantras, a third element of the ancient esoteric meditation rites practiced in the Mysteries involved the performance of “mudras” and “asanas”, which are physical gestures, postures, and exercises one performs during one’s meditations.
With the mudra, the human body itself becomes a mandala: a physical expression of invisible powers and forces working within the soul.
Here, through gestures and postures, the human body becomes a graceful instrument of the divine - a living mandala.
The purpose of the mudra (hand postures) and of the various physical yoga postures that accompany them (asanas) is to embody physically the symbol one is attempting to absorb psychologically.
These postures have an instinctive, archetypal quality to them. Like mandalas, they are subject to an exact science: each body position is intended to link with a certain archetypal element.
As Hall explains, “internal experiences, as they arise in meditation, flow outward into expression along lines of least resistance”. Mudras and asanas are intended “capture” the energies of these experience and resonate them within the physical structure of the body itself.
In this way, the mudra serves to physically “consummate” the mediation experience. They represent a physical "action to perform at the point of understanding.” Therefore, they “become the symbolic fulfillment of the impulse to action and reveal, or to bear witness to, the principle involved in the experience.”
In the body, one's “heart center” is the point of focus that the mudra is attempting to establish an energetic resonance with. Hall explains:
“The heart is the sanctuary, the focal point of an in-moving life flowing in from space, from the cosmos, from the universe. … The sensitive area or field around the heart was anciently associated with the pulse point and is the primary receiving center of invisible forces and energies converging upon it, forming an area of intensity.”
“From this area the intensities are distributed throughout the human body, giving the body its animation, with various specialized aspects of this heart energy supporting the innumerable functions of the body - physical, emotional, and mental. In the diffusion of this energy throughout the body, it reaches the smallest cell and keeps each tiny atom in a state of continual vibration during the process of life.”
“If, then, we can perceive a great stream of life or energy moving from a core point and diffusing itself throughout our physical and psychological organisms, the problem becomes one of tracing this energy step by step back to its source in us.”
“If we can reach this source and have the pure experience of energy before it is distributed, diffused, and specialized, this experience might constitute a direct identification with life. It may be possible for us to have a momentary flash of the infinite root of life in ourselves and it may be possible for us to pass through this focal point, and become aware of the source of life, and even to pull backwards to the secret and sacred springs of eternal reality.”
In the Japanese sect of Mahayana Buddhism, this heart center and the God dwelling within are personified by Dainichi Nyorai - the Great Illuminator; Mahavairocana.
The esoteric meditation disciplines utilized by this sect were intended to establish resonance within the psyche with this archetypal Divine Self. This was pursued across three primary modes of interaction: a) through specially designed symbolic images (mandalas); b) through intonation of sacred sounds (mantras), and c) through the performance of targeted body postures and gestures (mudras and asanas).
The aim of these esoteric disciplines is to marry together the physical, emotional, and mental aspects of the psyche. Once this is achieved, the full psychological faculties of the individual can be directed toward a common task: becoming a receptive vehicle for the greater consciousness of the Universal Self.
As Hall explains, “man does not attain enlightenment through merit alone, but his earnest endeavors and rigorous self-discipline cause Dainichi to emerge in glory from the seed in the aspiring heart of the believer.”
This emergence of Dainichi from within the heart of one’s own psyche is experienced as enlightenment. “Enlightenment is an explosion of awareness, the sudden ability to consciously estimate the wholeness, the oneness, the unity, the totality within which material things are suspended as tiny units or seeds within their own cosmic immensity.”
This wholeness is the Divine Self - the source of not only the entire Buddhist hierarchy, but also of the various seed letters and sacred tones and vibrations associated with each divinity.
Being simultaneously the origin point and final consummation of all sound, Dainichi Nyorai is sometimes termed “the Voice of the Silence”.
This inner Voice can only be found once one has transcended all other stimulations, attachments, and distractions. As Hall explains, “if thought and emotion subside into their own source, the result is a kind of ‘void’. This results when the inner life is no longer conditioned by any of the phenomenon of the senses.”
“This silence is not a vacuum or deprivation but eternal life. It is the cause of all that lives, and to it all living things must return - not to extinction, but to completeness. This reality which transcends all definition is Dainichi Nyorai, the source of all, symbolically seated in eternal meditation. He is in the midst of Infinity, an ocean of eternal light, and the only darkness that exists is in himself.”
This Self is the only absolute Truth in the universe that we know; all other elements are projections of this Self: creations of its Mind.
“This magnificent spectacle (the Universe) is curiously, even divinely, unsubstantial. It is the production of a cosmic dreaming, but it is as near to truth as dreams can ever come. It is the ultimate expansion of the power to think, to know, to reason. The spectacle is suspended in the midst of “no mind”, for beyond it there is only that which transcends and defies even the highest aspects of human consciousness.”
“In the ultimate all differences are reconciled. All conditions transcend their own conditioning, and all symbols unite in the nature of the Great Illuminator. … In the end, the Cosmos is revealed as the eternal teacher of all that lives. … To recognize this is to be an Arhat; to experience this and share the experience with all living things is to be a Bodhisattva; and to become one with it forever is to be a Buddha.”
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