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NOTES ON TANTRA ART
Basically, all YANTRA can be classified as TANTRA ART.
"Art is not a profession but a path toward truth and self-realization both for the maker and spectator. Tantra has a great message for this awareness."
Ajit Mookerji, in 'Tantra Art', Ravi Kumar, Paris, London, New Delhi, 1971/72, section 2, pp. 38-54.
"On what we used to explain away as mysteries, modern discoveries in higher physics has shed new light. For this the Tantric art of India deserves scientific analysis. What is more, while in abstract art we still normally think in terms of space and time, Tantra has gone further and brought in concepts of sound and light, especially in conditioning art forms. This has no parallel elsewhere."
"In this spiritual process, a new sign language symbolizing the man-universe relation was discovered and used."
"Tantric symbols and patterns, the store house of which is yet little known, light up form and colour because what the shilpin-yogin arrives at is related to his inner spiritual growth."
NOTES FROM Mookerji, Yoga Art, p.191
A part of this work is to discover and explore possible historic connections between East and West - not in the sense of cross-cultural pollination, via the trade routes, but as structural emergences which were born out of the collective consciousness.
Our path of inquiry does not only embrace the past, but the present as well, and I feel most important, the future.
Jurgen Harten starts off his examination of the work of Bruce Nauman with the words:
"Who is an artist, when is an artist an artist, what is an artist anyway?"
The answer that Bruce Nauman gives is rather similar to the vein of Ajit Mookerjee's views on Tantra Art:
"The true artist is an amazing luminous fountain."
"The true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truths."
YANTRA as Revelation again?
We are not dealing with mere pretty patterns - but with a highly advanced system of the dynamics of philosophy, a fact that should be grasped at the beginning of any study. Prof. H.V.Guenther gives insight into what the term 'philosophy' indicates in the Buddhist sense. The Mandala is thus not just an objects, a 'thing' that arose out of a vicarious desire to produce beautiful patterns. It is a science that has accumulated from the experiential endeavor of countless practitioners, based on the Absolute Teachings of the Buddha - in the microcosmic/macrocosmic paradigm. The structure is the process, which is less, concerned with matter and more with energy.
To start from the structure and work backwards, or retrogressively to the endeavor that birthed it - is suitable for the academic approach, but true 'entry' into the Mandala involves a committed process within the furnace of Buddhist practice itself and under the direction of the Teacher in the correct sequence.
See Govinda, Creative Meditation, pp. 60 -61.
This does not mean that there are not areas of affinity with information that is external to the initiatory circles. In both psychology and anthropology - the circular structure was of deep significance. In ancient times when a sacred enclosure was being defined, or a grove or piece of land that is set apart and dedicated to a God or Goddess, the first act of the magician or shaman priest was to draw a magical circle as protection.
This old magical device is used universally when a special or secret purpose is intended, or to find/define a holy place. The circle describes the energy of holiness, or wholeness. Though the triangle and the square also features in later aspects of the sacred construction. The circle is a symbol so complete and absolute, cosmically all-embracing - that today all circular designs are termed 'mandalas' which is not actually correct.
But one certainty is that throughout the visual literature of all systems, the circle holds the highest honours. In Pythagorian and Platonic ideas, in the Hermetic - Alchemical squaring of the circle (in Michael Maier and countless others), in Raymon Lull - there is a common agreement on this most absolute of shapes. In this, we find relationships to the Mandalas of Tibet -
C.G.Jung on the mandala:
"They are amongst the oldest religious systems of humanity and may even have existed in Paleolithic times. Moreover they are distributed all over the world."
Jung gives us a description of a Gnostic Mandala from the Codex Brucianus:
"This same is he (Monogenes) who dwelleth in the Monad, which is in the Sethius and which came from the place of which none can say where it is; From Him it is the Monad came, in the manner of a ship, laden with all good things and in the manner of a field planted with every kind of tree, and in the manner of a city, filled with all races of mankind...This is the fashion of the Monad all these being in it there are twelve Monads as a crown upon its head... And to its veil which surrounds it in the manner of a defense there are twelve gates...This same is the Mother City of the One Begotten." In Jung, Psychology and Alchemy.
To illustrate this, Jung shows a Tibetan Mandala where a great vajra in the centre is surrounded by 12 smaller vajras in a circle; in the Egyptian Tarot, this is also shown as the 12 Stars which form the crown of Isis Unveiled, while the inner Crown is actually the Sun itself. Hence:
"The mystery of Isis described by Apuleius culminated in what early medieval alchemy, going back to Alexandrine culture, transmitted by Arab tradition, called the SOLIFICATIO, where the initiate was crowned as Helios."
In Jung, Psychology and Alchemy.
Mandalas in the European tradition appear in experiences of the highest intensity, and take on Solar symbolism. Trungpa Rinpoche writes:
"This is the basic mandala principle. The mandala is generally depicted as a circle which revolves around a centre, which signifies that everything around you becomes part of your awareness, the whole sphere expressing the vivid reality of life."
Lama Govinda writes:
"In other words, the meditator must imagine himself in the centre of the mandala as an embodiment of the divine figure of perfect Buddhahood, the realization of which is the aim of his sadhana."
What is sadhana and how does this relate to the mandala?
"Sadhana is that which produces siddhi. It is the means or practice by which the desired end may be attained, and consists in the exercise and training of the body and psychic faculties, upon the gradual perfection of which siddhi follows; the nature and degree of which, again, depends upon the progress made towards the realization of the atma, whose veiling nature the body is.
From the Tibetan view "...siddhi's, or accomplishments are either ordinary or supreme. The eight ordinary siddhis involve mastery over the phenomenal world. Supreme siddhis is enlightenment."
From, 'The Tantra of the Great Liberation; the Maha Nirvana Tantra, Trans, by A.Avalon."
Part of the sadhana is the puja, a common term for worship. It is within this structure of ritual worship (puja) and sadhana - that the Mandala is generated.
A History of the Tibetan Mandala has yet to be written. But in Olschak we read about The Diamond Rosary of Mandalas.
"As the Tantras developed into "weaving tools" to expand the consciousness and to "weave" a connection between the microcosm and macrocosm, the Mandalas became genuine psychograms. After the text of the GUHYASAMAJA became known in the eighth century, scholars began to write comprehensive Tantric works. The invocation texts, or sadhanas, transmitted the method of realization (sGrub-thabs), as well as exact iconographic descriptions. Being 'word-keys' they enable us to 'read' a Mandala. In the eleventh century, the first known handbooks on Mandala were written at the Indian Buddhist University of Vikramashila. In the 'Blue Annals' (Roerich) it is written: "One should not speak slightly of those who bestowed initiation according to the "Ocean of SADHANAS" because one is unable to establish whether one is fit or not to enter into the "Great Mystic Sphere" (dKyil-hKhor Chen-po)""
"dKyil-hKhor" is the Tibetan for 'mandala', and Prof H.Guenther gives a definition of this word by Blo-gsal rgya-mtso:
"The previous learned men of Tibet explained the term dKyil as meaning 'the foremost' and hKhor as 'the surrounding', or dKyil as the god and hKhor as his mansion, or dKyil as 'transworldly' and hKhor as 'the worldly', and so on. Here I follow (the etymology of the) Sanskrit word mandala; Manda is the same as sara and means 'essence and la means to 'play', 'to take', 'to hold to'. Therefore dKyil-hKhor means to 'take the awareness of great bliss' which is the essence (of the experience)."
"The experience is infinitely rich and the continues gaze and feeling can go from one aspect of the perfection of reality to another, now concentrating on one aspect, now another, in a continuous though fluctuating delight which itself is the unity and unification of the polarities. The richness to which the gaze may turn is technically termed a MANDALA, which kLong-chen rab-'byams-pa, following an old tradition explains as
"The Indian term mandala is in Tibetan dKyil-hKhor. It means to surround any prominent facet of reality with beauty."
"The beauty of the world to which reference is made is not its quality or value as separable from it. The world is beautiful because it represents beauty or absolute Being, and because it is grounded in it. Its beauty is an 'image' and 'appearance' pointing to its eternal perfection and completeness. In this experience of beauty and goodness the individual is entirely content; wherever he gazes he encounters beauty, and he correspondingly expresses beauty and goodness in his very being."
All quotations from 'Buddhist Philosophy in Theory and Practice', H.V. Guenther, Pelican.
The iconographic details of the mandala are visualized in stages during the sadhana. Within this process are deep Teachings which only the Tibetan gurus themselves can unfold. Perhaps the time is not yet ripe. And certainly, to rush up to a Tibetan lama and ask for teachings on the Mandala would be like a child demanding a University Degree immediately from the Chancellor.
An excellent description of the structure of the Mandala can be found in 'The Mystic Art of Tibet, Blanche Olschak. SEE ALSODEFINITIONS OF THE MANDALA. And:
MANDALAS ON THE WEB.
The critics, the price list, the wine glasses, the cigarette in one hand, is not an environment for Tantra Art. "Art for Art's Sake" does not exist except in the minds of those who profit from it. Thus we can say that Tantra Art is much for practical/pragmatic and empirical - because it expresses the 'real' world in a lucid and scientific form of semiosis /ad infinitum.
The word 'scientific' is used here in its deepest connotations, as absolutely as we dare - in that whatever the spectral sequence, whether it be an Alchemical Laboratory (in the speculative sense) or a Tantric Sadhana (in the experiential matrix) - or any other possibility of endless permutations - the 'archai' are revealed - and so the evidence of this 'solidarity of structure' (Eliade) - we could be so bold as to call the material thus gathered 'scientific'.
In other words, not only the human body is undergoing the transformations of the Laboratory - but the entire laboratory of Life is in a process of change and impermanence - but this great river of energy, matter, time and space - does have its 'archai', of which, according to the Teachings of Buddhism, the body itself is an archetype, known as 'The Precious Human Body' and the seat of 'Bodhicitta'.
This is the Microcosmos - and the relationship with the Macrocosmos is where the literature of Tantra begins.
As Carpenter asks himself:
"...whether the higher forms of the aesthetic emotion do not consist merely in a supreme understanding of creation."
We can also enquire what the relationships are between the Tantric theories and Aesthetics. This will be dealt with later on. Tantra Art cannot be separated from Mantra - sound being the mother of form - or in other words, vibration crystallizes into Matter. In the beginning was the Verb.
While the radiating Mantra Letters are depicted in Yantras arranged around and on the petals of the Lotus of the Heart Chakra - this visual depiction needs experiential practice.
The Hebrew Letters are actually 'seen' as Letters of Fire. Both Hebrew and Tibetan, and therefore Tantric (as in Hindu science) Letters, radiate light, i.e. sound is energy. Sound is thus a foundational matrix and again these vibrations themselves have 'archai.'
This is the stream of mental formation necessary for generating and nourishing fantasy. These are usually brought up from various storage systems, the retrieval obeying certain Order and structural codes, working through the millions of circuits in a micro-second, to activate the precise memory, at its biological site. What must be recognized is that in storage the image is not recognizable as it is, or will be, in the projected/display form. This sheer Cosmic Mystery is exquisitely documented in the science, ritual and art of Tantra. With enough research, we should also be able to find similar code-systems, which trace the image from its abstract (unrecognizable) form, to its projected form in the subjectively documented world of mundane visual image.
The stored form seems to be more concrete and fixed, the projected more dynamic and phenomenal.
The journey is from the representational, the named and labaled, to the abstract data patterns. There are further dimensions 'beyond' this particular polarity, that are without a visual quality, or base, so we have to be aware that even the more subtle, abstract forms, are not the end of the process.
This process is a deep cypher on the structure of the psyche itself. By psyche we mean the constellation of data that constitutes the idea of the self, viewed from the position of an ego. By imprinting the memory storage with a Yantra, the psyche is activated, and the calcifications of the ego base are dissolved, or at least temporarily dislodged. This process is well illustrated by the work of the Renaissance magus, Marsillio Ficino:
"Like all his magic, Ficino's use of talismans was a highly subjective and imaginative one. His magical practices, whether poetic and musical incantations, evolved into beautiful Renaissance forms. This use of magicsed images was really directed towards a conditioning of the imagination to receive celestial influences. His talismanic images, were intended to be held within, in the imagination of their user. He describes how an image drawn from astralised mythology could be printed inwardly on the mind with such force that when a person, with this imprint in his imagination, came out into the world of external appearances, these became unified through the power of the inner images, drawn from the higher world."
Frances A. Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition.
Here we reminded again of the quote from Mookerjee:
"…the physics and metaphysics of the world are made to coincide with the psyche of the meditator."
As will be seen, this synchronicity of the psyche and " into the world of external appearances" which marks Ficino's work, is the fruit of research into visual metaphysics, and identical to the Yantra of Tantra Art.
Once again we are confronted with the fact that an Order / Sequence exists in both Eastern and Western proceedures. In Ficino:
"Applied to the inner talismanic images of an occult memory system, this would mean that the magical power of such images would consist of their perfect proportion."
"Renaissance theory of proportion was based on the 'universal harmony', the harmonious proportions of the world, the macrocosm, reflected in the body of man, the microcosm." Frances A. Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition.
In dealing with the visual structure of what is stored, abstractly, or what is projected, representationally, and the order of this sequence - the process can also be seen in terms of polarity, i.e. negative and positive electrical charges. But now we are dealing with the presumed fact, that the visual image can slide from its reservoir state, into the light of the conscious mind, and back again, according to the power of the perfect proportion of the activating image. From another view, it seems that if an image is so powerfully charged with universal proportion, it thus has a subversive quality, and once internatized, activates many sequences of visual data, and the displays thereof,as needs demand.
This, is known as the Law of Association, or analogy, and the mind of homo sapiens, is essentially an analogical organ.