Archetypal Space and Sacred Sound
In every civilization there are consecrated sites and sacred places that are heavy with spiritual significance. Temples, caves, sanctuaries, or features such as rocks serve as vital points of contact and centres of accumulated energy. Such places, once consecrated according to traditional canon, acquire sanctity, and their 'enclosures' separate the archetypal sacred space from its surroundings. The two areas, the world within the enclosure and the world without, also stand for the psychological separation of man from his habitual concerns. The wall or fence or 'magic circle'- whatever form the enclosure takes - stands between the visible and the invisible and recalls the ritual separation of two distinct realities; the one that is sacred in which the divinity manifests itself and the other that is profane, the realm of mundane existence.
Once consecrated, even an insignificant stone will acquire uniqueness and spiritual significance. In India, one often comes across such objects where a sacred enclosure is marked: a simple stone daubed with vermilion is laid under a tree, or a sacred syllable or the name of a deity may be scribbled on the wall. Such images 'speak', 'move' and 'breathe' with life since they impart in a mysterious way a sense of primal reality. To a seeker who searches for meaning in such sites or images, the past participates in the present in that they preserve countless archetypal associations. Such a response necessarily puts out of balance all the notions of linear time of modern man, for whom the past is merely a dead sequence of events. The archetypal images, therefore, call for a new way of seeing through the sharpening of the innate faculties by which they were originally preserved. All such images, whether large or small, abstract or figurative, simple or sophisticated, recreate a celestial prototype and recapitulate the symbolism of the centre where the divine manifests itself, thus investing them with a spiritual value which is held to be ultimately real. The yantra enclosures follow a similar principle and accord with ancient intuitions.
In the Yajur Veda (23, 60-61), a passage describing a conversation between a devotee and the priest who performs the fire oblation summarizes this concept. The seeker questions:
Who knows this world's central point? Who knows the heavens, the earth, the wide air
Who knows the birthplace of the mighty Surya [sun]?
I ask thee of the earth's extremest limit, where is the centre of the world, I ask thee?
He is answered by the priest:
I know the centre of the world about us. I know heaven, earth, and wide air between
I know the birthplace of the mighty Surya . . .
This altar is the earth's extremest limit; this sacrifice of ours is the world's centre.
Thus, although made of fragments of brick and mortar, the plinth of the fire altar is transformed into a cosmic entity and a spiritual centre, and the altar begins to exist in mystical 'time' and 'space' quite distinct from the profane. In the same way, the archetypal space of the yantra becomes a sacred entity recognized by the s㤨aka (aspirant).
In our ordinary perceptions we view space as an amorphous entity which is related to us in units of measurement. For us space is essentially quantitative; we understand it in terms of dimension, volume and distance. For the adept who uses yantras in yogic meditation, on the other hand, space enclosed within the bounded figure is purely qualitative; space is absolute void and unity is a 'sacrament' by means of which he communicates with a force that stands for life itself.
The yantra is an archetypal unit, and in the making of every new yantra the archetypal activity and the divine revelations repeat themselves. Each yantra's consecrated place acts as a dwelling for the gods, a space where movement from the level of profane existence to the level of profound realities is made possible. Symbol and meaning blend so closely that they are one reality, indistinguishable from one another. The yantra of the goddess Kali, for instance, is not merely her symbol but an indispensable complement of Kali herself, her total substance experienced through meditation on the 'metaphysical' spaces of her yantra. We not only perceive the yantra being 'of Kali, but 'understand' it as being one with the spirit of the goddess. It is said, therefore, that the wise 'know no difference between the goddess [Mahesi] and the yantra'.
Every yantra creates a power-field, a cosmicized circuit (kshetra) in which the powers of the sacred are invoked. The lines and planes localized within the yantra, though distinct from all the spaces that surround its outer circuit, are an expression of a transcendental reality. Stretching from star to star the ultimate substratum of all forms is space. Empty space is in itself a primordial substance and shares in the nature of divinity. Without it, the primordial substance whose abode is the whole universe would remain without support. Absolute void is defined by Indian philosophers as a limitless sea of undifferentiated continuum which is an everpresent entity not detachable from the relative, thus making all division of space illusory. So the spaces within a yantra, however minute, can be symbolically brought to 'presence' and expressed as being as immense as the spaces within the solar system. Although in the abstract this is the immutable principle on which the space concept of yantras functions, on the level of human experience we are led to locate the sacred by creating spatial divisions. The act of bounding the figure, 'fencing' its four quarters, defining its spatial orientations, delimiting the sacred territory of the yantra, is an act of asserting where sacred space begins to manifest.