Your Body Is God’s Yantra

December 13, 2023

This whole manifest life is God’s art, and our bodies are instruments for doing sadhana. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

"Take your body to be his yantra, his instrument."

This is from Anandamayi Ma, and this is actually a soon to be public, but currently private translation.

The word yantra means instrument or device. A yantra is a geometric form that is one of the aspects of the body of a particular deity or guru.

Or sometimes just a representation of all of the cosmos in a geometric form. You may have seen, for instance, the Sri Yantra. Everybody likes to put that in their yoga studio.

"Through satsang, you will be colored in his color." Him meaning God. "Then, you will realize that this entire world is his lila ksetra." And I'll explain what that means, his field of play. "The Lord created this world out of his imagination."

"Take your body to be his yantra, his instrument." What that means is that you are conveying through your activities of body, energy, and mind what is being expressed by this alive aware reality.

According to Trika Shaivism, there is one subjectivity, one subject, one continuous consciousness in all of reality. And each of us, as we're appearing in our quasi-separate form, we are being the self-expression of God.

In that sense, we are an aspect, just like a yantra is an aspect of the body of, say, Durga, if it's a Durga Yantra. Or Sri Lalita Tripura Sundari, if it's the Sri Yantra.

Do we have any handy yantras? Could you just pull it down off the wall and we can hold it up?

This is a Matangi yantra. Matangi is one of the Mahavidyas, one of the major forms of Durga. It's emanating from the center. You can see there's a downward facing red triangle there. This indicates that this is a shakti yantra. That some form of shakti is emanating this form out of her own subjectivity. This is an aspect of her body. Then it has other outer rings.

Things get more and more complex, and more diverse, and more, in a sense, interesting—like a cafe or a city. In fact, these are the four gates of the city.

So a yantra represents something about manifest life with the unmanifest being in the center out of which everything is emanating.

Then this entire diagram is said to be a city, a place of diversity where we come to meet, and have interesting conversations, and bump up against people who are leading different lives than we are, and have different experiences. This represents the city-ness of all manifest life.

Matangi, by the way, is part of a cascade of shaktis that begins with Sharada, or Sarasvati, or Parā, and represents the downcoming or the flowing into the human realm of the guru principal in the form of the teacher who translates wisdom into words that ordinary people can understand.

Matangi is that aspect of the Guru Tattva, the guru element that I talk about every morning in morning worship.

Matangi is the principle or the force that creates the teachers who can speak in words that you can understand, that are now brought into the human realm onto a human plane and given in ways that diverse people can understand them.

This is a cascade coming from the principle of speech, or the principle of speech that teaches, of magical speech, of the transmission through words. That's a general principle of all of reality, but eventually ends up in some embodied teachers who can do that for us.

So, that's a yantra. And the yantra is an aspect of her body. Ma is saying take your own body to be a yantra—a technology, a device through which some form of God, or just God, or just this reality, is expressing itself, is expressing its nature.

Relate to your body as an instrument. Then she goes on to say, "through satsang, you will be colored in his color."

One interesting thing is that Ma did not uniformly use male pronouns. In fact, most often she used pronouns that could be interpreted as either male or female. These are just the ways these things get translated into English, unfortunately.

Ma describes satsang as a slow form of spiritual practice, where we're slowly becoming more and more immersed in our real nature, in wisdom.

Slowly, our experience becomes full of—saturated—with the knowledge, the wisdom of our real nature. When this happens, when you recognize that you're immersed in this living presence, and you become more identified with that living presence, and you're colored by that living presence with more and more awareness, then you realize the nature of reality.

You realize your own nature and the nature of reality, which is that this entire world is his lila ksetra.

The word, ksetra is K-S with a dot under it, E-T-R-A. It's pronounced—kshaytra. It means a field or a gate. Both of those words are important.

Lila means play or sport. Ma is saying that when you become more immersed in this transmission of the nature of the self, then you spontaneously have the knowledge that everything here is the Lord's field of play.

And also that if we go back to this idea of your body being the yantra that has these four gates—that everything here is a gateway through which the Lord is entering and playing.

Then she concludes with "the Lord created this world out of his imagination."

In other words, what is formed in the subtle way in the mind of God, which is everywhere, becomes this experience of manifest life. There's a direct analogy with our experience of imagining things and making them.

Anybody knows that when we're going to make art, or we're going to make a poem, or we're going to bake something, cook something, or sew something—whatever it is, film something... Even though we don't have it all mapped out in our mind, we start with something that we're then bringing out and making manifest in some way, and then we go on from there.

But it starts with something more subtle than the actual thing that we're making.

Our process is exactly the same as the process that all of reality is going through.

So, all of reality is saturated with this quality of intelligence or consciousness or mind—whatever you want to call it. Within that, there are subtle thought forms happening. We can't really call them thoughts, but subtle forms are being created.

And eventually that results in not a real separate form, but a more tangible experience of form. So, the subtle thought of form becomes a tangible experience of form.

That's what's meant by "this whole world is his imagination."

The Buddhists described this in a very beautiful way—this cascade from dharmakaya, sambhogakaya to nirmanakaya. The word kaya means body.

Dharmakaya is like an open blue sky, is the way it's described in Buddhist liturgy and teaching texts. It's that field of unlimited potentiality where anything could arise out of that field.

Then the sambhogakaya means the body of enjoyment. It's that precondition where it's like dreams or thoughts. Where everything can be magical and be completely bedecked in any way you like. And forms can change very rapidly like they can in a dream. Everything's very fluid because nothing has been solidified yet in the experience of a body.

Then nirmanakaya is the pure body. How we would see everything here if we were enlightened. We would see it as pure, but yet very tangible. So nirmanakaya's beings, for instance, are beings that are coming here to teach us.

Then the ultimate view is that nirmanakaya, sambhogakaya, and dharmakaya are all simultaneously. They're not really happening separately.

Anything that we experience has a nirmanakaya aspect, a sambhogakaya aspect, and a dharmakaya aspect. This is what we're trying to discover in our sadhana. That's a useful way of explaining things.

Equanimity is the result of realizing that.

When we realize that we are also made of infinite potentiality and everything else is too. And that nothing here is fixed, that impermanence is actually a glamorous display, then we have equanimity about what is happening. Our level of reactivity starts to go down and we have more equanimity.

There's a teacher that I only sat with once but who had a profound effect on me, Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche. He's a Kagyu teacher. He writes dohas, which are songs of self-realization and teaching songs.

One of the lines in one of his songs is [sings] "when I know the three kayas are present naturally..."

That idea that they're all just here naturally occurring, that brings equanimity naturally. We forget all about these complicated practices and explanations for everything. None of it matters anymore.

What are kayas?

Kaya means body, an aspect of the body of reality. Dharmakaya means— I don't know exactly how they translate dharma in that circumstance, but the body, or what is giving rise to the fundamental body of the dharma.

Sambhogakaya means the body of enjoyment. Sambhogakaya beings don't have as substantial of an experience as we have. And they can fly on clouds and change their clothes just by thinking of it. All that kind of stuff.

Sambhogakaya statues always have lots of earrings and jewelry and fancy stuff that they're wearing because they can. It’s just like in a dream where if you had control of your dreams, you could do anything you wanted, go anywhere you wanted.

Then Nirmanakaya means the body of purity, like the body where the wisdom that’s inherent in everything ordinary would be apparent. It means this world, but from an enlightened perspective.

There’s also this idea in Dzogchen of instantly liberating appearances, which means basically seeing instantly the real nature of everything.

Let’s say you go to work, and someone’s super crabby that day, and they say something crabby to you—and mean, or whatever they do. Instead of being reactive and defending yourself, you instantly recognize the real nature of what’s happening, and then compassion can flow out naturally.

That’s what it means to instantly liberate appearances.

Or we get in a traffic jam. If we were just being in an ordinary mode, we’d get all frustrated or maybe worried about being late. But if we were instantly liberating appearances, we might just laugh and recognize it’s all the lila of the Lord and just go along with it.

Go along with appearances, see where it takes us.

I was going to ask you if you could talk a little bit about compassion.

It’s a total experience. It’s an active principle of reality. So it’s not something we do with deliberation that has a set of characteristics that we could imitate or try to deploy in some way.

Compassion is actually just pouring out from every aspect of reality.

Our heart space is one of the sandhis that’s given to us because of the mercy of this reality. That we have these places in our body that are— where we can make contact with these universal wisdom virtues. That’s why we use that heart space, that heart sandhi.

But it's uncaused because it's present everywhere, eternally.

There's other traditions that have this idea that compassion is something— it's part of your behavior, or of how you personally feel, and you can cultivate it. You can increase it, something like that.

But if something is universally present, it's an enlightened wisdom virtue, you really can't increase it or cultivate it. That's our View.

And really all we're doing is removing the obstruction from that natural spontaneous compassion to be able to manifest more fully. To just do its thing that it's already doing.

It's like the sun behind the clouds. If the sun goes behind the cloud, we don't go—oh, God, I have to make a sun.

We just say—okay, we'll wait for the clouds to go. Or if we're doing practice, we'll do something to clear the obscuration.

But we're not going to go try to cultivate a sun or make a sun, or increase sunness in some way.

And then that's what compassion is. I also say unconditioned—this is very, very important. Unconditioned means it's the same for everyone and everything.

There's no special circumstance in which compassion is elicited, and other circumstance where there's no compassion or less compassion.

You'll hear people say—I feel so much compassion for so and so. That person doesn't deserve my compassion! This is a very limited version of compassion. Very, very limited. It's flowing out from everywhere, utterly unrestrained without any reason for it being that way.

There's no compassion because this is happening or that is happening. It's like an overwhelming total aspect of all of reality. It's like the field that we live in, and this is something that you can experience on your own.

But when we get to this question—what about suffering? Then I have to do something rather dangerous, which is to say that there are no people and there is no suffering.

This is dangerous for two reasons.

One, because there are people here who don't know much about this kind of tradition and will be horrified by that and maybe might never come back.

But the other reason is that we are so mired or stuck in the idea that if we have a View that says there are no people and there is no suffering, we are mired in this View that—well, that means that Shambhavi doesn't care about anyone.

Or teachers or adepts in this tradition don't care about anybody because there's nobody to care about. You're morally bankrupt, ethically bankrupt in some way.

We have to realize that when we talk about compassion in this way and we talk about people and worlds in this way, we really have to step out of— or at least entertain the possibility that when we say that these are non-dual traditions, we actually mean it [laughs].

That we're not just like using some cute buzzword. But there's actually some thoroughgoing consequences of non-dual experience—which is that there's only one self, continuous in all of reality.

There are no individuals. There are the real appearings, not appearances—appearings, or arisings out of the body of this one consciousness out of itself.

It causes to appear within itself all worlds, and all people, and all animals, and plants, and things like that. It is putting on this gigantic display of creative self-expression for its own enjoyment.

Within that, its own nature is compassion. It can do nothing but feel compassion.

For instance, the best analogy is that we go to the movies, and we see things that make us cry. We also see things that are horrifying—murder and mayhem. And we enjoy that in the movies. We can have all of these emotions and all of these feelings, even though it's not real, we say to ourselves.

This alive aware reality is experiencing a full complement of emotions, just like it was at the movies all the time. And we are the movie. But the thing is, the movie is an aspect of its own self.

Abhinavagupta describes Lord Shiva as an artist, and we are the works of art. Lord Shiva is finding beauty in all of this and feeling compassion, which is not 'awwwww.' It's not that.

That's a very limited form of compassion. Compassion is like this river, this endless river of feeling with, feeling along with and wanting the best, feeling along with, compassion, feeling with.

It's not 'awwwww.' That's what we think of as compassion, right? I feel sorry for you. I feel so badly for you. That's like a very, very impoverished idea of compassion.

Again, if you can get a little bit of a sense of the feeling of it, that's the best thing. This was the biggest transmission I ever got from Ma. I know it's hard to grok, but this is the teaching in the tradition. This is also the transmission.

Coming back to what you had started with in terms of the yantra, does that mean that we are yantras as well for that compassion?

We have that possibility.

We have that possibility. And then all the analogies that you're speaking about, like theater, performance, production, and feeding a predeterminism into that?

No, because it's all improvisation.

If we are instruments to Shiva, then where does our own agency come in?

There is no our own [laughs].

There's neither agency nor lack of agency. See, we have to get off this cart going back and forth between, I have agency! Oh, my God, it's all predetermined! I have agency [groans]!

It's like demolition. Just demolish that.

Think about when you're improvising with other people. I hope that some of you have had that experience improvising theater or dance or music, anything that you might be improvising.

The question of free will is not really in that scene. If you're really improvising, you have skill, or you bring to it some skill. You bring to it some knowledge of that form.

The other people do, too. Then when you get there, and you're improvising, what are you doing? You're not making decisions based on your free will nor is anything predetermined. Those things don't live at the scene of improvisation.

What lives there is responsivity. Listening and response. Call and response. Call and response, listening and response. That's what lives there. Kheyal. Call and response.

We don't have to worry about our free will or predetermination. We don't have to worry about those things at all. That's not the track we're on.

Where we are is we want to have knowledge and skill so we can play in this game of improvisation. So we can have that experience of being in the zone of this total listening and total responding.

That's the joy, that's the pleasure, that's the game. And then who cares about free will? It's a potato chip compared to that, an old stale potato chip.


Satsang with Shambhavi is a weekly podcast about spirituality, love, death, devotion and waking up while living in a messy world.