A symbol is a visual representation created by an artist, that helps us grasp the essence of the idea which lies behind it. Symbols can represent religious and cultural icons, or corporate and brand identities. Over a period of time, repeated exposure to a symbol and what it stands for, gets embedded in our minds and then, whenever we happen to see it, the whole idea of what it represents unfolds for us. The artist, in a few strokes, gives us a complete coded story that is contained in the symbol. Although visual symbols are a part of our daily life, we hardly ever stop to wonder how, why or where they came from and what is their underlying significance. Religious and cultural symbols are not just lines drawn at random, but are concepts visualized by Seers and Sages through their experience of deep meditation, tapas (austere penance) and surrender to the Source.
It is through the Ajna chakra that all knowledge is gained, and spiritual knowledge is gained when the individual ego merges with the cosmic ego and, through expansion, it transcends the realm of duality. It is at this centre that communication with the manifested or outer Guru takes place and also directions of the inner Guru are heard, when one sits in deep meditation. The Ajna chakra is the channel through which the keen aspirant receives revelations and insights into the nature of existence. Swami Satyananda Saraswati in his book Kundalini Tantra tells us: “When Ajna is awakened, the meaning and significance of symbols flashes into one’s conscious perception and intuitive knowledge arises effortlessly and one becomes a ‘seer’.”
It is in this deep state of ‘oneness’ with the Whole that the Seers experienced God in the form of light and, depending on their vibratory pattern, their experience of God as light took on a certain form. These patterns then became the recognisable symbols, and those people who are on the spiritual path can, just by looking at the symbol, know which spiritual path an individual has chosen, if any, for his/her evolution.
I reproduce some of the symbols revealed to me in my meditations and my understanding of them.
The tilak (elongated or round mark on the forehead) applied by both men and women in the spiritual context implies focus on the Ajna chakra. In meditation, I saw a black circle between my eyebrows and, in that circle, I saw a blue flame moving. The activation of this chakra enabled me to see what is not visible to the physical eye.
With the Ajna chakra now active, a canopy is seen over the Guru’s head, while he is sitting in meditation, symbolizing Cosmic Consciousness. This symbol is usually seen over the holy book Guru Granth Sahib in the gurudwara (place of worship), which is a place of worship for the Sikhs.
The vibrations of the Ajna chakra project the image of Swastika in the colour of the elements. Lansdowne Zachary F. in his book The Chakras and Esoteric Healing tells us: “The swastika corresponds to the final stage in which the chakra is active, developed, opened, and energized by awakened Kundalini…. This symbol represents the completion of evolution for that chakra.” In the Hindu religion this symbol represents the sun and is also used as a symbol on doors or walls to ward off evil.
In meditation, a black lingam is seen with blue energy swirling around it. In Hindu mythology this symbol represents Shiva Consciousness and is seen in the temples where ritual worship is offered. Since in Hinduism it is the same God that creates, sustains and withdraws the Universe, Shivalinga represents God Himself.
During the course of meditation a gigantic wheel is seen rotating in the void, symbolizing the karmic wheel or the Dharmachakra – the ‘Wheel of the Law’, the most important symbol of Buddhism.
When the Shakti moves up to unite with Shiva at the Sahasrara, it is in the shape of a vermilion flame. On the physical plane, this mark in the Hindu tradition is used as the symbol of a married woman. This is applied in the hair parting above the forehead.
The vibrations of different levels differ and, as one reaches the higher vibratory levels, the vibrations become very subtle and they resemble sharp, tiny electrical waves. On joining certain lines it was discovered that these resembled a lotus. This symbol is widely seen in Hindu mythology as the seat of Brahma the Creator, Saraswati the Goddess of Knowledge and Lakshmi the Goddess of Wealth. By focusing on the symbol, we are actually raising our consciousness to a certain vibratory level, and thus through our intention and attention create a miracle for ourself.
As the Ajna chakra develops, it extends to obtain knowledge of within and without. It is this experience of the Ajna chakra that has given the form of Ganesha. It is rightfully, therefore, the first form to be worshipped and revered before any auspicious event, function or worship. It is the balance of this chakra that determines the balance of the other chakras and determines and influences all aspects of our life. Ganesha represents a possessor of perfect wisdom and thus is a dispeller of obstacles. The large ears seen on Ganesha are the vibrations of the chakra.
When the Ajna chakra is fully-developed, it throws radiance all around, somewhat like an American Indian Chief’s head gear. Seeing this on his head would indicate to his tribe that he was also their Spiritual Master.
In meditation, the fully-developed Ajna chakra throws beams of light which cross each other at the centre. These beams then turn upwards and downwards, thus giving us the symbol for the Vaishnav sect. This sect follows the path of Bhakti or devotion. In other words, it is through bhakti or devotion that they bring balance to the physical, mental and emotional bodies in order to help them move towards transcendence. This symbol is most appropriate for it shows the descending intersecting lines pointing downwards towards the body-mind intellect. As these bodies move towards balance through love and devotion, transcendence simultaneously happens as indicated by the ascending lines.
The Ajna chakra is experienced as a band of light that runs across the forehead. The edges then turn at the temples and move up, giving it the shape of a Trishul, which is the symbol of Shaivites, and represents the Cosmic Consciousness. As it is almost impossible for an aspirant to focus on God as an abstract form, the rishis gave this symbol for the form of Lord Shiva.
This visual shows that once the aspirant has attained Shiva Consciousness, he then has to transcend further. For this he has to work with the principle of Shiva and Shakti within himself, for both to merge at the Sahasrara centre. For this to happen, the body has to transform into a body of light. The Sushumuna, or the central nadi or channel, has to become a clear shining rod of light through which the Shakti moves upwards from the base of the spine and when it reaches over the Sahasrara centre, its flame and its vibrations give the shape of the trident. The Shaivites always place a trident straight into the ground beside them while sitting in meditation. This could also symbolize the Swords, Dagger and Shield of Sikhism.
This visual depicts the vibrations of the flame on the Sushumuna, which when it sways also gives rise to the shape of a bell. This symbol is present in temples and other places of worship.
Once having experienced the Shiva Consciousness, the Ajna chakra goes through a further change. To proceed to higher planes or realms, it has to extend upwards; a process which involves a certain level of discomfort and pain as the different bodies, of which the human system is formed, are not used to such intricate manipulations. This visual brings to mind the Unicorn, which is a white horse with a horn protruding from the centre of its forehead, in Western mythology.
The vibrations of the Ajna chakra resemble a pair of horns attached to the helmet of the Norse warriors as totems endowing them with the strength of the ox from which the horns were taken. It was also believed by Germanic people that horns were receivers and transmitters of cosmic energy. Norse Shamans wore headdresses with horns to tune into cosmic energies.
The figure seen in meditation is of a cauldron receiving a form of energy from a jug. The peculiarity is that the image is upside down, seen as one would a reflection in water. As I understand from Swami Muktananda’s book Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the overturned jar symbolizes an unsupported mind, a state in which the mind is devoid of any thoughts and thus becomes a perfect receptacle to receive cosmic vibrations. The cauldron is a familiar symbol in Germanic mythology and is associated with magic potions and feminine wisdom.
During meditation, I saw that we were all sitting on the karmic wheel with the Guru as the central figure controlling it. This symbolizes a thanka (Buddhist religious painting on cloth) with the Guru in the central space and the lesser lights arranged around the spokes and rims of the Cosmic Wheel. This vision gives an idea as to why the artists used to make these gorgeous circular diagrams; that was how they experienced the visions of the deities and Gurus, that crowd the Tibetan faith.
Though in meditation this vision represented for me a period of being stuck at a certain vibratory level, on the spiritual level it symbolizes Salagrama, a black round stone with a hole, worshiped as a symbol of Vishnu. These are not installed in temples but worshipped in one’s home.
In meditation I saw the vision of emeralds, diamonds and rubies scattered across the void. They start moving together and fall into a pattern which resembles the Cross with an emerald centre. The experience for me was of disintegration and integration, and the shape the spiritual body assumes. The Cross is one of the oldest symbols of the world and after the crucifiction of Christ it has become the symbol of the Christian religion.
In the deepest of meditative states, I experienced what the human body undergoes during the process of dying. At death, after the dispersion of all the elements which are in the form of coiled springs or chakras, what is left floats in the cosmos as a bundle of karmic residue that looks like two embryos fitting snuggly into each other. This brings the Chinese symbol of Yin and Yang to mind.
Since for the common man, God as a formless entity would be difficult to comprehend, the wise Seers further gave form to these symbols and created stories around them in order to instill certain value systems and to make people aware of the finer qualities of existence. Just as we tempt children with chocolates or toys to make them perform better, similarly, by introducing rituals the Seers created a point of focus for the symbols. If an individual were to be ambitious and had the desire to be financially secure, he would worship the Goddess Lakshmi, if he wanted to excel in the fine arts, he would worship the Goddess Saraswati and so on. In this manner, an individual would be focusing on a part of the total Reality with which he identified and, depending on his intention and attention, he would actualize his wish or desire. Since the mind has the tendency to question, how, when, why – mine followed the same pattern and the answers and explanations flowed through my paint-brush. As Rohit Arya puts it in my book Kundalini Diary, “Where do stories come from and why do they take the shape they do? They come from Inner Experiences, from strong visual imprinting… The difference in stories are due to difference in personalities and cultures – they are differences in interpretation of what is fundamentally the same set of inner visions.”
Thus these visuals in a step-by-step manner helped me to understand as to how the symbols may have originated and their role and importance in the spiritual evolutionary process. This has been revealed in a visual form so that in turn it may be presented as the spiritual sign-posts for you – the meditators.
– Santosh Sachdeva