By Ekabhumi Ellik
In Part I of this article, I shared a story of how I was invited to write about the sacred art of yantras for a major anthology of articles written by famous yoga teachers. When the elegantly designed book arrived, I discovered major changes in my article. Most dramatically, the color of the yantra published with the article was changed.
For review again, here they are, side-by-side:
In the last article, I asked you to consider both and see how they made you feel. Do they have a different effect on your mood? Where do you feel it in your body? Is it easier or more difficult to see the pattern at the center of each? Which one would you rather have on your altar to represent the primordial living power of the universe?
So now I’ll tell you how I felt when I saw it. My heart just went kerplunk in my chest. It was BLUE. They’d removed the two original yantras that I submitted with the article, and dropped in a picture of one of the multi-layered Śrī yantras that I made for private clients. Then turned it blue.
Śaktī, a name for the Goddess in her primordial form, is red – blood red. Literally, the color of your own blood. OXYGENATED BLOOD. LIVING BLOOD. Not the color of unoxygenated lifeless blood. It was dull. If it had been a vivid cobalt or sapphire blue, at least that would have invoked a sacred power, like Śiva. Deities are associated with clear, bold, vivid colors.
There is a basic, natural logic to these ancient traditional teachings, because they are anchored in our human experience. Blue is the color of ancient ice, of deep water, of the cloudless sky and darkness, and grey is dead muscle tissue, smoke, the ghost-realm, the fog of obscuration.
The book designer casually turned a symbol of life power, vigor, and effulgent beauty into an icon of loss, sorrow, emptiness, confusion, and hardship. Keep in mind – this is the Goddess who we understand as cosmic Mother. Do you want to experience Mom as cold, distant, and unavailable? Or do you want to experience Her as vibrant, powerful, loving, warm, and accessible?
As a trained designer, I can appreciate it the blue version in an abstract way – like, “Wow, it’s stylish and that’s a gorgeous layout, it’s beautifully arranged, and fits with the rest of the earthy, muted colors in the book.” They clearly cared about what they were doing, but they didn’t really understand the full implications of those changes.
Remember, a yantra is not a decorative pattern or a design. It’s more like an eye exam chart – you can’t just mess around with the sharpness, size, resolution, proportions, or color. In the grey published version, the lines are all dim and softened, with very little contrast – I could hardly see the pattern anymore.
So it’s like you’re trying to pick your mom out of a crowd, but everyone looks alike. Isn’t that kinda scary? We are trying to hone in on a very specific aspect of reality. Sure, everything is divine, even trash. But this particular yantra connects us directly to the nurturing life-giving power of manifestation. We need to be able to instantly recognize it – to actually feel it in our body. Theyantra needs to re-pattern your energy body, and it can’t do that if the pattern isn’t clear. There is no such thing as a vague yantra. I’ve never seen it. Every aspect of a yantra reflects exactly what it is.
Also, remember that yantras are designed for worship and ritual. So this is the wrong tool for that job because it doesn’t embody the Goddess that you’re attempting to worship. You’ll only confuse yourself – you’re thinking you’re connecting to one thing in your mind, and then showing your instinctive animal body something else.
Yantras are like prescription medication: powerful and precise, and carefully designed to fulfill a specific need. And this is just bad medicine. Imagine if someone at the pharmacy on a whim decided he didn’t like the colors of the pills a doctor prescribed for a patient. So he threw them out, went into the warehouse, randomly picked out another pill with a groovier color, and put it in the prescription bottle for the patient to swallow. WITHOUT ANY WARNING.
Oddly, I wasn’t surprised. I was just sad. And bewildered. How could anyone think it was okay to take out the two yantras I sent, drop in a different one, then change the color to the opposite end of the electromagnetic spectrum?!?
I wrote to the editor and shared my feelings. She wrote back immediately, both apologetic and polite. She asked what the specific problems with the article were. This gave me pause. She didn’t understand that the changes that had been made were even significant. And this is common, actually. We’re used to being able to just go down to Crate & Barrel and buy icons from around the world to use as napkin holders. We think that just because we own the object, we can do whatever we please with it.
And, because we don’t understand how it works, our changes reflect our personal biases and preferences. To most folks, a red yantra is no different than a blue yantra because they are the same shape, they are both ‘yantras’. Wasn’t that what the article was about? Like, “Dude, it’s all just expressing the divine – what’s the big deal?” The big deal is that we want to experience the goddess of creation and manifestation, not the one of misery and destruction.
No editor would mistakenly print a Christian cross upside-down because there is a cultural understanding that this would affect the symbolism. Not enough of us have the relevant cultural understanding about yantras, and, more importantly, we don’t even know that we need it. And this is actually one of the major reasons we created Living Sanskrit. And I want to be clear: we shouldn’t blithely appropriate or mistreat the sacred symbols of ANY culture or tradition. If we want to use them, then we are responsible for acquiring enough knowledge to use them correctly and respectfully.
And that means taking the time to immerse ourselves in the wisdom tradition that we are engaging. If we don’t have the time to understand things in depth, then we need to ask. You can’t know what to ask if you don’t even know what might be missing. This is why you have to treat these things respectfully and not make changes without checking with an expert. In this situation, no one ran the changes by me. It wasn’t because they were careless. I am certain of this because of the professionalism I saw in the rest of the book. They didn’t run them by me because they thought the changes were so inconsequential that it wasn’t worth my time.
So I took her question very seriously – why were the changes problematic? I wrote a 7-page reply to go through each of the changes and explain what they were and why they were significant. My explanation was actually more than twice the length of the actual article!
You might be wondering why this is such a big deal. The first glimpse of a yantra is EXTREMELY impactful and has to happen in a beneficial way. There is a traditional protocol for being introduced to a yantra for the first time that I will explain in greater depth later. Unfortunately, thousands of people are now going to have an inauspicious first glimpse. 🙁
The good news is that the editors were really receptive, and will publish a retraction as well as a series of short articles teaching the basic principles of sacred art. It’s also a learning experience for all of us engaging with ancient or esoteric wisdom. We see how sincere, educated, intelligent people with the best of intentions missed the importance and the complexity of the material they were working with.
So what have we learned from this experience?
Even a tiny change in something that’s designed with precision has profound ramifications. It’s why you can’t mess with sutras (wisdom aphorisms) or with any distilled teaching or practice. There’s a lot of wisdom in a tiny package and it’s nuanced. The danger to reductivism is that even a sincere desire to simplify and make things easier for people can actually make things totally dysfunctional.
Handle a yantra with at least the level of attentiveness that you’d handle a fancy laptop. For example, you wouldn’t kick it around or leave it outside. You wouldn’t just randomly rename your system files. And unless you’re a trained technician (or some sort of super-genius), you definitely wouldn’t just open it up on the fly and start tinkering with it. What if it won’t turn on the next time you need it?
For the yogin, yantras aren’t simply diagrams of an external power – they are also meant to be an X-ray into your own soul. Like a magic mirror. You might think it’s cute now to change a yantra, but ten years (or lifetimes!) from now this might be the key to you discovering your true nature.
We are culturally conditioned to not take these things seriously and to dismiss their power. And we need to recognize how beneficial and effective they are in the process of awakening to our nature. We think we’re looking at a kitten, when it’s actually a lion. You don’t want to screw up your relationship with any channel or means to source.
Ultimately, it’s not whether we make mistakes or not. It’s not whether we have perfect understanding or not. What matters is that we cultivate an attitude of devotion and humility in relation to this ancient technology, and that it is reflected in our actions. This is for everybody’s good – we’re not the only ones who will use it. Even if it doesn’t matter to you now, these sacred devices could completely transform someone else’s life. Transmitting them with fidelity is an expression of compassion for all our relations.
About the author: Ekabhumi Ellik is a sacred artist and a member of the Core Faculty for Living Sanskrit.