By Jim Ryan, PhD, professor of Asian and Comparative Studies
The Sri Yantra, the symbol of the California Institute of Integral Studies, comes from India. A yantra, in the Indian tradition, is a literally a "device" for spiritual advancement. The Sri Yantra is, in fact, the central object of worship in at least one important Indian cult, but beyond its specific context, the Sri Yantra embodies profound philosophical understandings, which make it a powerful source of inspiration. Each design element of the Sri Yantra has special philosophical significance. The dot in the very center is representative of the Source of the universe; this dot, or bindu, is the "singularity" from which all manifest reality emerges. From one point of view, the design is representative of the evolution of the universe itself from its mysterious beginnings, charting its many levels.
The Sri Yantra in its central portion contains nine triangles. Four of them point upward and represent the unmanifest power of the universe; all that is beyond our quotidian sense perceptions. They are thought of as being masculine and represent the masculine aspect of divinity. The five downward-pointing triangles represent the divine feminine and the manifest aspects of the world.
Because the Sri Yantra forms a unity, the divine masculine and divine feminine in erotic embrace, as it were (this is exactly how the Indian tradition understands them!), we must realize that the transcendent Reality, whether we call it God, Goddess, or Perfect Emptiness (as in Mahayana Buddhism), is always intimately intertwined in everything that we see. God or Goddess is not a sacred beyond, but the very fiber and life of our existence here. Haridas Chaudhuri chose this symbol when he founded the Institute because it is a visual representation of his Integral philosophy.
This world is not to be seen as separate from the transcendent Truth, but as an expression of that Truth in phenomenal form. What is sacred then, is not merely what is beyond our perception, but everything that is present here in this world, all our actions, our emotions, our thoughts. The notion of the integration of body, mind and spirit are symbolized and indicated by the Sri Yantra, making it a perfect visual representation of the Institute's vision.
It should be mentioned that from another point of view the Sri Yantra is understood to be the Mother of the Universe Herself, the incarnate Goddess Who both embodies and transcends time. In a world where the male divinity, and all that is male has had primacy for a very long time, this design can be seen as the very embodiment of a challenge to patriarchy and to the masculinist world we live in.