Epilogue ~ Acadia : Arcadia ? pt 3

Acadia : Arcadia?
Part 3 : Epilogue  
Symmetrical Photographs, Mandalas & Mantras


Mantras &  Mandalas

This Epilogue, part 3 of my Acadia : Arcadia? project, will focus on some highly esoteric teachings from the Hindu tradition having to do with the yogic mantra So'ham and its visual counterpart, the mandala.  The inspiration to explore this topic here, begins surprisingly with the pair of four-fold symmetrical photographs presented above (and in a larger format below) which were constructed with single photographs--of rocks--which I took in Acadia National Park.  Both the images were first published in the Angels project which was still in the process of being completed at the time my wife Gloria and I traveled to Acadia National Park.  Visit Part VII of  the Angels project   

For some time now, I have been gradually introducing text material into my photography projects from yogic path of meditation I practice, Siddha Yoga Meditation.  This tendency has since culminated in a project (which came later, in 2015) entitled Photography and Yoga.  In fact, much of text you will see below is a revision of the original text. The revised parts were added in mid-September, 2015 and taken from part 11 of my Photography and Yoga project.  

The yogic teachings below will provide some interpretive understanding for these two photographs which first appeared in the Angels project as part of a larger group of pictures I entitled Rock Flowers.  As you will see the archetypal image of "the flower" (in the form particularly of the lotus) is extremely important in the Hindu tradition of sacred art as mandala imagery.  

It is my hope that this visual and textual meditation on the mandala, and its association with the symmetrical photographs I have made from rock images taken in Acadia, will shed useful light as well on all of  the other symmetrical photographs in the Acadia : Arcadia? project.  Part II - Arcadia

Symmetrical Photograph ~ Mandala #1    Part III, Epilogue  Acadia : Arcadia? project  
first published as "Rock Flower" in the Epilogue of The Angels project

Symmetrical Photograph ~ Mandala #2    Part III, Epilogue  Acadia : Arcadia? project  
first published as "Rock Flower" in the Epilogue, Part VII, of The Angels project

The Still Space Between the Breaths
 . . . a person has only one heart.  In scriptural terms the heart is in the chest as well as at the top of the head.  However, it is the same heart that extends from one place to the other.  A yogi who meditates on the sahasrara, the upper heart, considers this thousand-peteled lotus to be the heart.  The heart is the same for everybody--for yogis and for regular citizens.  The breath goes out and comes in, and there is a space inside where it becomes still for just a second.  The breath has merged inside, and it hasn't yet started to come out; it is still in the state of merging.  The space where it merges is the true heart.  Swami Muktananda

Threshold to the Formless
To begin, I must ask you to imagine the two symmetrical photographs above as a metaphorical pair of sandals which in their complementarity represents an invisible, interior unity that Swami Kripananda elaborates upon in her remarkable book The Guru's Sandals ~ Threshold of the Formless.  

Though much of the text in Swamiji's book is rather esoteric, I am especially fascinated by the reference to the formless reality that exists between the in-breath and the out-breath, that point where they merge, which Baba Muktananda has said is the space of the Heart, the space of the Self.   The space between photographs has been an important concern to me in several earlier bodies of work, for example the Color Diptychs of 1990-92 and the Visual Poems of 2003-07 

After I present and explore some of the essential points covered by Swami Kripananda in her book, I will then offer some of my own personal commentaries on the two photographs, how I understand the images individually, as a related pair, and in relationship to the ancient yogic treatise Swamiji presents regarding the Guru's Feet and the Guru's Sandals.

Note:  Swami Kripananda is a monk of the Saraswati order; she received her initiation from the Siddha Yoga master Swami Muktananda, founder of the Siddha Yoga Path.  She continues to study with Muktananda's spiritual heir, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda,  Swamiji writes and teaches courses about Siddha Yoga meditation for Gurumayi.

Sacred Objects
Swami Kripananda writes in her book The Guru's Sandals:  

Why the desire to worship the Guru's feet?  Baba Muktananda once said:  "The Guru's feet are revered because all the Guru's shakti dwells in the feet.   . . . the vibrations  of the inner Self constantly flow out through the feet.  The nerves of the subtle body that come from the sahasrara reach right down to the feet.  . . . More shakti flows from the feet than from any other part of the body.  The glory of the Guru's feet or the Guru's sandals is great."  

Swamiji explains that when yogis focus their attention and their devotion on a sacred object--it could be a mantra, or a mandala, or a ritual pair of sandals which are understood to represent the Guru's feet--they often have interior experiences which open the yogi to the great, silent, luminous space of the Self.  This is the goal of meditation, the goal of the mantra, mandala, or sacred object.  Swamiji writes

The sandals become luminous and transparent . . . and a subtle door opens into another realm, one that is beyond thoughts, where all divisive walls recede and shapes dissolve into pure Consciousness.  The form [i.e., the mantra, the mandala, the sandals] has led to the formless. 

The Guru's feet [symbolized by the image of a pair of sandals] exists within the yogi's innermost sacred place: the sahasrara in the crown of the head--the highest, most subtle spiritual center, or chakra in the body.  The great yogic sages say that the sahasrara is the seat of our true identity, our oneness with the vast Ocean of Consciousness . . . the Absolute, God, Shiva, the divine Self.

The  So'ham~Hamsa  Mantra 
Swamiji explains that the sound of our breathing in and breathing out naturally manifests the supreme mantra So'ham--or in reversed order, the mantra is Hamsa.  This natural mantra is the sound form of the Guru's feet.  She says in truth we are being breathed by God.  Each in-breath, Ham and each out-breath, Sa forms the natural and constantly repeating mantra So'ham~Hamsa which means: 'I Am That" ~ "I am God" ~ "I am the Absolute" ~ "I am Shiva" ~ "I am the Self".  

The sound of the mantra So'ham~Hamsa carries great symbolic meaning.  Swamiji writes:

Hamthe in-breath, represents Shiva, the all pervasive supreme Reality, the absolute Being that in the form of pure Consciousness permeates all creatures, and all things.  He dwells in every person as their inner most Self. 

Sathe out-breath, represents Shakti, the energy of Shiva.  Shakti is the divine cosmic power that creates and maintains the countless galaxies and worlds.  She is the consort of Shiva, the active aspect of the formless Absolute; the joyous divine energy that unfolds the universe, assuming the billions of shapes and forms that we see around us. . .  Whereas Shiva is the experiencer, Shakti is what is experienced, the objective universe.  

Ham, the in-breath, also represents the bindu, the dimensionless still point into which all thoughts and perceptions . . . and the entire universe are absorbed.  

Sa, the out-going breath, also repreresents visarga, the creation of the world of perceptions, thoughts, and ideas.  

The mantra Hamsa~So'ham then, represents the union of all opposites: male and female, Shiva and Shakti, the world within and the world without.   

Swamiji summarizes all this with the following exclamation:  

This is an astonishing fact--our breath is mantra, and the resonance of these sacred syllables that are both God and Goddess is the etheric substance out of which the feet of the Guru in the crown of our head are formed.  They are made of breath, they are made of sound, they are made of mantra, and the mantra signifies the highest truth --"I am That, I am the Absolute."

As these syllables dissolve on the inside and on the outside, for a split second there is no thought, no feeling, nothing.  Then from this moment of nothingness the syllables arise once again.  It is in this space, [the space between the syllables, the space between the "in" and "out" breaths] where there is neither thought nor feeling, that the Truth [the Self] exists.  

Boundaries dissolve, and the outside and the inside become one. . .  When we are able to maintain the awareness of Hamsa or So'ham, "I am That," we draw near to the reality of the Guru's feet, the profound state of absolute union and equality-consciousness in which the Guru is established.  

Note: the world Guru in ordinary terms means "teacher."  However, a True Guru (a satguru or sadhguru) is not merely a human being, but rather a transcendent cosmic principle which has taken a physical form and as such serves as the grace bestowing embodiment of the Absolute--in other words, the Guru Principle.    


The Triangular Mandala 
Swami Kripananda comments on selected verses from an ancient yogic scripture, the Paduka Panchaka.  One of the verses speaks of a triangle made up of all the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, each side symbolized by the letters A, Ka, and Tha.  The triangle exists in the center of the sahasrara, in the crown of the head.   The scripture says the triangle has the "character" of a mandala.   

[Note: I want to pause here and make sure we understand the very important corresponding relationship between mantra and mandala.  It is understood in yogic traditions that a mantra is the sacred sound body of a deity.  A mandala is also a sacred object--a deity, in the form of color, lines, and geometrical design.]  

Swamiji writes:  

Imagine two white lotuses, one above the other, with their centers touching.  The larger upper lotus, [brilliant white, of a thousand petals] is downward turned, and the smaller twelve-petaled lotus is beneath it and upward turned.  These lotuses are extremely subtle, they are not made of solid substance but of light, visible only to the subtle eye.

In the center [of the sahasrara] where these lotuses meet, there is a triangle with its apex pointing down.  The lines of this triangle are actually composed of all the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet.

Inside the triangle is a full moon . . .  [and in the very center of the triangle and the moon] is the supreme bindu, or Blue Pearl.  It is a small, brilliant blue dot the size of a sesame seed, yet it is the source of everything.  

The bindu is the first form to emerge out of mahashunya, the Great Void.  Mahashunya is emptiness in the sense that it is without manifest creation, and yet it is filled with the potential of all conceivable names, forms, and worlds.  

The bindu is the state of the gathered-up power of Consciousness that is about to create the universe.  Therefore, it is called the "primordial seed of the universe" . . .   All of the combined energies of creation--from lightning bolts and raging rivers to the the subtlest radiance of God--lie in a potential form within the Blue Pearl.  

The Paduka Panchaka tells us that the A~Ka~Tha triangle--which is visible only to the subtle eye and has the character of a mandala--is naturally formed, or self-created.  Swamiji comments: 

When a seeker meditates on the Guru's feet, it is here that they are envisioned.  This object of worship [the triangle, with the moon inside and in their center, the bindu] is not just built into us; it is from this place that our very being has evolved.

Lake of Nectar
There is a "pot of nectar" inside the full moon and triangular mandala where the feet of the Guru rest.  She writes: Within the mandala . . . in the sahasrara, can be found the mysterious "pot of nectar" of which the poet-saints and mystics speak.   The "pot of nectar" takes the form of a crescent moon, she tells us, and it is from the crescent moon that the nectar flows down continually showering grace upon us.  It is this nectar which gives us the experience: "God dwells within me, as me."  

Verse six of the Paduka Panchaka, says:  

"I adore the two lotus feet of the Guru in my head . . .  [which are] radiant with the beautiful luster of lotuses growing in a lake of nectar."   

Merging Into the Formless 
The culmination of these esoteric yogic teachings regarding the repetition of the mantras, and the contemplation of the mandalas, is merging with the Guru's feet, that divine presence which "dwells within us, as us."  When we (the small self) merge with the all pervasive Divine Self the images of the dual world dissolve, and, as Swami Kripananda writes . . . we leave behind the realm of names and forms, and cross over the threshold to the Formless, the Supreme.   

Swamiji concludes her book with the story of a man who saw, in a dream, his Guru, Baba Muktananda.  He ran to Baba, and with great open-hearted love and devotion kneeled, weeping at his feet.  Then, in his dream, kneeling, he touched Baba's feet with the top of his head.  The man writes of his inner experience:  

"I became one with Baba and experienced myself as the center of the universe, like some central sun of pure light and being, which emanated the entire cosmos from its own Self. . .   Then I woke up feeling permeated with light.  Even though it was dark outside, the entire room was filled with effulgence."


This is an astonishing fact--our breath is mantra
and the feet of the Guru are made of breath 
they are made of sound 
-the mantra So'ham~
Hamsa which 
"I am That"  
"I am the Absolute"

*   *   *   *   *   *   * 

The Four-fold Symmetrical Photographs  
My creative process is based not only in what or how I photograph with a camera, but also in what I do with the images once the exposure has been made.  I almost always transform the original camera-made image in any number of many possible ways.  For example, simply by placing an image in various visual and conceptual contexts affects how and what one sees and feels in the image, and how one might interpret or understand it.  And when I construct symmetrical images, I begin with a single photograph that serves as raw source material which is then subjected to a four-fold transforming process.  

Note: I have decided to add a fourth part to this project in which I have described my step-by-step four-fold construction process for the symmetrical photographs.  Then following that section I offer some additional commentary on selected images from within this project as a whole.  click here to see Part IV

Mandala  #1                                            Mandala #2

Source image for Mandala #1                      Source image for Mandala #2

The Creation of the Two Mandalas 
There is I think an interesting story that goes with the source photograph I made in Acadia National Park for the #1 Mandala image above.  I was hiking with my wife, Gloria on the Ocean Path that goes along the coast of Desert Island above the Otter Cliffs.  Gloria, a potter, became fascinated by the textures, shapes and patterns she saw in some rocks off the path below us, and asked me to take a picture so she could study the image later and perhaps use the imagery in her pot-making process.  I made one exposure but she wanted a closer view--so I zoomed in more on the rocks and made the image you see above labeled Source image for Mandala #1.  

Later, after we got home and I saw the image Gloria asked me to take, I decided to try making a symmetrical photograph with it--just to see out of curiosity what would happen.  I was surprised at the degree of transformation that occurred, and indeed the Mandala #1 image has become one of my favorite symmetrical images in the entire Acadia-Arcadia project.  It has also has grown in meaning for me since I placed it next to the image above titled Mandala #2 and considered the two images as a pair which form me relate to what I have written about above from Swami Kripananda's book The Guru's Sandals ~ Threshold of the Formless.


The Symmetrical photograph Mandala #2 was of course made with the rock image labeled Source image for Mandala #2.  When I took that source photograph, I did have an intuitive glimmer that it might yield workable material for the construction of a symmetrical photograph: the shapes and patterns of the fragmented rocks were attractive to me, and the light was bouncing around in the shadow areas gave the rocks an inner glow that fascinated me.  But, once again, I never imagined when I took the picture that it would transform into the powerful symmetrical image that the process yielded as Mandala #2.  

Both mandalas seem to have come into this project spontaneously, as if gifts from an other-worldly creative power.  In yogic terms, I would say they came into existence as if Self-created.  I had no sense of being the maker of these images; they clearly were manifested through me--I merely served as an intermediary vehicle for the Shakti, the divine, creative power of the universe.  

*   *   *   *   *   *   *        

Commentary on the Two Photographs 
The two symmetrical photographs presented here, which have come from a suite of five images entitled  Rock Flowers, form a perfect complementary, interactive pair, or diptych.  The individual images which for me functions as a visual equivalent for the text material discussed in Swami Kripananda's book The Guru's Sandals ~ Threshold of the Formless.  Following are some brief commentaries on the relationships I find particularly meaningful between these images and the text.


The Two Lotus Flowers in the Sahasrara 
Swamiji explains in her book how two lotuses, one larger, above, the other smaller, below, with their centers touching are seated in the center of the sahasrara in the crown of the head.   The mandala image #1 above of course corresponds to the "larger, brilliantly white lotus flower of a thousand petals."  Indeed, the frame can't contain its ever expanding, explosive power.  The mandala image #2 below it corresponds to the "smaller twelve-petaled lotus flower" which is not only below the larger lotus, but the two touch each other at their centers.    

The text states that in the space where the centers of the two flowers meet there is a triangle "which has the character of a mandala," and it is inside the triangle where the Guru's feet dwell.  In the center of the triangle there is said to be a bindu, or Blue Pearl which is "the source of everything."  This progression of "centers," one inside the next . . . culminating in the point or dot known as the bindu is, for me, a hauntingly mysterious and deeply subtle image for me to contemplate.  Trying to imagine this inward progression becomes a form of meditation in itself which takes me deeper and deeper within.  The Mandala Image #2 has that character of inward movement for me; I feel a strong pull to go inside the image when I contemplate it.  The image promises some profoundly mysterious revelation; it functions as a mirror that unveils some deep and true aspect of myself that, though unknown, is sensed as a powerful inner presence

At the heart of both symmetrical photographs is a central space which culminates into a point or bindu. . . impossible to really see with the ordinary eyes, for that point is subtle, beyond sense perception.  These centers pulsate as if they are the origin points of the image itself.  In the #1 mandala above, the center is the point of origin which has unfolded from within itself.  In the #2 mandala below, the center is the final destination, the still and silent endpoint of life's perpetual innward journey.


Out-Breath ~ Shakti : Creative Force of the Universe
The #1 mandala image is luminous, "of a white luster" as mentioned in verse 45 of the Guru Gita, one of the "indispensable texts" of Siddha Yoga (verse 45 is quoted below).   The brilliant energy of the image projects expansively outward, as if "flashing forth" from within itself.   The image manifests as an explosive creative force which for me relates to the Sa aspect of the Hamsa~So'ham mantra, the out-breath, which represents Shakti, the vital creative energy of Shiva.  The image gives sensible imaginative form corresponding to the Formless Absolute. 

Swamiji writes: Shakti is the divine cosmic power that creates and maintains the countless galaxies and worlds.  She is the consort of Shiva, the active aspect of the formless Absolute; the joyous divine energy that unfolds the universe, assuming the billions of shapes and forms that we see around us. . . Whereas Shiva is the experiencer, Shakti is what is experienced, the objective universe.


In-Breath ~ Shiva : Pure Consciousness which permeates all 
The mandala image #2 is the visual counterpart to image #1.  It is dark, it has an internal red luster--as mentioned in verse 45 of the Guru Gita.   And the energy of the image has an inward-drawing quality, as if it has opened only in order that it might fold into itself.  This image has the kind of visual energy that can serve as an invitation to the contemplator to go inside and experience one's own interior-most Self.  

The #2 image represents for me the Ham aspect of the Hamsa--So'ham mantra, the in-breath which represents Shiva . . . the all pervasive supreme Reality, the absolute Being that in the form of pure Consciousness permeates all creatures, and all things.  He dwells in every person as their inner most Self.  


Union of Opposites ~ Unity of Being
The two mandala images presented together, one above the other as a vertical diptych, is a complementary and inseparable pair.  I like to imagine these two images as One, in some ineffable way connected at their centers.  Together they represent the natural self-created mantra of the breath, Hamsa~So'ham,  the breath of God which is breathing each one of us in and out;  Shiva and Shakti as One, as the Unity of Being.  


Verse 45
Shri Guru Gita

Vande gurupadadvandvam
sivasaktyatmakam param.

Salutations to the Guru's two feet, which are within
the reach of speech, thought, and contemplation
and which have different lusters--white and red--
representing Shiva and Shakti.


*              *

Two Stories of Synchronicity:  
When I completed Part II of the Acadia Arcadia project, which consists of only symmetrical photographs, I had wanted to include the two mandala images above in that series of photographs because they were very important photographs to me, and the images were indeed constructed form photographs I had made in Acadia.  But then I finally decided against it because I had already used them in the seventh part of the The Angels project (Part VII, Epilogue).  

A few days later Gloria and I went to the Siddha Yoga Meditation Center in Rochester, NY to participate in a small monthly discussion group in which we shared our contemplations on one of the verses of the Guru Gita.  Gloria was to lead the discussion on Verse 45, which is shown above with its English translation.

I had prepared for the discussion of verse 45 by reading once again Swami Kripinanda's book, and I was amazed to discover in her text meaningful relationships to the "Rock Flower" symmetrical photographs I had just recently made for the Angels project.  I told the group after our discussion that finding these relationships between Swamiji's text and my rock flower photographs inspired me to want to somehow use the Sandals text  in a photography project.  I was especially interested in the idea that a mandala could be the "visual body" of a deity, and in this regard I was thinking of my recently created Acadia "mandala" symmetrical photographs which I had just used in the Angels project.    

As I moved on to the Acadia : Arcadia? project, and quickly completed its first two parts, the idea for this Epilogue fell naturally into place as a conclusion for the project.  It satisfied several needs at the time of its conception:  I had been looking for more opportunities to integrate my practices of Siddha Yoga Meditation with my creative process in photography; and even more specifically, I was wanting to somehow use the text from Swami Kripananda's book about the Guru's Sandals.  I had also been longing to re-presenting my two favorite symmetrical "Rock Flower" images from the Angels project in the newer Acadia : Arcadia? project.

Without knowing it was happening at the time, this Epigraph became a spontaneous continuation of my contemplations on a series of related themes: verse 45 of the Guru Gita, my mandala-like symmetrical photographs; my creative process in general; and the esoteric teachings in Swami Kripananda's book about the Guru's Sandals.

This spontaneous falling together of so many of my personal photographic and yogic preoccupations has been for me an experience of what Carl Jung has termed Synchronicity.  I have discussed this concept many times in association with other photography projects I have made over the years.  In fact synchronicity was the conceptual heart of my 1972 MFA written thesis on the Symbolic Photograph.   The Symbolic Photograph    Synchronicity is a mysterious phenomena that has remained a living, dynamic part of my creative process to this very day.  Synchronicity  

Second Story

I was in the middle of working on this Epilogue when Gloria came into my studio and told me of a phone conversation she just had with her cousin, Mary, also a student of yoga for many years.  She had shared with Gloria a recent experience that occurred during mediation in which she saw a subtle image of a lotus flower extending over her head.  The flower was alive, it was moving . . . and it was breathing!   

Of course this was a particularly meaningful (synchronistic) coincidence for me when I heard the story because of the way the image of a breathing lotus flower related so very directly with what I had been writing about in this project.     

Interestingly, on our way to Acadia National Park we had stopped for an overnight visit with Gloria's cousin, Mary and her friend.  We talked excitedly together about the trip and about exploring the park, for Mary and her friend had visited the park some time earlier and they advised us on places to see.  


Note:  I have included a description of my process of making the four-fold symmetrical photographs in Part IV of this project along with come commentaries on selected photographs presented in Acadia : Arcadia?  I invite you to continue on to Part IV: please click here

This Epilogue, Part III  of my Acadia-Arcadia project, was  
first posted ithe "Latest Addition" section of my
Photography Website's "Welcome Page"  
on December 1,  2014.
Parts of the text were significantly revised
 in mid September, 2015.
The revised  parts of this project
were taken from part 11 of my 
Photography and Yoga project.

Welcome Page  to The Departing Landscape website which includes the complete hyperlinked listing of my online photography projects dating back to the 1960's, my resume, contact information, and more.