Hi Friends! Today let us explore the beauty in the concept of a Mantra and the beauties of different mantras that exist. Mantras are core of ancient Indian (so called Hindu) philosophy. They occur at every step on our path in discovering the ancient Indian way of spiritual life. What is a Mantra? What is it’s utility? How to train in the art of a Mantra? How does it fit in modern day lifestyle? What are different mantras that exist? etc., forms themost chunk of this article.
We can define a mantra to be “A set of syllables, greater than or equal to one, which are uttered forth through vocals, so as to listen while uttering and to contemplate, which make the utterer experience the ONE“. This is the crux of the splendid meaning of Mantra. Some of you may have objections/doubts with some of the notions – like uttering forth, etc. But, unless you take the very source (which expounds these mantras) as guiding manual, and unless you are sheltered by proper GURU (may be a person or a thing), you may not see the complete potential in the above said definition. At any rate, it has two main parts:
- Uttered Syllable: Any vocal sound is called a “syllable“. Every language has its own set of syllables. Sanskrit has 50. English has 26. Even the weirdest sound we may produce from a vocal, which may not belong to a language per se, can be called a “syllable”. That is why I used the term – “uttered forth through vocals“.
- Listening and Contemplating: When you utter forth a syllable, listen to it and while listening, contemplate on it. This process forms part of Mantra. Without this, mantra is not a Mantra, but just a re-play of a tape-recorder.
- Experiencing the ONE: When we utter, we listen and we meditate/contemplate on the uttered, we will start first with the triangle of Uttered, Utterer and Uttering. Slowly, this dissolves into the POINT (Bindu as it is called in tantra/upanishadic terms) of ONE-ness.
Pyramid of Utterance:
This triangle/pyramid of utterance exists in our daily life as the manifestation of number THREE – 36) Mystic nature of Numbers . In grammar, we call this subject-object-predicate, which forms base of unit statement. Same is true in life, which is a sentence uttered forth by NATURE. We exist with these triangles as basic units. We sleep – we have sleeping person, his sleep and process of sleeping. We play – we have a playing person, process of playing and the played play. So on and so forth. The goal of this pyramid is to reach from the base of triangle of objectivity to the apex of subjective UNITY.
Now some questions need to be answered immediately, before they grow into a layer of obstruction in reading this subtly expressed article.
- Then, according to definition, can any uttered syllable(s) be MANTRA? If so, then statements like “I love apples”, can also be a mantra?
YES and NO. The key is the listening and contemplation. This, if done unwavering i.e., without ripples of mind, the process is akin to reading a good book or listening to an opera with utmost sense of dedication. The state of oneness is automatically reached and the triangle is transformed into point. But, generally, when you utter the statements which have a “meaning” in usual sense, the meaning distracts and disturbs the process of dissolution of triangle. For example, “I love apples”, will cause a memory of apple in you and thus takes your mind off the utterance and puts you in the fantasy of apple garden. If and only if, you have developed the art to get off such clutches, then YES any uttered syllables become mantras. That is why it is said that when a seer utters anything it become TRUTH. But, if not, you need to use pre-set or pre-discovered set of mantras (by sages or saints) which by default are designed to dissolve the triangle.
- Can’t just mental repetition suffice? Some say MANTRA = mananān trāyate iti mantraha – that which protects the contemplator. Where is the concept of utterance here?
Well, the meaning for “Manana” is wrongly understood as mental repetition. The italics above mean that MANTRA is that entity which takes you to the MANAS (of HIS) through cycles of repetition. Then, how to repeat is the question! We borrow the Upanishadic statements which suggest us to utter and listen (like “vāgēva Rig Vēdaha” … etc). In fact, all the wisdom of Orient is transferred through “‘Sruthi” – i.e., only by uttering and hearing. If the sages would have just sat and repeated in minds, whatever they discovered, we would not have had the present wisdom nor the present culture of vēda, whose sub-units are MANTRAS, nor the plethora of chanting styles of the vēda (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vedic_chant). That is why I said to take shelter under those scriptures which verily gave out the mantras as their bodies. If you understand how to study a VEDA/Tantra, you will understand how to utilize a mantra!
- Many suggest us to repeat the mantra for 108 times or multiples of 9 or 1008 times, etc. Is there any spiritual significance to 108, 1008, etc number of times of utterance?
Not exactly. There is significance, but its not what we think. We think that by uttering 108 times or 1008 times we are purified or the mantra’s ability is showered on us or god is pleased. Those are all projections of lazy minds. Only a lazy mind thinks of fixed number of utterances. When it is said that a mantra is divine, how can we limit its utterance? If we truly experience the joy, we wont stop the utterance unless its necessary for us to be part of some act which again is divine. So, utterance for fixed number of times is to train initially the wavering mind to run on parallel tracks and that’s all (different numbers correspond to bringing different modes of mind on proper tracks – more on this elsewhere). No more spiritual significance needs to be added and hence no worries need to be attached to the mind which accidentally stops at 59th or 65th utterance. Love and utter the mantra with joy of yourself in yourself! A stable and bold heart is more important than a fickle and fearing heart.
Let us proceed further.
Types of Mantras:
Because we are still learning, and we are unable to break the triangle as of now, from here on, we will mean MANTRA as in pre-discovered mantras by elders. How many kinds of such mantras exist?
Broadly speaking, there are 2 important kinds:
- That which have meanings: The mantras or set of syllables which mean something. Examples:
- Verses of RigVeda – called Mantras
- verses of Sahasra Nama – 1000 names – each name or group of names can be mantras
- Salutations like “Om Namah Sivāya“, “Om Namo Nārāyaṇāya“, etc.
- Those which have no direct meaning: The set of syllables with no apparent direct meaning, but are potential to produce effects. Examples:
- Complex words like Hrīṃ, Krīṃ, etc.
- Single syllables like laṃ, Gaṃ, etc. – These are called bījās/seeds.
Discovery of Mantra:
Ok, we now know that many mantras exist. But, how did the discovery happen? To answer that, we need to answer the question of how were the “Akshara/Syllables” of Sanskrit discovered i.e., why were exactly those sounds (a, ā, i, ī, …ka, kha, ….pa, pha, …etc.) of 50 syllables formed the set for Sanskrit? If we can answer that, we can answer the question of Mantra.
The secret lies in ourselves. It is said that we have 7 chakrās out of which 6 are in our body (33) The Coiled Serpent – Kundalini). These chakrās when evolved become lotuses. Lotuses have petals. A petal here, means a sound-expression. The whole vēdic philosophy rests on the theory that manifestation started from inaudible bases of SOUND called NĀDA. This nāda transmuted in 50 ways to produce 50 syllables which form the many petals of 6 chakrās. in the next section, I will show you clearly.
So, when a sage slowly evolves from the base chakra, petal by petal, the chakra transforms into lotus allowing him to “hear”. This “hear” is not though ears, but something else. Just like in dream, we hear and yet we don’t physically, this too. But here, the hearing is universal i.e., any human awakening that particular petal would hear the same sound. This heard sound was given a physical form of which we now call as syllable.
Sanskrit Syllables and Chakras:
Here let us see which chakrās are associated with which syllables. The following table shows the name of the chakra, number of petals when that chakra is awakened into path of enlightenment i.e., into LOTUS, Syllables that each petal reveals to the “Seer in us” and a presiding sound that acts as a central potency of the awakening. Each syllable is added with a ” ṃ ” (the nasal sound as in Lime or Cream) because, to suggest that these syllables are not the literal consonants or vowels, but are in the form of BASE-NĀDA or subtle inaudible basis of sound.
How does a Mantra Work?
Now you can easily see how mantrās work. Because any uttered syllable belongs to the 6 chakrās, a set of such syllables belongs to a set of particular number of chakrās. Thus, the meditation of the utterance of the mantra would inversely awaken those chakrās associated. Instead of chakras awakening and making us hear the sound, we are following the reverse way in mantra meditation. Thus, a mantra was discovered by a sage as an inner hearing, while a student like us, when recites, will awaken ourselves into the sages’ state of revelation. This is the goal of any mantra. Associating mantras to mundane profits in recent times only show a limited development in human minds. Mantra is a grand concept of harmonious way of life.
What is so SECRET about Mantras?
It is often seen that mantras are a part of “initiations” and these are often secretive. The famous GĀYATRĪ mantra is said to be given only by father to son. What about daughters and mothers? How ironical it is to say the goddess of the mantra is Gāyatrī- a female deity and that women are not initiated into it!! You see how the stupidity of modern human dragged the pious divinity into hell of limited understandings!?
When it is said that a mantra is “RAHASYA” or secret in vēdic lore, it means that IT is realized by oneself and a second can not help. That is why it is secret. Can you make a horse drink water? You can only take it to the lake. Similarly, a guru or anyone can give us mantra but not utter it inside us as verily ourselves. We need to do that. In fact, with above exposition, you must understand that becoming one with mantra implies the awakening of associated chakras and inner hearing of those inaudible sounds as the very faculty of hearing. This is actual meaning of mantra being SECRET. But this transformed into secretive cults, later on, due to misuse of mantra as per low states of evolution which forced gurus to weave a cult-like culture. Are we not destroying worlds, along with developing, in the name of science? Same is the case here, except the toll is expected to be for cycles of life times (karma).
Thus, in a subtle and delicate way, we have seen finer points associated with the concept of Mantra. To interlink different seeming branches of wisdom is the duty of a true spiritual student. Without this overlap, one is left with pieces that do not fit the puzzle of life! Here too we linked Tantra, Mantra, Yoga, Kundalini, Language (Bhāṣa) and other Śāstrās. That is how one can get a complete picture. Stay tuned for another article which would explore the specificities of different mantras in particular, including modern day mantras.