In this post, we looks at a few recurring questions such as, “What is mantra? How are they to be chanted? How can mantras assist us? Is chanting necessary as a spiritual process, and which mantra will be best suited for an individual?”
What is a Mantra?
It is said, “Manana trayate iti mantra”, which means, “that which uplifts by constant repetition is a mantra.” Mantra is a sound or a combination of sounds. From a scientific perspective, everything that exists, both visible and invisible, emits a vibrational resonance. Among the more philosophical in scientific circles, this source of the vibration is referred to as the Super Consciousness. It is a known fact that any sound is created out of a vibration. Sound and vibration coexist, which in effect means that the whole existence is a reverberation of sound or an amalgamation of sounds. This is exactly what India’s great sages and seers had asserted thousands of years ago: that existence is nothing but an amalgamation of multiple mantras and the source of anything that exists is called the Brahman.
Mantras are Vedic in origin. Most of the mantras have been offered by great yogis from time immemorial and they are in Sanskrit, the ancient language of India. Sanskrit is considered to be the language of the Gods because each sound has been derived in such a way, that the sound reverberates with the object it denotes. Replicating the sounds of nature, each word has been created with so much precision that try as hard as you can, it would be difficult to find a more appropriate word for that specific object. It is a language that was created from a very deep understanding of creation.
Mantra is a word, a syllable or a verse that possesses the ability to influence physicality strongly. Repetition of a mantra can induce a trancelike state in the practitioner and lead him to higher levels of spiritual awareness. The Vedic scriptures say that one easy way to gain progress in the path of spirituality is through regular chanting of certain mantras. Even simply repeating the name of the Lord is considered beneficial.
There is a story in the Puranas about an individual who hadn’t led an honourable life, but who gained mukti just by repeatedly calling out loudly for his son Narayana while he was on his deathbed. As he was in severe pain, the man had been calling out for his son with so much intensity that Narayana (Lord Vishnu) himself had to come down to lead him towards swargaloka or heaven. It was the final sound at the time of the man’s death that lead him towards his next destination.
Pronunciation of Mantras
According to the ancient traditions, mantras were divulged directly from the teacher to the student, from the mouth to the ear. There were no written texts. The Vedic mantras are very sacred and are taught with so much intricacy that no student would ever mispronounce it, because distortions in pronunciation can fetch harm to the person reciting it and to those listening to it. It is amazing to see that the Vedic mantras are chanted verbatim from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from the northern most state of India to its southernmost tip, with the same pronunciation, with the same synchronization in tune and with the same length of pauses in between the sounds.
The basic feature of the Sanskrit language is that, it is sound sensitive. Thus, distortions in pronunciation can be anti-beneficial in many cases. This was the reason that an enormous amount of training is imparted to those who chant matras. Such training could be too exhaustive and in today’s world, dedication has become increasinly rare. For those who are unsure of their pronunciation, it is generally advised to just listen to the mantra with absolute attention. The act of paying such attention to the sound is itself sufficient to bring about powerful changes in the human system. The meaning of the mantra is itself not important. It is the attention paid to the sound that matters.
“Vairagya – Bonding with Beyond” is a series of powerful chants created by mystic Sadhguru. The mantras include
1. Nirvana Shatakam
2. Guru Paduka Stotram
3. Brahmananda Swarupa
5. Aum Namah Shivaya
These mantras can be chanted by anyone, and there is a particular process to find which of these five mantras resonates with you.
1. Listen to each of them several times. It is as good as receiving the mantra directly from a Guru.
2. When you find that you are instinctively drawn towards one, that is your mantra. Continue to listen to this mantra constantly, while you are driving, working, eating or relaxing.
3. You need not chant along with the mantra if you cannot or do not wish to. Just listening and paying attention to the mantra allows it to gradually get into your system and “quietly” become a part of you.
4. The album can be downloaded at no cost as mp3s or as an Android app.
Aum Namah Shivaya
Even the simple but powerful vibrations of “aum” chanting have the capacity to act as an agent to open the passage to one’s consciousness, harmonizing all these four forces. When such synchronization happens, one begins to feel like a complete being, there will be drastic change in their experience of life.
Many mantras begin with the cosmic sound “aum”, which is known as the pranavamantra, the source of all mantras. Of these, Aum Namah Shivaya is considered to be the Mulamantra that purifies the human system. The five mantras na-ma-shi-va-ya, known as panchaksharas, helps in activating the body – its five elements, its five senses and its five vital forces. While chanting a mantra invoking Shiva, you do not ask for a boon, you are seeking dissolution, for the annihilation of the ‘you’, because Shiva is the personification of destruction, he is the destroyer of the limited in you so that you can experience the unbounded. And hence, Aum Namah Shivaya can be referred to as the ultimate mantra.
It is important to note that the sound ‘aum’ should not be uttered as ‘om’.
1. Keep the mouth open and exhale saying aahh….
2. Then gradually bring the lips together, the sound becomes oohh….
3. And once the lips are together, the sound becomes mm….
4. When you utter aahh-oohh-mm without a break, it naturally becomes aum….
These three sounds together, a-u-m, become the primordial sound of existence, from which the creation is said to have sprung forth.
The Vedic seers initiated the seekers into this mantra to enable them to gain liberation or mukti.
How to Chant a Mantra
There are several fairy tales in the western world in which a secret syllable is uttered to open up caves of treasures. They could in fact have been folkloric references to the sacred sounds used by mantra practitioners to open the cave of the heart to avail the treasure of Eternal Truth.
The time you practice the chanting (or listening to a mantra), your posture, the space where you are practicing it and even the person who is chanting or the one who is listening to it, all these things matter.
The best posture (unless you are otherwise initiated) is to sit cross-legged with hands upon your thighs and palms facing upwards. Some might prefer to sit in the open; some prefer to be in a closed space where there is minimum disturbance.
Many people repeat the mantra without paying attention to the utterance. A mantra could be rendered powerful only when it is practiced with proper attention. The meaning of the mantra isn’t all that important. It is the attention that matters.
Without paying the necessary attention, continuous repetition of any sound will bring about inertness in the mind.
Mantras for Health
Each Vairagya mantra has the power to activate energies in the body. Because of their capacity to work deep into the consciousness, they are considered an effective method of unburdening the subconscious and cleansing it of residual traumas which causes diseases. In India, sages from time immemorial have prescribed specific mantras as remedy for specific illnesses. Even modern medicine has realized the advantages of sound-therapy as a remedial measure.
Mantras for Success
Before seeking success, one should understand that success does not come through wealth or money. One can be called successful only when they are using their body and mind to their full potential. In that sense, any of the Vairagya mantras are powerful tools to open up the full possibilities of the human system.
Mantras can even be used as a key, a key with which you yourself could unlock another dimension of life that is within you and experience it. They can be an effective force in generating a powerful field, for instance – when a region is under the grip of natural calamities like famine or plague, yajnas are conducted for several days where groups of people chant mantras for the elimination of ill effects. They are chanted for the fulfilment of personal desires too. But for such procedures, they have to be delivered from that kind of a source where there is a complete perception of all that is sound, from a source that has deep knowledge about creation itself.
Mantras as Vehicles of Grace
Grace is what accelerates the spiritual process. It is a certain energy, a certain possibility. But to feel it, to experience it, you need awareness, you need devotion. That grace, that energy, that space is ever present. The person that you distinguish in the Guru figure is just a representation of that energy and space. But it is easier for you to access the grace through the Guru because most of the people need a figure or a personality whom they can trust and over whom they can bestow their devotion. They need that connecting cord. Whether you be a millionaire or an intellectual, without grace, nothing much is possible in the spiritual realms. The glory of the mantra cannot be experienced through reasoning and intellect. It can be experienced if one has devotion.
Mantra and Meditation
Meditation is the tool for inner exploration, to reach out towards that which we call divine. But it is not possible for all and sundry to just sit down and meditate. The restless mind doesn’t allow that. One has to turn inward if we are to create a lasting sense of joy and bliss within ourselves. And for that, one needs certain tools. A screw driver is such a tiny object, but an indispensable tool without which, almost no electrical maintenance will be possible.
Unlike Hatha Yoga, a mantra might seem so simple and within the reach of every individual, but it is an effective device. Mantras are known to activate the chakras or energy centers within the body. A mantra by itself does not create a meditative state. It should be understood that it is only an instrument to cross the barricade of the restless mind, to let it relax, so that one can fall into meditation. A mantra is just a seed. The seed is being sown within you. If proper care is given, it will sprout into a plant, form into a tree and then, bear the right kind of fruits. For the tree to bear flowers and fruits, one needs patience and perseverance.
Consciousness plays a major role in the path of spirituality. To evolve as a human being, one has to develop his consciousness. Ethics or morals can develop the conscience within you, not the consciousness. Conscience is that which is fed to you as social norms, as rights and wrongs. Your conscience is what makes you feel guilty or hurt. Consciousness is something that goes much deeper than thought and emotion, and is connected to the very life throbbing within. To find access to the consciousness within a being, devotion or bhakti is considered the shortest, sweetest path.
For those who would like to try out a short guided meditation, Isha Kriya, embedded below is a good way to start.
Mantra and Devotion
Mantra sadhana functions as a powerful practice if the required ambience is provided at four different planes –- the physical, psychological, emotional and energy levels. Of these four, the emotional aspect is easiest for us to direct and push towards pleasantness.
In Indian culture, where there is no code of conduct that tells you what to do and what not to do, devotion was innate among its people. More than morality, humanity was always encouraged. A temple is the epicentre of every town or village. Even if the people went hungry, they would see to it that the deity in the temple is taken care of. All life rotates round that. Every aspect of nature was revered. People bow down to the sun, the moon, the sky, the mountains, the sea, the tree, the earth and many of its animals as well. When every custom and tradition is intended to allow the humanity within a person to blossom, there was no option other than to be devotional.
The Power of Sound
Sound is very powerful. Different sounds have different effects on the human psyche. The gurgling sound of a flowing stream can soothe one’s nerves; the musical notes of singing birds can enthrall one’s heart, whereas the sound of the thundering clouds can cause awe and fear in the mind. Similarly, if a mantra is chanted in rhythmic tones continuously, it has a melodious effect on the body. It has been proved by research studies that during the rhythmic chanting, a curative kind of chemical is produced which spreads into the brain, having a relaxing and healing effect to the body. When chanted at the right pace and with the right intensity, it can gradually facilitate the creation of a tranquil space within, that is unassailed by external vagaries. The sound vibrations have the capacity to re-arrange the different patterns of the mind, aiding it to be calm and still.
Chanting is a profound technique for transcendence. The mode of influence of a mantra on the practitioner and its mode of functioning is still a mystery to modern science. However, we know that they are sound vibrations that saturate into each cell of the body, helping the mind to relax. They create vibrations within the core of our being. Mantra is a sound vibration beyond the cognition of the mind. When the mind is unable to cognize, it simply dissolves and moves into a meditative space. When it enters the meditative state, it can bring about ripples of awareness, ripples of consciousness, offering it the power to awaken the dormant centres of the brain, 90% of which remain unused in an average human being.
A chant can be used as a raiment that you wear. If you keep on chanting, it will enfold you and if you chant with enough intensity and involvement, if it becomes your life’s breath, then the people around you will be able to feel this. There is a beautiful true story that illustrates this.
Ram Das was a sadhak. He was a wandering monk and one night, he was given shelter in a house. Irritated by the constant “Ram, Ram, Ram”, chanting, the owner of the house, who found it difficult to sleep, walked into the next room to check on Ram Das and to request him to stop the chanting. But to his surprise, he found that the saint was fast asleep. But he could still hear the chanting. He searched the room and realised to his utter astonishment that that the chanting was reverberating from the body of the sleeping saint. The saint’s life and energies had merged so deep into the mantra that the mantra had become a part of him. Even in sleep, the resonant echoes of the chant “Ram, Ram, Ram” were surfacing from him. Such people will seldom communicate with others because they do not wish to disturb their system with any sound other, so that they become the mantra, the mantra becomes them. The mantra turns into a natural coating, a shield.
The one big barrier to cross in any spiritual process is the seemingly never-ending thought process. There are several theories and myths about controlling the thoughts. However, the notion that if you do something spiritual, your brain should stop working is simply wrong. Sadhguru says, you needn’t be prejudiced against the mind. Every organ of your body is functioning without you even being aware of it, the heart beats, the kidneys cleanse, digestion takes place in the intestines; but the functioning of the mind disturbs you because you are deeply identified with your thought process; you think you are your thoughts. You should divert the mind from being a compulsive process to an entirely conscious process.
But for that, one has to be truthful to oneself. One shouldn’t live on heaps of lies. All the deceptiveness that one believes in, all that artificiality that one has built up around him, the whole pretence has to be thrown aside. If everything is centred on breaking ones limitations, there is no space for falsehood; there is no room for hypocrisy. You are what you are and your mind becomes empty. When truth overrules, there is no room any more for unnecessary thoughts and worries. When the mind turns empty and pure, it gains the capacity to reveal the cosmic truth, the ultimate truth. The mind itself will turn into the cosmic space; truth will flourish by its own nature because the entire existence exists in the lap of truth.
Instead of allowing the brain to function as a garbage bin, heaping it up with all the thoughts that you have gathered through the lifetime, if you allow it to be the radiant aura of your own being, wonders can happen to you. You needn’t be judgemental either by discriminating between good and bad thoughts. Most of the time, you are simply imagining things. In fact, if you consciously try to maintain a continuous stream of thoughts while practicing the sadhana, suddenly, they will disappear. According to the yogic symbolism, sahasrar, the crown chakra is depicted as a lotus, a lotus blooming into a thousand petals, representing the one thousand possibilities that the human being could open up into, if he or she is not a psychological being but an existential being.
Finally, consider chanting as an instrument to gain inner well being. In this path, you don’t act with a specific goal, with some illusory ideas on enlightenment. Enlightenment is not something that one can instigate. Enlightenment is something that happens when one drops all pretense. When his senses are open, when his energies are open, when his prana is open, it will happen. The light is already there; one does not cause light, nor can one. When everything within one is balanced, one day it will shine upon him and he will wonder, “Why didn’t I ever perceive it before?” Instead of striving to gain something, one has to just be, be in his truthful nature. There is nowhere to reach; it is here, right here in the present, not somewhere in the distant future.