Mantra – Vehicle for Self-Discovery by Swami Satyananda Saraswati
given at the Dublin Convention on Sept. 22nd 1979
For thousands of years, you and your ancestors have been working on mind control, and most have either failed or slipped into a state of hypnosis. The mental process is an involuntary process and you cannot cut through it at any point you like. Even if you can stop the thoughts, you can’t stop the process. Mind, thought and consciousness maintain their level. You only have the satisfaction of knowing that you have created a vacuum in your mind- shoonya, void, a thought free mental area. But that’s all delusion; man can never be free from the thought process.
You not only think on the conscious plane – you think even though you are unconscious. When you are extrovert and preoccupied, an unseen, eternal, unbroken and protracted process of thought movement continues behind the mental curtain. You don’t see anything but there is constant movement.
Mind is not a homogeneous substance- mind is a replica of proto-matter, universal mind. You talk about controlling the mind, but what are you talking about? You can definitely streamline and channelize your emotions, the pattern of your thinking and the structure of your ambition- the social mind. But the real mind is invincible and is completely indomitable. Therefore, intelligent people must realise that in order to understand and control the thought process you have to go into the deeper spheres of your mind. That is the science of mantra.
Mantra is not the name of a god or goddess or of a person. It is not a holy word or part of a hymn.
Mantra is not sacred, nor is it a tool for concentration. It is a vehicle for expansion of mind and liberation of energy.
The sounds which you receive and the sounds you make, create resonant waves in the depths and surface of the mind. These sound waves have various forms known as mandalas which go deep and hit the depths of the mind. If you take a pebble and throw it into a pool- circles, waves or ripples are generated. Deep freeze the whole pool immediately and then look at it- follow the ripples and find the point where the pebble hit the water.
The process of mantra is very similar. First of all fix your mind on the nose tip or one of the centres. This is very important, because when the eyeballs move, the rhythms of the brain are affected and shadows move- the level of consciousness does not become steady. For that reason the eyes have to be absolutely steady. In order to create steadiness, you have to find one centre, the nose tip, close the eyes, and fix your mind there. That is point one. Secondly, the nose is directly connected with the perineum, which is the seat of the most important centre in the body- mooladhara chakra. When you concentrate on the nose tip the impulses keep moving from the nose tip right down to the perineum.
After you have been concentrating on the nose tip, become aware of the breath, the natural breath which moves at the speed of fifteen rounds per minute. The breath has to be felt at the nose tip, flowing through both the nasal orifices. Then synchronise your mantra with the natural stream of the breath, either one mantra with inspiration and one with expiration, or more than one mantra with inspiration. That all depends upon the length of your mantra and on your personal choice.
Unlocking Pandora’s box
What happens when you are practising mantra ? More and more thoughts express themselves. Mind becomes wild. As long as you are occupied, you are quiet; your mind is peaceful. But when you begin to concentrate on the mantra, everything comes out from the depths. Does this mean that you are not progressing? Is it a negative symptom? No- during the period when you practise mantra, the wilder the mind becomes, the better it is for you. It is not clarity, tranquility or passivity of mind that is required. The most important thing is to face the mind- to see the entire process.
Thinking is not a process- it is a panorama. Mind does not move, mind does not walk, mind does not run. It is just a thing. But you see the mind in parts, therefore you think it is moving, just as you see the sun moving but the earth not. This is one of the most important things that all of us must understand. This idea is very important in yoga. It influences the whole mental condition, the state of being. You feel thoughts moving, emotions running wild, passions assailing you. But that’s your experience, your feeling- that’s not a fact. You see the whole thing, part by part, and therefore you feel that the mind is moving from past into present and from present into future, from future into past and from past into future. But it is not like that. Universal mind is a homogeneity; it cannot be separated by time and space. Time and space are in its womb.
Therefore, when you are practising mantra, you should be happy when your mind is developing the areas concerning the past, present and future. When evil and criminal thoughts are awakened in your mind, or when you have thoughts of God and compassion-it is all the same. If you want to crush the evil idea, you must crush the good idea as well. This is a very important point, and it is here that the whole process of life, of evolution, is stuck. Those people who have been able to transcend the barriers of life, have done it only after realising this.
You expect the mind to be calm like a moonlit night, free from clouds and thunder. That’s not expecting something which is possible. When you practise your mantra, please remember that you are not practising it to stop this eternal process; to crush the basis of your faculties, your knowledge, your enlightenment. To crush the mind is to kill life. To suppress an emotion is to destroy the very base of your ambition and desire. Man cannot be anything unless he has the whole mind to work from. The greatest discoveries in history, the greatest victories, the greatest paintings, compositions, and realizations-what are they, but products of the mind.
Therefore, when you practise mantra, please be aware of whatever comes to your mind. Do not put things into categories and compartments: ‘Very nice thoughts I had today, thank God.’ Or, ‘Today my meditation was very bad; throughout the practice I have been having horrible thoughts.’ No, this is where we are making a great mistake. When you fix your mind on the nose tip, on the breath, and on the mantra – the deeper you go the greater will be the manifestation of the whole mind.
Forget about control
The mind has infinite experiences, pictures, realisations and ideas. Therefore, I cannot agree with those people who say: ‘Close your eyes, control your mind and practise mantra. You will come to the light.’ I have practised not for one or two years, but for a whole lifetime, and I know this is not the way.
By trying to control the mind, you are creating a split in your personality. Who are you and whom are you trying to control? As you practise mantra, every time a bad thought comes, you set it aside. Who is doing this, and with whom? Who is the controller, who is controlled and who controls the controlling process? It’s all you – one mind, myself, and two perceptions. You are creating a conflict between the two perceptions that have arisen in you. That’s why the whole civilisation has become schizophrenic and neurotic. For that, you are responsible; your religion, your system of spiritual life, is responsible.
Man does not live by faith or belief. Man lives by an absolutely cruel sense of discovery, and great things have come out of it. Faith and belief have their limitations, but discovery has no limitations. You can explore into eternity, into infinity and keep on going as far as you will. That’s discovery, that’s adventure. But once you stop and say, ‘I have found it’, that is faith or belief, and that is setting limitations to your capacity, to your potentialities.
So when you practise mantra, the deeper you go, the greater areas of the mind you explore. You will not only see the passions, ambitions, dreams, and compassions; you will see horrible fears, thoughts which you could never think on the mental, psychic or para-psychological planes. There is not one moment in the life of a practitioner when the mind is totally vacant.
People come to me every day saying, ‘Swamiji, my mind is very restless and I am not able to concentrate. Kindly give me a mantra.’ I have to tell them, ‘This is not possible. I don’t teach mantra for this purpose. But if you want your unconscious to be exploded, if you want the great treasure to reveal itself, then, I can give you a mantra.’
The science of mantra is not a branch of hatha yoga; it is a part of tantra. In tantra it is said that mantras can influence the totality of human consciousness and destiny. Therefore, when we set out to practise mantra, we should forget one point, control of mind.
Mantra can be practised at any part of the body, not only the nose tip. You can practise mantra awareness at the navel, the centre of the heart, the eyebrow centre, or even sahasrara chakra – the crown lotus on top of the head.
There are four ways in which mantra can be practised: (i) baikhari – aloud, with the mouth; (ii) upanshu – whispering, with movement of the lips; (iii) manasik – silently in the mind, with no movement of the lips or tongue, no stir in the throat; (iv) ajapa japa – spontaneously with the breath.
When the sound is produced in these four different forms, it has different types of waves. When you chant Om aloud or in a whisper, it creates a standing wave. When you repeat it silently in the mind, it produces a resonant wave. Spontaneous mantra synchronised with the breath creates a continuous, rhythmic wave which has a long range of vibration. When you chant the mantra with your mouth or lips, it has a short range of vibration, a very quick rest period.
This doesn’t mean to say that you should not chant aloud, but this is the lower form. Feeling the mantra spontaneously is the higher form. For the best results, mantra should be practised in the following sequence: First chant aloud, producing the sound with your mouth. After a few months, just whisper it on the lips, without producing any vibration. Then later, after a year or so, fix a point at the eyebrow centre, nose tip, or in the heart, and repeat your mantra silently there, synchronising it with the pulse beat. Finally, practise spontaneous awareness of the mantra with the rhythm of the breath. This is the most important form. If the mantra is to penetrate the inner consciousness, to reach the point where thoughts originate, where consciousness emanates and evolution begins, then this last form of spontaneous mantra awareness, ajapa japa, must be practised.
Acceptance of the mind is a very important attitude, especially during the practice of mantra. To live with our own thoughts and feelings is very difficult. People suffer from inferiority and guilt due to their own mind, their own mental behaviour. If you can come out of this by understanding and accepting the mind, many people will want to receive guidance from you. It doesn’t matter how long you can sit in the lotus position. You can hold your mala for fifteen years and still be wrestling with the mind. What matters is that you learn to live with the mind, to understand the mind, and to utilise the perceptions that it is projecting before you. Whenever the mind is disturbed, you must find out what is the cause of the disturbance – the sound, the individual, the situation. Try to become a witness of all that is happening- this is the attitude that must be developed in the practice of mantra. Finally, when you have finished the practice, put your mala down and stop the mantra. Fix your mind on one point, for example, the nose tip or eyebrow centre, for five minutes and visualise the symbol of your mantra there.
If you continue this practice regularly you will treat your own mental problems, and correct your abnormal mental behaviour. You will be your own mental doctor. As well as this, you will develop an intimate friendship with the mind, and all of its fantastic faculties will open up to you. This mind is telepathic, clairvoyant, psycho-telekinetic This mind has infinite qualities- it can create a poem and make you a Milton. It can decide your future and make you a warrior, a soldier, a statesman or a saint. But we must know how to make use of this mind.
Tranquility is not necessary when you practise mantra, nor is it the aim. If you want to get rid of hypertension, blood pressure or coronary stress, and you are trying to make the mind tranquil, you can expect another heart attack. Tranquility is an ideal. Man has to learn to live with reality. Nature is living with stress. The universe is living with stress. How long do you want to be like soft butter? Learn to live with stress. That is the ultimate aim. Stress is struggle; struggle is life, and life is progress.
The tantric approach
Why did the tantric tradition give us mantra? In the tantric texts it says that even a person who can’t walk, talk, see, or hear, who is absolutely destitute, with everybody against him, can practise mantra and become enlightened.
Mantra eliminates sickness and madness, not by controlling the mind but by letting the mind open itself. The more you practise mantra, the more you see on the beautiful television before you. You will have endless thoughts, dreams and visions. The practice of mantra lets all the wild animals out of the cage. You may think this is not at all necessary, but I have found that before you can get peace of mind, before you can transcend the mind, you must be able to face all the disturbances of the mind.
If I have a problem and am unable to sleep for three days, I don’t care that my mind is agitated. I believe that the mind must face truth honestly. If I am up against the agony of death, I must face it and experience it. If I am feeling the turbulence of passion, I must face it and experience it.
The purpose of mantra is not to make the brain inactive to these things, but to increase its sensitivity and awareness. This is the tantric system and it teaches you to face facts, with your eyes open. We don’t want people to be like ostriches. Are you ready to unlock the mind and face its manifestations, or do you still want to put a cover over them? If you want to put a cover over them, then you have the hypnotic aspect of mantra meditation. But if you are willing to face them and work them out, then you have the tantric aspect, and mantra is the way.
Satsang on Mantra
I have tried many mantras and have become confused. How do I know which one I should persist with?
Well, the question could be put in a different way, ‘I have married so many times and nothing has succeeded.’ You see, the first thing is to stay with one mantra and continue it. Don’t go on changing the mantra. Don’t go on jumping from guru to guru. There is only one secret of success- stick to something. Even if you are stuck to a very ineffective system it does not matter. Maybe you will reach the goal a little later, but you will reach it. Don’t get fed up with the practice. If you are practising my system stick to it, and if you are practising some other system stick to that. One guru, one mantra – that is called spiritual chastity.
Remember the words ‘spiritual chastity’. Don’t go on with your old habits of flirting, or at least don’t project them into your spiritual life. In material life you may go from this husband to that husband, from this wife to that wife, from this job to that job, from this flat to that flat, from this country to another, and it may all work out all right. But in spiritual life only one thing will work- one-pointed chastity of spiritual purpose.
What is the difference between a personal mantra and a general mantra?
Up to the point of initiation, you can practise any general mantra, but once you have been initiated into a mantra, this becomes your personal mantra and it should not be changed.
There are also special mantras which can be utilised for specific purposes such as influencing your destiny, or to overcome a specific problem. These mantras are discontinued as soon as they have fulfilled their purpose, and are then classified along with the general mantras.
If you already have a guru, is it possible to receive a mantra from another guru?
According to my understanding, the guru has to be properly defined. If you have learned yoga from someone, he is your yoga guru. If you have learned the Gita or the Bible, he is your Gita or Bible guru. If you have been going to him for a long time and learning about spiritual life, then he is your spiritual guru. If he is a spiritually illumined person and you have great respect for him, he is also your guru. Accordingly, one can have many gurus, and the person who gives you a mantra is your mantra guru. So if you have a spiritual master, a Gita or Bible master, a raja yoga or tantra yoga master, you can also have a mantra master. Guru has two aspects :(i) he teaches you; (ii) he can help you to illumine your consciousness. So you can have these two aspects in one person or in many persons.
What is the benefit of receiving a mantra directly from the guru?
When the mantra is heard from the guru, it is registered by your atman. Then it becomes the seed which grows as you practise your sadhana.
What is the difference between a tantric mantra and a vedic mantra?
Tantric mantras are those which influence the deeper nature of the universe. They are also intended to fulfil certain desires of man. Tantric mantras are very powerful and when you practise them, they create a great force in the atmosphere.
Vedic mantras are intended for worship of the divine and for self-realization. They change the nature of a person and make him more devotional.
Is it necessary to pronounce the mantra correctly?
If you make a mistake in pronouncing the vedic mantras there is no harm. For example, if you are repeating the mantra Om Namah Shivaya and you say Om Namah Shivaya, it won’t make much difference. But the tantric mantras must be pronounced absolutely precisely and correctly.
I have found that anyone who listens with awareness can produce the correct sound of the mantra. At first you may not be able to repeat the correct sound aloud, but you can perceive it. After hearing a melody several times, you can think it in your mind, even though you may not be able to sing it. In the same way, if you listen to the pronunciation of the mantra, even if you do not repeat it aloud, you will conceive the correct sound in your mind, and this is enough.
Is the intellectual meaning of mantra important?
The mantra is a combination or assembly of powerful sound waves. As such, the intellectual understanding of the mantra is not at all necessary. It is not the meaning, but the sound waves created by the mantra which influence the cosmos in the brain and outside. There are some mantras which don’t even have a meaning.
The mantra has two basic aspects: sound and form. For example, when you chant Om, it is a sound; when you write Om in script, it is a form. So every mantra has a sound and a form, but the most powerful aspect is the sound. All educated people have a concept of script in their mind. If you are not educated and have no concept of script in your mind, then you will conceive Om as sound only. The problem is- you are not able to separate the sound from the script. If you repeat the sound Om, it is not only the sound, but also the script which follows it. When you are practising a mantra, gradually try to leave the idea of script and follow the sound.
How should the practice of mantra be integrated into the daily routine?
Practise for ten minutes early in the morning before everyone gets up, and again at night just before you go to bed. Also try to remember the mantra and repeat it mentally throughout the day, when you are at work or just sitting.
How important is regularity?
Mantra is so powerful that it can change your destiny, economic situation, physical structure, etc. If you want the mantra to change the whole structure of your life, you must practise it regularly, every morning and evening.
Why is it recommended to chant mantra aloud in the beginning?
Unless your mind is steady and one-pointed, mental repetition of mantra can bring more dissipation.
What is the purpose of chanting Om in groups?
Om chanting is done in groups to raise everyone at the same time. There are two types of Om chanting used for this purpose. One practice is where everybody chants aloud together O-o-m-m-m-m- The other is where everybody chants silently Om, Om, Om. The latter is a relaxed way of chanting used for chakra work. It allows you to be independent. When the group is chanting Om aloud together, they have to keep their minds on each other, but when you are practising silently, you can chant freely in your own rhythm. Om is a combination of three sounds ‘A’, ‘U’ and ‘M’. These three can be pronounced in different ways according to grammatical rules. Generally, however, the combination of ‘A’ and ‘U’ becomes ‘O’. Thus the pronunciation is really O-o-m-m-m-m’
How does a mantra act scientifically?
Every sound and form has a different archetype inside the brain. The process of knowledge takes place through these archetypes. As I am talking to you, knowledge simultaneously takes place inside you, but this process is not based on the actual sounds I am pronouncing. As soon as the sound goes into the brain, it changes its waves and assumes various geometrical patterns. These patterns are the archetypes. Now, in science, the principle is that perception and cognition take place inside through the intermediary archetypes, and what we perceive is not exactly as it was outside.
There are infinite archetypal patterns. In yoga they are known as mandalas and yantras. Scientists have found that by producing certain sounds, certain flower-like shapes were formed. When certain mantras were chanted, they found that they created the archetype of a lotus flower. That is why the lotus is so common in spiritual literature. In the same way, different forms can be created by different mantras.
Sound is a force, and this force affects a certain part of the universe and creates ripples in the vast ocean of the cosmos, just as the electromagnetic or radio waves can’t be heard even though they pass through the atmosphere. In the same way, a mantra has its own field by which it travels. In this universe which we see around us, there are thousands of channels of waves. We call them layers or zones. In one layer radioactivity travels, in another layer electromagnetic waves, in the third layer thought waves.
When you produce a sound it attains a certain frequency. If your mind is dissipated then the frequency is low. If your mind is one-pointed, then the frequency is high. Your mind is a part of the cosmic mind. When you are in concentration, you are a part of the cosmic mind, but when your mind is not concentrated, then you are not in communication with the cosmic mind.
Are the vedic gods created by the archetype of mantra?
Yes, in fact the gods and goddesses that we hear about in religion are only archetypes. Gods and goddesses like Shiva and Parvati are divine archetypes. In Sanskrit, these vedic deities are known as deva, meaning illumination. When your mind is illumined, you can see so many things inside. Within this cosmos there are infinite forms. The human brain is a miniature universe, and whatever you see in the whole cosmos is contained inside. If you can illumine the inside then you can know all about the outside.
What is anusthana and how is it practised?
Anusthana is a traditional practice in which a particular mantra is chanted. There are many kinds of anusthana but the two most important are sadharana anusthana and purashcharana anusthana. Sadharana anusthana is done on all nine days of Navaratri. During this time, simple, bland food is taken and no work is done. Purascharana is a long anusthana in which the mantra is repeated as many hundreds of thousands of times as the number of matras or letters it contains. For example, if the mantra is Om Namah Shivaya, it must be repeated 500,000 times – this means 5000 malas. This can be completed in a short period of time or over a long period at your convenience. If you do not want to undertake the full number, then you can do only half or one quarter. Anusthana is initiated on an auspicious day, for example, the day of an eclipse, when the number of mantras, and perhaps the duration of time, is fixed and a sankalpa or vow is made to complete them. After many years of practice, the sound waves awaken the causal body. We call this mantra siddhi, the perfection of the power of mantra.