Wednesday, September 06, 2006
The Technology of Mantra
Mantra is a living sound healing modality. When it is used correctly with the right intention the vibrational energy can change the karma of the practitioner. Perhaps this is why in 1984, Sri Satguru Publications of Delhi inserted a disclaimer in their English translation of the 16th century treatise on Mantrasashtra. It reads; “Any person on the basis of Yantras as provided in this book commits any nefarious acts which causes loss, etc., to anybody then for his actions the authors/editors/translator, printer, and publisher will not be responsible in any way whatsoever.”
I intend to go into the details of my personal experience as a methodology, due to its relevence to this topic, however, first we must understand were this technology came from in order to understand its relationship to this modern age.
According to the “Gospel of John,” the Bible states in the fourth gospel; “In the beginning there was the word and the word was with God and the Word was God.” These words are similar to the words of the Veda;
Prajapatir vai idam asit
Tasya vaf dvitiya asit
Vag vai paramam Brahma
“In the beginning there was Brahman with whom was Vak or the Word, and the Word is Brahman.”
Where did mantra come from? And why is it so essential to an entire Indian belief system? Is it all just gibberish or is there some ordered science to the sounds? Are mantras simple poetic phrases, or do they hold a sound technology which can change one’s perception of reality and one’s karma? There is a great deal to learn about the ancient technology of mantra. I use the word ‘technology’ as defined as, “the sum of a societie’s or culture’s practical knowledge, especially with reference to its material culture.” Indian mantras have been kept intact for several thousands of years, and have influenced a culture, and shaped its belief systems.
Before “the word” according to one Hindu cosmology, there was the one supreme consciousness, Cit, or Brahman. Cit is the changless principle from which all experience is drawn. Cit is pure emptiness; without mind, without motion, without action, and without sound. Creation begins with its intial movement, or vibrations. Suspanda Prakriti Shakti, is the movement of Cit, or the power of vibration moving into matter. Before Pryalaya, the dissolution of the universe which occurs at the end of each Kali yuga, (approximately 400,000,000 years, or a day in the life of Brahman), Prakriti (form or matter) is in a state of equilibrium. Then cosmic vibration, (Spandana) realeases the equilibriated energy, and begins the cycle of creation. The sound of this movement is ‘Om’. Om was the first sound, which created dualism with all of its variences of the universe. ‘Om’ created a bifurcation of consciousness into mind and matter. Mind and matter are from the same origin. In his book, “The Garland of Letters, ” Sir John Woodroffe describes this process; “The sound is accompanied by movement. That of the causal body first projecting the minfold universe from out itself is general movement of which is the Pranava or ‘Om.’ From ‘Om’ all other mantras are derrived.”(30)
According the Vedas, the oldest Hindu texts as prayers, sound is Brahman. Joachiim-Ernst Berendt says in “The World of Sound,”
In one dictionary I find the following: ‘Brahma (Sanskrit): originally a magic formula in India, later understood as a primal creative word, the source of the world and sacred knowledge, Brahma became the central concept of Indian interpretation of the world. It is one with man’s inner consciousness.’ Thus for one thing, Nada Brahma means: Sound is God. Or vice versa: God is Sound.(17)
Om is a complete mantra. It is said to hold the entire Hindu philosophy. The mantra which is comprised of three letters, A, U, M, representing a trinity of energies. They are symbolized by Brahma, Visnu, and Siva; creator, sustainer and distruction. Since matter is never created nor destroyed, these energies are forever at play.
Mantras are said to be divined by the great Rishis, or “seers”. The earliest account written account of mantra is attributed to the RgVeda. The sounds and combination of words are also said to be divined, coming straight from the gods. This is called shruti. The saint and scholor, Sri Aurobindo, was one of the first people to defend and write detailed information about the Rig Veda mantras. He translated over 3,000 mantras, and wrote over 15,000 pages of essays on the topic. Aurobindo places the RgVeda as early as 4000 B.C.E., yet to this date the exact time period is higly disputed among scholors. What is clear is that mantra is a vibrational technology that came from the Rishis, with a highly developed and complex system of meter, tones, and sounds which when spoken internally or externally, are used to alter a person’s reality or karma. Some mantra are used for personal and spiritual growth or protection, and others are used for greater spells and incantations. The Samskrt alphabet itself was said to be divined the same way. In the essay, “Mantras-What are They?” by Andre Padoux, the author writes about the significance of the spiritual origins of mantra and the alphabet.
All the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, supposedly born in the godhead, may be regarded as mantras. Born of themselves as spontaneous movement of the divine energy, they appear ‘freely’ but according to the traditional and very rational order of the varnasamamnaya….No one finds out or coins a mantra; he recieves it ritually from a master who has it from tradition.(309)
Mantra works within a complex interaction between the energetic bodies, sound, and vibration. Vibration is the vehicle for the process. Layne Redmond talks about the power of mantra in her book, “When the Drummers Were Women,”
Through the repition of certain sounds, the practitioner creates vibratory rhythyms within the body that energize the brain and the nervous system. The sequence of syllables or sound frequencies used is called mantra. The mantra of a specific god or goddess is equivalent to the energy of the divinity itself. To repeat the mantra repeatedly is to invoke the energy of the diety itself.(65)
Mantras activate the entire being. The sound acts on the three layers of the being, the subtle, the gross, and the causal body. When the power of the force of the mantra enteres the subtle body of the reciter, the power grows internally and works on the gross or physical level, assisting the reciter in all actions which helps them achieve perfection. In the book “Vedic Mantras and Sukats,” by R.L. Kashyap, the author explains; “The power associated with the mantra are psychological powers such as the power of will, mental clarity, oveall energizing, inspiration, intuition, dispelling the depression of various types, etc.”(vi)
In order for the mantra to have power the reciter must have full knowledge of the meaning of all the syllbles in the phrase, and good prounciation. Sir John Woodruff says that without this knowledge, the “mantra sleeps.” Meaning that one will not get the full mantra-siddhi. Mantra-siddhi is the ability to effectively reap the harvest and the result of the power behind the sounds. Woodruff goes on to write about the necessary preliminatory purification processess one must undergo prior to the recitation of the mantra which include; purification of the mouth, the tongue, cleansing the body, awakening the mantra, and in the case fo Japa, forming a mental image of the diety which you are intending to evoke. Japa is the recitiation of a particular mantra, or bija (seed syllable) which is recited a specific number of times by the practitioner using a mala to count the recitation. The mala, or garland, generally relates to the energy of the mantra. For instatnce, if the practitioner is reciting a mantra for Shiva, one uses a mala made from rudraksha seeds. If they are reciting a mantra for Krsna, then they will use a mala made of Tulsi stems. If they are reciting a manra for Laxmi they will use a mala made with quartz crystals, and so on.
According to Woodruff, “Japa is the repeated utterence or recitiation of a mantra according to certain rules. “ Within this practice the mantra must recited a specified amount of times, 108 being the most adventagous. There are three ways to practice the speech of mantra. Vachika, which is spoken out loud; Upangshu-japa, which the lips move and no sound is heard, and manasa-japa, which the mantra is spoken to oneself in silence. The latter is seen as the most affective because the practitioner is fixed upon the meaning of the mantra, not only the words as they are herd. Because the mantra is internalized, there is no distraction from an external source. In “Practicles of Mantras and Tantras,” by L.R. Chawdhri the author describes how the mantra works, “…Mantras create deeper and deeper impression on the mental plane vis couscoius mind becomes saturated with impressions and thereafter the power of mantra moves to subconscious mind, hearing the singing of mantras in an uninterrupted way…creating an impression on subconscious mind. “(7)
Basically, mantras can be devided into three catagories; (1)Mantra from the Vedas, sacrificial, those used in ritual, and those used in households; (2) “Om,”the meta-maha mantra which has its own catagory; (3) Japa, which consists of some devotional and some yoga/meditative mantras (including bijas). The latter falls inside the Tantric category of Hinduism.
I would not be so interested in the topic of mantra if I had not experienced the power first hand. Four years ago I would never have thought about mantra, or the power of the ‘word.’ Although I was a musician and believed in the healing arts through sound and music, I had no contex for the power of traditional Hindu mantra. Then I went to India. As many first time travelers in a country so ancient and powerful, I went through an initiation which brought me to my knees. The heartache I experienced there was unbarable. Lukily, I went to study with a man who was an extremely learned Brahmin. He was an astrology teacher, and he saw the suffering I was experiencing. In the tradition of mantra, initiated me with a bija which has changed my life. As Marcea Elliade writes in “Yoga, Immortality and Freedom,”
The unilmited efficacy of mantras is owing to the fact that they are the ‘objects’ they represent. Each god, for example, and each degree of sanctity have a bija-mantra, a ‘mystical sound,’ which is their ‘seed,’ their ‘support’ – that is their very being. By repeating this bija-mantra in accordance with the rules, the practitioner appropraites its ontological essence, concretely and directly assimilates the god, the state of sanctity, etc. (215)
What Elliade describes here is what I experienced after I was given the perscription for Kali dhyana (meditation). At the time I never thought that such a little word would have a dramatic shift in my consciousnesss from one simple practice.
I will never forget my teacher approaching me after witnessing all of the suffering which I was experiencing and saying to me, “Indirya, I am going to give you a Dhyana, (meditation) and with this you must do it every day without fail. You must meditate on this with your heart, because this is where the Bija (seed syllable) resides. You must light incense, because the Goddesses live off of sweet scents, and prayers. You must wash your feet, hands, face and mouth before you sit down, and meditate for at least on half hour every day. When you meditate have nothing else in your mind, fix entirely on this bija, and if emotion comes, you must send it right up to her, she will take it and transform it with her fire. Anger, sadness, whatever, she will transform this for you, trust her, she is Mother, she has the ultimate compassion for her children. Meditate on her for at least six months to a year, and then we can talk about the next step; initiation to Kali Sadhana.”
About six months after beginning and practicing the Kali Dhyana every day I began to fully understand and embrace what Guruji had given me, and why he did so. I began to gain insight into this diety which I never thought of before, and with the insight came the knowledge and experience of a spiritual awakening. I would sit at my altar, light insence, begin reciting this bija to myself, and sending it to my heart where it resides. The longer and deeper the meditation, the more I opened to the information and knowledge which was coming through. Over time I recieved the siddhi of the mantra, and understood why it was important and transformative for me. I began to understand Her, (Kali) and in doing so understand the transcendental nature of myself. This is some of the information which came to me. ‘Ma’ in the form as Kali is transcendental. She stands with one foot on Shiva’s heart, her four arms blazon in mid air. One yields a bloody sword, the other a severed head of a demon while the other two arms grant boons. Her face is radiant, third eye open, safe from the maya she inflicts upon the world. She is usually ensconced in red, tongue red protruding, (with embarrassment) possibly symbolizing rajas, held by her white teeth (sattva holding rajas in place, white for spirituality). She is naked free from illusions. She wears only a garland of severed arms around her middle, representing action, gati and a garland of skulls representing the aksharas, different sounds of the alphabet. In Hindu philosophy sound is the first creation, and all of creation came from this. She is dark as night, sometimes-dark blue, the limitless darkness, shadow, or as recent astronomers findings, the space of nothing that is actually something called “dark matter” that cannot be defined. Her hair is long black flowing, disheveled, perhaps representing independence or untamed beauty. She is depicted on the cremation ground, a sea of dead bodies of her conquest surrounding her.
She is such a powerful and terrifying image so different from the compassionate angelic faces of Jesus and the saints, or the serene images of Buddha, or many other gods or goddesses. Yet upon closer inspection, perhaps no so different. Like Buddha and Jesus she is transcendent, and like mother Mary compassionate to the believer. For many used to beautiful serene images she is hideous and perhaps absurd, yet to Kali devotees she is Ma. She represents all power, and is neither good nor bad, she is Shakti. (Primordial force). On one hand we see Shakti as the energy in its potential form, this is “creation”. On the other hand Shakti is also kinetic energy, that power that has been unleashed, this is the power to destroy like a nuclear bomb. Each part of the same whole.
This force is beyond good or bad. She yields the power to create and to take away. She illuminates the duality of existence by taking away the suffering, with her fire, for her name is derived from the word Kala, time. Overall she is the Great Mother, from which all life is born. Thus Kali not only is the mistress of time, but also the creatrix given that she is pure potential and consciousness in all-living beings. It is Maya or Moha desire that brings the atma back into prakriti, the soul into form. Kali because of her pure potentiality has the ability to tare through these veils that keep one in the eternal samskara.
Mahakala is eternal time. Immortality is Brahman. Immortality is the combination of Agni, (energy) and Mahakala (eternal time) they are at the root of all which exists. Thus they are interchangeable. It is said that through propitiating her all the gods and goddesses are propitiated. She is the creatrix of the universe to fulfill her lila of Creation, Preservation, and destruction. She creates the goddesses and destroys them at the time of Universal dissolution.
Through integration of this knowledge I was able to discern what is illusion, or maya, and what was beyond illusion. I began to understand that suffering is illusiary, and through this practice I have the tools to move any suffering that comes up. This coinsides perfectly with the description which Woodroff writes;
Mantra comes from the first syllable of manana, and –tra comes from trana, or liberation from the bondage of samsara, or the phenominal world…Whilst, therefore, mere prayer often ends in nothing but physical sound, mantra is a potent compelling forece, a word of power, and thus effective to produce avaidic perception, and mukti (liberation). (85)
The category which my practice falls under in Hindu spectrum would be considered Tantric. Which is defined as; “A class of scripture; an ancient spiritual discipline relating to the power of Shakti.” More speifically in the book “Devi Goddesses of India,” the authors describe Tantra as; “An initiatory form of religion, often purposely unorthodox, in which the devotee visualizes himself or herself as the diety…”(327) What I have come to know throught this practice was gained in an excellerated time period. She has given me the knowledege, a glimpse into my own true nature which is Brhaman, or Cit. This is our endless infinite nature which never ceases to be. I atribute this to the sound and intention of mantra. I am not asserting that I am ‘enlightened’ by any means. Yet there is a palpable understanding which during those moments of suffering, or emotional upheaval come, I can draw upon for insight. Because of my experience with mantra, I understand why mantras are so ingrained into a culture from which they derrived, and have since traveled around the world. Thousands of years later they appear in many recent popular recordings here in the United States. Again Padoux writes about the magical affects of mantra;
With mantras, we are at once ihn the world of spiritual experience and in that of supernatural powers or of magical action, if we perfer to call it that. Hence, I presume, the appeal of mantras to so many people: A mantra, on the magical plane, gives them what they wish for. On the spiritual plane, it is an effective tool for concentration and , thus, can bring about the spiritual state which a person craves and which, once obtained, either confers supernatural powers upon him or brings him to regard them as despicable, the satisfaction is the same in either case.”(310)
On a truly base level, mantra affords the practitioner to sit and concentrate their mind upon a single thought for a period of time. Regardless of the meaning, pronunciation, or form, the practitioner is meditating and concentrating the mind on a single thought. Like meditation where brain waves have been studied and determined to slow to varying waves, repetative recitation of mantra probably has the same affect. The effect of mantra is also explained in the “World of Sound,”
There is a type of mantra, however, that the meditator has all to himself….When you meditate on such a personal mantra for years, an almost perfect synchronization can develop between the vibrations of the mantra given to you, and your own personal vibrations…man is vibration, just as everything else is – not only in the spiritual sense but also physically. (30)
In conclusion, mantras are like many sided instruments. They are complex interactive technology that may be understood on many different levels. Overall, they serve as an anodyne. Relief knowing that we are in control of the universe, and that our karma is not fixed, but can be changed. They also serve as tools that humans can use to overstep their limits be all powerful and free from fear. They are also a manner in which an entire society has organized its life. The Hindu civilization was formed within its belief of the power of speech and ritual gesture. Devotion to sound and sound healing is something which I have not experienced in the culture of the United States until recently, (except for the pockets of Baptist churches, and African American traditional songs, and in Native American chants and songs). Yet those examples are using sound healing in the form of prayer, while mantra is something altogether different. There is a mythical notion which exists in Hinduism about speech. Speech came from Vac, the Vedic goddess of sound, and is of divine origin. In the Hindu scripture the Statpatha-Brahmana, “mind doubltess is speech, for by means of speech one thinks everything here.”(126.96.36.199)
Mantra came out of the power of the spoken word, and was not ment to be written. In the Judeo-Christian culture of the United States, the major religious context comes from the written word, and the autor’s translation of the written word. In fact, as I mentioned before, the least spoken mantra is considered even more powerful than that spoken out loud. The heart of every utterence is actually silence. Because of the complexity of humankind, and the complexity of mantra we may never fully understand why they have existed for so long, or the effectiveness of the technology. I find it interesting that the ‘West’ is now catching on to the power, and incorperating the ancient words into pop culture. I also ponder the harmful effects of adopting a cultureal technique out of context. As mantra can be helpful, they also can be harmful, either intentionally or unintentionally. Padoux writes;
Such a use of mantras, taken from the Indian context and transferred to our own, is precisely what some Westerners now propose…I do not believe this to be ligitimate, since we cannot (or do very exceptionally) really adopt all the Indian cultural context in which they are grounded together with the mantras. For mantras to work within our own civilization, we must use them within the philisophical framework of our own, drawing to a greater or lesser extent on the fund of Western religious thought and beliefs and on our traditional notions concerning the powers of speech, which differ from Indian ones.(309)
Only time will tell how mantras will effect our Western consciousness as a whole. As we see the rise of yoga techniques becoming more and more popular, it is my hope that yoga students and practitioners, bodyworkers, and musicians will be interested in persuing the science of mantra, and learning the traditional art form of the technology, with greater understanding and a commitment to study of the ancient sources.