Category: Mind Power Techniques
Sound is a very powerful mind-expanding tool. In various spiritual traditions all around the world, people utilize the power of sound through the form of mantras. A mantra is a syllable, word, or group of words used to bring about changes in consciousness by the agency of sounds and vibrations. The word mantra consists of the Sanskrit root man or "to think" and the suffix tra, referring to tools or instruments. Thus, its literal meaning would be "instrument of thought."
A mantra’s effect, however, does not merely come from its corresponding conceptual meaning, but instead from its inherent potential to produce a specific mental or physical result. If you understand the relationship between vibration and consciousness, you will understand how mantras work. Vibration and consciousness are so intimately connected that there is a specific relationship existing between each kind of vibration and the particular aspect of consciousness it gives expression to. In other words, wherever there is a manifestation of consciousness, there is vibration associated with it whether we are able to trace it or not.
To better understand this relationship, let's take a look at how it is expressed at the lowest level of manifestation, i.e., in sensory perception. For example, each particular vibration of light with a definite wavelength produces its corresponding color, which we then perceive with our eyes. In music, each particular vibration of sound becomes evident in our consciousness through the form of musical notes, which we can then hear through our ears.
In principle, certain kinds of vibration can be matched with corresponding states or levels of consciousness. This simply means that if you want to reach a specific state of consciousness, you can do so by initiating a particular kind of vibration by chanting a mantra. Remember that vibrations can influence matter and cause changes in matter as well, so aside from affecting us psychologically, mantras may also bring about positive physiological changes in us if used correctly.
Where Did Mantras Originate?
Mantras originated from traditions of the Vedic period. This is the period during which the oldest sacred texts of the Indo-Aryans, called Vedas, were being composed (believed to be around the 2nd and 1st millennia BCE continuing up to the 6th century BCE). The Vedas were written in Sanskrit, one of the classical languages of India. As hymns, the mantras constitute the ritual section of the Vedas and are classified according to their meters:
- Gayatri - twenty-four syllables with nine subdivisions.
- Usnik - twenty-eight syllables with seven subdivisions.
- Prakrti - forty syllables with eight subdivisions.
- Brhati - thirty-six syllables with nine subdivisions.
- Tristup - forty-four syllables with ten subdivision.
- Jagati - forty-eight syllables with three subdivisions.
- Ajagati - fifty-two syllables.
- Sakvari - fifty-six syllables.
- Atisakvari - sixty syllables.
- Asti - sixty-four syllables.
- Dhrti - seventy-two syllables.
- Atidhrti - seventy-six syllables.
The letters of the Sanskrit alphabet are the elements from which all mantras of Sanskrit origin were derived. It is said that each letter serves as a vehicle of a basic eternal power. When these letters are assembled to form a mantra, they contribute their specific influence to the total effect that becomes the objective of the mantra.
To give an analogy, just think about how individual chemical elements contribute their specific properties to the compounds that are derived from them. Water, for example, contains both of the chemical properties of oxygen and hydrogen.
There are 53 letters of the Vedic Sanskrit alphabet, and therefore, there are 53 basic elemental powers that are available for producing all kinds of effects. Through the agency of mantras, these basic elemental powers can be used in various permutations and combinations.
Bhajans and Shlokas
Mantras can be performed through writing, speaking, whispering, uninterrupted inner repetition, or singing. The mantras that are sung are called bhajans and shlokas. Bhajans are devotional songs or hymns while shlokas (or slokas) are also songs but these are the ones derived from verses in the texts like the Vedas, Upanishads, and Puranas. Mantras connected with various deities give particular results and sometimes cause the development of siddhis (spiritual power).
Why Do People Use Mantras?
Mantras are said to provide numerous benefits for anyone who chooses to recite them. Some of those benefits include the following:
- A mantra gives your mind a place of refuge, an oasis in which your mind can rest.
- The incoming streams of negative thoughts, emotions, and desires from the unconscious mind attenuate or become weaker.
- Mantras lead you in the direction of deeper meditations, and subtler spiritual experiences.
- Mantras help stimulate the 7 chakras.
- Reciting a mantra helps you see that the challenges of daily life are not nearly as disturbing.
- Continuous practice of mantra purifies the mind and removes karma.
Is Initiation Necessary Before Using a Mantra?
It is commonly believed that a person must first be given permission or some sort of power coming from the guru must be transmitted through initiation before he or she can start using mantras. The only explanation I have why this could be true is that, in the past, spiritual teachings were guarded secrets and can only be known once it is handed down from guru to disciple. Three reasons come to mind regarding the confidentiality: first, to make sure that aspiring students can get the correct info regarding the methods and the needed support in case of spiritual emergencies; second, to avoid alteration, distortion, and misrepresentation of the teachings; and third, to protect the teachings from individuals with malicious intent.
Additionally, back in those days, the primary method of communicating religious and philosophical doctrines was through verbal transmission, and since most people in ancient times didn’t have any kind of access to documents that contained all the theories and techniques of the various schools, they really did not have much choice but to become members. Of course, the right of entry must first be granted by none other than the guru.
I have nothing against this belief, so I’m neither saying that this is true nor false. It’s obviously better to work under the guidance of an enlightened master, but you are always free to find out for yourself if any claim is true by doing your own research and experiments. After all, many of the great enlightened ones that lived throughout the centuries did their own research and experiments, so that should give you an idea. Furthermore, if it isn’t quite obvious, we are living in the information age — seek and you shall find. Remember, gurus only show you the door; you're still the one who needs to walk through it.
Japa and Ajapa-Japa
Japa means repeating or remembering the mantra. In most forms of japa, mantras are repeated using a string of beads known as a japa mala. Some people prefer to recite mantras mentally without the use of any beads or devices, and that's ok. After long use of a mantra, you may reach a certain state called ajapa-japa.
Ajapa-japa means constant awareness. In this state, the mantra "repeats itself" in the mind. The letter A in front of the word japa means "without." Thus, ajapa-japa is the practice of japa without the mental effort normally needed to repeat the mantra.
How To Perform Japa
Once you have selected your own personal mantra or once one has been assigned to you by your teacher, here is what you should do:
- Repeat the syllables of the mantra in your mind. You allow the inner sound to come at whatever speed feels comfortable to the mind. japa malas are usually made of 108 beads, so if you are performing japa, you are supposed to repeat the mantra 108 times. The number of days that you should perform japa may also vary, so some research is needed on the mantra you are using.
- With practice, the mantra will start to repeat itself automatically. This is like hearing a particular song so many times that it just plays inside your head even if you don’t want it to. "Rah-rah-ah-ah-ah! Rom-mah-rom-mum-mah! GaGa-oo-la-la!" You know, something like that.
- Progressively, your attention will be drawn into the mantra. Instead of doing it on purpose, it will be more like noticing it when it is already happening.
- Soon, the feeling of the mantra will be there, even when the sound or remembering of the syllables is not there. This is what they call “remembrance of the feeling” of the mantra. For example, sometimes Buddhists will say, "Om muni muni maha muniye sakyamuni swaha" where the word "sakyamuni" is another name for the historical Buddha (Siddhārtha Gautama). During the remembering of the words, there may be two things: the words and the feeling of the Buddha's presence. When the syllables of the words fade away, the feeling may still be there.
- As your practice advances, a constant awareness/consciousness of the mantra follows, which is subtler than both the syllables and any surface level meaning or definition. This constant awareness is the meaning of ajapa-japa of the mantra.
The “OM” Mantra
In the various schools of Yoga, OM (or Aum) is the highest form of mantra and considered the primeval and most sacred of words. According to the Upanishads, all words are said to be but various forms of the one sound, OM, which is the sound symbol for the ultimate reality. OM is also called Pranava, Omkara, and Ekakshara.
Across the span of many generations, OM has been the mantra generally used as the heart of a person’s sadhana or “spiritual practice.” It is even distinctively recommended to renunciates and young monks in India. Various spiritual masters have also claimed that Brahman (God) and OM are one, and that the unbounded and eternal consciousness of Brahman is inherent in the syllable OM. Since Atman (the true Self) and Brahman are fundamentally identical, those who want to experience the consciousness of Brahman and have their union with Brahman restored may do so by practicing the recitation of the OM mantra.
In the Bhagavad Gita (8:12-13), Krishna states:
”If a person having controlled the senses from all sides, fixing the mind in the heart and situated in yoga, utters the one syllable Om and thus leaves his body thinking of Me shall attain the Supreme abode (salvation) without fail.”
Swami Krishnananda, a Hindu saint and prominent philosopher in the Advaita Vedanta tradition, wrote in his commentary on the Upanishads the following:
"In the beginning, Om is supposed to have been the first vibratory sound that emanated as the seed of creation. Om is Pranava. It is a Bija-Mantra for all the other mantras, whether Vaidika or Tantrika. In the recitation of Om we comprehend not merely all meaning but also all language. All verbal implication as well as objective reference is included in Om. Om is both Nama and Rupa, name as well as form. It is not merely a sound, though it is also a sound, and a very important aspect of Om that you have to bear in mind is that Om is not merely a chant or a recitation, a word or a part of human language but it is something more than all this. It is something which exists by its own right, something which is usually called "Vastu Tantra", as distinguished from "Purusha Tantra"; — that which exists not because it has a reference to anything else but because it is something by itself. We do not create Om by a chanting of it, but we only produce a vibration sympathetic with the vibration that is already there by its own right and which is called Om. Om is a cosmic vibration. It is not a chant made by us, created by us or initiated by us. Why do we chant Om? To establish a connection between ourselves and that which exists by its own right and which manifests itself as a sound-vibration in the form of Om."
Although the OM mantra may have been initially discovered in the ancient scriptures of the Hindu traditions, it is also used by Buddhists and Jains in their spiritual practices. Tibetan Buddhists are probably the most predominant adherents in the practice of OM chanting. However, the chanting of OM is not mentioned even once in the Pali Canon, the oldest known teachings attributed to the Buddha, or in the Visuddhimagga, an ancient commentary by Buddhaghosa on the Pali Canon. It’s probably also worth mentioning that there is the belief among some people that the word Amen, the affirmation used in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam shares its roots with OM, or Aum to be more exact, but there’s no evidence that validates this claim.
How To Practice The Om Mantra Meditation
There are various methods in practicing the OM mantra and the resulting differences are probably due to the techniques applied in each tradition. The following is a basic application of the OM mantra in meditation:
- Find a comfortable and quite place and sit upright using the full or half lotus position. You can place one hand on top of the other or you can place each of them on your knees or thighs.
- Close your eyes and gently concentrate on an imaginary point in the middle of your forehead just above the eyebrows. Do not strain your eyes. This position is called the shambhavi mudra and is intended to stimulate the ajna chakra (the sixth primary chakra in the eyebrow region) to produce a heightened state of consciousness.
- Close your mouth and relax the jaw muscles so that the upper and lower teeth are not touching one another. Breathe in and out naturally through the nose. Breathing should be neither too hard nor too soft. The aim is to keep the mind steady in concentration. If you deliberately control your breath, you will eventually get tired and this will break your concentration.
- Start chanting the syllable OM mentally in a single tone as you inhale. Make sure that the length of the intonation matches the amount of time it takes you to breathe air in. Do not hold your breath. As you release the air, make sure the intonation of the syllable OM also matches its length. If your breathing is short and abrupt, it will seem like you are chanting in a hurry, but that’s just normal. Your breathing and intonation will naturally get longer as your body begins to relax during the practice.
- Practice this procedure regularly each day starting from 10-15 minutes, but make sure to gradually increase the time as your schedule permits. Every time you practice, concentrate on your chanting of the OM mantra with your breathing. Various kinds of thoughts and sensations will naturally arise during your practice. Just allow them to happen without becoming attached to them. As soon as you realize that you are immersed in a certain thought, bring your attention back immediately to your breathing and the OM mantra.
- Once the practice becomes a habit and you get to an advanced stage, you might start to experience unusual phenomena normally associated with meditative practice: your breathing and chanting might become very subtle sometimes even to the point of disappearing, you may become strongly aware of various sensations and streams of energy might even flow at different parts of your body, visions of different kinds may appear in your mind’s eye, so on and so forth. Just remember that the aim of this meditation is the attainment of peace of mind. Attachment to these experiences defeats the purpose of your practice.
To give an analogy on the effects of spiritual practice, just imagine downloading a file onto your computer and using a specific program to execute that file. The file is the experience you gain from your practice, while the program is the collection of concepts stored in your own mind. Without a corresponding program installed in your computer, it would be impossible to open the file, much less read its contents. Similarly, certain techniques may produce experiences that could be hard for us to explain and integrate into our awareness unless we are familiar with the ideas they are related to. Thus, the best thing to do to be safe is to study carefully. Be safe on your journey.