Mantra Use

I’ve talked here a number of times about mantras, but mainly in the context of meditation. Recently I talked some about how everything is vibration and thus Word or mantra.

In the west, we see a little of sound healing and music therapy. But the science of mantra is applied to multiple fields in the east. Not only is it used in meditation and devotional ritual, it’s used in healing, neutralizing karma, developing abilities, architecture, and more.

The trick is, much of it has become couched in ritual and religion making it much less accessible. This was one of Buddha’s big pushes: to throw out superficial ritual and dogma and come back to the core teachings. Father Joseph Girzone also spoke to this on another post.

To understand mantra, the first part to know is the language of nature, the sounds (vibrations) nature uses to build the world. According to Shiksha, a Vedic book on Sanskrit, the closest we have to nature is the Sanskrit alphabet. This is the foundation of all mantra.

Shiksha describes an alphabet of 64 characters but many of these are very rare punctuation and the extra-long 3-count vowels. The working alphabet of common use is about 48 to 50 characters. That’s what is typically taught as a foundation.

Like English, a letter represents a sound, not a word. Sanskrit is twice the size of the English alphabet but has none of the variables. A given letter is only pronounced one way. And unlike many First Nations languages or something like Greek or Russian, the entire Sanskrit alphabet can be represented (transcribed) with English letters, although a few accents may be needed. There is 36 phonemes of 21 unique sounds. The rest are variations in tongue position and length resulting in 4 N’s, 3 S’s, some D’s, short and long vowels, and so forth.

Some of the differences are subtle to a western ear but it is precise and consistent and pretty easy to learn. Sanskrit grammar, however, is much more complex. But to simply read and speak it, little of that is necessary. Just a familiarity with the alphabet and a few common compound consonants like Ksha. (as in kshatriya, the ruling and warrior caste)

Bija mantras are based directly on the Sanskrit alphabet. Add an M to any letter and you have a new, potent tool. Even reciting the alphabet itself is a form of mantra practice, addressing the range of nature. The alphabet also gives you the ability to read many of the old texts directly, checking how the translator interpreted the work.

It’s worth noting here a key aspect of Sanskrit and mantra. In Sanskrit, there is a direct relationship between the sound, the form that sound produces, and the meaning of the sound. These are not just random sounds but sounds that can be experienced in form when heard on the vibrational level of consciousness, known as ritam bhara pragyan.

And this is why correct pronunciation and correct choice of mantra is significant. The effects are significant. The sound is the form or effect. The chair you’re sitting on has a Sanskrit name that produces its form. The name also give you its nature, composition and complete history. It’s the signal key to the chairs knowledge base.

Thus, you want to make sure you’re starting with the correct pronunciation. You’ll want an understanding of the right tongue position and audio samples to get it right. A tutor can certainly help.

Another issue is that a lot of the Sanskrit floating around is actually  Hindi, a “modernized” version. You’ve undoubtedly seen the Om symbol, looking like a decorated 3. That’s not proper Devanagari Sanskrit even if it says otherwise. The proper A looks like an open hand pointing down because it is – Shiva’s. He is said to be the source of the alphabet. His drum (a damaru) beats out the vibrations and his hands show the correct symbols (letters). We might even call the letter-shapes mudras. That’s why it’s called Deva-nagari. (see comments)(It’s also worth noting that Nature operates in a 3D space. Sanskrit is not used linearly by nature.)

I didn’t find a single on-line alphabet that was correct classical devanagari. I thus decided to prepare a reference file.
The Attached Alphabet (113k) has 3 sections:
1 – The Alphabet with transliteration and some usage examples and modern variants. Also a table of Sanskrit numbers and some compound consonants.
2 –  The “Classic” Alphabet alone
3 –  The Alphabet with sample words for pronunciation practice plus a mouth position chart for the Tongue position key.
(I’d been meaning to update my scribbled table anyway)

There is a large and growing library of Vedic texts in devanagari on-line, for free. A few are extremely rare.

My own study was in grad school with the man who literally wrote the book used in Universities of the west to learn Sanskrit. But those materials are not available free on-line. And I’m no pronunciation expert.

Once the alphabet is known, you can begin to study mantra. And then you learn technique. If you just say a mantra or think it in your head, it’s just a sound like any other in the noise of the world. Proper technique charges or energizes the mantra so it works on the level of vibration itself. This is, for example, partly the purpose of a guru puja before meditation instruction. Also one of the reasons you want proper instruction in meditation rather than learning from a book.

From these basics you can learn the applications. The mantras for different body parts and locations, for the areas of a building, for special abilities, and for various influences in time. This is also the origin of yagyas or performances to bless a home or new child or marriage.

Without the right mantra at the right time and the right technique, a precisely performed yagya will offer a pleasant blessing rather than a profound result. Much of it is taught traditionally, passed down within families and traditions. It is kept secret from the untrained to avoid folly. But that also makes it hard to find quality information.

In my own experiments with a healing mantra, for example, I tried the right mantra on a joint. It made little difference. But when I used it in a more effective way, putting the sound into the flow of the energy, it was much more potent and brought immediate results.

A good introduction to applications is Mantra Yoga and Primal Sound, Secrets of Seed Mantras by Dr. David Frawley. While I don’t agree with all of his interpretation, the small book is packed with reference charts and detailed background.

While all this may seem kind of strange and foreign, much of our world-context is derived from this ancient set of sciences. Our number system, the way we divide space (360 degrees), the way we divide time (hours, days, etc), and more.

As may now be clear, the basics are simple and powerful but it’s all in the details and it takes some training and practice to become proficient. Still, it’s worth getting to know the alphabet. If you know of any good on-line audio resources, let me know. The British prof who sounds like she’s being poked when she does a, i, u really won’t do. 😉

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17 Responses to Mantra Use

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  7. Jnana says:

    I wonder if you would comment on the use of the The Mahamrityunjaya Mantra also called the Tryambakam Mantra by householders

  8. Davidya says:

    Hi Jnana
    Firstly, I’ll say that I am not a mantra expert. This is a highly specialized study. However, I have formally studied Sanskrit and the giving of bija mantras, so I understand some of the principles.

    The Mahamrityunjaya is also known as “the great death-defying mantra” and is a mantra to a form of Shiva to liberate us from death.

    I would not describe this as a householders mantra.

    As another point, the mantra originates as a verse in the Rik Veda. In the Shankaracharya traditon, the Rik Veda is only to be recited by those in the linage of the original seer, a Vedic pandit. It is for us to listen rather than recite.

    As a broad principle, householder mantras are associated with the divine mother or tridevi. They favour success in the world to better support a spiritual practice.

  9. Davidya says:

    I would further note that the meditation I suggest is an effortless one that uses bijas as a vehicle to go beyond mind, form and meaning.

    A longer mantra may be used as a method of prayer but I’ve not found it as effective for samadhi and the establishment of presence.

    It is the development of samadhi that helps awakens the Self here. With awakening, we recognize ourselves to be the immortal Self and thus overcome death.

    This is the direct way, from my perspective.

  10. Davidya says:

    That said, we may not have much of a choice as to whom we offer our devotion. For some this carries forward through lifetimes.

    But our practice, as noted above, can be distinct from our devotion. It also can carry forward through lifetimes, as mine has.

  11. Jnana says:

    Thank you for your perspective.

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  14. Dana says:

    Have you ever heard anything about the Hebrew letters in relation to the Sanskrit alphabet? In Kabbalah they spoke about some of the same concepts, such as the vibrations of the letters being building blocks of creation, and the shapes of letters having various meanings.

    • Davidya says:

      Hi Dana
      I’ve never seen a direct comparison.

      What comes to mind is a couple of things Maharishi Mahesh Yogi said many years ago. To paraphrase:

      One was that Sanskrit matched nature about 95%. Hebrew matched nature about 75%. If I recall English was about 25%. Broad numbers of course.

      The other was that language arises from the local laws of nature so will naturally be different in different areas. He thus saw value in preserving indigenous languages.

      (On the flip side with modern globalization, there is a kind of homogenization of language going on.)

      Finally, a point about the 4 levels of language (speech).

      Sanskrit in the context of mantra is Pashyanti, used on the causal. We might call modern Hindi the Vaikhari or common spoken version. It’s used for communication not effects. Less aligned with nature.

      Modern Hebrew is also Vaikhari. But in the Kabbalah, they’re talking causal so the language is used and seen differently there. Letters have meanings and numerical values, and so forth.

      So it’s not just about language but usage or technique – just as with mantra.

      A comparison would be possible but it would take experts in both languages with a sense of the genetics of the variations.

      All the mentioned alphabets start with A, for example, the beginning.

  15. Dana says:

    Thanks! I like the comparisons on percentages of similarity to nature.

  16. Davidya says:

    I later wrote an article on the Om symbol and it’s errors.

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