Mantra, Mantra

Mantra, Mantra

Awhile back I started an article on meditation but it soon became clear this was more like a small book than a blog post. I decided to write on just one aspect that is less understood in the west. Sound.

First though I should clarify what I mean by “meditation”. I refer to a mental practice that turns your attention within and takes you into silence. I don’t mean dance, prayer, listening to CDs, or other things that may fall under the banner of the word – however valid they may be.

As I’ve mentioned before, awakening is a process of Self waking to Itself. It has nothing directly to with anything we do or practice. However, a practice can help to speed and smooth the process immensely. Especially a practice that connects you to Self. When Self becomes more familiar with the person, it prepares the ground.

Adyashanti indicates* meditation is to loosen the bonds of mind or thoughts on consciousness. It has the effect of breaking up the underlying structure of the story and ego. While you can do inquiry or mindfulness and pick off each of your resistances one by one, by dipping into source you can clear in large batches. It’s like a tree – do you work on each bud and leaf or do you go to the root? This takes care of much of the noise and burden without doing anything else.

Then all you have to do is clean up the bits left over, the stuff you’ve held active even with presence. Much easier task, even if they are the hardest nuts. And that inner connection to source makes everything else more potent – your prayer, yoga, intellect and doing. Just consider – when are you more productive? When you’re happy and rested? Or when you’re tired and anxious?

Because meditation supports the root, the secondary benefits are legion. Hundreds of scientific studies have confirmed this. If you have not found something that connects you to silence, I would certainly recommend it. For many, it’s the most important thing you can do with your life and it benefits everything. This is why I place meditation first in any list of practices.

Personally, I’ve seen effortless meditation to have been the most effective for the most people, but some do find results in other things. Just 2 key points:

1) Keep it simple.
Too many practices are cluttered with ideas of correct posture, alters, beads, and other paraphernalia. If you like that stuff, great. But it’s not about doing it right, it’s about NOT doing. If they get in the way of letting go, let them go.

2) Keep it simple.
Many practices I’ve seen also complicate the technique itself with requirements, turning it into a difficult task. Small changes can make the difference between a difficult practice and an easy, effective one. This is about letting go, not building it up. No force or will required. Just allowing.

Amongst the range of meditation techniques out there, the most common traditional ones involve use of a mantra or sound to lead the mind within. Most westerners are unfamiliar with these ideas, so here’s a brief review.

The science of sound or mantra is very ancient. When we understand that everything we experience arises from consciousness, we discover the first quality is vibration. We can experience this vibration as sound. That sound leads to what we experience as the world. Thus, there is a relationship between sound and the effect it has. For example, we can all think of how different types of music may affect us. Sound not only elicits feeling, it is also the beginning of form. A specific sound we call a word or name, like glish or palladium. The science of mantra is thus a study of sounds or words and the forms or effects they cause.

There are mantras for illness, for success, for marriage, and for peace. Each of us has a “true name”, the sound that creates our form. At every moment. Trouble is, the mouth can’t really produce such non-linear sounds. (remember – you’re 3D)

The English language is strongly ego derived and has little relationship between the sound of a word and the form it describes. Latin is closer. Sanskrit on the other hand has a direct relationship. (I’ve read research papers on this) The sound of the word matches the form it represents. Indeed, if we can produce the sound at the right resolution of expression, it can call forth the form or effect.

This is one of the secrets of old texts. If one listens to the chanting of the texts on that subtle level where vibration first arises, we can experience what the words describe. Thus, within the old texts is encoded experiences. A movie on the pages of a book. This is called name and form.

We can see mantras used in a number of ways.

At the most active level, there are performance practices where prescribed actions, words, feeling, and meaning are blended together in awareness. These are known as pujas or yagyas or by other ceremonial names. They are like a form of active prayer. The Christian Mass is probably derived from someone experiencing this way.

These days, large groups of people have assembled to perform specialized yagyas for world peace. Such groups have not gathered in such numbers in thousands of years. 1945 was the first time recently it was revived.

Bhajans and Chanting
The Hare Krishna sing an example you’ve probably heard. They often dance as well, but a Bajan may or may not include action, placing the attention on the words, feeling and meaning. Bajans are like songs, sometimes short and repeated or a long series of Sanskrit phrases. In a way, they are like sung prayer.

Vedic chanting is more like a recitation. Historically, they are memorized so that attention can dwell on the sounds and meaning during the practice. When listened to on subtle levels, they can elicit the cognition’s of the seers who described them, as mentioned above.

Historically, the ancient books were handed down orally (chanted) through families or temples until there was concern for their loss in the darkening cycle of time. The key Vedas were gathered by Vyasa into books, roughly into the form we know them today – the 10 mandalas of the Rig Veda and so forth. Because these texts are sound rather than text based, they are entirely mantras.

Some meditations, like chanting the Lotus sutra, are more in this category as they are often spoken aloud and involve reciting an entire work. Sometimes prescribed actions at an alter.

You can see there is a wide spectrum of use.

Silent Meditation
When I was first considering learning to meditate, a friend said you could use anything, like ‘macaroni’ as a mantra. While this is true, keep in mind that the mantra will take you into deeper, more powerful parts of the mind. It will reverberate and create a number of effects. A suitable mantra is thus very important.

One of the best known examples of a mantra is the famous Om or Aum, the primordial sound. The sound the universe makes en masse, the ‘unified field’. It is the “pranava” mantra that all others arise from, hence it’s use in opening chants. It is very positive and often recommended but it will tend to give you reclusive tendencies. Not a good idea if you are not a monk.

In this context, mantras are derived from a bija or seed – simple sounds with one or two syllables. Some of these you’ll see in a chant phrase, embellished with Jai’s, Shri’s, and Namah’s, words of glory and thanks.

In India, it is quite common to suggest you pick the name of your favorite form of God, your Ishta-devata, such as Jesus, Ganesh or Krisna. This adds the feeling and devotional aspects to a practice, but also it’s a simple way to pick a positive, well suited sound without a lot of fuss or expertise.

Some teachers offer longer phrases as a mantra, perhaps one you’d see in a chant. Some use them verbally and silently, some just silently.

One may also practice japa, essentially a counting of the mantra repetition, perhaps with the aid of a string of 108 beads. Like calling the Rosary. This can be an aid to keeping the attention on the practice but is otherwise unnecessary in my experience.

In still simpler forms of meditation, a simple mantra is used without meaning. It is a sound to occupy the mind so it detaches from its preoccupation and settles within. Transcendental Meditation (TM) would be an example of this, probably the most widely taught non-denominational meditation.

I was lucky to find a simple effortless meditation some 35 years ago. It has served me well since. My familiarity with other forms is from study and sharing with others. I’ve only ever needed the one technique plus some addenda like asanas and advanced enhancements.

When our practice deepens enough to clear the way, we begin to see the possibility of a revival of legends of old. But we’re aways from “calling forth” just yet. 😉

*intro to Aug. ’07 retreat

Last Updated on April 9, 2014 by

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  1. Toni

    I enjoyed reading this. If it is OK, I’d like to share my experience with the Transcendental Meditation technique, which, as you have said, uses a mantra with a meaningless, but soothing sound that allows the mind to naturally settle down. This settling down is beneficial to mind and body, and many benefits result in day-to-day activity; clear thinking, better health, deeper appreciation of friends and family are some. If after reading your article, people are interested in learning more about the TM technique, is a great resource.

  2. Davidya

    Hi Toni
    Thanks for the feedback. Yes, and TM is one of the mostly widely available, consistently taught and well researched techniques available. It’s only real issue is the cost for someone new to this. Certainly pays for itself in benefits though.

    I don’t generally endorse specific programs or teachers as the point of this blog is an open review of the nature of reality and the evolution of consciousness. I do review specific books, films, teachers or programs here and there to aid in a broad perspective, issues to be careful of, or things people should know about. I suppose I’m not always neutral (laughs)

    My impression is that the TM organizations focus is on world peace. They first tried to make as many TM teachers and teach as many people as possible for that end. Later, when they discovered the superradiance effect (square root of 1% of the population), the focused shifted to gathering large groups together doing advanced programs and funding same. This is, I understand, the reason for the fees, to support the groups.

    They’re the ones i mention above doing the largest yagyas for peace, combined with the largest flying groups. It still amuses me to think that there is some thousand odd Vedic pundits doing the same in the cornfields of Iowa.

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    1. Hi Jesper
      Sorry, no. Different tradition.
      But it is somewhat like So Hum (also used as Hum So) which is. Au does drift towards a monks though, but I’m no expert. It is a very specialized field and it’s best to be taught by someone properly trained.

      Sometimes you can tell by how it’s used. Is it given by monks to monks, for example?

  12. Jan

    Hi David,
    I have much enjoyed reading your posts here on your site and find them very informative! I also watched your first Batgap interview and plan to watch the 2nd also soon.
    Quick question on mantras: Do you consider ‘I AM’ to be a good mantra? I used this for several years (2005-2009) on recommendation from, and it seemed to work well.
    However, I had to quit practices because of developing pain in the crown and head when using pranayama and got partial kundalini awakening.
    The last 2 years I have been able to meditate again 15-20min a day on awareness itself, like Adyashanti recommends, with only light pressure in the head.
    But since you favor mantra meditation instead, is ‘I AM’ good or do you have a better recommendation?
    Thanks much and best,

    1. Hi Jan
      Sorry for the lag. The schedule in Utah has been full. Thanks.
      I Am is an anglicized version of the bija mantra ayam. That is a reasonable mantra if you avoid getting into the meaning of the words. That will keep you in the mind.
      AYP is a decent site but it’s hard for most westerners to learn from reading. Its an experiential process so getting feedback on your experience helps establish correct practice.
      Pressure in the head can also be a symptom of effort. Trying to maintain the mantra a certain way or control the experience, for example.
      I do recommend an effortless mantra meditation as it draws us within. Attention on awareness is driven by subjectivity and ego can co-opt it, such as using mind awareness which it can “manage.” Mantra is a bit more innocent.
      The Recommended tab has links to people who can help with kundalini types of issues, if that arises.

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