The Power of Mantra

The Power of Mantra

Tibetan Buddhist Prayer Wheel by Jay Galvin
Tibetan Buddhist Prayer Wheel by Jay Galvin

Back on Transcending, I explored right mantra for a meditation practice. I’ve also talked about the language of mantra and how they’re often used.

Yet there is a much deeper understanding about mantra that’s largely been lost. But first, some background.

People talk today about choosing mantras like they’d choose a chocolate. On Transcending I mentioned the importance of proper instruction so the seed is properly planted and we can connect with the tradition of masters for long-term support.

To understand this more, we can go back to fundamentals. Consciousness arises from three fundamental Divine qualities: alertness, liveliness and intelligence.

Practices that favour presence are emphasizing the alertness aspect. This is key for the first awakening in Self Realization. However, using a mantra as an effortless practice to culture presence brings the added benefits of culturing liveliness and intelligence.

This is through the Shakti or power of the sound. On the spoken level of speech, words are sounds that have some meaning we use to communicate. Sometimes someone adds some emotion to their words, increasing their impact.

“Spoken” on the level of mind, our inner language has more power. However, for most people, the power is dissipated with resistance and conflicting signals. We wish, then doubt, then change our minds, and so forth.

As we settle the mind and emotions by connecting with source and resolving our incomplete experiences, mind becomes more calm and our intentions become more powerful. When the collective can support our strong intentions, they show up in our lives, although they may come in unexpected ways.

As we refine and operate more consciously from the finest relative or Pashyanti level, our inner attention becomes still more powerful. I talked about some of this on Awareness of Becoming.

This points to the value of using a mantra and not just resting in presence. The mantra, used correctly, can bring us to source and develop presence. But it’s also helping resolve our carried burdens. With increased clarity, the value of the refining qualities of the mantra become apparent, opening up the subtle layers to our awareness. This is bringing sattva to atman.

It’s key to understand the world around us arises in consciousness. As it becomes denser and more focused, forms and qualities arise. The first step in the process of becoming is vibration.

We can perceive a vibration as sound. Mantra is a sound with known qualities that creates known effects. Sanskrit is a language where the sounds correspond with the sounds nature itself uses. And the sound of the word corresponds with the vibratory sound of the form. We call this name and form.

As we transcend in our practice and follow the “levels of speech” within, the mantra gets less distinct, but it also gets more powerful. Its qualities are amplified.

I recall when I first looked at starting to meditate. My landlords father said that you can pick any word to meditate on. He used the example “macaroni.” While this is true, this will dramatically limit the benefits you’d gain and can cause unanticipated side effects. My teachers teacher, a Swami in Shankara’s lineage, described using a personal meditation mantra like Om as poison to happiness*, more so for women.

But there’s a deeper understanding here. On Transcending, I mentioned that everything in Sanskrit is associated with a god, including your house, chair, and food. This is because the sounds of the mantra that give rise to form are qualities of intelligence. Those laws of nature or Shaktis have forms themselves, embodiments of their nature.

To understand this, it’s useful to know about personal and impersonal. Our usual Western approach is to perceive the world through the mind. The mind emphasizes the impersonal, seeing the world as mechanisms and processes.

However, we can also perceive through the heart or personal mode. This is more the devotee’s approach, but it is available to everyone. Seeing with the heart means seeing everything as alive and embodied. The personal qualities of the laws of nature take form.

For example, books of knowledge and music are Shaktis of Saraswati. Related mantra are too. These qualities can be experienced as a being.

On these subtle levels, such forms are highly pliable, like images in dream state. Some can choose how they wish to appear, plus our own culture and expectations will influence how we see them.

For example, a Christian may experience Saraswati as Mary or Sophia.

Because there are many Shaktis of primary laws of nature, there are many names of devas and many described forms.

The key to remember here is that the form is just an appearance. It has advantages in relating to and communicating with the law of nature. But what is much more important is the feeling value and intuitive understanding. It’s all too easy to get deluded by fancy appearances that don’t reflect what is behind it.

Because the mantra is naming qualities of nature, it’s important to use mantras appropriately and respectfully.

We could say that in using mantra we are invoking the Shakti (power) of a goddess. If we use them on a personal whim, we disrespect that power. This does not help us gain those benefits.

I’m not saying using a mantra is praying to a Hindu god or whatever. Nor that there is anything to believe here. I’m offering some background so you can approach the topic effectively. The world is vastly more full of life than most people perceive.

With every word you speak, you have the potential to enliven qualities around you. This is greatly amplified by mantras used within. If we use them appropriately, we’re good. But if we’re disrespectful, we’re not going to get the support we expect.

An example comes to mind. Some years ago, it became fashionable to buy statues of Vedic gods. But when Maharishi found out, he was annoyed and told people to donate them to their local temple. This is because those statues are symbolic of the Shakti itself. They are an invitation to the Shakti to inhabit them, just as they inhabit subtle forms. But if we don’t know how to support that or worse, treat the statues as decoration that we ignore, it’s like inviting someone into your home and then ignoring them.

Inversely, there are holy places on earth where the presence of sages is still alive in their old environment.

When we’re able to work with mantra at Pashyanti level, their power is immense. But this knowledge is largely lost. In Sat and Treta Yugas, sound is used extensively.

It’s been used to shape and move stone and as a weapon in war. Westerners may be familiar with the story of Joshua bringing down the walls of Jericho with sound.

They designed ancient music to raise the consciousness of listeners, much as very awake teachers do today.

It’s also been used to heal. Understanding the specific frequencies that can kill specific pathogens, for example, has begun to be rediscovered but is still in its infancy. This can skip drugs and surgery.

In the current time, the most important is a suitable mantra to refine the physiology. This will allow subtle perception to unfold. And that will bring this knowledge back in its fullness.

Perhaps you can see why the science of mantra has been kept secret, taught only to those qualified. Time are changing, but let’s be smart about it.

* for a personal meditation practice for a householder. Om is the masculine of Aum (the pranava) and is often associated with Shiva. It can be quite suitable for Yagya, Puja, and other ways we may use mantra. Just not as a meditation practice.

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  1. Mary

    Thank you for this further explanation David. As someone unable to access TM training just now (distance makes this tricky even when not in lockdown) do you know of any other way to go about being given, or choosing, an appropriate mantra?

    1. Hi Mary
      For the reasons I also describe on Transcending, it’s best to learn properly. This is something you can use the rest of your life so it’s worth getting it started right. It’s not just about the mantra but how it’s used.
      There are online resources that suggest generic mantras and techniques but the quality is extremely variable. Some give terrible advice, as I’ve mentioned in other articles. I have found a couple of decent ones, and I referred a couple of people to them for reasons like this. They did not establish a good practice nor gain the mentioned benefits.
      Sometimes patience and doing it right when you can is the best way.

    2. Rob

      Blue throat yoga is going to start offering initiation via Zoom. BTY’s use of a seed mantra is very much like TM. Paul Muller Ortega is the teacher and he was a student of Maharshiji and of Gurumayi. He just announced in last week’s online Satsang the moving forward with offering initiation into mantra. The main text studied is the Siva Sutras. There’s quite a lot of reading and audio material available online to support your practice once online and now weekly Satsang with Paul. I was initiated over 2 years ago. Much of what I’m attempting to learn resonates with what’s offered here by David.

      1. Interesting, Rob. Some TM teachers offer the before and after sections online but still teach the initiation in person. That is a way to learn that doesn’t require staying for an extended time somewhere.
        I have had instruction online before, including initiation, but i can’t speak to how well it works for starting meditation.
        Looking at the web site, it indicates it’s effortless but not the origins.
        The Mothers I’m aware of teach effortless meditation but the orientation is more devotional. Mother Meera, for example, suggests using a name of your ishtha devata as a mantra.
        The Shiva Sutra are not light reading. ๐Ÿ™‚ I have Laskman Joo’s translation. I found the Bhagavad Gita more accessible initially.

  2. Jean

    I remember that Sri M told his guru mantra on Youtube last year I think.
    He said that in past he was very secretive about it, but now is a time to tell it a bigger audience.
    The way he explains it is the guru mantra is chanted before the main mantra to connect energetically to the guru linage.

    One thing I noticed, after a mantra becomes baked in so to say, you can start to hear the mantra without you actually having to chant it actively.

    1. Hi Jean
      There are as many variations as there are lineages. And note this was added after an established practice.
      In the experience here, if you are taught properly, the lineage connection is available when you need it.
      Occasionally, someone will have a different lineage that hasn’t become apparent yet (other karma first) so they’ll not connect there. (Figuring that out is pointless – this is often only clear in retrospect.) It will arise properly when the time is ripe.
      Personally I agree that mantra needs to be opened up more. Thats why articles like this and recommendations like Frawleys book.
      But it does need a foundation and right experience. The issue with just sticking it on YouTube is many can adopt it incorrectly. This is why i advocate personal instruction. To establish use correctly and maximize the benefit.
      And yes, this is what I mean by planting the seed. On more subtle levels, the mantra continues to resonate and purify 24/7.
      And actually another reason to use appropriate mantra. What do we want resonating? ๐Ÿ™‚
      Still – we do what we can. We have been rising out of a dark age spiritually. We still get points for trying. (laughs)

  3. Jeff

    My mantra is Mother Divine. I have another that is the Goddess of immortality. I experience her as the finest quality of Divine beauty.

    I listen to Vedic recitation, or play it in my bedroom through-out the day. The deity resonates in my awareness as I move about the day, which provides waves of bliss. Playing Shiva or Vishnu recitation has an influence in my meditation program, producing or emphasizing either silence (Shiva) or dynamism (Vishnu) during the practice.

    1. Hi Jeff
      This is what I’d describe as a devotional practice where these is associated meaning. The key there is the inner surrender so the mantra doesn’t just ruminate in the mind. Otherwise, how is it bringing you closer to Her?
      The approach i describe on this blog is secular for effective transcendence so we can establish presence and refine the vehicle so such realities are revealed to us.
      I’ve been through devotional cycles but am not primarily a devotee so I don’t speak in those terms.
      Yes, having the Vedas in the background can be a nice supplement. Some prefer silence also. You can tweak them for circumstances. For example, in the current time, the Mahamrityunjaya mantra, the Hanuman Chalisa, Sama Veda, and Vasishthas mantra for viruses have been recommended.

    2. Related to my comments, there are some chants (spoken mantra) that are useful to learn but others should only be done my trained pandits in the lineage. Those are for us to listen to.
      Kavitha is a nice resource for the first. I’ve mentioned her in a few articles.

  4. Christine

    Hi David,

    Thanks, as always, for your informative and helpful post.

    Regarding appropriate choice of mantra, I would like to know your view on the way mantras are selected in primodial sound meditation. As I understand it, the root syllable is derived from the placement of the moon at the time of birth and represents the predominant sound in the universe at that time. A consonant can be added to the end of that syllable and then, one bookends the syllable with ‘Om’ and ‘namah’.

    Given what was cautioned about using ‘Om’ as a mantra for meditation, is this approach appropriate?

    Are the mantras used in TM more appropriate, or equally appropriate, just derived differently?

    Any other words of wisdom on Primodial sound meditation as an effortless meditation would be appreciated!

    1. Hi Christine
      Traditionally, there are several ways a mantra may be chosen by a teacher. The moons nakshatra pada is one, although this needs a reasonably accurate time of birth. The moon changes padas 4x a day.
      In dharmic families, there can be an ishta devata the mantra is derived from, although done well, they’d check the chart too. Families can have black sheep. ๐Ÿ™‚
      Adding Om to everything is a more recent development. It’s basically an homage to Shiva, likely the result of the story of Daksha where homage was not paid. You often hear everything started with Om but the original texts don’t have that. It’s almost a habit now.
      I don’t want to tell anyone not to follow their instruction but the core bija mantra is the essential part. Additions slow down transcending but help in making the layers more clear. For householders, I’d recommend Shri over Om.
      TM uses Shakti bija mantras that are fully suitable for householders. They’re derived differently.
      Deepak was a student of Maharishi until he branched out on his own. He apparently researched approaches and settled on that.
      They launched a Chopra Centre in Vancouver (a decade ago!) which I wrote several articles about back in the day. At one time, they seems a reasonable approach. However, last time I checked their site, meditation was de-emphasized. They seemed to be following fashionable ideas rather than foundational practice.
      If you keep with an effortless meditation, perhaps supplemented by asana and pranayama, you’ll be good.
      Worth noting that “Primordial Sound” refers to a special technique in TM circles. It’s the name of the meditation in Chopras teaching.

  5. Pete

    What about the bija Mantras for the Chakras David, would these be an effective and safe mantra to use for meditation?

    Also I have been curious about the sound frequencies, there are a lot of claims online about different frequencies being used to heal different things, is there any information from the Vedic traditions about the frequencies or more just the syllables themselves?

    Thankyou ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Hi Pete
      Every chakra petal has a mantra too. Frawley’s book Mantra Yoga lists the mantras for different parts of the body. Even your body as a whole has a “true name.” Everything has a mantra as that is the essential nature of all forms.
      Mantras for chakras and body parts can be useful for healing if you know how to use them properly. But for a meditation practice that is for developing source and culturing your physiology, picking a body part mantra falls short.
      You may find reading about Royal Rife fascinating. He developed the technology to discover the frequencies of various diseases. But due to a combination of medical politics and circumstances, much of that was lost.
      Similarly, the chakra petal mantras I’ve seen listed don’t make sense. There’s Frawley’s book but a lot of the Vedic, Tantra, and similar understanding has been kept closely guarded for a long time. While hidden away, the understanding is often lost too (due to the cycles of consciousness). So a lot of this needs renewal.
      I wrote about a discovery a few years back that was a key text in describing qualities of Sanskrit, the language of the bijas.
      Gradually this renewal is coming. But it will take time.
      Sanskrit is the human equivalent to the language of nature so the letters of Sanskrit are the core bijas. Simply learning the alphabet is learning the language.
      However, again I’d suggest caution. Most of whats online calling itself Devanagari or Sanskrit is actually Hindi. Similar, but not it…

      This pdf on the Mantra Use article has the alphabet.
      Contact me directly if you’d like the audio pronunciation files.

  6. Aaron

    Thank you for another great article! Also, have you read or heard anybody speaking about the idea that thoughts come from the sounds of the breath? I vaguely remember reading about this from a Nisargadatta book (I cannot remember which one). Something I’ve noticed lately is that when my breath ceases, the thoughts seem to cease as well.

    1. Thanks, Aaron.
      I guess I wouldn’t frame it quite like this, though that may have been a translation issue.
      The word prana is often translated as breath. But more deeply it is the life force, chi. That is what drives the breath.
      Prana is often described as having 5 sub-types. The prana prana is what drives all types of respiration. Thoughts on the other hand are said to be driven by sama prana, the digestive fire (The mind digesting our experiences). As sama means even, we know most peoples minds are not balanced. ๐Ÿ™‚
      The mind and body are closely linked. When the body gets excited, the mind does too. When the mind settles through meditation, the body follows. Research has suggested the body metabolism drops deeper than in sleep. This allows the deep healing.
      When we withdraw the senses within by transcending the mind (Yoga calls this Pratyahara) into samadhi, the breath may stop. The body has become so settled that it pauses. In the case of meditation, mind is leading so it actually settled first.
      As Yoga puts it “Yoga is the complete settling of the activity of the mind. Then the observer is established in their own nature.”
      The fine vibrations on the causal level that can be experienced as sound can be said to be driven by prana, the liveliness aspect of consciousness. In that sense, even thoughts have a sound and are driven by prana. I wouldn’t call that sounds of the breath per se though.

      Here’s a few related links:

  7. Lew R

    Perhaps you can comment on the power and value of kirtan….chanting mantras or names of the Gods or famous hymns like the Hanuman Chalisa etc. Many great saints such as Anandamayi Ma, Anna etc. can be seen and heard on video or in Amma’s case on her tours, live, singing and encouraging this practice. Also Krishna Das does this for his guru Neem Karoli Baba… These mantras and hymns seem to have a very uplifting effect…

    1. Hi Lew
      Kirtan is very nourishing for the heart. At essence, it’s a devotional practice. But some of them are extra powerful because they reverberate at deep levels. Kirtan and similar practices bring those reverberations to the surface.
      I know some who have recordings of clear speakers running round the clock in a quiet room, purifying the environment.
      In the current time, some like Hanuman Chalisa are being recommended. Also, the Mahamrityunjaya Mantra. And Vasishtha is said to have prescribed a mantra for the corona virus you can get from the link here:
      (not so hard to believe if you’ve had a nadi reading)
      As I mention in the above article, kirtan somewhat reflects the way the devata manage creation. See also:
      All this said, I still recommend right meditation as a foundational practice to connect to source. Then the heart can open on a secure foundation. The various means of yoga that suit different people are like branches from the trunk. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Lew R

    Not that kirtan is a replacement for mantra meditation but an enhancement….Maharishi used to have many pundits around chanting the Vedas…. divining the atmosphere… These things like kirtan are out there and I feel that it seems like a sign of growing awareness … As far as having statues of deities ….. many people in India have murties in their homes…. Here Christians have pictures of Jesus or carry medals or wear jewelry with religious imagery…. Nothing wrong with that…. If I see a statue of Ganesh or Buddha….I feel happier and in some way more connected to the self….Would rather see a deity tee shirt than something negative…..

    1. Hi Lew
      Exactly. Particularly in times like these when the collective is in fear, soothing the environment is very beneficial.
      On statues, yes and those people (broadly) know how to treat them. They’re not (usually) ornaments or shows of wealth. Absolutely nothing wrong with respectful use. I have some of the same myself.
      As it happens, I’m wearing an elephant t-shirt today, one ceremoniously decorated. ๐Ÿ™‚
      The point is in making that heart connection. Otherwise, its just superficial. A graven image a Christian might say.

  9. Lew R

    I agree with you that the right meditation practice provides a great foundation but these other things also contribute to enhancing self awareness… When Krishna Das first heard kirtan in India he loved that the people singing were really having fun and enjoying themselves in a temple …. Also meditation opens up awareness to enjoy other types of worship like kirtan …. Went to a Mass once and really felt good vibes and bliss from the worship service…

  10. Maharishi said OM is a recluse mantra. If you use OM as your mantra you will gradually lose everything, up to and including your ego, the illusary self. This is a good thing for the recluse, but not the householder, as probably losing his house is not desirable. But, what if OM is chanted aloud. What is the effect of that? Sadhguru (among others) recommends it. Would that have the same effect as using it as a mantra, only somewhat less?

    1. Hi Lanny
      Yes, I mentioned that in the asterisk and have written on the topic. I used to be very black and white about it. Adding Om to everything seemed to be a corruption of earlier works. You can replace it with words like Shri (a Shakti mantra).

      More recently, I found out this habit was probably from the story of Daksha, when Shiva was not acknowledged at an important yagya. (Om is a Shiva mantra)

      Now, I definitely would not recommend it for a meditation practice for most people. I’ve seen it’s use hinder peoples lives, even just listening to a CD of it daily as a practice long term. However, for occasional or temporary use, it’s not a big deal. Every sound we speak and thought we think has some effect. Respectful use of chants and yagyas is appropriate and fine. There is power in doing them the same way as they’ve been done by millions for many years. But I wouldn’t use a reclusive mantra (such as for Shiva) as a daily practice long term. As the saying goes, adopting the dharma of another means you fail at both (your own and theirs).

      There’s also a big difference between the power of attention and the power of transcending.

      I’d note Sadhguru is not in the Vedic tradition. He has his expertise but with his popularity has come to speak on many topics well outside that. Some of what I’ve seen is misleading or even nonsense. But yes, many recommend it. This relates to history. Adi Shankara restored the renunciate path but the pendulum swung until they over-emphasized it.

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