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.