Inner Quest by Pandit Rajmani Tugnait

  • By Pandit Rajmani Tugnait
  • May 2003

Unlocking the Secret       
                                                                         The Sacred Sound
49. Why is a mantra considered to be Divine?
The mantra is a word, a syllable, or a series of sounds revealed to the sages in deep states of meditation. These sounds were neither uttered not head. Rather, they emerged from the center of silence, from the center of consciousness, and the sages “saw” them through the eyes of intuition. That is why the sages to whom these mantra were revealed are called rishis (seers).

According to the scriptures, these mantras do not belong to a language that humans speak with their tongues. Mantras come from the realm of universal language and still exist there. However, when the seers communicated this revealed knowledge to their students, they had to speak in a language that the students could understand and replicate. So at this point, mundane language became the vehicle for the revealed mantras. Languages such as Sanskrit, Prakrit, or Tibetan were used to create an external approximation of what the rishis heard internally.

There is an important subtle distinction here: intellectually we may call the external manifestation of the mantra an approximation. However, according to the tradition of mantra shastra, the mantra you receive from your teacher during initiation is the actual sound that was revealed to the first seer.

The power of a mantra lies in its ability to lead a meditator to the same state of consciousness as that attained by the seer of the mantra. In that state, the meditator will be blessed with the same revelation. But according to the scriptures, the true form of a mantra is not contained in what we see when it is written or what we hear when it is articulated. Rather, the essence of a mantra is nada-the pure, unstruck, eternal sound. Nada contains everything, not just words and meanings, but the entire universe in its unmanifest form.

The principle of the mantra or the Word is the only common link among all of humankind’s many spiritual traditions. Some traditions use it as a tool for focusing the mind; others use it as a means of channeling love and devotion towards God. When such sounds are used silently for focusing the mind and turning it inward, it is called meditation. When these sounds are spoken aloud, it is called prayer.

50. Do I need a mantra to practice meditation?
It is not absolutely necessary to meditate on a mantra, but meditators from all traditions have found the mantra to be the most effective object of concentration. From a spiritual perspective, the object of meditation is more important than the process of concentration itself. If gaining concentration is your only goal in meditation, you can achieve that by focusing your mind on any object that attracts you. But if the inward journey to the source of consciousness is the goal, then having a divine object, which is intrinsically connected with the source, will lead your mind to that source.

Yogic literature contains hundreds of instances of meditators who gained enormous powers of concentration, either by practicing trataka (fixed gazing) or by focusing their minds on an object that they found compelling. But even though such meditators attained great powers of concentration, they were not transformed. They remained prey to ignorance and all the pains and miseries that originate from it-egoism, attachment, aversion, and fear.

If you meditate on a mantra, you may not notice an instantaneous improvement in your concentration (although your concentration is bound to improve to some degree). But self-transformation and the unfoldment of higher virtues, such as love, compassion, and tolerance, are inevitable.

51. Why not choose a mantra for myself instead of seeking a formal initiation?
There are thousands of books on any subject you can think of, yet people undergo formal education. Similarly, it is necessary to undergo proper training and discipline in the practice of yoga. Proper training begins with formal initiation.

It is impossible for a novice to figure out which mantra is best. That is one reason for not choosing your own mantra. Another is that the teacher directly sows the seed of spiritual wisdom in the heart of the student through the process of initiation. With the passage of time, as the student practices, the seed sprouts, grows, and yields its fruit. If some works very hard, it is possible to gain some intellectual knowledge of mantra science, but when a mantra is received through proper initiation, it illuminates the whole being, not only the intellect.

In most traditions, mantra initiation is a process, not a one-time event. The scriptures call this krama diksha. Often a teacher will give a bija mantra, a seed syllable, as the first step. Then as the student practices, the teacher will impart additional bija mantras or a specific mantra central to that particular tradition.

Initiation also is a way to establish the intimate relationship between student and teacher, which is necessary in the ongoing process of spiritual unfoldment. Mantra initiation is a big commitment on the part of both teacher and student. Therefore, I suggest that before undertaking this commitment, you first overcome your own skepticism and doubt. Watch your natural inclinations and study the intensity of your desire to know your true Self. That will help you know when the right time has come for receiving a mantra. If you’re honest with yourself about what you’re looking for in life, the voice of your heart will tell you whether you’ve found the right tradition and the right teacher.
                                                         Techniques for Practicing Mantra

52. Should I coordinate mantras other than “so hum” with the breath?
If you are an ex-smoker or have in some other way found the habit of shallow breathing or chest breathing, it is better to coordinate the mantra and breath, thus regulating the motion of the lungs. This will help you establish a natural pattern of deep, diaphragmatic breathing. You’ll notice a cleansing effect, as well as increased physical and emotional stability. While coordinating the mantra with the breath, however, make sure that the sound of the mantra is not creating jerkiness in the flow of your breath.

For mantras other than ‘so hum’, you have to be very careful about breath mantra coordination. Although some mantras must be coordinated with the breath in order to take the mind inward, most mantras will create some jerkiness in the breath if you try to coordinate the two. Many mantras are too long, or their vibratory pattern does not match the pattern of the breath. Therefore, it’s best to seek advice from someone knowledgeable in the science of mantras, or from the person who initiated you.

53. What’s the difference between meditation and japa?
The process of meditation and japa are similar but not the same. During meditation, you are not aware of the number of neither mantra repetitions nor the pace at which you are repeating the mantra. In fact, if you are meditating, you don’t repeat your mantra; you simply listen to it. Deep within, you just stand still. The sound of your mantra is already there and you simply listen to it quietly. You listen so attentively and peacefully that you are not aware of any thought other than the continuous flow of your mantra. That’s the ideal, or let’s that’s what should be happening during mantra meditation.

But an untrained, undisciplined mind as a hard time standing still and attending only to the mantra. The mind begins making excuses: “Oh boy, I forgot to write that letter” “I should look at today’s stock market report,” and so forth. It finds a reason to do other than what it has been told to do, and to be somewhere other than where it is supposed to be. In the beginning stages of self-discipline and self-transformation, it’s best not to fight with the mind. Rather, skillfully give it more than one object to contemplate.

Japa remembering the mantra with mala beads is a way to constructively provide your mind with more than one object. During japa you use the same pose that you would use for meditation. Sit in a chair or cross-legged on the floor, with the head, neck, and trunk straight. Place your hands on your knees, and hold your mala with your fingers. Hold the mala in such a way that, while you are moving the beads, your fingers, palms, hands arms, and shoulders are free of tension. Usually you move to the beads only with the thumb, middle, and ring finger, because this seems to be the most relaxing method.

Remember your mantra as silently as possible while you move the beads. The pace at which you remember the mantra and move the beads should be fully coordinated. After a few days or weeks of japa, your fingers become adjusted to the beads and move them effortlessly. Remember, you don’t move a bead unless you repeat the mantra, and you do not repeat the mantra without moving a bead if the mind starts wandering, the mala is sure to stop or at least slow down. This immediately reminds you that your mind is wandering. On the other hand, the moment you become lazy or drowsy, your fingers become less active, while the call of your mantra turns your attention to the beads.
Mala and mind form a partnership; they help and motivate each other. The result is that you remember your mantra with fewer distractions and disturbances, although moving the beads does create some degree of distraction. However, this is still better than having the mind wander from one object to another ceaselessly.

While doing japa you might start touching a deep state of meditation, so that moving the beads seems to be a lot of work. If your posture is correct and the mala and fingers are really familiar with each other and do not require even the slightest attention from your mind, then japa with the mala continues, although you are neither aware of the beads nor of the process of moving them. However, it is rare to experience such a meditative state of mind while doing japa.

Usually, before the mind slips into deep meditation, it goes through a state of natural disinterestedness in moving the beads. In that case, let your mala drop and allow your mind to dive into the depths of that meditative joy and stillness. This state may not last long, and your mind may soon start travelling to other thoughts. The moment you realize that is happening, gently pick up your mala and resume your japa.

This journey - from japa to meditation and back to japa-is that best way to train and discipline the mind for the inward journey without fighting with your habit patterns. In your own personal practice, observe yourself and see whether it is better to concentrate on japa or meditation.

54. Is there a particular way to hold a mala? Does it make any difference if I hold it in my left hand or my right hand?
Make a circle by lightly touching the tip of the thumb to the tip of the ring finger. Hold the mala with the thumb and the third finger, while gently supporting it with the ring finger. You may use any of these three fingers to turn the beads. However, turning the beads with the thumb seems to be the easier. For some reason, the scriptures advise us not to use the index finger for doing japa.

If you are doing japa for a short period of time, hold the mala in front of the region of the heart. In a prolonged practice, this method becomes tiresome and can create tension in your shoulders. When this happens, part of your mind automatically goes to the shoulder and upper arm so you arm no longer focusing one pointedly on the mantra. Furthermore, if your mala is made of heavy beads, the weight will be a distraction. Therefore, keep your hands on your knees or some where on your thighs and do your japa comfortably.

This principle of being comfortable and minimizing distractions also applies to the question of whether to hold the mala in the left hand or the right. If you are left-handed, it is usually easier to hold the mala and move the beads with your left hand; otherwise, use your right hand.

55. I’ve heard of people doing japa in specific numbers, such as 33,000 repetitions, 125,000 repetitions, or even more. How do I know what level of japa I should undertake?
Completing a specific number of repetitions of a mantra in a designated period of time is called purascharana. Undertaking a purascharana requires regularity and discipline. A self-imposed discipline, such as that of a purascharana, helps one remain free of the deceptive tendencies of the mind. Without a purasharana, the mind might say, “Well, I did enough today” or “I have lots of work today; I’ll catch up tomorrow.” With a purascharana, you don’t allow your mind to play such tricks on you. This way, you attend your purascharana and your purascharana attends you. As a result, one day you and your mantra become good friends. As to how large a purascharana you should undertake, that depends on how long your mantra is, what your capacities are, and how much time you have at your disposal. An experienced teacher can guide you.

When I’m in a good meditative state, I feel like I’m not repeating the mantra clearly. Some syllables seem to be missing. Is it important to remember every syllable of the mantra distinctly, with the same clarity as it is pronounced verbally?

In a deep state of concentration, only the feeling of the presence of the mantra remains; the individual syllables may be blurred. Your logical mind, which perceives things in a linear order, merges into pure, nonobjective awareness and comprehends things spontaneously in totality, rather than in segments. That’s why, in this state of awareness, mantra remains, but the mind, absorbed as it is in nonobjective awareness, doesn’t register every single syllable or phoneme.

If this happens, it’s wonderful, but make sure this experience comes from deep meditation and is not simply the result of spaciness. There’s a subtle line between merging into non dualistic, nonobjective awareness and getting lost in oblivion. The sense of delight - the feeling that the burden of your mind is being lifted - is a sign of deep meditation. During deep meditation, your whole body is charged with the divine energy of your mantra. Afterwards, you feel like a child of bliss - a princess or prince of freedom. If you were just spacing out, your head will feel completely empty. You do not again knowledge from a spacy state and you don’t return a wiser person, as you do from a deep state of meditation.

Until you have reached a deep state of meditation, make a conscious effort to remember every single syllable of your mantra distinctly. Gradually, articulation of the mantra becomes secondary, and bhava (pure feeling) takes over. Just let it happen.

56. I have heard you and other teachers speak of the joy that comes in meditation once the mind begins to be absorbed in the mantra. I have been meditating for five years and my mind shows no signs of being led by the mantra. I doubt that I have been able to remember my mantra for more than ten or fifteen seconds at a time without other thoughts intruding. For me, meditation is not a joy, but a losing battle. Willing myself to concentrate on the mantra when I sit for meditation every morning doesn’t work. Are there techniques I can practice to improve my concentration and strengthen my resolve to remember my mantra?
A. You are not the only person facing this problem - this is an experience a great number of seekers have in common. There is no need of abandoning your mantra meditation and trying other techniques because this virus of frustration will infect those techniques too. It is better to try to understand the basic cause of this problem and resolve it.

You have not yet been convinced of the importance of going inward because you do not understand the value of the everlasting wealth within. Nor have you grasped the role of mantra in leading you inward and unveiling that wealth. Because of the shallowness of your knowledge regarding your mantra, you have not yet fallen in love with it. In the back of your mind, you still feel that the mantra is merely a device for focusing your mind. You are not fully convinced that the mantra is actually the Lord of life, the Word that existed in the beginning of creation, was with God, and is God.

There may be several reasons why you do not feel that the mantra is a living reality in the form of sound. These days there are many people running around giving mantras, and there are numerous books cataloguing mantras. You can easily get a mantra from a book, from a tape, or from mantra initiators for somewhere between $ 10 and $ 1,000. So what’s the big deal?

In the commercial atmosphere that has developed in the yoga community, it is quite natural to treat a mantra superficially. When we do that, meditation on a mantra does not transform our attitude, but forces us to remain active in the process of remembering the mantra on a technical level. This prevents us from cultivating bhava (feeling).

A meditation without bhava is too weak to face the challenges posed by our conscious and unconscious minds. When you understand that the Divine Being has entered the inner chamber of your heart in the form of the mantra and that you are fortunate to be there to attend that Divine Being, who has blessed the cave of your heart so graciously and lovingly, you will not entertain other thoughts, feelings, and memories during your meditation.

57. Is a mantra effective even if it is repeated without feeling? How do you get the feeling if you don’t know what the feeling is?
Feeling and the purification of the heart go together. You need both. They appear together, like a sprout and the shadow of a sprout. The mantra is the seed that sprouts. The feeling is the shadow that follows the sprout of purification. Keep doing your mantra meditation sincerely and regularly. It will sprout naturally one day: both the purification and the feeling will grow together.

You are already inspired and have a somewhat purified heart; that’s why you started practicing mantra meditation. But keep making efforts to purify yourself further by cultivating sattvic qualities in your thoughts, speech, and actions. Try to slow down and eliminate useless talk. Do your best not to hurt yourself and others. Even in your jokes, try to eliminate foul language. Watch your diet. This is the way to purification.

A purified mind and heart are like a blossoming flower. Feeling is the nectar. They go together. When the flower blossoms, it sends an invitation to all the nectar lovers. Thus mantra meditation, accompanied with feeling and purification, sends an invitation to the lord of Life, the Supreme Being. The moment of union that comes when the mantra fully blooms is called samadhi, the state of ecstasy.

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