Mantra Yoga

The use of mantras constitutes another very definite department of occult practices, known in India from the oldest times. Mantras are charms, spells, magical formulas, incantations. Mantra-yoga is the employment of words so arranged as to produce these effects. It is not usually considered that ordinary people are qualified to make mantras, but that the mantra-yogī is a person who knows the mantras which have been made by great mantra-kāras (mantra-makers) in the past.

All the hymns of the Vedas are called mantras; those which are metrical and meant to be recited loudly are called “rich” (hence Rig-Veda), those in prose and to be uttered in a low voice are called “yajus” (hence Yajur-Veda) and the metrical ones intended for chanting are called sāman (hence Sāma-Veda). Mantras are formularies which are meant to produce an effect on people and sometimes on things, which will be so affected that they would then affect people. Thus, for example, mantras are useful for consecrating shrines, instruments, vestments and other things.

People of Western countries are familiar with the idea, as it occurs not only in their stories or folk-lore about wizards and witches, but also in the practices of some of the churches, in which it is imperative that the priest shall conduct the ceremonies with the words exactly as prescribed, and shall also wear the vestments and make the gestures or movements traditionally associated with them and use the instruments according to rule.

It is to be noted that the prescribed wording and chanting must be accompanied by the right intention and belief in the mind. The mantra is not supposed to be effective without the thought which is called the intent or purpose; nevertheless the incantator need not know the meaning of the words employed—it makes no difference to the mantric action whether he knows them or not. But the correct intention must be used with the mantra belonging to it. This implies that one cannot use a mantra for any purpose other than that originally intended. It also indicates that the use of mantras is not passive (such as that of prayer-wheels or prayer-flags), but they are considered as tools. Thus the reproduction of a recited mantra by gramophone record would have no effect beyond that of its mere sound or music.

There are many different mantras associated with different schools of activity. But in all of them the chief feature is the repetition (japa) of certain fixed forms of words, often with a definite intonation, and always with the thought of their meaning and intention. We find this practice frequently combined with bhakti-yoga, as in the following example, from the Gopālatāpani Upanishad and the Krishna Upanishad. Of all the mantras of ShrÄ« Krishna, none is considered more powerful than this five-divisioned, eighteen-syllabled one, which is: “KlÄ«m, Krishnāya, Govindāya, GopÄ«-jana, Vallabhāya, Swāhā!” The following is the explanation, translated in my book on Concentration:

“Once the sages came to the great Brahma and asked: ‘Who is the supreme God? Whom does Death fear? Through the knowledge of what does all become known? What makes this world continue on its course?’
“He replied: ‘ShrÄ« Krishna verily is the supreme God. Death is afraid of Govinda (ShrÄ« Krishna). By knowledge of the Lord of GopÄ«-jana (ShrÄ« Krishna) the whole is known. By Swāhā the world goes on evolving.’
“Then they questioned him again: ‘Who is Krishna? Who is Govinda? Who is the Lord of GopÄ«-jana? What is Swāhā?’
“He replied: ‘Krishna is he who destroys all wrong. Govinda is the knower of all things, who, on earth, is known through the great teaching. The Lord of GopÄ«-jana is he who guides all conditioned beings. Swāhā is his power. He who meditates on these, repeats the mantra, and worships him, becomes immortal.’
“Again they asked him: ‘What is his form? What is his mantra? What is his worship?’
“He replied: ‘He who has the form of a protector of cows. The cloud-colored youth. He who sits at the root of the tree. He whose eyes are like the full-blown lotus. He whose raiment is of the splendor of lightning. He who is two-armed. He who is possessed of the sign of wisdom. He who wears a garland of flowers. He who is seated on the center of the golden lotus. Who meditates upon him becomes free. His is the mantra of five parts. The first is KlÄ«m Krishnāya. KlÄ«m is the seed of attraction. The second is Govindāya. The third is GopÄ«-jana. The fourth is Vallabhāya. The fifth and last is Swāhā. KlÄ«m—to Krishna—to the Giver of Knowledge—to the Lord of the Cowherds—Swāhā!’
“Om. Adoration to the Universal Form, the Source of all Protection, the Goal of Life, the Ruler of the Universe, and the Universe itself.
“Om. Adoration to the Embodiment of Wisdom, the Supreme Delight, Krishna, the Lord of Cowherds! To the Giver of Knowledge, adoration!”

Such mantras as this are full of symbology, which helps the intent. The word krishna means the color of the rain cloud, a symbol of protection and beneficence. The cows are the verses of scripture, Vallabha means Lord and also Beloved, and the “cow-herd people” are the great sages. The tree is creation or evolution.

Favorite among the laya-yogÄ«s is the mantra “Om, aim, klÄ«m, strÄ«m.” “Om” is introductory; the other three are called “seed” mantras; aim being the seed of speech or intelligence, in the first lotus, klÄ«m the seed mantra of love, in the heart lotus, and strÄ«m the seed mantra of power, in the eyebrow lotus. On the chitrinÄ« canal at these points there are granthis, or “knots,” which obstruct the advance of kundalinÄ«. With the aid of these mantras, they are broken through. Great results are said to accrue from many repetitions of this mantra, which must be said neither too quickly nor too slowly.

The mantra Om, which is used at the beginning and end of all prayers, needs special mention. It is considered to have a harmonizing effect, as being the word, or true name, not merely the appellative name, of the “one life without a second.” It is composed of three letters, a, u, and m, and can be pronounced with the a and u both distinctly heard, or, as is more usual, with the two blended together as O. The meaning may be derived in the following way. As a is sounded from the throat, it is the beginning of all sounds, and as m is formed by the closing of the lips, it is the end, u being in the middle.

Therefore when Om is properly sounded with a glide from one letter to the next, it is the complete word. And since sound is creative power, Om is not only the natural name of God, but pronunciation of it is a means to harmony with the divine.

The same idea is symbolically represented in the Shāndilya Upanishad, where the yogī is told to meditate, using the pranava that is, Om, at the same time thinking of three goddesses: Gāyatrī, a girl of reddish color, seated on a swan and carrying a mace, who represents the letter a; Sāvitrī, a young woman of white color, mounted on an eagle and carrying a disc, who represents the letter u; and Saraswatī, a mature woman of dark color, riding on a bull and carrying a trident, who represents the letter m. Those goddesses are the wives and shaktis, or powers, of the three members of the Trinity—Shiva, Vishnu and Brahmā—who together constitute the one Brahman. The yogī is told to use the proportions sixteen, sixty-four and thirty-two for breathing during this meditation.

Very closely allied psychologically with the mantra-yoga is the practice of art in connection with religious matters. Just as the repetition of certain words helps the devotee to keep his mind well concentrated, so in the case of the temperament which runs to external creativeness, painting and sculpture is a means of holding up and preserving the desired emotional and mental states. The whole process is like damming up a valley and so conserving the water for the constant use of the countryside. Art may be looked upon as a form of yoga. Shukrāchārya says: “Let the image-maker establish images in temples by meditation on the deities who are the objects of his devotion. In no other way, not even by direct and immediate vision of an actual object, is it possible to be so absorbed in contemplation as thus in the making of images.”

Out of this inevitably comes beauty, even when the intention to do so is not intellectually formulated, for action well done always produces that effect in some natural way. Thus, for example, the limbs and figure of the racehorse are wonderfully beautiful because of the skill developed in running, and also the running is beautiful to see. When an artist does his best, the same effect is produced, both in the man and in the work. This itself constitutes a kind of union with the divine, for if it can be said that God is expressible in material form, it must be in beauty, since that is the one thing in the material world of which the soul never tires.

To understand all this theoretically one has to remember that in the use of the senses there are three factors—the conscious being, the sensations (as of color, or sound) and the sense-organ (including the whole mechanism from the eye or the ear to the brain-center). Occultly, the sensations are something in themselves, which the mind carries within itself even away from the body. The objects of the world with their colors etc., are expressions of these sensations in innumerable combinations, brought about through action-organs, and then those objects can arouse the sensations again through the sense-organs.

These sensations are vastly important, because they arouse the attentiveness of the consciousness, and assist its concentration or attentiveness and so enrich its content and power. When consciousness is stronger, clearer, its power is greater. Thus sensations are carriers of the will, both ways—from man to the world and from the world to man. It is easy from this principle to see how all that is going on in this world is a sort of magic. In that magic we get our most formative and delighting effect in what we call beauty, and all things affect us through the shock of beauty or through the lesser process of repetition. Deliberate use of this process is a form of yoga; in the case of the latter method, repetition, we have the mantric effect.