Meditation with Mantras – The nature of Mantras

IN this chapter I must allow myself to use certain Sanskrit words which have technical importance in the study of the mind and the world. Mantra is one of them. In connection with meditation it refers to words or sentences which are repeated over and over again while the mind is intent upon their meaning.

I have recently read in one Upanishad the recommendation that a certain 16 syllabled mantra should be repeated thirty-five million times, and one commentator offers the calculation that it can be done in twenty years at the rate of about five thousand times each day, or eight times per minute for ten hours!

Without going to such extremes, it is usual for nearly all people who practice meditation in India to perform these recitations, even though only a few times. The ideas are: (I) the words help to keep the mind on the object they refer to, and (2) their repetition or rhythm has an effect on the body. This effect can be understood by reference to the three “qualities of Nature”, called gunas, which are tamas, rajas and sattwa. These are basic ingredients of material substance, and appear in different proportions in all things.

Material, inert, resistant and lazy things and people are called tamasic; the forceful, energetic, excitable, passionate and pushful are called rajasic; and the orderly, rhythmical, constancy-showing, law-abiding are called sattwic. For success in meditation it is desirable that the body should be calm and orderly in all its functions. This we have already considered in early chapters; we have emphasized the importance of using intelligence and will to put and keep the body in this sattwic condition.

The repetition of a mantra in meditation is intended to have the double effect of counteracting the sleepiness of tamas and the excitability of rajas, and establishing sattwa. It is not unlike the effect of suitable kinds of music. At the same time I must say that mantras are unnecessary, and must in fact be given up before a high state of meditation can be reached or contemplation approached.