“Aum Tat Sat”
— the Bhagvad Gita
Usually, the idea of repeating a word or a sound for a designated number of times does not appeal to many people. A prevalent misconception is that a word or a syllable, a line or even a poem, song, hymn, or prayer from sacred scripture can only be revered so much; really, how can its mere repetition leave the seeker with inner peace or calm? It could bolster one’s faith but repetition of a hymn or chant or a prayer from scripture cannot possibly guarantee inner tranquility. This is exactly where mantra meditation is misunderstood. A mantra as it means in Sanskrit is a sound so potent in its very semantic and phoneme that it can create transformation. Literally, the word mantra in Sanskrit is a composite of “ma” as in manas which means one’s mind or soul or consciousness and “tra” as in trayate which means to set free. In other words, the word mantra refers to the sound or word or prayer that liberates the mind or consciousness of an individual. But how does this mysterious and grandiose process happen?
In the practice of Hindu scripture, entire chunks of sacred texts are collectively referred to as mantra. But I believe that any word or sound that is sacred to an individual has the potency to liberate him or her from their existing bound, material circumstances and catapult them into the realm of spiritual freedom, expansiveness and therefore spiritual empowerment. That is because the sound or the word derives its transformational power from the spiritual energy that is embedded in it. Of course, such a reductive interpretation of a mantra seems to suggest that all sounds or words however commonplace can render inner calm. It is in fact just what ardent spiritual seekers need to remember. Sacred syllables like the “Om” or “Aum” in Hindu scripture and others from scriptures of other world religions carry with them the weight of historical, cultural, religious, and scriptural sanction. Yet that is not only why they “feel” and “sound” powerful. Scripture reminds us that our cultural consciousness has been mapped to revere its sounds and narratives from as early on as in the womb. So sounds from scriptures bear on them an indelible emblem of our inherent faith and deep-seated reverence. No matter how little one’s birth or upbringing has to do with a religious institution or organization, I firmly contend that reverence for religion is embedded somewhere in some manner within our cultural consciousness. Even though one may practice little religion or concern oneself with no religious artifact or literature, yet the sense of “awe” is always there. This sense of a mysterious “awe” might stem either from a total ignorance of one’s religious beliefs and moorings or from a complete intellectual immersion in one’s religion and its intricate connections to one’s identity, and community. Regardless, the deep sense of “awe”, whether it takes the form of reverence, or veneration, or worship, or even fear, is inextricably embossed into one’s cultural consciousness that its power might often come as a shock if left unexplored especially for a long time. It is this deep-seated, often unexplored reverence that mantra meditation draws its appeal and power from.
The potency of this form of meditation is grossly underestimated, even from a practical standpoint. Repeating a sound enables the mind to concentrate primarily on the sound and eventually what the sound means to the individual repeating it. For instance, the word “Om” is used in all Hindu ritualistic practice–is pronounced as “Aum”– is an intonation made up of three syllables and phonemes “A” called akar in Sanskrit; “U” called ukaar and “Ma” called “makaar”. The term “Akar” refers to the finite world of shapes such as planets, earth, plants, creatures and so on; the term ukar refers to the world of the shapeless such as water, ether, space, fire, sky and so on; “makaar” refers to the world of energy between that of the shapes and the shapeless that can only be experienced but not seen. All three syllables when combined together by their sounds and embedded meanings produce the primordial intonation of “Aum” which when chanted resonates so powerfully through the entire being of the individual that it marks its spot on his or her soul. As an ardent and proud believer of Hinduism, I can relate to the power of “Aum” meditation. But even non-believers can leverage the power of a mantra such as “Aum” or any such sacred chant connected to another religious practice-faith by simply willing and believing in its potential to liberate one from their existing circumstances and elevate them into a state of spiritual anchor, calm, and eventually power. A poignant fact to note …this is the sort of power that never corrupts. 🙂
Mantra meditation does not require the seeker to find a sacred spot like a prayer room or a space in a church, or mosque or synagogue or temple. We exist because of our consciousness; in fact an entire human life may be encompassed within a series of experiences that seem to come together as pixels to form a mosaic: the individual’s consciousness. So when the individual passes on, all that is left are “memories” of one’s interaction with him or her, which are byproducts of the individual’s consciousness. So as long as one can maintain a psyche that is clean, unsullied by worries, ego-struggles, fantasies of power, sexual fantasies, personal complexes of superiority or inferiority, even if for a few fleeting moments, one’s location is hardly of consequence. Interestingly, those few quiet moments are the only sacred moments one needs for a mantra chant. When the mind is quiet the individual may be considered prepped and predisposed for meditation! :)) In those few calm moments, one can choose a sound, a few verses or a hymn of sacred, or religious, or even cultural value relative to oneself, chant it, and gradually start to experience inner peace. The idea of chanting might allude to the practice of ritualistic engagement where sounds or hymns are repeated aloud to lure individuals to form a cult. It is in fact far from it. Chanting can be done by repeating a sacred prayer or hymn or sound quietly in one’s mind simultaneously focusing on what it “stands for” in the individual’s moral-spiritual universe. By focusing, reflecting and finally attaching one’s consciousness to all that a sacred sound or prayer stands for the seeker begins to anchor his or her mind (manas) in the realm of spiritual reflection, then soul expansiveness, and eventually spiritual power. This kind of power is liberating because now all that one has to do when thwarted by impossible, seemingly self-defeating circumstances is to embrace a spiritual demeanor so profuse that it secures one in a cloak of conviction… that one’s seemingly immutable circumstances can and will be surmounted. The conviction that one is not an ordinary, hapless being but the indestructible, Divine, Immortal Self that can achieve anything is reinforced. Further, a feeling of detachment from one’s binding, overwhelming circumstances emerges. In other words, the awareness that I am Divine and not subject to the limitations of my body that experiences pain, pleasure, success, failure, glory or ignominy sets in. By chanting a mantra that is sacred to one in a sense, the mantra’s etymological, semantic, cultural, and religious sanctity are juxtaposed onto the individual’s consciousness. Thus over time, the individual accrues and experiences spiritual power, and tranquility.
So mantra meditation is not for the faint of heart; rather it is for the one with a robust faith in one’s own will to survive and thrive. It is for the one with a strong will that can lend itself to the power of sacred sounds, absorb them and renew itself from that experience. Consequently, mantra meditation may be practiced with a quiet mind anywhere and at any time the seeker is “ready” for a transformation so powerful that he or she will emerge feeling invincible. This feeling of invulnerability is completely antagonistic to the worldly sense of insuperability. The former empowers the individual making him or her a world citizen and a friend, well-wisher of everyone; the latter while emboldens yet weakens the individual sequestering him or her into an egotistical warp where everyone is to be used for one individual’s manifestation of a self-fulfilling prophecy: victory, success, fame, wealth and so on…the list is usually endless.
In this context I am reminded of Samuel Beckett’s play, Waiting for Godot. The spiritual seeker need not wait for his or her Godot because mantra meditation promises to deliver one from such a daunting quest into a world of possibilities. When this state of realization is achieved, and the affirmation in one’s Divinity is embraced then every intent is suffused with Divine agency, manifestation and fulfillment. As a result, the idea of a wait is over. Isn’t it then ironical that the moment we are enveloped by a divine sense of “possibility”, our hitherto ardent wait … for our Godot (desires, our success…) just evaporates? Mantra meditation promises to dissolve this irony by reminding us that we are “That Divine Force” that can achieve anything, surmount any challenge and ultimately experience a universal belonging too powerful yet too subtle to be thwarted.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (King James Version, John 1:1)