Mantra, MantraMay 27, 2009
Awhile back I started an article on meditation but it soon became clear this was more like a small book than a blog post. I decided to write on just one aspect that is less understood in the west. Sound.
First though I should clarify what I mean by “meditation”. I refer to a mental practice that turns your attention within and takes you into silence. I don’t mean dance, prayer, listening to CDs, or other things that may fall under the banner of the word – however valid they may be.
As I’ve mentioned before, awakening is a process of Self waking to Itself. It has nothing directly to with anything we do or practice. However, a practice can help to speed and smooth the process immensely. Especially a practice that connects you to Self. When Self becomes more familiar with the person, it prepares the ground.
Adyashanti indicates* meditation is to loosen the bonds of mind or thoughts on consciousness. It has the effect of breaking up the underlying structure of the story and ego. While you can do inquiry or mindfulness and pick off each of your resistances one by one, by dipping into source you can clear in large batches. It’s like a tree – do you work on each bud and leaf or do you go to the root? This takes care of much of the noise and burden without doing anything else.
Then all you have to do is clean up the bits left over, the stuff you’ve held active even with presence. Much easier task, even if they are the hardest nuts. And that inner connection to source makes everything else more potent – your prayer, yoga, intellect and doing. Just consider – when are you more productive? When you’re happy and rested? Or when you’re tired and anxious?
Because meditation supports the root, the secondary benefits are legion. Hundreds of scientific studies have confirmed this. If you have not found something that connects you to silence, I would certainly recommend it. For many, it’s the most important thing you can do with your life and it benefits everything. This is why I place meditation first in any list of practices.
Personally, I’ve seen effortless meditation to have been the most effective for the most people, but some do find results in other things. Just 2 key points:
1) Keep it simple.
Too many practices are cluttered with ideas of correct posture, alters, beads, and other paraphernalia. If you like that stuff, great. But it’s not about doing it right, it’s about NOT doing. If they get in the way of letting go, let them go.
2) Keep it simple.
Many practices I’ve seen also complicate the technique itself with requirements, turning it into a difficult task. Small changes can make the difference between a difficult practice and an easy, effective one. This is about letting go, not building it up. No force or will required. Just allowing.
Amongst the range of meditation techniques out there, the most common traditional ones involve use of a mantra or sound to lead the mind within. Most westerners are unfamiliar with these ideas, so here’s a brief review.
The science of sound or mantra is very ancient. When we understand that everything we experience arises from consciousness, we discover the first quality is vibration. We can experience this vibration as sound. That sound leads to what we experience as the world. Thus, there is a relationship between sound and the effect it has. For example, we can all think of how different types of music may affect us. Sound not only elicits feeling, it is also the beginning of form. A specific sound we call a word or name, like glish or palladium. The science of mantra is thus a study of sounds or words and the forms or effects they cause.
There are mantras for illness, for success, for marriage, and for peace. Each of us has a “true name”, the sound that creates our form. At every moment. Trouble is, the mouth can’t really produce such non-linear sounds. (remember – you’re 3D)
The English language is strongly ego derived and has little relationship between the sound of a word and the form it describes. Latin is closer. Sanskrit on the other hand has a direct relationship. (I’ve read research papers on this) The sound of the word matches the form it represents. Indeed, if we can produce the sound at the right resolution of expression, it can call forth the form or effect.
This is one of the secrets of old texts. If one listens to the chanting of the texts on that subtle level where vibration first arises, we can experience what the words describe. Thus, within the old texts is encoded experiences. A movie on the pages of a book. This is called name and form.
We can see mantras used in a number of ways.
At the most active level, there are performance practices where prescribed actions, words, feeling, and meaning are blended together in awareness. These are known as pujas or yagyas or by other ceremonial names. They are like a form of active prayer. The Christian Mass is probably derived from someone experiencing this way.
These days, large groups of people have assembled to perform specialized yagyas for world peace. Such groups have not gathered in such numbers in thousands of years. 1945 was the first time recently it was revived.
Bhajans and Chanting
The Hare Krishna sing an example you’ve probably heard. They often dance as well, but a Bajan may or may not include action, placing the attention on the words, feeling and meaning. Bajans are like songs, sometimes short and repeated or a long series of Sanskrit phrases. In a way, they are like sung prayer.
Vedic chanting is more like a recitation. Historically, they are memorized so that attention can dwell on the sounds and meaning during the practice. When listened to on subtle levels, they can elicit the cognition’s of the seers who described them, as mentioned above.
Historically, the ancient books were handed down orally (chanted) through families or temples until there was concern for their loss in the darkening cycle of time. The key Vedas were gathered by Vyasa into books, roughly into the form we know them today – the 10 mandalas of the Rig Veda and so forth. Because these texts are sound rather than text based, they are entirely mantras.
Some meditations, like chanting the Lotus sutra, are more in this category as they are often spoken aloud and involve reciting an entire work. Sometimes prescribed actions at an alter.
You can see there is a wide spectrum of use.
When I was first considering learning to meditate, a friend said you could use anything, like ‘macaroni’ as a mantra. While this is true, keep in mind that the mantra will take you into deeper, more powerful parts of the mind. It will reverberate and create a number of effects. A suitable mantra is thus very important.
One of the best known examples of a mantra is the famous Om or Aum, the primordial sound. The sound the universe makes en masse, the ‘unified field’. It is the “pranava” mantra that all others arise from, hence it’s use in opening chants. It is very positive and often recommended but it will tend to give you reclusive tendencies. Not a good idea if you are not a monk.
In this context, mantras are derived from a bija or seed – simple sounds with one or two syllables. Some of these you’ll see in a chant phrase, embellished with Jai’s, Shri’s, and Namah’s, words of glory and thanks.
In India, it is quite common to suggest you pick the name of your favorite form of God, your Ishta-devata, such as Jesus, Ganesh or Krisna. This adds the feeling and devotional aspects to a practice, but also it’s a simple way to pick a positive, well suited sound without a lot of fuss or expertise.
Some teachers offer longer phrases as a mantra, perhaps one you’d see in a chant. Some use them verbally and silently, some just silently.
One may also practice japa, essentially a counting of the mantra repetition, perhaps with the aid of a string of 108 beads. Like calling the Rosary. This can be an aid to keeping the attention on the practice but is otherwise unnecessary in my experience.
In still simpler forms of meditation, a simple mantra is used without meaning. It is a sound to occupy the mind so it detaches from its preoccupation and settles within. Transcendental Meditation (TM) would be an example of this, probably the most widely taught non-denominational meditation.
I was lucky to find a simple effortless meditation some 35 years ago. It has served me well since. My familiarity with other forms is from study and sharing with others. I’ve only ever needed the one technique plus some addenda like asanas and advanced enhancements.
When our practice deepens enough to clear the way, we begin to see the possibility of a revival of legends of old. But we’re aways from “calling forth” just yet.
*intro to Aug. ’07 retreat