by Swami Krishnananda
We have been discussing the relations which the asanas, bandhas and mudras have in respect of certain psychic centres of our bodies. These exercises are in the end expected to stimulate these forces within, so that the whirl of energy may become a straight current. The whirls of energy called the chakras are to be straightened so that there may be a free flow of the current of energy. These whirls called the chakras tend in different directions, and it is these varying tendencies which distinguish the one chakra from the other. They differ from one another, not only in the direction of their movement, but also in the intensity of their motion. Physicists tell us today that one object is distinguishable from another due not only to the number of electrons which constitute the object, but also to the velocity at which the electrons move. In a similar manner, we may say the chakras are distinguished from one another by their intensity as well as the direction of the motion of the energy of which they are constituted.
The essence of all this sadhana is therefore the disentangling of these whirls or currents of force, which are like knots. The untying of these knots corresponds to the process of yoga, especially in the kundalini path. The knots have to be slowly disentangled, stage by stage, with due consideration of the intensity of the force. The lower the centre, the slower is the motion of the chakra. We may say it is denser or more opaque, so that in one sense at least it is not responsive to the processes of thinking—much less to the light of consciousness within. The lower the chakra with which the mind gets connected, the slower is the thinking process and the lesser is the light from within that is revealed or manifested through it.
The lowest is what is called the muladhara chakra, and there are many others above it. This is the densest, the grossest and the most earthly region in our physical system. When the mind gets lodged in the lowest chakra, we are conscious only of physical bodies and objects external to us, and we are intensely desirous of these objects. Physical desires and physical passions are the characteristics of the identification of the mind with the lowest chakra. So gross does the mind become in its association with this low centre that people who are in this level may be said to be animal men or savages. So gross is their way of thinking that they cannot visualise anything except in terms of physical bodies and physical relationships. Their desires are purely physical, they have no intellectual enjoyments, and they cannot appreciate art or beauty. All that they can see is gross physical bodies, their own as well as objects outside. This is the fixation of the mind in the lowest chakra.
The higher chakras are stages of the gradual disentanglement of the mind. The characteristic of the higher chakras is that the desires get purer, more ethereal and less involved in physical objects. The purpose of the yoga exercises we have been studying is to unlock this energy, release its knots, and enable it to flow in a particular direction. This function of the unlocking of the force, the release of energy, and the enabling of it to flow freely is done not only by the direction of the prana with the help of the exercises, but also by another method which is the recitation of mantras. The path of kundalini yoga, as well as hatha yoga, is very much connected with the path of mantra yoga, and the one is indistinguishable from the other. There is a network of three practices in one school of thinking, which goes by the name of mantra, tantra and yantra. This network of practices involves the recitation of a formula (mantra), the performance of a rite or a ritual (tantra), and the worship or concentration on a particular symbol or diagram (yantra). These are all especially connected with the school of thought called the tantra. The particular feature of this method of approach is the continued repetition of a mantra or a formula which helps enhance the results that follow out of the exercises. There is a beautiful combination of many methods—asanas, bandhas, mudras, pranayama, mantra japa and concentration of mind. It also includes certain forms of worship which are in the beginning external, and then in more advanced stages, purely mystical or inward.
The tantra shastra is a very vast field of study. The mantras are of a special significance in this path of yoga, because these recitations have a direct impact upon certain parts of these chakras. If we have seen diagrams of these chakras in any text of yoga, we will find certain letters engraved on some parts of these chakras, often pictured as the petals of a lotus. The chakras are compared to a lotus that has blossomed. The flower blossom has certain petals of varying number, and the lotus flower is nothing but the sum total of all the petals. Many petals make the flower, so also the petals of a chakra make up the parts of the whole chakra. Mantras help in opening and directing each petal separately, one after the other or sometimes simultaneously, just as we may wake up a sleeping person by touching his limbs part by part. When a person is asleep we may touch the head, touch the chest, touch the hands or touch the feet—and then the person wakes up from sleep. The mantras help in touching, manipulating and stirring the petals of the lotus, and the sleeping energy is supposed to rise by the very repetition of the mantra.
What is this repetition, we may wonder? It is itself a very great science. It is not merely the sound that we make that is the recitation of the mantra. As a matter of fact, it has nothing to do with the making of a sound. It is the release of an energy by means of vak (speech). Speech is this energy when it is expressed. Energy is released in expressions of every kind—speech being the most important. The power of the word is tremendous. The word is not merely the characters that we write on a paper. That is only an external symbol for the sound and the force that is signified in the symbol. An algebraic formula, for example, is different from what it signifies. The formula that we write on a blackboard is only symbolic and is only a memory device to help concentrate the mind on something significant. An equation in mathematics is only an aid in recalling a fact. The fact involved in the formula or the equation is different from the formula itself. If an equation in algebra is committed to memory, we are enabled to remember a significance that is hidden in the formula. Likewise is a mantra. The words which apparently constitute a mantra are only aids in memory and aids in generating a particular type of force in our system. Every mantra is a locked-up force and is indicative of a particular type of force. The bundles of energy need not be of a similar character. The mantra represents a symbol or a bundle of energy which can be released at our will.
We might have all seen fireworks at some point. Especially in India, we have beautiful fireworks released during festivals like Dipavali. The constitution of a particular type of firework is such that when it is set on fire, it takes a particular form. Those who have seen it will know what I mean. Sometimes this firework will take a circular shape when it burns, sometimes it will shoot out like stars, and sometimes it will whirl about in various beautiful patterns. All these can be seen merely by igniting the particular bundle of energy inside. The ignition is common to all, but the way in which they get released is peculiar to each bundle of energy. Likewise, the repetition of a mantra may be a single process, like the striking of a match with which we set fire to the energy that is in the firework, but the effect that is produced is different in each case, on account of the inner constitution of that firework.
The mantra therefore is like a firework, and the mantra can be ignited through constant repetition. When it is set on fire in this manner by repetition, it takes different shapes. It shoots up, it whirls, it bursts—or it may calmly and coolly exert an influence. It can construct or it can destroy. Like atomic energy, the mantra is useful for purposes of construction as well as for destruction. The mantra is like an atomic force—neither good nor bad—and can be used for any purpose that we like. The chanting of the mantra is therefore a pressure that we exert on gunpowder that is bundled up in a certain structure. When we exert too much pressure or bring about a friction upon the gunpowder, it bursts forth in a particular fashion. The repetition of a mantra is nothing but an influence that we exert on the energy that is hidden in the mantra.
The mantras are manifold, just as we can have various forms of fireworks. Each has a pattern of its own, so we can choose any mantra we like, according to the purpose for which we wish to recite or chant it. The spiritual aspirant’s motive behind the recitation of a mantra should be wholly spiritual. We are now concerned only with the spiritual aspect of the practice of yoga, which is the ultimate good. The inner chakras are to be released by bombardment, as we may call it. The mantras act as bombarding principles which impinge upon the chakras and rouse every petal of the chakra within. One goes on hammering on the petals, as it were, by the repetition of a mantra. The constant hammering rouses the energy part by part. There are certain mantras which are connected with the entire chakra, and there are certain mantras which are connected with certain petals alone.
According to the type of initiation that we received from our Guru or master, we will be told how to tackle these and what sort of mantra we have to repeat. The specific mantra is given according to the stage in which the mind is and the evolutionary condition of the consciousness. We should not meddle with these without understanding them. The correct recitation of a mantra is therefore important, and we have to be initiated into the mantra by a competent teacher. The teacher alone can know our minds, and this is done by a careful analysis, and through that analysis the proper mantra will be given.
The lower chakras are disentangled first, and gradually the forces become calmer and calmer in their action. In the beginning they become tremendously active, so much so that we may find it difficult to harness them properly, but later they become calm. The mind is often portrayed in Buddhist psychology in certain diagrams as a wild bull being tamed—a very interesting thing. Especially in Zen Buddhism, we will find these techniques of taming a wild bull. It is true that the mind is a wild bull. We cannot touch it, we cannot go near it, and we cannot even look at it. It will attack and try to gore us with its horns. Later on, by gradual application of different techniques, the bull becomes so calm that we can even ride on it. In the beginning we cannot even look at it, because it is so ferocious. Later on it becomes a vehicle for us to sit on. So is the mind—a wild bull which we cannot touch in the beginning, because it controls us rather than we controlling it. Man is a slave of the mind in the initial stages, and then he becomes the master of his mind. The recitation of the mantra is a way to release the psychic energy that facilitates this mastery.
The methodology of the repetition is also very important. The recitation of a mantra is not easy. It is not just mumbling something, but rather a very scientific process. We should not only pronounce the characters correctly with proper emphasis and intonation, but also our hearts should be in it. Our feelings also contribute to the effect produced by the recitation of a mantra. If our minds are elsewhere, the effect may not take place. But there are certain mantras which are like fire, which will burn even if we do not know that they are inflammable. Even if we unconsciously touch fire, it burns our fingers. Likewise, there are certain mantras which will produce immediate effect, even if we are not properly thinking of them—provided of course that we chant them regularly and with method. However, if our thoughts are actually engaged with the chanting, then the mantra will be instantaneous in its action.
The letters of a mantra are symbolic of certain constituents of force, and when they are joined together they produce a reaction—somewhat like chemical reaction. If acid and alkali are mixed together a reaction takes place; otherwise, if they had not been mixed together, we would not have known anything about the reaction. If we have acid in one hand and alkali in another hand, apparently there is no reaction because they do not come into contact. However, when the two are mixed, immediately there is a release of force.
Every letter of a mantra is like a particular chemical molecule, and when these molecules are mixed, immediately there is a reaction. There are contraries in chemical principles, and there are others which can combine without sudden reaction. The letters of a mantra are like chemical principles, which when chanted combine into a single force. The production of an effect from a recitation of a mantra may, to the surprise of the reciter himself, look quite different from the form and the nature of the mantra. For example, milk can become curd by an internal change of constitution, and the effect may look in its nature apparently quite different from the cause. The mantras were “seen” by a rishi (sage, seer of the truth) in their original forms—they are not just inventions of some mind. They are presided over by a power which is called a divinity or a devata, and there is also a rishi to whom the mantra was revealed.
There are three factors in every mantra. One is the Seer, called the rishi, the second is the deity or the potency inside called the devata, and the third is the energy that is automatically released by the combination of the letters in repetition. The mantra itself has a power of its own—that is one thing. The potency inside it, which is called the devata, is the second thing, and the thought of the Seer to whom it was revealed is the third thing. In the repetition of a mantra we always remember the rishi, just as when we read a book we acknowledge the author and pay a kind of reverence to him or her. Then we contemplate the potency behind the mantra, which is also the meditation on the devata, and then we chant the mantra.
Some of these mantras, though not all, are like dynamite. They can explode in our faces, or they can be used for good purposes if we know how to handle them. That is why the initiation aspect is very much emphasised in the recitation of a mantra—particularly certain types of vedic mantras and bija mantras in tantra. There are two kinds of mantras which require initiation with a great caution: the mantras of the Vedas, and the mantras of the tantra with bijas or symbols. The other mantras are not dangerous, and their results accrue only after a long time. When a particular mantra is repeated in these manners, there is an impact produced on a particular centre of thinking which is the chakra. The mantra has to be chosen for us according to the level of our thinking, because that mantra which we recite has an immediate connection with the chakra in which our minds are located at present. If we take up a higher mantra, it may not have any effect because we have not reached that stage. If the lower one is chosen, that might cause a descending to a lesser level. A proper prescription is therefore necessary. Therefore, both hatha and kundalini yoga combine these aspects of asana, bandha, mudra, pranayama and mantra japa for the rousing of the force within.
Sometimes it may so happen that the repetition of a mantra for a protracted period brings about certain experiences, primarily physical and physiological in the beginning, and later on certain psychic visions and sounds may occur. These experiences may come to the sadhaka as a kind of obstacle, because it is difficult to know what is happening. In certain of the yoga texts like the Svetasvatara Upanishad, we are told what experiences will follow through a methodical practice of these techniques. One of the precepts of yoga is that one should not pay attention to the experiences. The experiences are passing phases, and they are not proper objects of concentration. It is similar to the convalescing period of a patient, where the patient has different kinds of feelings on different days but they are all passages to normal health which will eventually come. Therefore we are not to concentrate our minds on these because tastes may change, feelings may differ, and so on. Likewise, the different experiences in these practices are passing transformations—physical, physiological and psychological. They should not be made objects of concentration, and the lights and the sounds are not to be thought about. Sometimes they may be pleasant and sometimes they may be disturbing, because this process of the release of energy is sometimes moving forwards, but then sometimes there may be a step backwards. This backward step is actually a tendency to go forward again with a greater jump.
There are moods of various kinds which may come upon the mind of a seeker due to the internal transformations that take place. One should not worry about these moods, because the external moods are nothing but the expressions of our internal feelings which rise primarily from the lowest recess, which in Sanskrit is called para. There are four stages of the manifestation of this mantra shakti or energy, and in Sanskrit they are called para, pasyanti, madhyama and vaikhari. Para means the supreme, unmanifest form, but we will not feel any apparent or tangible result when the effect is placed primarily on the para. It is difficult to say what these para, pasyanti, etc. really are. They are stages of the manifestation of this energy, and in the psychological language of modern times we may compare these stages to the unconscious level and its gradual manifestation step by step to the conscious level.