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Total Thinking
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 6: Mantra Japa

This has reference to the great system of yoga known as japa—the chanting of a mantra, which is a principle method of religious practice in the various faiths of the world. While religions vary and differ from one another, in this one particular mode of practice they are almost the same. Every religion recommends and considers as primary the chanting of the Divine Name, the repetition of a formula or the recitation of what we know as a mantra. There is the Patra Nostra in Christian circles, and you must have seen clergymen tying a rosary around their waists even when they are walking about in public. A mala is held by a religious man, and the beads are rolled by any devotee exclusively dedicated to any particular faith.

The repetition of the Divine Name is known as mantra japa, and such a great gospel as the Bhagavadgita holds that among all the spiritual or religious sacrifices or sacraments, japa should be regarded as the most pre-eminent: yajñānāṁ japayajño'smi(B.G. 10.25). In the Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata there is a story of a devotee having taken to japa alone throughout his life, and he attained spiritual mastery. It is, therefore, not for nothing that it is said that japa is the foremost of religious practices. It includes within itself the principles of svadhyaya, sacred study, and even meditation. According to one of the sutras of Patanjali, svadhyaya also includes the chanting of Om, the recitation of a Divine Name.

It is a direct approach that we make to the divine principle when we take to japa yoga. The mantras, so-called, are the spiritual formulae into which one gets initiated by a superior; it is a potent magazine of energy. There are many things which are connected with the practice known as japa. The Sanskrit word ‘mantra' means a talismanic combination of letters which produce an effect of their
own when they are articulated in the requisite manner.

It is believed that mantras are not created; they are only visualised, and the seers of a mantra are known as mantra drastas. We do not say they are mantra kartas; a mantra is not manufactured or created by the intellectual operation of an individual. It is envisioned and seen as a force that is present, and is not created by any master. There is a seer, known as the rishi of a mantra. It is the tradition that when we take to the repetition of a mantra, the rishi should be remembered at the same time, just as when we read a book we also know the author thereof. The thought of the characteristics of the author has very much to do with the zeal with which we study the book, and the result it produces thereby. The mantra is not supposed to be suddenly chanted without obeisance offered to the great master who envisioned this mantra in his meditations.

The great system of religious practice known as Agama, sometimes also known as Tantra, says that every mantra has a deity. The deity is, properly speaking, a superintending divine principle which works at every juncture of the seer and the seen, the subject and the object, and determines the nature of every kind of perception or knowledge of objects. We are aware of the things of the world on account of the functioning of a deity. The Vedanta Shastra tells us that every limb of the body, every organ of perception, every sense of knowledge is controlled and directed by a deity. The presiding deity of the eye is Sun, or Surya, and there are other deities for the other senses, which means to say, the organs of cognition or perception in individuals are only external instruments which are pulled by the strings of the intentions of the deity that is above the operations of the senses. The deity is not merely above the senses of the individual, but is also far beyond the comprehension of this triad forming the perceptional process. The triad consists of the seer, the seeing and the seen. In a way, we may say what is called the seeing is the deity, yet it occupies a position which is superior to these processes known as seer, seen and seeing. The three appear to be a single compact process on account of the existence of a deity; so in every act of perception and even in thinking, a deity is operating, and a deity is one degree of the descent of God Himself into the realm of creation.

Thus, in the recitation of a mantra, we are invoking a god. This god, this deity, this principle superintending over the perceptional process is a force, something like a jetting light, with a form compatible with the nature of the perception or awareness at any given moment, degree or level of manifestation.

We have often been told that there are many gods. There is Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, Indra, Gopala, Krishna—endless gods. These are not many gods, really speaking. They are the many forms of control exercised by the one superintending, all-pervading principle in its entry into the process of the degrees of perception and experience through the levels of creation. There is a gradual descent from the Supreme Universality to the lowest of experiences, and in all these levels there is the presence of this principle of Universality, bringing together the two particulars of the seer and the object that is seen. Whatever be the degree of the descent and whatever be its density, even the lowest conceivable one, there is a deity superintending over the process of the seer coming in contact with the seen. Thus, in religion we seem to be worshipping many gods, while there are not many gods.

For instance, a hundred mirrors placed on the walls of this hall may produce a hundred varieties of reflections of a single object placed in the centre of the hall, according to the structure of the mirrors that are fixed on the walls and the variety of the reflections their structures produce, but these reflections cannot be regarded as representing different objects because there is only one object reflected through the various mirrors. And the reflections may not be of uniform character because the mirrors may be constructed in different ways—concave, convex, coloured, not coloured, etc., and there can even be broken mirrors. According to the nature of the particular structural pattern of the mirror, the reflection will be produced of one single object that is in the centre of the hall. Some such thing can be regarded as the explanation of the many gods in religion. They are the variegated reflections of a single entity of the all-pervading Universality made visible to us through the mirrors, which are of variegated types of our personality.

Now, coming to the point, the mantra is a vibration that is produced by this deity, and the vibration is, in a way, inseparable from the existence of the deity, as the light of the Sun can be said to be inseparable from the very being of the Sun himself. The vibration is an emanation from this deity, and sound is nothing but vibration. If a mantra can be identified with the form of a particular intonation or a sound produced in the sound box within us, it can, by a stretch of its logical limits, be considered as a vibration finally. A mantra, therefore, is not merely a sound, but it is a vibrational process, just as a sound that is projected into the microphone in a broadcasting station gets converted into a vibration through the ether of space and is transmitted to the receiver somewhere else, getting converted once again into a sound, though when it travelled through space it did not travel as sound but only as a vibration which could not, with any stretch of the imagination, be identified with the sound that we could hear with our ears. Electricity is not heat or cold, though it can appear as heat and cold. In a stove electricity is heat, in a refrigerator it is cold, and it can be motion when it is connected to a mechanism that moves. Just as electricity is not heat, cold or motion yet it can produce heat, cold or motion, a vibration is not a sound yet it can appear as a sound. It can even appear as a colour.

Thus, the mantra has a sound form and also a colour form. The colour form is the vision that we often have in deep concentration, and the sound form is what we inaudibly feel inside as the anahata shabda. It is not merely sound and colour; it can even be tangible. We can touch it. In fact, the sensation of touch that the fingers feel when they come in contact with a solid object is only an electrical repulsion that is produced, and there is no such thing as real touch. When the fingers come in contact with a hard object such as a cot, a table, a desk, etc., an electrical vibration of the repulsion of particles is produced. That is the sensation of touch that we feel. The object is really not solid and, therefore, the world is not there. The world does not exist; it is only a huge mass of vibrations. We seem to feel that the world is really there because of the tangibility of the so-called substances of the world, and tangibility is nothing but an electrical vibration that is produced which is comparable to the weight that we suddenly feel when we get an electric shock of some 300 volts of power.

If you like, you can conduct this experiment at your own risk. Touch a high voltage wire, 300 volts or so, not higher, else you may be burnt to ashes; immediately you will feel a sensation of a heavy weight on your hand. I myself had an experience of this kind. By mistake I touched a live wire, and it gave such a shock that I felt as if a heavy stone was hanging on my hand. There was no stone or anything; it was only a feeling of the nerves. The feeling of the nerves can be of a tangible, visible, solid, heavy object, while the object is not there at all. You can hit your head against a hard wall in dream, and bleed. Is there a wall, really? If you can bleed and feel real pain by hitting your head against a wall that is not there, why should you not be under a delusion that the world is there when it is really not there?

I am digressing as a sort of side-answer to a question raised, whether the world is real or not. It is not real, and it is just not there, though it appears to be there because of the vibrations impinging upon our personality which take the form of colour, sound, tangibility, taste, etc. Even taste is an illusion. There is no such thing as taste. It is, again, an electrical vibration produced by the contact of certain taste buds on the tongue when a particular object emanating a particular shape of vibration comes in contact with it. The whole universe is electrical vibration, and solid objects do not exist.

The mantra is similar in its form. It is a bundle of vibrations. It is a concrescence, a concretisation, a coming together, a pressurised point of a stress subtler than electricity, a prana shakti manifesting itself as a visible object to the percipient consciousness. This is the deity ramifying its rays as vision, as sound, as olfactory experience, as taste, as touch, etc. In deep meditation we will have all these experiences, such as the fragrance of a jasmine flower, the touch of a soft object, the taste of honey, and many other things. There is neither honey nor a soft object, nothing of the kind. The vibrations become subtler and subtler as we concentrate more and more, deeper and deeper. Then the conditioning factors which separated us from the world outside gradually get thinned out, and we seem to be slowly entering into the nature of things on account of the concentration we are practising.

The mantra is a vibration, and the deity of the mantra is also a type of vibration, but it is superior in its intensity and subtlety to the two bundles of vibration appearing as the seer and the seen. As waves in the ocean dash against one another, the seer and the seen collide in perception. Every perception or experience in this world is a collision of two bundles of force. We are not persons; we are only heaps of energy thrust into a particular point in space due to an intensity of desire arising at a particular point, though nobody can understand why desire arose at all. Kāmas tad agre sam avartatādhi says the Nasadiya Sukta of the Vedas: Originally there was a Desire, a Cosmic Will. That is all we can say about the nature of the origin of desire. We are not competent to say anything further about it.

This desire, originally universal and comprehensive in its nature, gets concretised and pinpointed at points of space as individuals, and the One appearing as the many is nothing but the one mass of energy getting pressurised at different points in what is called the space-time continuum. So we are pressure points in space-time; we are not persons seated here. This is, again, an answer to the question whether the world is real or not. It is not real. Pressure points cannot be regarded as objects, so we are not here as persons. We are bundles of delusion, that is all.

After this little digression, again I come to the point of mantra japa. When you recite the mantra, chant a formula, you try to break this pressure point, this concrescence of energy, and act almost in a similar manner as a physicist would do when he bombards an atom to release energy. The particular atom that is capable of releasing energy when bombarded is a hidden potentiality, as every one of us also is. It is a sleeping bundle of strength. It sleeps because of a peculiar ego centre that is present in it, sometimes capable of identification with what scientists call a proton or a neutron, etc. A centre of cohesion is present in atoms. That centre of cohesion, which brings all the particles around it into a single unitary structure, is the ego; that is present in the atom, and it is also present in us. We also have a proton inside us, which is the ego in us, and all the other things that appear around us are the huge movement of the electronic particles constituting our so-called body. If the atom is not real, and it is only a bundle of electric energy, we are also not real, we are just that—then the world also does not exist.

So when we chant the mantra, we are trying to release the potential energy of the atom of our personality by bombarding it with concentration. Then the deity releases its blessing, which means to say, the superintending, transcendent aspect of the deity becomes an immanent force in our own experience. The transcendent God becomes an immanent presence. That is the vision of God that we have in meditation: the transcendence becoming an immanence. The deity that is above us becomes an object of cognition and perception in front of us.

This much I can tell you today about the deity of a mantra, apart from the force generated by the contemplation on the rishi, or the author of the mantra, whose blessing automatically descends upon us by the very thought of him entertained in our mind. When I deeply think of you, your goodwill emanates towards me; likewise, when we think of a great author such as Vyasa, Valmiki, Vasishtha, or a great sage, saint, incarnation, and deeply feel the form of his presence, we draw sustenance from the grace emanating from him by the very thought of him, because a thought of an object is nothing but a contact established with that object. We draw energy from that object. That is the great blessing we have by the invocation of the presence of the rishi of the mantra and the simultaneous contemplation on the deity of the mantra.

Apart from the rishi and the deity, or the devata, there is another factor in chanting a mantra, which is the chhandas. The chhandas is the metre in which the mantra is composed. There is a science in India called Gana Shastra, which is almost dead these days. Some rhetoricians in the Sanskrit language are acquainted with it, but these days no one wants to learn Sanskrit. They think it is a dead, old grandmother's language; very unfortunate is this view of the value of Sanskrit.

There are certain branches of learning called the Vedangas. Many of you might not have even heard what these are. One of the branches of this learning connected with the Veda is known as Shiksha, or the method of pronunciation, the philological system which is the intonation and the peculiar juxtaposition of the letters of a mantra when it is chanted. Here is a very important point while chanting a mantra. We should not repeat a mantra in a haphazard manner. Though we may be pronouncing the letters in an appreciably satisfactory manner, we may not be able to juxtapose the letters properly. Then they will not produce the proper effect.

When we utter a word, there should not be a long pause between one syllable and another syllable. If the notes in music are not flowing, the sound will not be music. A musical intonation or performance is a continuity maintained by the various sounds produced by the instrument; otherwise, there will be a twang of one string on a particular instrument and another twang after ten minutes, and that would not be music. The word Narayanaya—suppose we say ‘Na', and then after a few minutes we say ‘ra'; that is not the way of chanting the mantra. I am giving an example of what juxtaposition means. The proper duration must be maintained in the chanting of the letters of a mantra; otherwise, the chemical effect produced by the coming together of the letters will not be there. And the proportion is very important in the chanting of the mantra. It is more so in Veda mantras, where the science is more rigid.

Therefore, the chhandas is the metre of the mantra, as there are metres in a poem, for instance. If we want to know in what metre a poem is written, we must recite it as would be required by the system of the metre, else it would look like prose and it would not be a poem. Thus is the special effect produced by the repetition of a mantra with the proper juxtaposition of the letters of which it is composed, which is the third effect produced by it. Rishi, devata and chhandas—and the fourth effect is the force of our own zeal, ardour, and affection for it.

Then there is the grace of the Guru, the power of the will of the master who has initiated us into the mantra. All these come together in the production of the required effect of the chanting. Thus, there is a fivefold force present in any particular mantra when it is properly recited. Hence, the potency of the mantra is very obvious. Why should it not contribute to world peace? Certainly it will. But all these conditions are to be fulfilled; otherwise, it will be a mechanised routine.

There are other necessary conditions imposed upon the practicant of japa yoga, namely, the system of discipline maintained every day. We can chant the mantra even when we are walking on the road, but that would be something like taking our lunch when we are walking on the road. We can take our breakfast and lunch even while strolling, no doubt, but that is not the way of eating, as we know very well. We should eat by sitting to give respect to the food, and only then will the food be absorbed into our system and its intake be effective. Similarly, while we can repeat the mantra wherever we are and at any time of the day, it has a special effect when it is concentratedly chanted with the discipline characteristic of any yogic practice. There is no objection to our reciting a mantra at all times of the day, even when we are taking a bath, but it is essential to devotedly practise it by being seated, especially at the same hour every day. Everything in the universe moves in a cycle; even hunger is manifest in us with a cyclic effect. At a particular hour of the day we feel hungry, and not at every moment of time. If we are used to taking our meal at noon, we will find that at noon the gastric juices will slowly ooze out, and after two hours they will stop functioning. We will have no hunger after a couple of hours. There is the conditioned reflex of everything functioning in the bodily system as well as in the psychic realm, and we have to take advantage of it in order to reap the benefit of the practice.

It is not desirable that the seat of the practicant should go on changing every day. It should be the same seat as far as possible, because even the seat produces a vibration due to our sitting there. The time is more important than even the seat. Because of the cyclic way in which nature works, a particular atmosphere is created at that particular hour. That is why we celebrate the birthday of a person, for instance, on the same day every year and not on some other day. There is an astronomical cyclic effect produced by the activity of nature.

The same time is to be maintained, the same seat, and the same posture. All these contribute to the effect of the chanting. There should also be the same method of concentration. The same mantra is to be chanted, and it is not supposed to be changed. Once we are initiated into a particular mantra by our superior, that has to be stuck to under any circumstance. The mantra should not be changed, because a change in the mantra would be like completely changing the diet every day and spoiling the stomach. The same mantra should continue, and then the desired result follows. Even the Guru should not be changed. Once we take to one Guru, he is our Guru forever. Even if he may appear to be lesser than another that we have seen sometime later, the original Guru cannot be left behind; he cannot be abandoned as inferior.

Mantras as vibrations can reach distant areas or regions of space. A vibration is not in space and not in time; electric energy is superior to the space-time complex. Scientists tell us that space-time itself is a mass of energy, so we cannot say that this energy is inside space and time. It is something different and superior to our notions of space-time dimensions. This energy is not a three-dimensional something. At best we may say it is four-dimensional or multi-dimensional. Hence, the vibration produced by the repetition of a mantra is superior to the spatial distance of things, and so we can come in contact with any desired object by focusing attention on the mantra by means of the japa of the same. The vibration is the spirit of the mantra, and the spirit of anything is transcendent to the spatial form taken by the particular object enshrining the force.

There is a system, in India especially, known as purascharana of a mantra, which has a greater effect than the usual chanting of it. The belief is that the mantra should be chanted as many times as there are letters, in lakhs of numbers. A lakh is one hundred thousand. The recitation of a mantra, as many lakhs of times as there are letters in the mantra, systematically with the discipline mentioned, is said to be one purascharana; and every purascharana that is completed is said to break one knot of our bondage. Some say there are three knots, some say there are seven knots, and so on. However many there are, the knots which tie us down to earthly experience will be broken open by the performance of purascharanas. There is a great saint and sage in Haridwar who has performed twenty-four Gayatri purascharanas. He is a great saint and sage, and a very unassuming, unostentatious sadhaka. The Gayatri mantra contains twenty-four letters, and he had to perform twenty-four lakhs of recitation of this lengthy mantra to complete one purascharana, and he has completed twenty-four purascharanas. How many years he has taken, God only knows. He must have spent all his time in doing only this. Then you yourself become the mantra shakti. You do not anymore remain as a sadhaka. You are an embodiment of the deity—a force, a strength, a power, and a fire, as it were. Such is the mystery of mantra japa.

When we write the mantra, naturally we are concentrating on these ideals behind the mantra. Why Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj and saints of this kind insisted on the writing of the mantra, in addition to the chanting of it as japa, is because while in mere chanting the mind can wander here and there, in writing there is less chance of the mind wandering. Because we have to write, the mind has to be concentrating on the formation of the letters. Hence, as there is a compulsion to concentrate in a more intense degree in writing the mantra than while merely chanting it, especially mentally, Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj has prescribed the writing of a mantra as a very potent method of sadhana.

Thus, under the circumstances of these implications of the recitation of a mantra, we may safely say that a mantra chanted, whether in the mind or by the formation of a sound, and even in writing, will have the desired effect. It shall bring about peace of mind within oneself and create in oneself a spiritual force, and certainly contribute to world peace.