Saturday, November 12, 2011

Mantra for Beginners -- I

Originally posted in 2011

Today I was reading a book on advanced techniques in Kundalini Yoga. When my son took that book I warned him that it is not for him now. Then I made a remark that even books on spirituality and religion should be marked for beginners, for Intermediate level and advanced level. This is done in all books on computer programming languages because an advanced level book will not make any sense to beginners and a book for beginners will sound silly for advanced programmers. He replied that it couldn't be done in spirituality and religion, as noone will accept that he is a beginner in religion or spirituality. 

Most of the books on religion and spirituality are written mainly for advanced level people. Namely renunciates and adepts. So adepts, renunciates and spiritually advanced people may find my messages silly.

Now that the statutory warning is given, here I go.

I was going through the messages on Mantra, gurus, Japa, Nama Japa over the last six months. I started wondering how come we all read the same books, but understand differently. Again how come great people like Swami Sivananda and others emphasize the role of the Guru and also say you can choose your mantra without a Guru? Om is a mantra, which every Hindu recites almost daily in one form or the other. My son when he was 3 years old used to call the priest in his Grandfather's house OM mama. (Om uncle) because most of the time he was reciting OM..... We have so many messages about its effect and whether you need a Guru. (I also sent a couple of IMs).

Then suddenly eureka! It struck me. The term Mantra means different things to different people. I will take an example. Mantra Yoga is sometimes seen as part of Nada Yoga. The effect of the Mantra is due to the effect of the sound produced. I do not think there is any difference of opinion about this. If this is so how does Nama japa work? Again the effect of sound. So where is the difference between Nama and Mantra. We talk about the effect of hymns and prayers. Again the effect of sound. There are many Hymns and prayers, which are considered Mantras. The entire Devi Mahatmyam is considered to be a single mantra or a garland of 700 mantras. The four Sthudhis (prayers) are considered to be mantras. In Soundharya Lahari every stanza is considered to be a mantra. In the Vishnu Sahashranama some of the verses used as mantras give certain effects like improving memory, .... etc. We used to recite these verses when we were young for improving our performance in examinations. Rama Nama is considered to be a great mantra. (Phalasthudhi of Vishnu Sahasranama ) Maharshi Valmikhi became a Maharshi by reciting Mara, Mara.

The entire Vedic recitation was considered mantra. We have marriage mantras, Upanayana mantras and mantras for all samskaras.

So all hymns, prayers, and Namas are also mantras. The common perception that only exoteric, Tantrik and Vedantic mantras are mantras is wrong.

Where does Mantra Sasthra fit in here? Mantra Sasthra also talks about mantras for getting powers other than spiritual. We are talking now only about mantras for spiritual advancement.

Once we accept that all these are mantras then we begin to understand Swami Sivananda.

It has always been difficult to get good Gurus. If everyone waited to get a Guru before taking the first steps towards spirituality, there will be very few spiritual people in the world. Since it is never too early to begin, we are taught hymns, prayers, Namas. It is not that you cannot achieve the Ultimate with these mantras. Swami Ramdass (sage of Kananghad) had only one mantra "Sri ram jai Ram Om". He spent years searching for a Guru. In the end his father initiated him into this mantra. Saint Chaithanya Maha Prabhu was an embodiment of the Krishna nama. Even In Vedanta philosophical truths like Tatwamasi and Aham Brahma Asmi are used as mantras.

How come we differentiate between Mantras, hymns, prayers, and Namas? Of course hymns and prayers are poetry. May be it is because Mantras other than Vedic mantras have come to be associated with Black Magic in the minds of the general public. In most of the Indian languages mantra means magic. In Tamil Tantra means trick. So may be people avoided using the term Mantra.

Hymns in Soundharya Lahari have their own separate Yantras and rituals which being purely Tantrik are difficult to learn without a proper guru. Vedic recitation is almost impossible without proper training under a Guru. But Rama Nama does not need a guru. So whether you need a Guru or not depends on the Mantra.

I will deal with Japa and meditation in my next post because here again we have a difference between common perception and actual practice.

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