Mantra and Mind

Swami Satyananda Saraswati - Given at the Yoga Teachers Seminar, Collbato in August

In tantric philosophy, mantra is a force which can be used for the awakening of our spiritual consciousness. The basis of mantra is sound, which ranges from gross to subtle. Throughout the cosmos there are slow, medium and fast sound waves. The medium waves are perceptible to us, but the slow and fast waves are not. When the sound of mantra is produced, it has a medium range of frequency which is known as perceptible or gross sound. But when the mantra is silently intoned, it has a faster rate of frequency and becomes imperceptible or subtle sound.

Therefore, a mantra works on the earthly plane and also on the higher planes. When you produce a sound and accelerate the frequency, it affects the inner realm of consciousness. Just as when you pick up a pebble and throw it into a calm, quiet lake, the impact creates ripples and the ripples form circles which expand wider and wider according to the force and weight of the pebble. In the same way, when you repeat a mantra, the sound hits the homogeneity of consciousness and creates ripples which help to expand the mind.

The barrier

The mind has two ranges - individual and universal. In fact, in the whole universe there is only one mind, but this mind becomes individualised according to each separate circuit. For example, your mind and my mind are not two minds; our minds are different circuits of one mind. So the truth is that the individual mind is part of the homogeneous, universal mind. Therefore, individual mind can always be connected with the universal mind if we know how to do it. We must remember this as a law, for it is of utmost importance in spiritual life.

When we begin to practise mantra, we create vibrations in the outer mind. As the mind becomes calm, quiet and concentrated, these vibrations are transferred to the universal area of the mind. Then the barrier between the individual and universal mind is broken. Because of this barrier, our minds are cut off from one another; you don't know what I think and I don't know what you think. But when this barrier is broken, your mind and my mind become one mind.

The mind is a universal mother and its nature is that of the three gunas - sattwa (equilibrium), rajas (dynamism), and tamas (inertia). According to the manifestation of reality, mind is known as buddhi (discriminative intellect), chitta (mind contents), and ahamkara (ego).

We have always understood the mind as a process of thinking, but according to tantra, mind is not thought. Thoughts and feelings are expressions of the mind, and not the mind itself. Just as the waves of the ocean are an expression, a manifestation of the ocean; they are not the ocean. Thought and emotion are the vrittis (patterns) of the mind. Anger, passion, greed, jealousy, love, memory, judgment, are all patterns and not the mind.

Mind is homogeneous awareness, this awareness is twofold, external and internal. When you have sensual perceptions, then you know that the awareness is external. When you dissociate the mind from the senses, the awareness becomes internal. The mind can turn either way. When the mind becomes extrovert, it has the experiences of form, sound, touch, taste and smell through the five different sense organs. The sensual experience is the game of the mind.

If the mind is introverted, the senses are inert and lifeless. Then one does not hear, see, smell, speak or touch. This is called pratyahara. When the mind turns inwards, you approach the barrier and begin to see the cosmos, which is an infinite experience. It has no beginning and no end, no circumference and no centre.

We define awareness as external or internal; material or spiritual. The material awareness is an external experience of the mind. Spiritual awareness is an internal experience of the mind. When the mind has a barrier, it is limited to material experience, but when the barrier is broken, then it has spiritual experience. In yogic philosophy, this barrier is known as avidya (ignorance) or maya (illusion). By the practice of mantra this barrier is broken.

Formations of the mind

Every mantra has a specific sound. We do not know all the sounds, but we do know that there are certain sounds which are milder and others which are stronger. What happens when a sound is produced? Scientists have seen that the brain wave patterns are altered. Tantrics say that when a sound is produced, it alters the formations of the mind.

The mind is not one unit. Just as water is formed by the combination of hydrogen and oxygen, the mind is a combination of numerous formations. In yoga and tantra, these formations are known as samskaras. They are the residue of individual experience through many incarnations.

The mind works like a camera. Whatever has been known and experienced through the senses remains imprinted in the subliminal part of the mind. These impressions or formations are so numerous that you may never be able to know them all, and it is not easy to classify them. Some are weak and insignificant, while others have a powerful influence on the character, habits and nature. Some are casual and periodical, while others accompany you all the time.

It is understood that powerful thoughts like anger, passion, jealousy or fear come into the mind from time to time, but during meditation many insignificant thoughts keep coming and going. This happens because we have not cleaned the formations of the mind. That is why the first prerequisite to meditation is chitta shuddhi (mental purification). This should not be understood as a religious affair. Chitta shuddhi means fixing the formations of the mind. Otherwise, when you sit for meditation so many little thoughts constantly come into the mind, causing restlessness and disturbance. The practice of mantra is one of the best methods of chitta shuddhi, if it is done with awareness of all the thoughts that enter the mind as the mantra is being repeated.

The formations of the mind have three ranges - vikshepa (distraction), vikalpa (one-pointedness), and laya (total dissolution). The first range occurs when the mind is continually jumping from one point to another and is never constant. For example, when you are concentrating on the flame of a candle and a distracting thought passes through your mind, it is called vikshepa. This is one formation of the mind.

The second formation is called vikalpa. When you have established pratyahara, dissociated your mind from the senses, one-pointed awareness takes place. Then you begin to see visions. You may be concentrating on the flame of a lamp, but you begin to see the inner television! These psychic formations of the mind are called vikalpa, and they are extremely difficult to break. In dhyana yoga if a thought comes to your mind, you can definitely force it out by your own will. But when vikalpa comes, you are helpless. These are involuntary expressions of the psychic formations and you have no control over them. How are you going to destroy or fix these formations? Here the mantra will be very useful. Mantra is capable of destroying the psychic formations known as vikalpa. There is a third and powerful formation of the mind called laya which means dissolution, suspension. At that time the consciousness is completely eliminated and there is total shoonya (voidness). You have been concentrating on the flame of a lamp and suddenly everything is switched off; there is no flame, there is nothing, and you are totally helpless, lost. This is a very obstinate formation.

So there are three types of samskaras: distraction, psychic visions and suspension of consciousness. How are you going to free yourself from these formations? Mantra is a very valuable tool for this purpose. When you are practising mantra, it is absolutely necessary to use a mala. Mantra and mala together will fix the formations of the mind. For example, while practising Om, Om, Om, your mind suddenly drops and visions appear. The turning of the mala will interfere with the visions and revive your consciousness. It will reverse the process of mental awareness. This is the importance of mantra in relation to dhyana yoga and the awakening of spiritual consciousness.

Bija mantras

The bija (seed) mantras are very powerful sounds which have significant and instantaneous effects. There are millions of bija mantras, but we only know a few of them. Each bija mantra has its own element and each element is associated with a centre in the body. For example, Om belongs to ether, the most subtle element. The seat of ether is ajna chakra. Therefore, Om is the mantra of ajna and is considered to be the father, the most powerful of all bija mantras. Those who are serious seekers of the absolute reality use the mantra Om.

This is just one illustration of the bija mantra and its associated elements and chakras. In the same way, the bija mantra lam belongs to the earth element, the seat of mooladhara chakra. Vam belongs to the water element, swadhisthana chakra. Ram belongs to the fire element, manipura chakra. Yam belongs to the air element, anahata chakra. Ham belongs to the ether element, vishuddhi chakra.

Bija mantras are definitely a high potency dose. Those aspirants who have not fixed their mental formations should practise an ordinary mantra rather than a bija mantra. When you use a bija mantra the awakening of prana is uncontrollable. That is why so many people have experiences within the second day of practising the bija mantra.

Necessity of guru and practice

Mantra should be received from a guru. A book cannot determine the correct mantra for you. Just as a cartridge needs to be struck by the hammer of the gun in order to fire, so the mantra needs to be struck by the hammer of the guru in order to explode the consciousness. The relationship between the guru and disciple is only the mantra. When guru gives mantra to the aspirant, he becomes a disciple. One who is working with and developing the mantra is a disciple. With the help of the mantra, he is trying to fix the samskaras, the different formations of the mind.

The guru has to decide the mantra for you on the basis of your zodiac sign, temperament, illness, or spiritual path. After receiving the mantra from your guru, you must practise it every day for five to ten minutes. No matter how powerful your mantra is, unless you practise it, you will gain nothing.

The mantra has to be repeated thousands of times. In the beginning you repeat it on the audible plane. The vibrations are external and the effects are gross. But gradually, as your mind becomes quieter and quieter, the vibrations grow more powerful. The mantra then goes deeper into the consciousness, pierces through the conscious mind and the subconscious mind and penetrates into the unconscious mind. Once the mantra enters into the unconscious mind, it destroys all samskaras and mental formations. Therefore, the mantra must be repeated regularly with the mala. If your mantra is Om, practise five malas every day. If you don't have time in the morning, do it at night. Many householders never practise mantra at night because they are confused about certain taboos. They feel that it is not proper to practise mantra after maithuna, but according to tantra, the effect of mantra is far greater at this time. So if you have fixed five malas each night, you must do it. Regardless of what sort of life you lead, practise first and then sleep.

The mantra is a purifying force. Nothing in the world can pollute the mantra; nothing can make it impure. Mantra can purify all corruption. It is such a great purifier that no matter what you eat, how you live, what you think, or which religion you belong to, it will dominate and destroy all the samskaras. When the samskaras are destroyed and the veil is split asunder, you will see the divinity shining like the sun before you. What you have been searching for is not far away. There is only a veil between you and me, which has to be destroyed by the mantra shakti, mantra yoga. Om is the most powerful, the most benign of all the mantras.