Power of Mantra

Dr. Swami Karmananda Saraswati, MB. BS (Syd)

Initiation into a personal mantra by a satguru is considered the foundation stone of spiritual life and serves as the portal or entrance into higher yogic sadhana. Daily practice of mantra repetition (japa yoga) is an indispensable step for psychic and spiritual purification. It is prescribed by teachers in all spiritual traditions as the safest, easiest and best means of systematically overhauling the patterns of consciousness in order to awaken higher experience and to sustain a higher voltage of energy in the human nervous system. Saints and enlightened beings from every spiritual tradition have attested that mantra has carried them to their elevated state.

Mantra is a most effective means of developing a platform of 'witness awareness' where the aspirant can watch the different thoughts, feelings, and sensations of the body/mind complex as they occur while remaining partially unidentified with these phenomena. This is the first stage in elevation of the consciousness beyond its habitual state of intoxicated identification with mental ideas and sensual experiences. Practising japa steadfastly and regularly is the best way to come to the realisation that 'I am not the body or the mind; I am the witness of these phenomena.' In japa yoga there is a continued rotation of consciousness cantered on the mantra so that the mind slowly and effortlessly enters a state of relaxed and concentrated awareness.

Four stages of mantra awareness

Japa can be practised in many ways. One of the best and simplest is repetition of the mantra using a mala. Hero a fixed number of rounds of the mala are undertaken each day as instructed by the guru. This sadhana is known as japa anushthana, where the aspirant makes a resolve to complete the required number of rounds each day.

Repetition of the mantra can initially be aloud (baikhari). This is especially useful in stabilising the patterns of consciousness when the mind is disturbed or highly distracted. The next stage is upanshu, or whispered repetition. The most powerful and subtle form of mantra repetition is on the mental plane - manasik japa. This is the form which is being widely investigated for its physiological and psychological effects in many laboratories around the world today.

Another form of mantra repetition is synchronisation of the mantra with the inflowing and out flowing breath. Here consciousness, in the form of the mantra, is rotated in one of the psychic-passages, initially between the navel and the throat centres in the front of the body. As the practice is developed, the spinal psychic passage from mooladhara up to ajna is utilised. Perfection of this form of japa is an essential prerequisite for advanced kriya yoga sadhana.

The fruit of extended and faithful japa sadhana is the experience of ajapa japa, the state where the purified consciousness begins to reverberate with the mantra spontaneously throughout waking, sleeping and dreaming states. Then there is no time when mantra awareness is absent from the field of consciousness, not only in meditation but in the midst of daily activities, dreams and also sleep. In that exalted state of awareness, all life activities become meditation, and the conventional barriers between waking, dreaming and deep sleep states dissolve to make way for a unified state of conscious awareness based upon the mantra itself. Such is the power of the mantra!

Obtaining a suitable mantra

According to mantra shastra there are many mantras, each with a different purpose. Specific mantras can be used to bring about all kinds of results, both material and spiritual. For this reason, no mantra should be treated lightly, and mantra sadhana should be undertaken only for a clearly defined purpose under the guidance of a guru.

Some mantras are universal, for example Om (the source of all mantras), Soham (the mantra of the natural breath) and Gayatri mantra. These mantras can be used beneficially by everybody. However, a suitable personal mantra, which unlocks the inner nature and psychic personality and rapidly expands the awareness, may be given by a satguru to a sincere disciple. Such a mantra possesses great power when it comes from a master who has mantra siddhi, or knowledge of mantra science.

That knowledge enables the guru to perceive the overall psychic and psychological characteristics of each aspirant and also the difficulties which he must confront and overcome in spiritual life. Acting upon this inner vision, the guru prescribes a particular mantra to help the aspirant evolve beyond those blockages.

An effective therapy

While mantra has been the vehicle for realisation for thousands of years in the various spiritual and religious traditions of the world, it is only in very recent years that it has been investigated scientifically. Mantra repetition has been found to profoundly alter the type and intensity of the brain waves, and to initiate profound changes in the physiological systems of the body.

Research studies have revealed that daily practice of japa yoga improves cardiac output and respiratory efficiency, lowers blood pressure, enhances alpha brain wave activity, and lowers serum cholesterol levels and levels of stress hormones such as lactate, cortisol and adrenaline in the bloodstream. These effects have led medical researchers to conduct further studies in which patients suffering from various disease conditions have been found to respond very favourably to japa yoga. In addition, psychologists have noted improved scores in parameters of emotional stability; anxiety and neuroticism indices; memory and concentration power; and antisocial, addictive, delinquent and criminal behaviours.

In all respects it would appear that both medicine and psychiatry stand to gain much from japa yoga in the form of a useful therapy for mental and physical diseases. Not surprisingly, research is continuing in an effort to unlock further yogic secrets which will aid and alleviate the myriad psychosomatic diseases developing in epidemic proportions as man accelerates into a modern stress filled lifestyle of increasing material affluence but devoid of spiritual knowledge or purpose.

Demystifying the mantra

Some research workers are now attempting to demystify this healing science of mantra yoga. For example, the studies of Benson and Carrington*1, *2 have trial to standardise mantra meditation and eliminate the mysterious or 'cultic' elements. In Benson's adapted technique, subjects silently repeat the word 'one' while breathing in, 'one'... out, and so on. Similarly, in Carrington's clinically standardised meditation practice, a sound is selected from a list and repeated mentally. In this way, the workers hope to replace the mantras received during initiation from the guru, with more pragmatic and quantifiable words and sounds.

Unfortunately these workers, in spite of their eminence in research circles, have a fragmentary knowledge of the structure of the mind as a whole, and of the means of transformation of consciousness. What they interpret as mysterious or 'cultic' elements of mantra science, such as the names of the Hindu deities, etc., have to be understood first of all, before they can be dismissed as irrelevant. Is it not always true that we shy away from what we do not understand, interpreting it as needlessly cultic or mystical?

Whether a mantra is a 'mystic' Sanskrit formula or the name of a Hindu deity is irrelevant; its real value is that it possesses the correct combination and order of sounds and vibrations to unlock the repressed material from within the brain, much like the correct key opens a lock. Only then can the unconscious mind be exploded and our limitations be known and transcended. Mantra is not a religious practice in the sense that western scientists know and experience religion in their own cultures. Rather, it is a science, realised and formulated by the greatest scientists who ever lived - the rishis and gurus. They constructed the religion on a perfectly scientific basis. That is how the deities and their names, forms and characteristics have evolved in the first place.

The deeper layers of mind are not rational. The vast unexplored labyrinths of the subconscious and unconscious mind cannot be plumbed or exposed by purely intellectual or objective means. It is a world where symbolism, colour and sound vibrations are the matrices, and it can only be unlocked by the correct focusing of awareness into the deeper realms of consciousness. The mantra is the vehicle to short circuit the rational and intellectual processes which act as hindrances on the surface of the mind, when we wish to direct the full force of consciousness inwards towards the source.

In order to dive into the deeper levels of consciousness, it is not sufficient to repeat 'one, one, one' or 'tree, tree, tree' or some other 'demystified' syllable devised by psychologists as suitable replacements for the 'cultic' Hindu mantras. Mantra is undoubtedly the best and safest way to systematically unleash the dormant powers underlying individual consciousness. But it must be correctly prescribed, just as a medicine must be correctly prescribed. Atropine will help a sufferer from asthma but is surely poison for a sufferer from tachycardia (accelerated heart rate). All mantras are not the same, just as all individuals are not the same.

Each of us has an individual personality which can only be unlocked by using the correct key. A person who has deep subconscious fears and inadequacies needs one mantra while another who is arrogant, aggressive and angry needs a different mantra altogether. The mantras and the qualities of their deities have specific actions on particular psychological makeup. It is perfectly scientific. The deities have no independent existence except as mediums by which limited individuals can channel their consciousness beyond their own egotistical ideals and notions which constitute the only real barriers to enlightenment and health.

Scientists who are in such a hurry to 'extract the essence' of the yogic techniques, which have now been widely shown to cure mental aberrations and physical diseases, and present them in a simplified way, devoid of religious and cultic overtones, are doing a great disservice to mankind. They are showing that they are not scientists in the truest sense of the term, in spite of their qualifications and pre-eminence.

In yogic terms, a scientist is one who possesses a free, open and enquiring mind. He seeks to know the truth and is able to control and direct his awareness both subjectively and objectively without fear. He must have faith in his own capacities to glimpse and extract the essence of truth and separate it from what is essentially meaningless or ineffectual. It is with this spirit that modern scientists should throw themselves heart and soul into a study, investigation and experience of mantra yoga. They must themselves become Sadhakas, surrender their egos and preconceptions and undertake yogic sadhana under a qualified guru.

In this way they will experience the truth directly and emerge with true wisdom and understanding. It is not sufficient to discuss yoga practices intellectually. To understand the power of mantra in overhauling the consciousness, it must be experienced by daily practice. Otherwise these researchers will remain ignorant and will distil a watered-down psychological parody of the liberating science of yoga for those suffering millions who look to them in all good faith for guidance and liberation from physical diseases and mental torment. The choice is theirs alone.


*1. H. Benson et al., 'Stress and hypertension: Interrelations and management', G. Onesti and A.M. Brest (Eds,), Hypertension: Mechanisms, Diagnosis and Treatment, Davis, 1978, pp. 113-124.
*2. P. Garrington et al., 'The use of meditation-relaxation techniques for the management of stress in a working population, J. Occup. Med., 22 (4), 1980.