Satsang with Swami Niranjan

From satsangs given by Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati at Ganga Darshan, 1986-89

What is the story behind Vaishna Devi and is it one of the sixty-four Shakti Peethas?

The sixty-four peethas of Shakti originated from a mythological story about Sati and her death in the ceremonial fire of her father, the dance of Shiva and the ultimate chopping-up of Sati's body by Vishnu. Where the different parts of her body are supposed to have fallen have become, the Shakti Peethas.

There is one Shakti Peetha in Munger, Chandisthan, where mythologically they say the eye of Shakti fell. In the small rock temple is just one eye in the rock face. The former image has been made beautiful by gold plate but was originally just a simple carving in the rock.

Many sadhaks in the past have experienced the presence of shakti in that spot, including our guru, but concerning Vaishna Devi, the mythological story is different. It is not one of the sixty-four Shakti Peethas. One sadhu tried to test the Shakti, the universal female principle. Becoming angry she left that place and hid in a cave. The sadhak searched all over the place but could not find that particular manifestation.

Then one night while he was sleeping he had a vision that she was hiding in a cave. So he started searching the caves until he reached the cave of Vaishna Devi. After he had pleased her with his worship she granted him the boon that she would remain in that cave as an energy force. That is the concept or story behind Vaishna Devi.

There are many mythological stories like this. Someone has an experience of the divine manifestation of energy and where that energy has been made manifest to them, in whatever form it may be, becomes a siddha sthan or perfect place. It is not necessary for any kind of idol or statue to be there. There is just the awareness of a presence, a power, or shakti.

Why do devotees, especially women, fall in love with their gurus? I have seen this happen even when the guru is female.

That's fine, and what is wrong with it if the guru is female? According to the laws of Nature and of God, the Shakti aspect or energy is always a more sensitive and receptive energy than the Shiva energy which is a more stable and objective energy. The Shakti energy being more subjective can attach itself to any of the experiences of life very easily.

We can look at this from two angles. If we consider Shakti and all its manifestations from unmanifest to manifest in relation to the chakras, then every chakra is actually an attachment of the Shakti. In the process of its evolution it experienced the form of the ether element, air element, fire, water, earth or mind element. Wherever the Shakti stopped to experience, that became the state of an element. Shiva, on the other hand, does not move around and is totally detached.

This Shakti energy manifests more in a female than a male. Therefore we find that females are more sensitive and in many ways more determined and sincere than their male counterparts when it comes to any kind of attachment. It is a very great quality, a very high state of the energy, and shows that the mind and consciousness can mould itself into any form, can experience every kind of situation with much case. Spiritually or psychically it is a plus point.

We should be attached to the guru because it is only through attachment, being transformed from emotional to psychic attachment, that we can communicate internally with the guru. Consider the following experiment carried out in one of the submarines of the Russian navy. They took some baby rabbits in a submarine three thousand miles from their mother who remained on land hooked up to electrodes. At a given time the sailors started to kill the baby rabbits inside the submarine. During the killing the mother three thousand miles away showed an anxiety pattern. The brainwave patterns changed. Now, rabbits cannot think, but there is some link which cannot be rationally explained.

We can create a form of communication with a person who is miles away, on an intuitive or vibratory dimension, and this is ultimately what spiritual aspirants have to develop in order to communicate with the guru, no matter where they are. If we create this kind of an attachment which works on the psychic plane, then why can we not also have an attachment which is very much physical? It is simply an extension of the psychic attachment.

Do spiritual guides or what they call in India 'kula devata', actually exist?

Yes, they do. This tradition is lost in many countries but in India we know them as kula devata. 'Devata' actually means 'that which is illumined' but it is also translated as 'divinity' or 'divine being'. In India this tradition is still alive and in some places it is very active, but due to the influence of modern Western culture the new generation has lost touch with it.

Kula devata is considered to be the family deity or the deity of the tribe or community, and certain places are dedicated to particular deities. The deity or Munger for example is Chandi. There is a temple very near the ashram which is nothing but a small rock cave. Nobody has tried to make a statue there with chisel and hammer, in all the old government books and scriptures the reference is clear about Chandi. Similarly, we have different deities for various other places.

The spiritual force in these places is believed to be guiding the people towards right action and right thinking; because we also believe that the human being is very intelligent and that this intelligence can become perverted. He can become a devil, because after all, all devils are geniuses - certainly! These spiritual powers or deities guide a person so that he can put an end to his devilish works. And these spiritual guides, invisible as they may be, are called 'helpers'. They can give help from time to time. I do not say 'every' time, because after all there are laws of nature which control karma. In India, when there are problems in the family which the mind cannot tackle and which we cannot even understand, we try to attune ourselves to these protecting spiritual forces.

Sometimes we do not even know who to approach because a lot of confusion has been created by various religious orders in this country. And no wonder because it accepts every religious philosophy. Now one sector says, 'There is only one God. Do not worship anyone else. Destroy this statue, this temple and that holy place. No, no, no - God has no form, no place, no name!' And there are religious institutions not only in India but everywhere which talk about an exclusive theory regarding God. Of course, we also say that God is one and everywhere, but at the same time we talk about the lower hierarchy, the devas or illumined beings whose existence does not contradict the non-duality theory of God.

These hierarchies or transcendental forces are much higher than ourselves and they do exist Sometimes there is confusion: When God is one why worship Shiva; why worship Buddha or Vishnu; why go to this or that temple? There has to be no form. These confusions are caused by certain theological traditions which some times become so strong that many people cannot take proper advantage of these protective forces.

Swamiji once told us that when he was about ten years old he visited his village and, one evening his grandmother gave him a bunch of flowers, mustard oil in a small tin, a pot of milk, and asked him to go to a small house, inside which were some little statues. They were symbols of the deity protecting the land, because his family were all agriculturists. Swamiji did not understand what his grandmother was talking about because he used to study in a convent, perhaps the place where we learn least about spiritual life. He could read the Bible certainly but he learned very little concerning the complexities of spiritual life and the universe.

So, he went halfway to the shrine, threw the mustard seed oil somewhere and the flowers somewhere else and come back. She did not question him. Years passed and that particular incident was always alive in his mind. How intelligent that lady was who had seen a magnetic or spiritual force in those seemingly inert statues. She could feel that in them was the protector of the land of which she was the owner, while an educated boy studying in a convent, talking English, science, biology, theology, did not even understand that matter was not matter.

So these are the things which we call 'invisible', Theosophists call them invisible helpers' or 'guardian angels'; we in India call them 'kula devata'. They protect the community, tribe or family, and whenever a child, is born, a marriage takes place or an auspicious function is performed, the first thing; is to pay reverence to the deity. Only then can the rituals, marriage ceremonies or other events start.

We are told that God has no form and that truly enlightened saints do not believe in the concept of devi and devata apart from the 'One'. Then where do these mandalas like Shiva, Krishna, Durga, Kali etc., come in?

Very few have had the privilege of experiencing God directly, perhaps one in a billion or trillion, or maybe one in thousands of generations, but the concept or idea of God has always fascinated everyone We all believe in 'It'. I am using the word 'It' and not the word 'He' or 'She'.

In yoga, God is a name given to a power which stands for creation, preservation, and destruction. Those who have experienced God have first developed a transcendental frame of mind, because God is something which we cannot experience through the senses. It is a transcendental experience which cannot be explained by words and which cannot he drawn as a recognisable figure. However, the enlightened ones, in order to give a basis for the mental and emotional concentration of the ordinary unenlightened man, have given a form, symbol or identity to the concept of God.

Some have given the form of Brahma, some of Vishnu, Shiva, Durga or Kali - you know thirty-six thousand gods and goddesses exist in India, and they are only manifestations or symbols of the one energy or power. I may believe in any one form; you may believe in any other form, but some form is necessary in order to concentrate the mind and direct the emotions. The Indian concept of the Trinity is Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva - Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver and Shiva the destroyer. Then there is Krishna, Rama, Indra, Laxmi, etc., different manifestations or symbols for the one underlying principle. It is a matter of personal choice and temperament. That is my personal affair or your personal affair.

I do not know that you can say enlightened people do not believe in God; because their concept of God is different from our concept. We are trying to fit their concept into ours, and this is not possible. The following story will illustrate this: There was a very big scientist who, for the benefit of sciences wanted to record the taste of cyanide poison. Knowing that after tasting it he would die, he sat down at his desk with pen and paper in one hand and a glass of cyanide in the other. He drank and quietly wrote 'S....' and fell down dead. Now, some believe he meant to write 'Sour', some 'Salty' and some 'Sweet', but the actual taste only he knew, and the same applies to realised souls and their experience of God - it cannot be conveyed to others.

Why do the devi and devata have so many arms and heads?

In the Indian tradition the concept of devi and devata is very hard, to understand because most of the deities have been symbolised as having many, many heads and arms. It is a symbolic representation of different dualities which control the different aspects of human life - the vrittis, the gunas, Nature.

Durga has thirty-two hands, sixteen on each side. Is it possible for a human being to have so many hands? Ravana is depicted with ten heads. Is it possible? No bed would be big enough for such a person. It is just a symbolic representation of the negative and positive aspects of human nature.

In order to understand this you will have to go deeply into the study of the tantras. Only then will you really be able to grasp the meaning of devi and devata.

Kindly help us understand the basis of giving specific mantras, and give details on the use of mantras corresponding to the zodiac signs.

It may not be possible to understand the details of the mantras because mantras go beyond the limits of rationality. The traditional concept is that mantras are composed of sound vibrations which influence and alter the performance and activity of psychic centres within the body, both gross and subtle.

When we repeat a mantra intellectually we are trying to understand its meaning or get the feel of it, but psychically something else is happening. For example, take the mantra 'Om Namah Shivaya'. Intellectually we think that it is the mantra of Shiva, and we have the concept of Shiva as a deity who lives on Mount Kailash, smears ashes all over the body, and is entwined with snakes. From the religious point of view we may consider that the mantra 'Om Namah Shivaya' is a prayer to Shiva - 'I bow down to Shiva'. However, psychically, the mantra, which is composed of different sound syllables or vibrations, acts within the psychic personality beyond the limits of rationality and the stimulation of the different chakras. Later it is experienced in the form of enhanced mental and psychic perception. Attainment of concentration, willpower, one-pointedness and clarity of mind, are the fruits of mantra sadhana and these are the symptoms of a well-balanced and integrated mind and psychic personality.

Each sign of the zodiac has a variety of combinations of mantras. According to our personality, we require a particular mantra for its development and evolution. There are two kinds of mantra. One is universal mantra and the other is private mantra. Universal mantra is one which can raise the level of consciousness among different personalities despite their differences. Private or individual mantras can bring about certain changes according to personality type, and can in turn be classified into two - one which can change according to the requirements of life and the other which does not change - the psychic mantra.

There are many, many mantras, because the whole system of the human personality is based on different sound frequencies. Sound is being created all the time within the body and mind. Wherever there is movement there is sound, whether audible or inaudible. For example, simply moving the hand creates a very subtle sound which we cannot hear. The thinking process also creates sound according to yoga. Any type of mental activity creates sound frequency.

This is the concept of nada, bindu and kalaa, 'Nada' means 'vibration', 'bindu' means 'toured or 'starring-point', and 'kalaa' means 'manifestation'. These are yogic concepts which define the principles of existence. There is the sourer, origin or beginning, and whatever has a beginning also has an end - bindu, and this contains microcosmic and macrocosmic awareness. When you are at a distance from bindu it looks like a small dot and when you are within the bindu it is infinite. So the experience of both the microcosm and macrocosm are taking place in the one bindu.

Kalaa is manifestation, creation, the law of Nature, or you can even say 'spiritual physics'. Wherever there is creation, movement, interaction of elements, or mind, of something external with something internal, there is bound to be nada - sound vibration, and mantras are representatives of this nada. There are thousands and thousands of mantras and it is not possible to classify them all saying they belong to a particular zodiac sign or a particular kind of personality. It is just the understanding of an individual which can give initiation into mantra and therefore it is always said that mantra should only be taken, from a guru who can understand the complexity of mantra science and of each and every individual who comes to him seeking a mantra.

I am interested in the different effects of doing likhit on a mantra and drawing the yantra of the mantra. Is it more powerful to draw the yantra of the mantra and why are red or green inks used for likhit japa?

You have to understand likhit or written japa by first studying some books on the subject of mantra. In brief, there are various ways of repeating one's mantra - verbal, whispered, mental, written or chanted in the form of kirtan and bhajan. These are the five recognised forms.

In meditation, in order to develop the psyche, we use the first three - verbal, whispered and mental. When we want to influence or alter our emotional personality, mantra is used in the form of chanting - kirtans, bhajans and so forth. And when we wish to change the intellectual personality without going into a meditative state, we are required to concentrate our dissipated mind, so then the mantras are written. Regarding the colour of the ink, it can be any colour. Traditionally only two colours were available, red and green, and maybe a third one, yellow. They were made from flowers, leaves and the barks of trees, because in those days they did not have chemicals or ink factories. They just had to use whatever natural materials were available.

Yantras are symbols of the psychic mind, and if you concentrate on or simply observe a yantra placed beside you in your room, it tends to harmonise your energies, and the members of your family as well. So, doing likhit japa on the figure of a yantra is also conducive to the channelling of positive forces.

One Swiss doctor experimented with yantras on young children in a primary school for the slightly retarded. They did not have the average IQ, were slow in grasping things, and were volatile and agitated in nature. He gave them a book of yantras which were colour-coded and every day for one hour the children would go to a room, sit down and paint these yantras according to the colours shown.

After about one month this doctor psychiatrist found that the children were improving. Their concentration, memory and expressive power were all developed. He wrote a book on how yantras improve the faculties and his contention is that only by drawing the colours on a pre-drawn yantra can the quality of the Student's mind be improved.

If this is an accurate assessment then I think we can also believe that drawing a yantra will bring about similar changes in our personality- maybe not one hundred percent but at least twenty. Maybe it can be even more than one hundred percent depending on the yantra and amount of sadhana done. So this is the purpose of likhit japa - to change the existing condition of consciousness.

What is 'Nam smaran' sadhana?

'Nam smaran' sadhana is possibly the most difficult sadhana that anybody could do because of the problem of dissipation or distraction of mind.

People take a mantra and concentrate on a symbol or guru. Up to this point an emotional link is being created, a superficial link between the practitioner, the mantra and symbol, whether guru or any other object. While this link is being established the practitioner is still passing through the experience of mental, dissipation.

When you are doing your own mantra practice, are you aware of the mantra throughout with lull consciousness, or does the awareness waver at times? Maybe while you do half a mala you are aware, then during the other half of the mala there is absence of awareness, if only for a few seconds, and then the awareness comes back. Then again there is absence of awareness. Or you are concentrating on your symbol or ishta devata with one-pointed mind. Then dissipation takes place, wavering of awareness.

'Nam smaran' means 'constant repetition of the name'. The name refers to mantra and there are two ways of practising it. One is the simple method of practising for ten or fifteen minutes and then forgetting about it. The other is the system of ajapa - constant repetition which goes on even while you are involved in worldly activities. Continuous unbroken awareness where one part of the mind is constantly repeating the mantra and while you are experiencing an altered state of consciousness. During sleep, anger, fear, tension and all states of mind you must maintain one awareness throughout. This is ajapa japa.

Initially we can take the help of the breath - breathe in while repeating the mantra; breath out while repeating the mantra. Do this for one hour and then stop. After some time conscious effort will not be necessary. The mind will become habituated or programmed and unconscious repetition will continue. It will just be continuing of its own accord all the time. At this stage absence of awareness has to be eliminated because when mantra awareness is constant then one is at the very source of one's being.

So you might be going through different external experiences of depression, euphoria, happiness, joy, frustration, anxiety, hatred, love, compassion, fear, greed, but one part of the awareness is alert and observing- the 'drashta' aspect of life. It takes a long time and a lot of effort. Ajapa japa or nam smaran is the last sadhana we generally teach in yoga, for it is necessary to renounce the world. As long as you live in the world you have to live with the rules of the body, mind and spirit. Therefore we adopt ajapa japa, as the last practice in mantra yoga.

What is the form, colour and temperature of a mantra?

A mantra can contain many different forms, colours and temperatures. Let us take for example the mantra "Om Namah Shivaya", om is the symbol of ajna chakra. The colour of ajna, chakra is white, silver or hazy, a cool colour. Now the first syllable of 'namah' is 'na' which is a mantra of manipur. The colour of manipur is red, ' Maha' is a mantra of vishuddhi. It is violet. 'Shi' and 'va' are sounds of swadhisthana blue. 'Ya' is the sound of anahat and it is also blue. So in one mantra there are different colour combinations.

Shiva yantra is a composition of the form created by the chanting of the mantra 'Om Namaha Shivaya' and in each circle and triangle you will find a different colour. When we consider that different temperatures are inherent in different colours then red will be hot and blue will be cool. So in order to know the form and temperature of a mantra we have to see the corresponding yantra.

Very often aspirants are given a symbol along with their mantra initiation. This symbol becomes the synthesis or the smallest figure of the yantra and it also has a colour. In the text on mantras in the tantric system we find that each mantra has been assigned a different symbol, form, colour, vehicle, god and goddess, and also a corresponding part of the body which they control.

Tantra works on three basic principles : mantra, yantra and mandala. Besides the personal mantra and symbol has anyone their own personal mandala?

First we have to understand what mantra, yantra and mandala are. Mantras represent the pulsation of psychic energy and the visible form of this psychic energy is contained in the nucleus of the atom. Wherever there is this pulsation there is bound to be sound or nada. In the practice of nada yoga we try to become aware of the internal pulsation of every atom of the body until finally there is neither body nor mind awareness only the awareness of energy pulsation. When this stage has been achieved we become aware of another higher sound frequency which controls the physiological and psychological structure. This is the anahata sound - unheard or un-struck.

Some yogis say anahata sound can be experienced in anahata chakra. Why anahata? Mooladhara represents the earth element and our attachments, sense of security and desire. After mooladhara and swadhisthana we become aware of cur deep internal samskara and karma in the form of archetypes. In manipura we become aware of the pranic structure, the pranic body, the external energy pulsations. In anahata we become aware of the internal energy pulsations, psychic pulsations, the pulsations of the universe. This is the purpose of mantra, to give the awareness of nada and then of the anahata sound.

Yantras may change depending on the state of out mental evolution because they are vehicles of consciousness which is Forever changing according to our evolution of intellect, mind, expressions, likes and dislikes, desires and ambitions. It is just like travelling to another country. We go in a car from the house to the airport; from the airport we take a plane. In the same way our mind also uses different vehicles of perception in order to evolve.

Mandala represents the totality of the individual personality and the relationship that an individual has with the universe. A mandala may seem very because it does not represent just one aspect of life but total manifest and unmanifest reality. Apart from personal mantra, everybody has a yantra and a mandala as well. The symbol acts as the representation of the yantra because it is too difficult to imagine the full yantra and also identify with it. Once you have gone deep into yantra meditation then spontaneously and naturally a mandala will also manifest. This manifestation will take place when the consciousness has reached anahata, when you have established a link between the gross, subtle and divine.

Can the "Mahamrityunjaya Mantra" be chanted by the family for their mental peace, health and general well-being?

It is always best to have as many people as possible when chanting this mantra for the health and general well-being of the family or society. Then the thought force, will or effort of many becomes the tool for carrying the power of the mantra. This is important because if you do it alone the effect will be very slow, but if ten or twelve people gather in one place to think of the happiness and health of the family, then that power of resolution and determination, the sankalpa which you make, will make sure you achieve that health and happiness. It is possible to chant the mantra for someone without informing them but in order to project the healing power of the mantra one first needs to be trained in the practices of prana vidya. Without this initial training, the projection of thought along with the healing power may not be possible.

How do yantras work and how do we utilise them?

The word 'yantra' is derived from two words - 'yana' and 'trayati'. 'Yana' means 'vehicle' or 'tool', and 'trayati' means 'liberation' - a tool or vehicle of liberation. So yantra is a method through which we can liberate our consciousness.

We live in a world surrounded by different types of symbols and ideas, and internally our symbolic perception is more predominant than the outward perception. We talk intellectually but our mind analyses symbols. For example, when we see a house it goes into the mind as a symbol. Then the words come, 'Oh, what a beautiful house!', but originally what the mind perceived was the symbol and not the words, 'this is a house'. So the grasping power of the mind is more in the area of symbols and figures than in the form of words.

Now certain symbols tend to create some type of psychic activity or awakening and they are used as yantras and mandalas for effecting the areas of our subconscious and unconscious mind. In a yantra the design or diagram, the lines, circles, mantras, etc., everything is in total harmony. One line of a yantra complements another line; one figure complements another; one circle complements another circle. A yantra is a combination of different harmonics and visualising a yantra alters our mental perception.

Different yantras work differently on our psyche and are therefore used as tools for meditation. Performing trataka on a yantra will help stimulate and alter the mind, as will colouring the yantra with full concentration. This is a very, very brief explanation of yantra.

Can children be introduced to yantras, and if so when?

Yantra meditation is a very special meditation for children. In fact, it is the only form of meditation suitable and effective for their development. They should place the yantra or mandala in front of them and concentrate in the centre or on a particular place on the mandala, say the face or eyes. The process is like that of trataka and the image should be retained for as long as possible, and only once, whether it takes five minutes or ten minutes. That visual meditation will definitely enhance the creative aspect of the child's personality. They can start this form of meditation as a sadhana from the age of eight.

Is it true that different yantras can cause different experiences? Why is it said that yellow is symbolic of Durga?

Different yantras do give different experiences and each yantra is like a key to consciousness. It has been written by one author that yellow is the colour of Durga because yellow is an intermediate colour in the dispersal, of light when the rays of the sun pass through a prism. At one end of the spectrum is violet merging into black, in the middle is yellow, while red occupies the other end. In terms of creation this is very symbolic. Red represents the rising sun, symbol of creation, while violet symbolises the end of creation, and yellow - occupies the position between creation and destruction -preservation.

The author asks the question, 'Is it not then scientific to portray Durga, the Great Mother, in yellow?' Philosophically speaking, energy or shakti should have the ability to move in both these directions, either towards the light or towards the darkness. If she were more concentrated on the side of light her nature would mould itself with the nature of light and it would be difficult for her to move in the direction of darkness.

In physics it is said that in light everything merges with light and in darkness everything merges with darkness. It is a common fact. So Durga, the creative and dynamic energy behind everything, should have the ability to stand in the middle without being influenced by either of the two forces, and be ready to both.

Who were the original gurus or sages who visualised the chakra symbols, and have different symbols been manifested since then?

Mythologically speaking, Shiva was the first exponent of yoga and of tantra, and in his exposition of tantra he has described the chakras. According to myth this goes back many thousands of years and according to historical fact, about six or seven thousand years, when the Aryan migration was taking place. Six thousand years ago, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Tibet, Iran, Iraq - it was all one land, and in this area lived a tribe known as the Dravidians. Tantra was their main practice and they considered Shiva as the only main teacher and figurehead of the tantric system. This was before the Vedas. The Dravidians described Shiva as a person, not a mythological being but an actual living entity wandering through the subcontinent, covered with ashes accompanied by dogs, carrying a trident and living in graveyards and deserted places. It their accounts are true, then this Shiva or Shankara would have described the chakra symbols around seven thousand years ago. Whether it is true or not, the followers of the tantric tradition have maintained the same chakra symbology as described by him and there has been practically no alteration or deviation from the original.