The Science of Mantra

Swami Satyananda Saraswati, talk at Chhattisgarh Yoga Seminar, Korba, February 17, 1974

Mantra shastra is a very deep and great science which, if understood correctly, can give one victory over the lower nature. It is a very ancient science and in previous ages people knew it well. Now, however, people’s faith in mantra shastra has diminished and the actual knowledge has become hidden to the point that anything is said in the name of mantra. It is therefore necessary to clarify this science for the sake of spiritual aspirants.

Origins of mantra

Mankind’s most ancient scriptures are the tantra shastras, and after the tantras, the Vedas took birth. Mantra shastra has come from the tantras. It was not written like ordinary books are written. The ancient sages had actual realization of mantra. When, in meditation, the rishis were able to rise to a very high level and transcend material consciousness, they heard cosmic sounds. These were called mantra. If you simply make up some syllables in your mind and repeat them, it is not mantra. When the rishis and munis, whose souls were purified, established their consciousness beyond the mind at a very high level through meditation, the sound perceived by them in that state was called mantra.

The rishis had the experience of mantra at three different levels, or planes of consciousness. When the consciousness passes from the gross body into the subtle body, the sound perceived at that time falls under one group. The mantras heard in the subtle body form another group, and when the consciousness enters from the subtle or second body into the third body, mantras realized at that time form a third group.

Different levels of consciousness

We need to understand what is meant by first body, second body and third body. When I say ‘body’, I do not mean only the body form, but body consciousness – that body through which the consciousness is functioning. When the body consciousness is realized through the medium of the five gross senses, it is called gross body consciousness or the first body where the mind, intellect and memory are working.

What is the second body? When you practise meditation, your awareness travels deep inside, and in that inner realm you begin to see beautiful visions and dreams. The second body, therefore, is not something tangible. It is the subtle or astral body, sukshma sharira, psychic consciousness, or the subconscious body. That is the second plane of consciousness.

What is the third body? When meditation becomes deeper and deeper, the state of void or shoonya arises. There is no awareness of the external or the internal. It is the experience of the dark night of the soul, like midnight, formless, sightless, where there is no awareness of ‘I’. That is called the third body, the causal body, karana sharira, or the unconscious body. In the Vedas it has been called hiranyagarbha, the golden womb. There are many names given to it by psychologists also.

There is also a fourth level of consciousness which is transcendental. In the third and fourth levels of consciousness, awareness of the external world is absent. There is no awareness of one’s old name or form, but there is the experience of the eternal self, akhanda swaroopa. This is the fourth level of consciousness called samadhi or turiya.

All these different levels of consciousness have been indicated in the Gayatri mantra: Om bhur, Om bhuvah, Om swahah, Om mahah, Om janah, Om tapah, Om satyam, Om tat savitur varenyam bhargo devasya dheemahi dhiyo yo nah prachodayat. ‘Om bhur’ is the first body, bhur loka or the material plane; ‘Om bhuvah’ is the second body, the intermediate or astral plane; ‘Om swahah’ is the third body, the heavenly or divine plane. The mantras that follow indicate the fourth body – mahah loka, janah loka, tapah loka and satya loka. These are not material worlds, they are planes of consciousness.

Revealed sounds

As the rishis sat in meditation and reached higher levels, they received the sounds known as mantra. Mantras, therefore, are not a creation of the human mind. They were perceived from higher sources. In Islam it is said that the Koran was revealed by God, which means that whoever received the Koran had attained a very high yogic state. In the same way, Christians speak of the Bible as a revealed scripture. Sanatana dharma, the eternal vedic religion, too is understood as having been revealed. The Vedas were not written by man. This, however, does not mean that the pen that wrote them was held in God’s hand; it only means that they were revealed to rishis in the transcendental state. The same is said about the Ramacharitamanas.

Bija mantras

Of all the types of mantra explained so far, the first and the highest is Om. Om is the seed or bija mantra of all mantras. The rishis realized this cosmic Om in the very highest planes of consciousness, in the state of self-realization, atma sakshatkar. All the mantras in existence have come from Om. It is composed of three sounds – A, U and M. Om is found in all societies and all religions, in one form or another. Om is the foremost of mantras.

First comes Om and after it the mantras of Gayatri. The twenty-four syllables of Gayatri along with Om should be considered the original Gayatri mantra. The vedic rishis who received this mantra were established at a very high level of consciousness.

Thereafter, there are mantras pertaining to the third body or the unconscious body, also known as bija mantras. We call them bija or potential mantras, because they contain dormant, potential energy of different forces. Each power or force in the world has its own bija mantra, such as ‘Aim’ for Saraswati, ‘Shreem’ for Lakshmi, ‘Kleem’, ‘Kreem’, ‘Hreem’, and so on. All the short, seemingly meaningless mantras you might have heard are bija mantras.

The bija mantras are like little bombs, like time bombs that explode just at the right moment. Just as you plant a seed in the earth and from that a giant tree grows up to give thousands of fruits, the bija mantras contain similar power. With the practice of anushthana, prolonged mantra repetition for a fixed period of time and a specific number of malas, and regular sadhana, the power of the mantra is awakened. When that power is awakened, the consciousness takes the form of the mantra. That’s when the real work of the mantra begins.

Power of mantra

There is much criticism of Hinduism, the objection being that it has a pantheon of gods and goddesses. But you must remember that shakti, energy, is not only of one type. It has innumerable forms. Although the primal shakti, the root shakti, is one, its manifestations are endless. That is why we worship Devi in so many different forms.

The same principle is also found in science. When electricity is flowing from one central circuit, the amplifier, tape-recorder and all other appliances work. The same energy gives heat from the heater and coolness from the fan. The heat and the cold are varied manifestations of one energy. The truth is that shakti is not just of one kind. Intellect is one shakti, memory is another shakti, speech, prana and knowledge are all shaktis without which we cannot exist. That is why there are different bija mantras for awakening these different powers.

Take vidya shakti, the power of knowledge. It is perceived in the form of Saraswati. I am not talking of the goddess Saraswati whose idol is worshipped in the temple, but of the energy which is in the form of vidya or Saraswati. What is the way to awaken this energy? Of all the methods given, the best is to take the bija mantra of that shakti and awaken its sleeping potential.

There are many other types of shaktis pertaining to the body, to disease, even to snake poison. In many diseases, if japa anushthana or prolonged repetition of Mahamrityunjaya mantra: Om tryambakam yajaamahe sugandhim pushtivardhanam; urvaarukamiva bandhanaan mrityormuksheeya maamritaat, is performed, the power of the mantra is awakened internally, giving the desired result. By the practice of mantra japa, the aspirant’s conscious will is awakened and through willpower everything is accomplished.

Yantra or mystic diagram

All the bija mantras must be practised strictly according to certain rules and regulations. They should not be practised just by reading them out of a book. Anushthana should only be undertaken after understanding the purpose and necessity of the bija mantras well. The tantra shastras explain that first, a yantra or mystic diagram should be made, and within that the bija mantra should be written. For example, Sri is the mantra of Lakshmi, goddess of prosperity. If you want to make a yantra for this, the best way is to carve it on crystal. This is called Sri Chakra. It is easily available in southern India and Orissa. However, as everyone cannot obtain crystal, Sri Chakra is also made with copper. The mantra Sri is written on the crystal or copper and thereafter anushthana is performed. This is just one example of the many mantras that can be installed in the yantra. Do remember that anushthana of the bija mantras should never be practised in a careless manner.

The group of mantras pertaining to the second body, such as Om Namah Shivaya, Sri Rama, Hare Krishna, can be practised by anyone who has faith.

Benefits of mantra

What can be accomplished by the use of mantra? First, everyone should have a mantra of their own. If you cannot decide on your mantra independently, seek help from someone. When you have the mantra, japa must be practised daily with complete discipline. Once you decide to do nine malas of japa a day, it is important to do nine malas. Or, if you decide on twelve malas, you should be regular with that number.

Different mantras have different benefits. Japa of Gayatri mantra is very beneficial for the health and intellect. Those who suffer from skin disease or iron deficiency are helped by Surya or sun mantras. Anushthana of Surya mantras, if practised properly, helps alleviate eczema and leucoderma.

Through mantra one can remove disease, sorrow and restlessness. Mantra is so powerful that within a moment it can change bad habits. It is important for people to study and understand this science in the correct way.

Tantric mantra

I had an experience in my childhood. I was in Allahabad at the age of seven or eight. One day, I saw two fellows playing with a snake. One of them had made a circle on the ground with a stick. In that circle was a first-class snake, a big cobra. The cobra belonged to the snake charmer and there was some kind of argument between him and the other man.

Being young I could not follow their words entirely. It was all mantra-tantra business. The other man said, “Now I will see how your snake gets out!” Taking a stick, he drew one or two more lines, and the snake just sat there. It would come up just to the line and turn back. I was watching all this, not understanding anything, so I asked him what was happening. He said, “I have thrown mantras on all four sides of the snake, so it cannot come out.”

They were fighting in a peculiar way. One wanted to throw grains of rice or dal on the other, but didn’t for fear that the other man would also throw rice on him. They circled each other trying to throw the rice for about ten or fifteen minutes. At last, a big crowd gathered, bringing their tantric battle to an end. The cobra was released.

This incident stuck in my mind for days, but eventually I forgot about it. I grew up, went on with my work and the curiosity I once had about mantra disappeared.

Many years later, I came to my guru’s ashram in Rishikesh. This was in 1943, and the ashram was surrounded by dense forest. At night you could easily step on a scorpion. An American family came to stay at the ashram. One day, their little girl was stung so severely by a scorpion that it seemed she would be dead within ten minutes. The scorpion sting is very painful. Even the strongest person will weep the whole night when stung by one. So you can imagine how that girl was crying. I thought she would surely die.

Right next to the ashram was a police station and somebody fetched a constable. He had a small knife with him. With that knife he removed the poison within five minutes. In another five minutes the girl was completely normal. I asked, “What mantra did you use?” He said, “Kali Kalkatte wali.” The goddess Kali is the patron deity of the city of Calcutta. I was very surprised.

I was raised by Arya Samajis, a sect which does not accept the concept of personal gods and goddesses. I was educated at a convent school by Christians, and many close relatives at home were Muslim. When I heard his mantra, my entire faith was shaken. I wondered that Kali is just a name and Calcutta a place, so how could poison be removed just by repeating those words?

Awakening the mantra

Gradually, my attention was caught. I asked many people and started to read books about tantra and practise mantra anushthana myself. Since then, I have had so many experiences and benefits that it is not even possible to relate them. What I want to explain is that those words ‘Kali Kalkatte wali’ may seem completely ordinary to us, but for the person who has realized them they are not ordinary at all. Similarly, the sounds that rishis realized are not simple words, but syllables full of power. That is why we say that shabda is Brahman, supreme consciousness. There is power in mantra and to awaken this power, everyone should find a method within.

Everyone should have their own mantra and practise japa with complete regularity for fifteen minutes or half an hour daily. Concentration is not necessary for japa. Please understand this. At the time of mantra japa, concentration of the mind is not important; what is important is faith and belief. If your faith is weak and your concentration strong, you will not attain the power of the mantra. If your concentration is weak, your mind running here and there, but your faith and devotion unshakeable, the mantra will soon awaken within you. For this reason, a lot of emphasis is placed on faith and devotion in mantra shastra.

There are two forces or powers in the mantra. One is the power of consciousness, Shiva or purusha. The other is the force of nature, matter or prakriti. Through sadhana, these two forces are awakened, and when awakened, they continue to help you throughout your life. Now, you must try to bring the science of mantra into your life.