Mantras are a combination of varna and akshara. Varna means colour, a means no and kshara means destruction. Akshara means imperishable, and every akshara has a varna. Varna does not mean alphabet.
These akshara, these letters, have colour, frequency and a particular element as the presiding deity. They have a form and this is important. You may not understand this but I know, because I give mantra to illiterate devotees. If I tell you to recite Om Namah Shivaya you cannot go further, because you have certain ideas about Om Namah Shivaya. You have a base, whether it is Hindi, English, Gujarati or Urdu. You can only imagine on the basis of that. You cannot imagine Om Namah Shivaya as a pure sound, because there is an obstacle which you have created for yourself.
An illiterate person has no conditions. He does not know the form of Om. I know, but he does not. He imagines the sound, as every sound has form. Even musicians do not know it. You cannot throw off the form you have given to a particular sound.
Every sound has a form, it has a frequency, it has colour and length. When you practise the letters of the mantra you are practising the combination of a few – Aim, Hreem, Kreem for instance. When you bring the combination together, the effect is on the basis of the content of those letters.
Aum has three sounds, Namah Shivaya has five sounds, Rama two. Some mantras have five, some seven, eight or nine. They are combined letters and the effect is based on the combination.
When you are practising the mantra, the effect is like a quiet pond, and you take a pebble and throw it in. The ripples go out in a circular pattern. If you take four pebbles and throw, what happens? Or if you take a rock instead of a pebble it will create big waves.
In the same way the mind is like an ocean. It is an ocean of consciousness. If you throw a sound like Om in that consciousness, it immediately creates vibrations. These waves or vibrations are known as sound waves. Sometimes the effect is temporary, but if you go on reflecting on it again and again then you can maintain the continuity of the waves. Then these waves go deeper and influence other areas of the mind, because the mind is in layers which are called conscious, subconscious, unconscious, and in yoga sthula, sukshma and karana, the gross, subtle or astral mind, and causal mind. The different depths of your consciousness are affected.
If the mantra is chanted in the night it goes very deep. It influences the subconscious and unconscious dimensions. If the mantra is practised in the morning it affects the external areas of the mind, the conscious mind.
This is how we talk about the effect of the mind on the body, senses and one's own personality.
—3 November 1981, Mumbai, India