The Science of Mantra

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

How does tantra expand and liberate the consciousness from its fetters and limitations? Tantra approaches the problem of mind from an absolutely scientific point of view, having no concern with dogmas, moralistic attitude and intellectual formulation. It is based on practice rather than theory or belief. Its practices lead directly to the expansion of consciousness beyond mundane levels of awareness. Tantra contains all the yoga practices, but the main aspect underlying tantric sadhana is mantra. Consciousness expands and energy is liberated through the vibration of mantra.

In tantric philosophy, mantra is a force which can be used for the awakening of our spiritual potential. There are thousands of mantras and they belong to different elements, temperaments, deities, planets, bodies, and systems. Mantras are not merely the names of gods and goddesses, they are transcendental sounds which influence the entire complex of the brain and nervous system. Mantra is the actual life of tantra.

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 audible, 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 expand the mind.

Mantra and the mind

The mind has two ranges – individual and universal. In fact, in the whole universe there is only one mind, but this mind becomes individualized 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, the 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 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.

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, judgement, 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 experience 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.

Mental purification

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 brainwave patterns are altered. Tantrics say that when a sound is produced, it alters the formation of 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 significant thoughts keep coming and going. This happens because we have not cleansed the formations of the mind. That is why the first prerequisite to meditation is chitta shuddhi or 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 fixing the formations of the mind, if it is done with awareness of all the thoughts that enter the mind as the mantra is being repeated.

The three mental formations

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 fame 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 fame 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 meditation 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, void. You have been concentrating on the fame of a lamp and suddenly everything is switched off; there is no fame, 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 meditation and the awakening of spiritual consciousness.

June 1980, Paris, France