The Purpose of Mantra

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati: In the yogic spiritual tradition, mantras are used as internal practices, but in the Indian religious spiritual traditions, mantras are used as external practices. This does not negate or accept one or the other form of application of mantras, rather it is an indication of the two aspects of mantras. One aspect is to manage the agitations of the chitta vrittis and the other is to create a form in the consciousness of the power that is being invoked by repeating the mantra.

What is a mantra? Mantras are made up of vowels and consonants, which independently have no meaning except that they are part of an alphabet body. Language first begins with letters which have no meaning at all. Then these letters combine, the aksharas combine, to create a word. That word defines a meaning to the collection of letters, and then it is spoken through speech. If speech were not there, the word would not be spoken. Speech emerges to vocalize, to express the intent of the word through the combination of consonants and vowels. When the speech vocalizes the word, an image is created in the mind.

The idea which was there in the word is transferred to the mind as an image, and you see the image of the word. For example, the word ‘animal’, a-n-i-m-a-l. These are all consonants and vowels, separately they don’t mean anything, but together they create an idea: animal. Yet, that idea is not experienced until you say it through your speech. Then it creates an image in your mind of an animal. Therefore, what is spoken is a flow of consonants and vowels coming together to create an idea. As you speak, they create an image, an identity; they give you an awareness of a quality, a form, a name. This is applicable to mantras as well.

When you have been through this process and continue chanting the mantra, it intensifies the density of mind. What do I mean by the phrase ‘density of mind’? Right now there is air all around, but you cannot see in which direction it is flowing. If you light an incense stick and hold it, the smoke will provide the indication of the flow of air. The current, the intensity, all this will be known when you see the smoke moving in the air. In the absence of the smoke, although the air is moving in different patterns, you are not seeing it. What makes the flow or the current of air visible? A denser form of air, which is smoke. In the same manner, right now the mind is in a state of dissipation, the vrittis are all active, they are pulling from one sense object to another sense object. As the vrittis pull you, an idea, a desire, a need, an awareness, an understanding is created.

Peace of mind

There is so much happening in your brain every moment. You don’t even realize the amount of information that is going in your brain every second. A lot is filtered out before you become aware of what you have observed, received, understood and experienced through your senses, brain and mind. There is a big gap between the moment of experience and the moment of realization, due to the filtering. Billions of things are being processed every moment and you are aware of one, two or three. That is the dissipation of vrittis, and you have to catch that mental activity so your mind does not go from one thing to another.

The mind moves from one sense experience to another for the satisfaction of the senses. When you experience a sense object, you are identifying with it. The moment you identify with a sense object, you are seeking sensory gratification. There are people who seek sensory gratification from guru, not spiritual gratification. There are people who seek emotional gratification or intellectual gratification. Each person seeks gratification in an area they believe will give them some happiness, some fulfilment. Therefore, the connection that you have with your God or guru is to seek gratification in areas where you lack it.

You think you are spiritual, but you are not. You are only seeking gratification. If you were spiritual, you would be connected with each and every person with love and compassion. How can that spirituality remain confined inside you while with other people you are cranky, angry, jealous, hateful, and not able to communicate? In such a state if you say “I am spiritual”, it is a fallacy. Spirituality is not an individual, personal and internal experience. Spirituality is an expression of what you become. If you are cranky the whole day, you are an expression of what you have become. If you are jealous the whole day, you are an expression of what you have become. If you are compassionate and kind, you are reflecting what you have become. If you are happy and joyous, you are reflecting what you have become. Therefore, ask yourself: do you want to be a bad reflection of life or do you want to be a good reflection of life?

Mantra helps in discovering this by pacifying the mental jumps from one sense object to another sense object. For the ten minutes that you focus on your mantra, perhaps five times your mind disappears and you lose awareness of the mantra, but an effort is definitely there so that the mantra binds your mind and keeps it focused. The agitated chitta vrittis become more peaceful and quieter. For a moment in those ten minutes, you experience a different you, a peaceful you, which you have not felt even in your sleep. Even in your sleep or when you go to bed at night, your mind is agitated. However, when you are practising your mantra, your mind is focused for those ten minutes. Agitations are cut by ninety percent. You experience the ten percent in the form of missing the moment: suddenly you realize that you have gone someplace and you forgot to do your mantra, so you pull yourself back and again become aware of the mantra. Then again you realize that you have gone someplace else, and again you pull yourself back. In this way, mental pacification, mananat trayate, happens through mantra.


Mantra also gives form to that power which is being invoked. If you say the mantra Om Namah Shivaya, the combination of the vowels and consonants are such that they are creating the image of Shiva, and creating an emotion, a feeling, in connection with Shiva. When you chant it, you develop the imagination or visualization of Shiva in the form of auspiciousness and perfection, in the form of a power that transforms your lower life into a higher life, your material life into a spiritual life. If you say the mantra Om Namo Narayanaya or Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya, the collection of the consonants and vowels have created an idea. As you say it, that idea, that energy is taking shape in your mind. Sometimes you can even see the shape in the form of light, luminosity, angel, guru, deity, an abstract image or an experience. Then people say, “I had that beautiful experience once, but I am not having it anymore.”

At that moment, everything had converged together to give you that beautiful experience, and that convergence of mind does not come about because you will it, but because there is strength in it to experience and express the Satyam, the Shivam and the Sundaram. There is appreciation of beauty and not possessiveness of or demanding beauty. There is appreciation of goodness, but not demanding that ‘this goodness be directed only to me’. There is appreciation of truth, not that it becomes a medium to separate you from the person who has told you the truth.

Thus, you have to become aware of the effect of the mantra, the passivity of the mind, and allow the emergence of the positive, the sattwic expressions of your deeper mind. Don’t block it by superimposing your ambitions, thoughts and ideas. Allow it to develop, then your feelings will become universal, unconditional and pure. Your thoughts will become universal, unconditional and pure. Your expressions will become universal, unconditional and pure. That is the effect of the mantra, if one follows it in the right manner.

Here we are seeing two applications of the mantra: the internal and the external. The internal is to pacify. The external is to invoke and give form to the concept, to the sankalpa, to the power of the mantra.

9 September 2015, Paduka Darshan, Munger, printed in Glimpses of the Divine III, Sri Lakshmi-Narayana Mahayajna