What is Mantra?
A Mantra is a combination of a sacred syllables which forms a nucleus of spiritual energy. This serves as a magnet to attract or a lens to focus spiritual vibrations. According to the Upanishads, the ancient scriptures of India, the original abode of the Mantra was the Parma Akasha or primeval either, the eternal and immutable substratum of the universe, out of which, in the uttering of the primal sound Vach, the universe itself was created. (A similar account is found in the gospel of St. John, "In the beginning was the Word..."). The Mantras existed within this either and were directly perceived by the ancient rishis, or seers, who translated them into an audible pattern of words, rhythm, and melody.
Mantra is not a prayer. Prayer consists of words of supplication chosen by the spiritual aspirant, whereas Mantra is a precise combination of words and sounds the embodiment of a particular form of consciousness or Sakthi.
Meaning of the Word "Mantra:
The root man in the word Mantra means in Sanskrit "to think;" tra comes from trai, meaning "to protect or free from the bondage of samsara or the phenomenal world." Therefore, Mantra means "the thought that liberates and protects." But there are many levels of meaning in a Mantra which must be experienced to be truly understood. An intellectual explanation encompasses only a very small part of its meaning.
The chanting or recitation of Mantras activates and accelerates the creative spiritual force, promoting harmony in all parts of the human being. The devotee is gradually converted into a living center of spiritual vibration which is attuned to some other center of vibration vastly more powerful. This energy can be appropriated and directed for the benefit of the one who uses it and for that of others.
Six Aspects of Mantra:
Every Mantra has six aspects: a rishi or seer, a raga or melody, the Devata or presiding deity, a bija or seed sound, the Sakthi or power, and a kilaka or pillar.
1. Rishi or Seer:
The rishis, through their intuitive perception, opened themselves to the revelation of the Mantras and were able to recognize their own effectiveness as channels for the flow of grace, knowledge, and power from the Divine. These ancient seers understood that their powers were intended to be used in the service of others, as a guide to humankind.
The Mantras were transmitted from generation to generation, from Guru to disciple, and in this process the power of the Mantras was greatly increased. The repetition billions of times by countless devotees over the centuries has brought about a vast reservoir of power which augments the inherent spiritual potency of the Mantras.
2. Raga or melody:
The raga is comparable to a western melody line-- a sound, or sequence of single sounds, without harmony. When chanting a Mantra it is extremely important not to change the raga and its key, because the rate of vibration on which the sound is based is an integral part of the Mantra. All Indian music is based on the understanding that there are two aspects to every sound: the audible expression, and the subtle sound essence which carries the meaning and which arises from the eternal Spirit. This essence is called Shabda or Vach. When the spoken word is perfected sounded within and without, contact is made with this power which manifests as an image.
There is a certain power in a word even on a human level--one's own name has a special significance, and the way in which it is pronounced can convey numerous messages. Different tones cause different vibrations affecting the bodily, as well as the emotional, response. The practice of Mantra Yoga for a longer period of time makes one aware of sounds actually creating images, and of certain images having an inherent sound.
In his book, Japa Yoga, Swami Sivananda says that sounds are vibration which give rise to definite forms. The repeated chanting of the name of the Lord gradually builds up the form or special manifestation of the deity worshipped (the Devata) and acts as a focus to concentrate this influence, which then penetrates and becomes the center of consciousness of the worshipper.
3. Devata or presiding deity:
The Devata is the presiding deity of the Mantra, the informing power, a very personal aspect of God. It is the wisdom that comes from a higher source and is like a single beam of sunlight, one beam that is singled out and given a name so that the disciple can develop a personal relationship with and worship an aspect of God that he or she can understand. Or it may be likened to one facet of a diamond representing Cosmic Intelligence.
A diamond with many facets will reflect many rays of Light at the same time, but one particular ray will especially appeal to the individual as he or she begins travelling the spiritual path. In the beginning, God is too awesome for the human mind to grasp and only later can divine energy be perceived in its purest form, so the human mind needs to establish a link with a personal aspect such as Krishna or Siva in the Indian religions, or Jesus or Mary in Christianity. Adults, who are still spiritual children need to have personal concept of God until they can see the divine energy in its purest form.
The Mantras, Om Krishna Guru and Hari Om, the Krishna Invocation, are associated with Krishna; Om Namah Sivaya, with Siva; and Om Tara, with Divine Mother. If you think of the millions of people in India over the centuries who have chanted the name of Krishna or Siva, or all the Christians over the years who have repeated the name of Jesus, you can see that this constant repetition would create a tremendous reserve of power. The power of their achievement is present in the combined energy of the Mantra. the truly devout person who chants the name of a particular aspect of the Divine will eventually tap into that power of the Devata.
One drop of water can accomplish very little, but hundreds of millions of drops can cut through rock or indeed, change the face of the earth.
4. bija or seed sound:
Each Mantra has a bija or seed. This is the essence of the Mantra and it gives the Mantra its special power -- its self-generating power. Just as within a seed is hidden a tree, so the energy in the Mantra is the seed from which will grow a beautiful spiritual being. If you were to chant quite regularly now, abandon the practice, and then perhaps twenty years from now suddenly find yourself in some crisis, the Mantra might come automatically to your lips and you would continue to repeat it as you had never ceased. This is an example of self-generating power.
If you think of Shabda, the primal sound, the nuclear sound Om, from which all things are created, and bija the seed and self-generating power of the Mantra, you will see that through constant and correct chanting of a Mantra, you will be helped to release greater energy within your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual bodies. With this increase of energy you will also be helped to get in touch with the Divine within you, your true Self, your Higher Self.
5. Kilaka or Pillar:
The kilaka, or pillar, is at first the driving force, the persistence and will-power that the disciple needs to pursue the Mantra. But when the power of the Mantra begins to take on a self-generating "flywheel motion," the kilaka becomes a very fine thread joining the disciple to the Mantra, to the power of the Mantra, to the guru, and to the deity, until all become one.
5. Sakti or power:
The power, the consciousness within the Mantra, is Sakthi, Divine Mother, the goodness of the Spoken Word. The male aspect of God is energy in a state of equilibrium; the female aspect is dynamic energy which manifests as creation. There is only one energy in all created things. In the Mantra that energy is present in pure form. The potency of the Mantra is released through repetition until the individual finally comes to his or her Devata and a spiritual experience may take place.
By constant recollection of thinking of the Mantra one is protected from the impact of maya, the illusory world. Through repetition of these words of power, the goal of Mantra Yoga is achieved--that is (as with all yogas) unity of individual consciousness with Cosmic Consciousness.
Source: Excerpts from the Book on "MANTRAS - Words of Power" by Swami Sivanandha Radha.