The Use of Mantras in TANTRIC Practice
In mainstream Vedic practices, most Buddhist techniques and classical Hinduism, mantra is viewed as a necessity for spiritual advancement and high attainment. In The Kalachakra Tantra, by the Dalai Lama and Jeffrey Hopkins, the Dalai Lama states, “Therefore, without depending upon mantra…Buddhahood cannot be attained.”
Clearly, there is a reason why such widely divergent sources of religious wisdom as the Vedas, the New Testament and the Dalai Lama speak in common ideas. Here are some important ideas about mantra which will enable you to begin a practical understanding of what mantra is and what it can do.
Definition # 1: Mantras are energy-based sounds.
Saying any word produces an actual physical vibration. Over time, if we know what the effect of that vibration is, then the word may come to have meaning associated with the effect of saying that vibration or word. This is one level of energy basis for words.Another level is intent. If the actual physical vibration is coupled with a mental intention, the vibration then contains an additional mental component which influences the result of saying it. The sound is the carrier wave and the intent is overlaid upon the wave form, just as a colored gel influences the appearance and effect of a white light.In either instance, the word is based upon energy. Nowhere is this idea more true than for Sanskrit mantra. For although there is a general meaning which comes to be associated with mantras, the only lasting definition is the result or effect of saying the mantra.
Definition #2: Mantras create thought-energy waves.
The human consciousness is really a collection of states of consciousness which distributively exist throughout the physical and subtle bodies. Each organ has a primitive consciousness of its own. That primitive consciousness allows it to perform functions specific to it. Then come the various systems. The cardio-vascular system, the reproductive system and other systems have various organs or body parts working at slightly different stages of a single process. Like the organs, there is a primitive consciousness also associated with each system. And these are just within the physical body. Similar functions and states of consciousness exist within the subtle body as well. So individual organ consciousness is overlaid by system consciousness, overlaid again by subtle body counterparts and consciousness, and so ad infinitum.
The ego with its self-defined “I” ness assumes a pre-eminent state among the subtle din of random, semi-conscious thoughts which pulse through our organism. And of course, our organism can “pick up” the vibration of other organisms nearby. The result is that there are myriad vibrations riding in and through the subconscious mind at any given time.
Mantras start a powerful vibration which corresponds to both a specific spiritual energy frequency and a state of consciousness in seed form. Over time, the mantra process begins to override all of the other smaller vibrations, which eventually become absorbed by the mantra. After a length of time which varies from individual to individual, the great wave of the mantra stills all other vibrations. Ultimately, the mantra produces a state where the organism vibrates at the rate completely in tune with the energy and spiritual state represented by and contained within the mantra.
At this point, a change of state occurs in the organism. The organism becomes subtly different. Just as a laser is light which is coherent in a new way, the person who becomes one with the state produced by the mantra is also coherent in a way which did not exist prior to the conscious undertaking of repetition of the mantra.
Definition #3: Mantras are tools of power and tools for power.
They are formidable. They are ancient. They work. The word “mantra” is derived from two Sanskrit words. The first is “manas” or “mind,” which provides the “man” syllable. The second syllable is drawn from the Sanskrit word “trai” meaning to “protect” or to “free from.” Therefore, the word mantra in its most literal sense means “to free from the mind.” Mantra is, at its core, a tool used by the mind which eventually frees one from the vagaries of the mind.
But the journey from mantra to freedom is a wondrous one. The mind expands, deepens and widens and eventually dips into the essence of cosmic existence. On its journey, the mind comes to understand much about the essence of the vibration of things. And knowledge, as we all know, is power. In the case of mantra, this power is tangible and wieldable.
1. Mantras have close, approximate one-to-one direct language-based translation.
If we warn a young child that it should not touch a hot stove, we try to explain that it will burn the child. However, language is insufficient to convey the experience. Only the act of touching the stove and being burned will adequately define the words “hot” and “burn” in the context of “stove.” Essentially, there is no real direct translation of the experience of being burned.Similarly, there is no word which is the exact equivalent of the experience of sticking one’s finger into an electrical socket. When we stick our hand into the socket, only then do we have a context for the word “shock.” But shock is really a definition of the result of the action of sticking our hand into the socket.
It is the same with mantras. The only true definition is the experience which it ultimately creates in the speaker. Over thousands of years, many chanters have had common experiences and passed them on to the next generation. Through this tradition, a context of experiential definition has been created.
2. Definitions of mantras are oriented toward either the results of repeating the mantra or of the intentions of the original framers and testers of the mantra.
In Sanskrit, sounds which have no direct translation but which contain great power which can be “grown” from it are called “seed mantras.” Seed in Sanskrit is called “Bijam” in the singular and “Bija” in the plural form.An example would be the mantra “Shrim” or Shreem is the seed sound for the principle of abundance (Lakshmi, in the Hindu Pantheon.) If one says “shrim” a hundred times, a certain increase in the potentiality of the sayer to accumulate abundance is achieved. If one says “shrim” a thousand times or a million, the result is correspondingly greater.But abundance can take many forms. There is prosperity, to be sure, but there is also peace as abundance, health as wealth, friends as wealth, enough food to eat as wealth, and a host of other kinds and types of abundance which may vary from individual to individual and culture to culture. It is at this point that the intention of the sayer begins to influence the degree of the kind of capacity for accumulating wealth which may accrue.
3. Mantras have been tested and/or verified by their original framers or users.
Each mantra is associated with an actual sage or historical person who once lived. Although the oral tradition predates written speech by centuries, those earliest oral records annotated on palm leaves discussed earlier clearly designate a specific sage as the “seer” of the mantra. This means that the mantra was probably arrived at through some form of meditation or intuition and subsequently tested by the person who first encountered it.
4. Sanskrit mantras are composed of letters which correspond to certain petals or spokes of chakras in the subtle body. There is a direct relationship between the mantra sound, either vocalized or subvocalized, and the chakras located throughout the body.
5. Mantras are energy which can be likened to fire.You can use fire either to cook your lunch or to burn down the forest. It is the same fire. Similarly, mantra can bring a positive and beneficial result, or it can produce an energy meltdown when misused or practiced without some guidance. There are certain mantra formulas which are so exact, so specific and so powerful that they must be learned and practiced under careful supervision by a qualified teacher.
Fortunately, most of the mantras widely used in the West are perfectly safe to use on a daily basis, even with some intensity.
6. Mantra energizes prana.
“Prana” is a Sanskrit term for a form of life energy which can be transferred from individual to individual. Prana may or may not produce an instant dramatic effect upon transfer. There can be heat or coolness as a result of the transfer.
Some healers operate through transfer of prana. A massage therapist can transfer prana with beneficial effect. Even self-healing can be accomplished by concentrating prana in certain organs, the result of which can be a clearing of the difficulty or condition. For instance, by saying a certain mantra while visualizing an internal organ bathed in light, the specific power of the mantra can become concentrated there with great beneficial effect.
7. Mantras eventually quiet the mind.
At a deep level, subconscious mind is a collective consciousness of all the forms of primitive consciousnesses which exist throughout the physical and subtle bodies. The dedicated use of mantra can dig into subconscious crystallized thoughts stored in the organs and glands and transform these bodily parts into repositories of peace.
The Sanskrit word ‘mantra’ contains the root ‘man’ which means ‘to think’ and the syllable ‘tra’ which means ‘tool’. Thus, mantra is a ‘tool for thinking’. A mantra is a sacred letter-form and sound that contains the genetic essence of a specific energy. Sometimes mantras are are defined as ‘protectors of the mind’.”It is the essence of the creative word, the primal sounds that give shape to the relative reality filling the ultimate reality of the void… The power and effect of a mantra depend on the spiritual attitude, the knowledge and the responsiveness of the individual. The sound of the mantra is not a physical sound (though it may be accompanied by such a one) but a spiritual one. It cannot be heard by the ears, but only by the heart, and it cannot be uttered by the mouth but only by the mind. The mantra has power and meaning only for the initiated… Mantras are not ‘spells’, as even prominent Western scholars repeat again and again… Mantras do not act on account of their own ‘magic’ nature, but only through the mind that experiences them.” (Lama Anagarika Govinda from ‘Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism’)
In Buddhism, most mantras are pronounced in the original Sanskrit.It should be noted that in all main religions much importance is given to speech / the word / mantra. For example, in the Christian bible it reads: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. Similarly, in Hinduism, the sound of OM takes an essential part in the creation of the universe.The recitation of mantras is a very important part in tantric practice, as it is used to transform the speech as part of transforming our body, speech and mind into the respective pure aspects of a Buddha). Like with other tantric practices, they only become really effective after oral transmission from a teacher.
It is interesting to note also that even in the earliest Pali (Theravadin) texts, mantras can be found for the purpose of warding off danger, as well as for the creation of beneficial conditions.”A mantra is something that you utter when your body, speech and mind, and breath are at one in concentration. When you dwell in that deep concentration, you look at things and see them as clearly as you see an orange that you hold in the palm of your hand. Looking deeply into the five skandhas, Avalokiteshvara (Guanyin Bodhisattva) saw the nature of interbeing and overcame all pain. He became completely liberated. It was in that state of deep concentration, of joy, of liberation, that he uttered something important. That is why his utterance is a mantra.When two young people love each other, but the young man has not said so yet, the young lady may be waiting for three very important words. If the young man is a very responsible person, he probably wants to be sure of his feeling, and he may wait a long time before saying it. Then one day, sitting together in a park, when no one else is nearby and everything is quiet, after the two of them have been silent for a long time, he utters these three words. When the young lady hears this, she trembles, because it is such an important statement. When you say something like that not just with your mouth or intellect, but with your whole being, it can transform the world. A statement that has such power of transformation is called a mantra.” (From: “The Heart of Understanding: Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra” by Thich Nhat Hanh)
You can find more information on mantras and several examples (including the proper pronunciation) at Wildmind.org.