I had so much fun writing that title. Isn’t it absolutely cool? I mean the sound. Say it out loud, it sings!
In Music as Yoga Patrick Bernard explains that these sounds are variations of the same syllable of primordial sound–a spiritual energy with creative and transformative powers linked to the essence of consciousness. With this premise Mr. Bernard begins his description of mantra (sound) meditation, also known as kirtan or japa. I talked about Julia Roberts chanting japa earlier.
The syllables in the title above originate from Sanskrit, Chinese, Tibetan, Japanese, and Hebrew/Islam. Though I intone mantras in Sanskrit, I love the title of this blog as a mantra. I can practically hear a chorus singing it. Anyone up for composing a tune?
Back to the subject. Though claim for linguistic associations and root origins can fuel heated debate among scholars, Mr. Bernard isn’t advancing an argument along those lines about these syllables. Rather, he proposes that the sounds are similar in their effects on humans.
Meditation’s commonly understood and experienced influence, whether it be meditation with breath, mantra, postures, or focusing the mind on the Now, is a relaxation response and oftentimes can produce physical and psychological healing.
While these positive benefits are worthwhile, they are not the essence of mantra meditation or other meditative processes from India. Mantras contain the power to liberate the mind and put us in direct contact with spirit.
That’s a big claim. To understand how that might be possible, let’s start with the more obvious.
You might have noticed how your body responds to sirens screaming around you. Compare that to sensations you feel when listening to melodic instrumental music. Or imagine for a moment the physical reactions you’d have to the sound of bombs dropping from the sky and exploding nearby compared to the contagious deep belly laugh of an infant. Sound creates visceral response and subtle response in mood, thoughts, and outlook.
Numerous studies show how frequency modulations affect animals, water, plants, and humans both negatively and positively.
These facts partially explain the ancient claim that mantra meditation does more than change the body, mind, or emotions.
To understand how a mantra can be more than just a combination of words and sound capable of affecting the physical sphere, consider Plato’s argument that words denote concepts that are eternal, and the Upanishad’s explanation that certain sounds–-spiritual sounds–descend into this world from a transcendent one.
Vedic literature also states that, due to the nature of spirit, celestial sound is identical to what it names. Divinity’s qualities are eternality, knowledge, and concentrated bliss, even when it enters this world. In the superior reality, consciousness is not separate from form. In fact, form there is concentrated consciousness. Thus a body, a tree, or a desire is all pure consciousness, not inert, but aware.
Okay, okay. I’ve gotten a bit esoteric. The point is that spirit is more powerful than matter and bringing it into your life will transform you in practical ways. Matter cannot change spirit or dictate its own qualities on spirit. So transcendental sound, or mantra, in this world doesn’t have to pass through layers or barriers to touch the self and reveal the divine. Simply by speaking it!
This is the point of mantra according to all Eastern thought.
But not all mantras are created equal. Every mantra–whether one from its origins in the Eastern spirituality of India, or the mantra-oriented traditions like Buddhism, Sikhism, or Jainism, or the spell-like song of daily speech–has a specific meaning and goal.
Choosing a mantra depends on what you want. Be clear on what you want; you’ll get it. And hankering for money, sex, or other worldly fruit leaves one empty because the benefits are temporary gains unable to mitigate the self’s burning desire for union with the Supreme.
The Kali Santarana Upanishad (one of the principle Upanishads) claims the mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare is a primary mantra for deliverance. It’s a celebratory call of love and devotion to God that cleanses the mirror of the mind and heart so that you can see yourself and God in the heart sitting next to you.
You’ll hear this chant from all the top kirtan players around the country. And as thousands partaking in kirtan at yoga studios in America will attest, chanting with a heart open to pure love–Bhakti–brings ecstasy.
More about America’s burgeoning interest in kirtan next time. It’s something to take note of.