Mantra yoga - meditating on selected sounds - can be very good for your health, depending on many factors that go into it. This article on various sides to it has five main parts, and exposes traditional, Indian ways of doing it to set you on the track. The intention is to present main points of the practice and the lifestyle that traditionally surrounds it. There is much information given, but you need a few things over and above it to be able to do TM (Transcendental Meditation), which also uses mantras, and is well researched. The purpose of the article is to present information from the yoga culture of India.
The items of the first part are general, all-round counsel stemming from Swami Sivananda's writings, and could give you direction for getting onward and upward. Sivananda's councel has been softened and moderated considerably by me, for educational reasons. .
The second parts goes into meditation guidelines. There is a brief survey of some main mantras according to the tradition, but not all of them. It is also good to know that the divine qualities (parts of the goddesses) for the mantras, tend to overlap, as do the descriptions and mantras of goddesses: they overlap, in part merge. Thus, the qualities traditionally depicted and described for each mantra, may have to be looked up. I suggest a look into Wikipedia's article on Mahavidyas for a good, first glance.
Thus, even though I have added a little bit to Sivananda's information about mantras, the list of traditional, fundamental mantras is not complete, and the mantras are not described at length either. .
What you do find is capsules on how to do mantra yoga, and the specifics of a much used mantra to think-intone along with the naturally flowing breath. .
One thing is tradition, another is the results of qualified research: There is as yet only meagre research on individual mantras and what they could accomplish. Where good evidence is lacking, faith tends to get involved - a factor that needs to be warned against, in the light of this: Look out into the world and see how many different faiths there are. If a faith matters, this really means that many faiths and persuasions and creeds are wrongly based. And where does that take adherents? Some - even the majority - could be in for a surprise. Applied to an individual: "What makes you think that your cult has a fit faith, if good faith matters? And what are the odds for it, considering all the other faiths around?" [Compare]
Sit in a cross-legged yoga posture or any pose you like for your mantra meditation for perhaps half an hour. Adjust to what time you have. You may increase the period gradually in time, over years, if you stand it.
Take light physical exercises as walking, etc., regularly, at least twice a week.
Do five to nine rounds of easy, comfortable breathing exercises two, three, four, five times a day, or as the need arises. Do not strain yourself while doing breathing exercises. [Seriously moderated]
You can repeat a Mantra according to your taste or inclinations, up to thousands of times daily. [Moderated] [NOTE: The venerated Shankaracharya of Northern India, Guru Dev, does not recommend repetition of OM at all for all in the householder stage of life. For them, meditation on OM "does not give good effects, it will be responsible for decline and misfortune." [Gbt 323-24]
Prefer organic food, and observe moderation in diet. Milk and fruits may keep the life going; medicine too. Gradually reduce or abstain from eating red meat, at least. You should give up flesh-eating as fully as possible and be benefited. [Softened, parts are added too]
Keep your meditation place all right, preferably clean [Toned down].
Repeat solid, helpful sayings. [You can use a recording device and listen to it (recommended) to let the mind feed on good thought].
Proceed very carefully. You have to check a lot and compare on your own too: Not all yoga teachings are ideal, not all other demands for conformity either. Not everything yogis say is essential is truly so.
Charity to worthy and deserving ones is usually good. And charity had preferably start at home, even though it does not have to end there. For the sake of deserving ones we may give to many more. [Changed and amplified to conform in part to the Buddhist perspective]
Give up essentially bad company, smoking, and do not develop evil habits out of conformity.
Speak as truthfully as you are up to, and politely enough, also to inward Self. "Short and sweet" can go well at times. Do not raise your voice and shout at little children or subordinates. [Abr and mod]
Reduce [silly and uneconomic] wants in order to lead a happy, contented life. Plain living and high thinking [may work for you].
Do not depend on servants, [but go for self-help by degrees, step by step, if needs be. Train yourself.] Self-reliance is much in a life.
Be careful about making resolves out of guilt and in tenseness. Keep important ones to yourself, and try to affirm them in a state of deep inwardness first of all. You may repeat positive affirmations for years, for example morning and night. [Added]
Do not fail to fulful your most pressing duties.
Behave properly as is fit (a) for yourself and (b) under the circumstances - it is quite an art. Tackle it to your ability [Added].
So be judicious on your own, and where you can, let handy principles go deep, but consider some leeway and swaying in the immediate contacts, in the open field, quite like trees. Their roots and trunk remain firmly sets, but their branches and twigs may bend and sway much more with the wind, and without any harm done. Yet, be alert that any metaphor halts. In some circumstances you need to stand firm also.
You have to be rational to cope in between your yoga meditation sessions, at any rate. Note how Buddha generally avoids parental injunctions, and instead activates your rationality, the Adult, in Eric Berne's jargon. Buddha's "Refrain from stealing" or "Avoid stealing", is far better than a Biblical "Thou shalt not steal," and then go on breaking it. It is largely fit for grown-ups to avoid severe, parental programming - which is of the superego. The "parental" injunctions might have suited people in stiff circumstances where yoga was established and a respected, long-standing part of the culture, but check what serves you best today, in the city, for example.
Your part is to consider lots of things, and give the higher life outlets a try, so that you may remain happy, elegant, and developing. Do this, and things could start to get better. Good luck.
The purified mind must be made to concentrate to the end that deep meditation can be practised. The trainee may concentrate with closed eyes on the area between the eyebrows. While meditating, various extraneous thoughts will try to enter the mind. It is common. The moment you get aware you were sidetracked, resume your meditation method anew - as often as it takes.
Sivananda affirms that half an hour's meditation is enough to enable the aspirant to smilingly pass through a whole week's life in . . . misery. You should aim for something even better . . .
Meditation must be regular.
Yoga postures are for preparing us to gain fitness to practise meditation, ideally.
Sivananda advises that the spiritual aspirant should practise sound discrimination too.
Sivananda declares that the real 'I' is Brahman or Atman behind all overt existence.
The accomplished meditator realises his innermost Being, which is a Brahman, that is, Atman. The mind can wake to Sat-Chit-Ananda (Deep Mind (Being) - Conscious Awareness (Chit), and Rapture (Bliss, Ananda).
3. Mantra Yoga
Repetition of any mantra (syllable or set of syllables) is called japa.
Dhyana is meditation. There is dhyana with japa (mantra-repetition), and without japa. Repeat a suitable mantra mentally. The mental repetition is very powerful. It is termed manasika japa.
Select an OK mantra, preferably the one your teacher (guru) has given you.
Keep your guru-given mantra a secret, keep it private.
It is better to stick to one mantra only.
Do mental japa (mantra-repetition) for some time.
When you repeat the mantra, centre your awareness deep in your heart, and you avoid doing mistakes.
Regularity in mantra thinking is generally fit.
Let the sound repetitions help to make your mind steady for a while.
Avoid distractions, and enjoy gladness from within.
Sivananda teaches that the seed mantras should not be repeated by those who are not well acquainted with them, who have a very good knowledge of the Sanskrit language and who have been directly initiated by a guru. Others should not approach these mantras.
Bija mantras or alleged bija mantras used by the various organizations have been in public domain for centuries. They are commonly known in India, and are not trade secrets of any particular organization. Sivananda lists these mantras in his work, "Japa Yoga" in the section on bija mantras. John Woodroffe too lists very many mantras in his works.
Go for quite effortless, passive, sustained repetition of the suitable mantra.
The Yoga sutras of Patanjali and the practice of the formulas which result in siddhis (powers) are common practices taught throughout India.
The prime goal of yoga is not getting paranormal powers, siddhis, and they may become obstacles to deeper meditation.
A bija is a "seed-letter". Generally a bija-mantra consists of a single letter. There are variants of how Sanskrit mantras are written in English. For example, the end letter M is spelled NG in some works. The sound that is thought of, lies somewhere between M and N and Mg and Ng, to be more precise. It is nasal, and should reverberate high up toward the frontal sinuses.
Further, the seed-sounds of the five elements are explained to be:
5. Yoga Symbolism and How to Get out of It
The teaching is that the mantra must be awakened by silent repetition of it. Don't overdo it. Let "mantra consciousness" manifest, and so the mantra bear fruits (effects). Glimpses of that mantra mind is reflected in the names attached to them above. The names represent different stirs, vibrations, generally speaking. Different qualities are attached to different stirs deep within. [Kuo 30-31, 144]
A striking example: Chinnamasta (HUM) is traditionally depicted as stark naked and headless. In one hand she holds her severed head, and in the other a pair of scissors. From the headless neck three streams of blood gush forth (for how long?) The head drinks some of it, and attendants drink blood too.
How to get to the central meaning of such picturesque symbolism? A muni, Vasistha, realised the Chinnamasta stir to such an extent that his head split asunder even when he was alive. One should not run away with the impression that rending asunder the head is a mere figure of speech, says S. Shankaranarayananan. Cutting off the head of that goddess symbolises destruction of the lid of the mind, aiming at higher, supernormal levels, and opening to such knowledge. It is said, Chinnamastha destroys at once, and is located at the eyebrow centre (ajna). [Cot 66-77 abr, passim]
In the light of that, is HUM the sound you prefer to mull over? Hm-hm!
Further, we should ask where the evidence is that the picture is rightfully interpreted by Shankaranarayanan above. Such evidence seems to be greatly missing, and that is no small matter, for sincere but naïve faith has misled many. For all that, the general teachings are that we choose a mantra that we solidly appreciate, a mantra with stirs represented by the different stirs or goddesses behind the sounds, as expounded in tantra works and some other works too. Let us say you feel a firm affinity with KLEEM (KLIM), and want to see what Tantra works say about it: KLIM is the sound of lust and love.
"When the mantra Ham-So is perfected, one can perceive the pure reality or essence . . . Ham-So is . . . mantra of the breath." - Muktibodhananda [Sys 219]
This is for the beginner. If you don't learn ◦TM - frequently pointed out as best in test among meditation methods - you can go for finding a convenient, all right mantra. A good mantra that suits the person and correct, careful practice are both said to be essential.
How to find a personally fit mantra? There are guideposts in Guru Dev's teachings, and also in other teachings.
Ham-So is a variant spelling of the old Hamsa mantra. The Sanskrit sound that concludes the 'Ham' part is not M, but between M and N and NG and MG, and nasal, as if placed high up in the nose and made to reverberate there. Also, a long 'a' in Sanskrit is more like the Italian 'o' in "Sole mio", or the vowel in the English "for'. In the mantra, I suggest you try for a sound in the middle of o and a in 'for' and 'far'. This explains the varied spellings, including Hamsa, Hansa, Hansah, Hong-So, Hong-Sau, and Hong-Saw.
Hamsa is a basic and common meditation method that is commented on already in a Sanskrit Upanishad, the Hamsa Upanishad. The Yoga Chudamani Upanishad refers to it too. The method is simple, yet effective. It consists of watching the breath without trying to control the breathing at all. Along with the ingoing breath you think-intone ("hear-think") "Hong", or "Hang" with the "ao" vocal (but it is not a diphtong) as explained in the previous paragraph. Along with the naturally outgoing breath you think-intone "Saw". Variant spellings "So" and "Sau" refer to the same sound, and this end sound may be placed much nearer to 'a' than to 'o' along the a-o continuum.
That is "all" you do: Watch your breath as an observer, and think two sounds along with the breath as it comes and goes. It is unnecessary to associate any meanings to the two sounds.
During daily practice the mind may wander. Each time you get aware that it happens, bring the attention back to watching the breath while thinking the mantra. Do not get annoyed. A secondary approach: Try to simultaneously maintain awareness of the breath and the mantra, also when the mind roams.
The Satyananda line too teaches variants of this mantra method (ajapa japa). In one, the mantra "Hong" or "hang" accompanies the inbreath, and "saw" the outbreath. It is all done in a non-directive manner. [Cy 583]
In time and with calm, regulated effort, your mind will go deeper during the mantra practice, and then worries, deep-rooted desires and great problems may surface, that is, come within the range of your inward, sensing awareness. In some cases you may become a little unhappy at a time. In such cases you can either try to continue the practice of repeating the mantra and see if the unwelcome feelings subside, or stop the practice if it becomes too much to handle at the time. Or make do with slight exercises of just ujjayi or deep yoga breathing for the time being. You may try and resume the boring mantra practice gently after some rest, or a few days, or weeks, as the case may be. Do not suppress, be a witness, rather, by just being aware (sensing) all along. That is about the best you can do. [Cy 611-12, 640-41] Hong-saw can be thought along with the ingoing and outgoing breath while walking and lying down too - or riding in a bus. There are no particular restrictions. [Cy 689]
Core kriya (ujjayi) can be integrated with Hong-Saw. First do the core kriya breathing rounds, for example six, and then go into Hong-Saw diving for 15-30 minutes at the time [Cy 583]. The time is suggestive for how long to sit in your 2-5 key sessions each day. Try to go ahead as delicately as you can, if you go into it, and make sure to practice delicately.
Try to do the calming mantra method for at least half an hour daily. It becomes pleasant and may be done quite without effort too. Alertness is increased too. These are excellent benchmarks to evaluate your performance by. [cf. Cy 688-89]
There are further details to know if you want to practice Hang-Saw (Hong-Saw). Most of them can be ferreted out in this survey: [Link]
✑ Additional: The Ancient Hamsa Upanishad
7. Personal Mantras and TM Mantras (Sound Medleys)
Lend an ear to this: Mantras are used for different ends, and anthropomorphic goddesses and gods come with some of them. They serve to describe proposed qualitites of each mantra.
To derive as much benefit as you can from the mantra, keep it secret, do not associate it with anything else, nor think yourself into the associations. Just think-hear-repeat the selected sound (or set of sounds) according to plan, and glide within after some time. TM, Transcendental Meditation, is founded on such divine principles. And what is more, TM is the most researched method of all, and has been found to work better than other meditation methods. It could be good for your health. [◦More on TM]
You may see why I refrain from giving you details of most of the sounds above. It is hardly as good for you as being given a mantra you associate nothing with in the first place, and can trust too - based on research.
You will also see that the guidelines for doing TM are not as rigid as the ones you have been given in the first part above. TM asks you to add meditation to your life, at least 20 minutes twice daily. That's it. But through TM you may go further and be taught other workable essentials. The main idea is that possible, further adjustments are better implemented by-and-by, as seems fit, and depending on you. There are courses along with the basic technique. [◦TM, Official Site]
Here ends an assembly that might have been called "How not to get plentifully outsmarted".
Cot: Shankaranarayan, S. The Ten Great Cosmic Powers. 2nd ed. Pondicherri: Dipti, 1975.
Cy: Satyananda Saraswati, Swami. A Systematic Course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Yoga and Kriya. Munger: Yoga Publications Trust, 1981.
Gbt: Mason, Paul. 108 Discourses of Guru Dev: The Life and Teachings of Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, Shankaracharya of Jyotirmath (1941-53). Vol 1. Penzance, Cornwall: Premanand, 2009.
Kuo: Pandit, M. Kundalini Yoga. 5th ed. Madras: Ganesh, 1972.
Spo: Avalon, Arthur (Sir John Woodroffe). The Serpent Power: The Secrets of Tantric and Shaktic Yoga. 7th ed. New York: Dover, 1974.
Sys: Muktibodhananda, Swami. Swara Yoga: The Tantric Science of Brain Breathing. Munger: Yoga Publications Trust, 1984.
Tata: Woodroffe, Sir John. Tantraraja Tantra. 3rd ed. Madras: Ganesh, 1971.
Tog: Woodroffe, Sir John, tr. Tantra of the Great Liberation (Mahanirvana Tantra). New York: Dover, 1972.
Zq: Janakananda, swami. Yoga, Tantra och Meditation i min vardag. (Yoga, Tantra and Meditation in Daily Life) Stockholm: Bonniers, 1975, p. 101. - English translation: Newburyport: Weiser Books, 1992. -- A practical, comprehensive introductory manual, more or less.
1. Swami Sivananda. 20 Important Spiritual Instructions. International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center. 2007.
2. Swami Sivananda. Japa Yoga: A Comprehensive Treatise on Mantra-Sastra. The Divine Life Society, India, 1992, pp 94-99.
3. In N. Ananthanarayanan. What Does Swami Sivananda Teach? "Practice of Meditation".
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