Mantra: Word of Power (II)
A talk given by Phiroz Mehta at Dilkusha, Forest Hill, London on 6th July 1974
The idea of the word of power, or the phrase of power, is extremely ancient. It goes right back to the original Qabalah and the original Veda, but, as far as I am aware, the first detailed statements about the use of the word of power come in the Upaniṣads. It comes right from the oldest Upaniṣads. The idea of the mantra in the first instance was that it was of the nature of a magic spell which could bring about even material results. It was always associated with religious rituals. There was also its degraded aspect, of which remnants have come through and still survive among people whom we sometimes regard as backward or primitive peoples, the use of the word of power for ill purposes or for purposes which do not do credit to man as a human being. That we need not consider at all.
But in the Upaniṣads we get very distinct teachings as to the use of the mantra, the repetition of a word or a phrase to produce psychical results upon oneself, and also, in the case of a congregation, upon those present who may be participating in some sort of religious ceremony. The repetition of the word is called japa, and we find it mentioned as one of the religious observances which formed part of the training of the Yogi. Yoga in all cases, whatever the name of the Yoga may be, whether it was Hatha Yoga, Laya Yoga, Mantra Yoga, or Raja, Karma or Bhakti, it made no difference, Yoga as such had eight special aspects. The first was that which dealt with the foundation, the indispensable foundation, of purity of the heart, morality in other words, yama it was called. The second, niyama, dealt with religious observances. The full list comes out in the Sāṇdilya Upaniṣad. Other Upaniṣads give shorter lists generally. The Sāṇdilya gives ten yamas, the moral precepts, and ten niyamas, religious observances. Of these religious observances, one is termed japa, the repetition of the holy word, the word or power, or the word which was entrusted to the disciple, specifically for the disciple alone by the guru, the teacher. It was distinctly stated that this mantra, this word, could be spoken aloud or it could be spoken silently in the mind. That which was spoken silently in the mind was regarded as far more efficacious in producing the desired result, the desired result particularly being the calming of the mind, producing that atmosphere, that peace and stability, that poise, which were essential for deep meditation. Through the centuries, particularly for instance in countries like India, people have indulged in this japa. The common people, who are not pupils of any teacher or a yogi or something like that, are quite accustomed to practising japa. They use usually the names of the Holy Ones, like Kṛṣṇa, or the saint-king Rāma. They go on for hours on end or all day long sometimes. Or it may be the name of any great saint or teacher of the past. That is one way. When you come to the deeper aspects of japa, it is done not automatically, not mechanically, but with concentrated attention. In all cases the meaning of the word or the phrase is known. It is only in very recent times, as far as I am aware, that the idea has been spread about that a word may be given by a teacher whose meaning you do not know. For example, people in Europe and America are given Sanskrit words whose meaning they do not know, and it is suggested that the very fact that they do not know the meaning means that the mind will not be distracted and the word will have a profounder effect. Be that as it may, the Upaniṣads have nothing to do with that, and I know that the genuine teachers in India do not have that sort of thing.
How is it that japa can have an effect upon the individual? Here the teaching is given out in full in some of the Upaniṣads, particularly in the one known as the Tārasāra Upaniṣad. It is a short one, and the teacher there is no other than that prince of yogis Yājñavalkya, practically the greatest name amongst the great host of Upaniṣadic Holy Ones and teachers. Bhāraḍvāja his pupil asks him to expound the use of the mantra and what is the finest mantra for enabling him to cross over this mundane existence. The idea of the mundane existence means this existence here in the state of ignorance, in our ambivalent condition with all the conflicts born of that ambivalence and all the dissatisfactions, the miseries and the sorrows of life which we go through. Mundane existence was equated with that. And so how was one to use the mantra, the great spell, which would take us outside this mundane existence or transform it into holy living and the holy state? It is rather interesting that the Prajñāpāramitā of Mahayana Buddhism ends with the statement by the Buddha about the spell, the great spell, which brings complete liberation. And it is just one sound A. In that sound is symbolised the entire teaching and the entire truth.
Now similarly in the entire Vedic tradition, the whole Brahmanical and modern Hindu tradition, the word Auṃ has paramount place. There are many meanings of the word Auṃ which we need not go into now. Let us examine this mantra which Yājñavalkya teaches Bhāraḍvāja. The mantra consists of three words, Auṃ-Nama-Nārāyaṇāya. Nama as an ordinary word in the language is just a salutation. We say namaste when we greet each other in India. Nama is a word which means “homage unto”. Auṃ is just the sound, the single syllable, but it is spelt AUM, the English Aum corresponding exactly to the Sanskrit first two vowels A, U and then the ṃ, the anusvāra, as it is called. Auṃ-Nama (homage unto) Nārāyaṇāya. Nārāyana is the name of the deity, and the concept of deity embodied in that particular name is about the nearest correspondent to the finest Christian God-conception. Nārāyaṇāya is the dative case of Nārāyana. So it means “Auṃ, homage unto Nārāyana” — that is its literal meaning. Now of course with the literal meaning one literally does not get further than our ordinary mundane experience. Why? The whole idea of crossing over the ocean of saṃsāra, crossing over mundane existence and realizing this spiritual condition and state here now, the whole idea is involved with the complete transformation of your consciousness in its innermost depth. If that transformation can be effected, then your entire psycho-physical nature and your entire psycho-mental-spiritual functioning undergo transformation. Therefore there must be something far more than the literal meaning, and this is what Yājñavalkya explains. He puts it in this form. Auṃ is of the nature of Ātma. Nama is of the nature of prakṛṭi. Nārāyaṇāya is of the nature of Parabrahman (that which is beyond Brahman). Conceptually, intellectually, it is a bit absurd to talk of that which is beyond Brahman, for Brahman is already postulated as the Absolute All, the Supreme, the Ultimate. You cannot have anything beyond the Ultimate, a Super-Ultimate. And yet we have got a very interesting example, the most interesting example of Dionysius the Areopagite. You will find him using terms like Super-essential, Super this, Super that, Super the Superlative itself, and it is not nonsensical. You have to study the work in order to understand it. So similarly this term Parabrahman, originates with the Sāṃkhya philosophy really, and is implied in the word Nārāyaṇāya.
What do we mean by Ātma? Of course he who has just studied the books will say, “That is the term for the Ultimate Reality in Hindu philosophy. It is the soul, the innermost soul of man, or the innermost consciousness of man.” Having said “soul” or “consciousness”, you are not a single step forrarder. You do not know what you are talking about. We all use the word “mind”, can anyone tell me what is mind? You try and look into it and see if you know what mind means. It is a convenient sound to express our awareness of the fact that there are processes which go on, because of the activity of our senses and brain and speech faculty, which we call psychical or mental processes. We say, “Therefore those are the activities and processes of our mind.” You can produce your liver, your nose, your bones, your heart, but you cannot put your mind on a silver salver and present it for examination. It is one of those elusive words, as elusive as the word God. So it is no good saying that the Ātma is this, that and the other. The Upaniṣads presented Ātma as the ultimate state of consciousness which you yourself can realize. That again is a pretty vague statement. I will give you a sentence which is the result of my lifetime’s work over this which will perhaps dispel certain misconceptions, but will still in certain aspects remain vague inevitably. When you yourself are completely purified in mind and heart, your mind empty of all its clutter of ideas, conceptions, beliefs, drives, all thought-forms whatsoever, empty of all that, utterly transparent therefore, when you are utterly still and silent, (the mind is silent, no flow of discursive thought), then you are the nexus, the focal point for the free inflow and outflow of Transcendent energy, or let me put it this way, the energy of Transcendence. When you are in that state, that is the meaning of the word Ātma. There is something more concrete there than saying it is absolute consciousness, because neither the word absolute nor the word consciousness is definable. But we all know from our experience the meaning of being pure in mind and heart to some degree or other. We know the meaning of beliefs, ideas, conceptions, and being free of all beliefs, ideas, conceptions, etc. We know the meaning of being still, of being silent. So at least we know something of what condition we ourselves are in, and it is that condition of utter purification, of a transfiguration of your whole being, in which Transcendence, the unknown, the unknowable functions through you unhindered, perfectly freely. That is the real meaning of the word Ātma.
Auṃ is of the nature of Ātma. Nama is of the nature of prakṛṭi. What is prakṛṭi? Prakṛṭi in the Sāṃkhya philosophy is primordial nature. We must not fall into the trap of thinking therefore that prakṛṭi is the origin of the material universe. Prakṛṭi is a word which we can best translate into English as primordial nature, but this primordial nature contains within it all that through the evolutionary process gets manifested not merely as the material universe, but also as life, consciousness. It would be better to regard this primordial nature as that out of which emanates the total becoming process, of the world and of man. (Man of course is part of the world). That is prakṛṭi. And another simple way of looking at prakṛṭi is essential nature. What is somebody’s essential nature? Is he by nature a saint, an organiser, a pioneer, what is he? Essential nature, that is one way of looking at prakṛṭi. But that is not implied here. It is primordial nature in its totality which is implied. Nārāyaṇāya is Parabrahman, that which is beyond the Totality, the Absolute. But let us leave it at that.
The sound Auṃ is one syllable, Nama is two syllables, Nārāyaṇāya is five syllables, making eight syllables in all. It is stated that the Yogi, who can utilize this with power, because he has developed the skill, the knowledge, and he has got the qualifications for it, with the pronouncing of the first syllable Auṃ, produces Brahmā, the Father-God, the Creator. Try and feel this out, do not try to intellectualize it, otherwise you will miss its import, its deep import. The Upaniṣad says that the sound Auṃ produces Brahmā, the Father-God. The Father-God is related to the body, as being the controller and residing at the base of the spine, in terms of Kundalini Yoga. Then the syllable Na, the first syllable of Nama, produces Viṣṇu, the second person of the Trinity, the Nurturer, the Preserver, he who represents mercy, love and so forth. And the location ascribed to him is in the region of the heart, anāhata of the Kundalini Yoga, tiphereth of the Qabalistic Tree of Life. The second syllable of Nama, the syllable ma, produces Rudra who is located in the head, the third person of the Trinity. Rudra in the course of the centuries becomes Ṣiva, but the original name is of great importance, Rudra. Rudra means “the one who roars”. He is the roarer. Think of the lion roar of the Buddha, and of Sāriputta. What is the meaning of this? Why should the third person of the Trinity be located up there, given the highest place of honour, so to say, and why should he be the roarer? When a man at last wakes up to the vision of Transcendence, has a real flash of it which leaves a lifelong impression on him, his inner nature sets up a sort of battle cry against all evil. ”Enough of all this,” that inner consciousness says, and he makes the affirmation with the voice of thunder, Rudra, the roarer. But then, with this very element in us which starts as a warrior (the sign of Leo in the Zodiac), the climax comes as Ṣiva, the Benign One, the Auspicious One, the One who is the Lord of ascetics, the one who is in everlasting meditation. That is the climax of that. Auṃ-Nama therefore produces, Yājñavalkya teaches, Brahmā, Viṣṇu and the third person of the Trinity.
Now the five syllables of Nārāyaṇāya. Nā produces Īśvara. (Īśvara is another name for the Deity). Īśvara means “by virtue of self-strength”, his own absolute power from within himself, granted by nobody. Within yourself is the source of power, infinite power, spiritually speaking. So Nā produces Īśvara. Rā produces Virāt. Now Virāt is a difficult word. It refers to a type of consciousness which in the first instance is ascribed to the total universe. The Virāt consciousness is that aspect of the self-consciousness of the universe which gives rise to the self-sense in each of us individuals. That is how it functions in each of us, as a self-sense. ”I am I.” This is related to the Virāt consciousness as such. This is the old teaching; these are the forms in which they spoke about these things. Actually they need to be retranslated in our day and age into modern terms, and they will all bear the correct psychological correspondences. All this is the story of what you yourself are in your being and your total nature, and how that being and nature undergo the transformation which brings you to complete fulfilment, which means that the totality comes to full realization through you. That is what you have to realize, not I who achieve or attain anything whatsoever.
There is nothing whatsoever for me. For me there is only death, complete death, perfect death. Either that death can be the right sort of death, a sunset glory, or it can be just a miserable, grey ending. You have to realize that very clearly. If you do, you are religious, if you do not, you will everlastingly remain irreligious, because you will try to relate everything to self instead of being free from this bondage of the self which starts with the Virāt consciousness, the self-sense, the separated, isolative, limited self-sense.
Ya, the third syllable, stands for Puruṣa. Puruṣa literally means the person. Our idea of the person is of course John Brown, the person whom I see before me, a psycho-physical organism, and John Brown, like Phiroz Mehta or any other ordinary person, is in the ill state, full of difficulties, complexes, ignorance, greeds, violence and all the rest of it. No, it does not mean that person. The greatest of the Upaniṣads, and one of the oldest, gives the real meaning of person. We have gone into this in past meetings, I will just very briefly recapitulate. The word Puruṣa means he in whom all evilmindedness is completely burnt out. That is the meaning of the word Puruṣa. So the syllable Ya produces Puruṣa. Then the fourth syllable Nā produces Bhagavān. Bhagavān is the Lord God in the ordinary way. What aspect of the Lord God? It is not the Lord as power. To give the Qabalistic correspondence, it is El Shaddai, he who nourishes, he who is the giver of good things. The Hebrew root Shad is the origin of the words which imply the mother feeding the babe at her breast. El Shaddai - that is Bhagavān. In India the word Bhagavān essentially has this meaning. He is the giver of good things, he is the bringer of good fortune, he who pours blessings upon you. Please do not therefore start to say, “Bhagavān, Bhagavān, Bhagavān,” as a japa and think that your bank balance will go into ten figures! It won’t! It will probably go into the red unless you do hard work! No, the giver of good fortune. What good fortune? Everything in terms of pleasure, pain, difficulties, success, failure and all the rest of it, which will help you to awaken to Truth, to the Ultimate Reality, which will help you to become the completely emptied one, the purified one, the still and the silent one. And then in you yourself will be the embodied Lord moving amongst mortals. That is the significance of Bhagavān. Śrī Kṛṣṇa was called Bhagavān, and in our own day and age Ramana Maharshi is always refered to as Bhagavān. Of course the people of India are rather prone to confer degrees upon the good people amongst them!
And the last syllable Ya produces Paramātma, that is again Super-Ātma. Well, you cannot have Super-Ātma, Ātma is the Ultimate, Brahman is the Ultimate, strictly, intellectually speaking you cannot have Parabraham or Paramātma, but they have their own feel.
So, where are we? Auṃ-Nama-Nārāyaṇāya — the nature of the totality of the universe, material and spiritual, and it produces the totality of the universe, material and spiritual. Yājñavalkya does not go any further, he tells you that and he leaves it to you, if you have the patience, perseverance and the insight to understand what is the significance of this. And the significance in simple words is just this. Meditation consists essentially of three fundamental aspects. The first is mindfulness, which is a twenty-four hour activity, all day long and every day, you are mindful even in your sleep. The Buddha says that in his Great Discourse in connection with Mindfulness of Body, in just so many words, in sleep you are mindful. Then comes discursive meditation when we deliberately sit down to meditate. We assume a posture, we breathe and this, that and the other, and sort of quieten the body and let the turmoil of the psyche become placid, as far as we can let it get placid, and then we go through what? A verbal ritual, an imaginative process. We conjure up before the mind’s eye, but whatsoever you conjure up before the mind’s eye or the mind’s ear is something which you have originally obtained through the functioning of your senses. So it is confined to the sphere of mortality, it does not touch the sphere of immortality at all. Your whole consciousness is confined within the realm of mortality. But this discursive meditation is what the multitude of us, who are truly interested and try to practise the religious life, can go through. This is as far as we can go. As and when (and this is essentially due to the constant practice of mindfulness and developing insight, seeing the real nature of things) we are able to realize silence, the stillness of the body is easy enough.
But the stillness of the mind, the talking mind, is the crucial thing. It is the crucial portal of death, and when you go through that in your waking state then all this, the entire world of imagination, of all sense impressions, mental concepts and so on, all that is perfectly still, it is quiet. (You do pass through it when you are in dreamless slumber, but that is unconscious and you never know anything about it, and it is of no special use to you, apart from recharging and revitalising the body). When you go through that in your waking state, the whole circus is over, all the traffic has stopped. And now you can hear the stillness of the night speaking of the light of the day. In that state pure meditation begins. Don’t let us fool ourselves when we say, “Oh, I am practising meditation.” Don’t let us fool ourselves that it is the real thing. It is the kindergarten stage. It is inevitable, one has to go through all that, there is no other way. But when that discursive meditation comes to its stillness, then the pure meditation starts. In the pure meditation there are energies of mind in its transcendence at work. And the different modes in which that work finds expression when we come back to ordinary consciousness in our daily life, in our concepts and awareness of things and reality and so forth, these modes are expressed in terms of the Trinity and all the great archetypal concepts. That is why you must look into the meanings of the names of these archetypal concepts, especially as represented in the names of archangels and angels. The meanings of the names are the key to understanding something of the nature of these archetypal energies. Then they become realities. In that state of awareness, in that state of consciousness the mantra has power. And that is the meaning of saying that Auṃ-Nama-Nārāyaṇāya produces this whole world. But it produces it in perfection. It produces it in its aspect of the Immortal, the Transcendent altogether. And that is a power which, because of the fact that the body and mind are purified, transfigures the whole being altogether. The very cells of your brain change and your body. They do become different. You have never witnessed it. Nor have I. I have never witnessed it happening but I have seen three or four people, and that is enough. There is a difference.
So you see, the mantra has meaning and significance in that way. So the senseless repetition of a word or a phrase will certainly produce psychical effects.
It will make you feel nice, it will make you feel happy, it will release a certain amount of psychical and mental power, it will help your aspirations and so forth. (I have done these things myself, remember, in my young days!) But let the circumstance become sufficiently provocative and (remember the game of snakes and ladders!) you don’t come down a peg, you come with a bump right onto the floor again. So just realize what is the place, the real value, of this practice of japa. It is only one of the ten adjuncts of religious observances as put out in the Sāṇdilya Upaniṣad. It is perhaps a ten thousandth part of the real work of the spiritual life. It can help of course.
We do know from our actual experience in everyday life the power of the word. Somebody says, “I love you.” And especially if you are at the right age and in the right condition all kinds of wonderful things happen, which can alter the entire course of your life. Or somebody says, “You are a rotter, you’re a silly little idiot,” and that too can blast your life for many years, especially if you are very sensitive in one’s young days and a parent or schoolteacher does that. It can incapacitate you in certain directions. You know the power of the word then. Henry II said a few words impatiently and Thomas à Becket was murdered.
If we study this question of mantras and translate its practical application into our everyday life, we shall have learnt a most valuable lesson. You remember how the Buddha first expounds the five moralities in the Brahmajāla Sutta. It takes twenty five lines of print in the volume of the Long Discourses of which sixteen are devoted to the precept regarding speech. The Buddha must have known something about the power and the importance of speech. And then when further expositions follow a few pages later, elaborations on the main exposition, you will see that all that he classes as frivolous talk is to be completely avoided by the one who is seriously concerned with living the religious life, and you will find that it would imply being absolutely silent almost all day long. Do you remember the words of Jesus? They are not exactly related to this but they are significant in their own context. ”Swear not at all… But let your communication be yea, yea; nay, nay.” Supposing we were to live by saying, “Yes, no, thank you”, and kept silent. Have you ever experimented with this and found out what a remarkable development of your power of mindfulness takes place? You really begin to attend. You know how at our social gatherings everyone is asking questions and answering and talking at the same time, so everyone hears all the sounds simultaneously and knows nothing at all of what the other fellow said. It is like the stone-deaf lady who went to hear a distinguished professor and said, “I couldn’t hear a word of what you said, I completely disagree with you!” But isn’t that how we carry on?
The word has power. Watch every word, because the word in our ordinary everyday sphere is a mantra. So if we have learnt that much it has been worthwhile considering this question of mantras.
I’d like to speak in Portuguese or Spanish, I want some mantras, music that baktas sing in the celebrations.
Sadi da Fontoura Porto, 15th December 2002