Today I want to explain to you a little about the science of mantra yoga. The mantra shastra is a very deep and great science which, if understood correctly, can give you victory over your lower nature. Mantra shastra is very ancient, and in previous ages people knew this science well. Recently, however, the people’s faith in mantra shastra has lessened and gradually this knowledge has become hidden to such an extent that nowadays anything is said in the name of mantra.
Mankind’s most ancient scriptures are the tantra shastras and after the tantras, the Vedas took birth. From the tantras, the mantra shastra has come. The mantra shastra was not written like any ordinary type of book. There were ancient rishis, munis and sages, who had the actual realization of mantra. In meditation, when the rishis were able to transcend the material consciousness, rising to a very high level, those sounds heard by them in that highest state were called mantra. This does not mean that if you make up some syllables in your mind and repeat them, it is mantra. Those whose souls are purified and through meditation established their consciousness at a very high level beyond the mind, the sounds perceived by them, in that state, are called mantra.
The rishis had the experience of mantra at three different levels or planes of consciousness. When the consciousness passes from the gross body into the subtle body, the sound perceived at that time makes one collection. The mantras heard in the subtle body form another group, and when the consciousness enters from the subtle or second body into the third body, certain mantras realized at that time form a third group.
First, I want you to understand what is meant here by first body, second body and third body. When I say body, I do not mean only the body form, rather I mean body consciousness, that body through which your consciousness if functioning. When the body consciousness is realized through the medium of five gross senses, that is called the gross body consciousness, the first body where your mind, intellect and memory are working.
What is the second body? When you practise meditation, your awareness travels deep inside, and in that inner meditation you begin to see beautiful visions and dreams. That which is called the second body is, therefore, not something tangible. It is the subtle or astral body, the sukshma sharira, the psychic consciousness, or the subconscious body. That is the second plane of consciousness.
What is known as the third body? When meditation becomes deeper and deeper, the state of void or shoonya comes. There is no awareness of external, or internal. It is the experience of the dark night of the soul, like midnight, formless, sightless, where there is no awareness of ‘I’. That is called the third body, the causal body, the karana sharira, or the unconscious body. In the Vedas it has been called hiranyagarbha, the golden womb.
There is also a fourth level of consciousness which is transcendental. In the third and fourth levels of consciousness, the awareness of the external world is absent. There is no awareness of my old name, my old form, but there is the experience of the eternal self, akhanda swaroop. This is the fourth level of consciousness called samadhi or turiya.
All these different levels of consciousness have been indicated in the Gayatri mantra: Om Bhur, Om Bhuvaha, Om Swaha, Om Maha, Om Janaha, Om Tapaha, Om Satyam, Om Tat Savitur Varenyam Bhargo Devasya Dhimahi Dhiyo Yonaha Prachodayat. Om Bhur, that is the first body, bhur loka or the material plane; Om Bhuvaha, the second body, the intermediate or astral plane; Om Swaha, the third body, the heavenly or divine plane. After this the following mantras come in the fourth body – maha loka, jano loka, tapo loka and satya loka. I do not mean material worlds, but rather the planes of consciousness.
As the rishis sat in meditation, at higher levels, they received these sounds, mantra. For this reason, mantras are not a creation of the human mind, not made by any man; rather they were received from higher sources. Just as in the religion of Islam, it is said that the Koran was revealed by God. This means that whoever received the Koran had attained a very high yogic state.
In the same way the Christians speak of the Bible as a revealed scripture. Our own Sanatana dharma, the eternal system of the vedic civilization, is understood as having been revealed to mankind. The Vedas were not written by man. This does not mean that the pen which wrote them was held in God’s hand, it only means that they were revealed to the rishis in the transcendental state.
Of all the types of mantra, the first and the highest is Om. Om is the seed or bija mantra of all mantras. The rishis realized this cosmic Om in the very highest planes of consciousness, in the state of self-realization. All the mantras in existence have come from Om. It is composed of three sounds, A, U and M. This Om is found in all societies and in all religions, in one form of another, whether Christian or Muslim. Om is the foremost of mantras.
First comes Om and after it the mantras of Gayatri. The twenty-four syllables of Gayatri plus Om should be known as the original Gayatri mantra. The vedic rishis who received this mantra were also established at a very high level of consciousness.
Following this are the mantras pertaining to the third body, the unconscious body, which are also known as bija mantras. We call them potential mantras, because they contain dormant, potential energy of different forces. Each of the powers or forces in the world has its own bija mantra, such as Aim for Saraswati, Shreem for Laxmi, Kleem, Kreem, Hreem and so on. All the short, seemingly meaningless mantras which you might have heard, are called bija mantras.
Those bija mantras are just like little bombs, the type of time bomb which explodes just at the right moment. Just as you plant a seed in the earth and from that a giant tree grows up, giving thousands of fruits, such is the power of the bija mantra. With the practice of anushthana, prolonged mantra repetition for a fixed period of time and number of malas, and regular sadhana, the power of the mantra is awakened. When that power is awakened, the consciousness takes the form of the mantra and then the real work of the mantra begins.
Please, remember one thing. Shakti, energy, is not only of one type. It has innumerable forms. Although the primal shakti, the root shakti, is one, its manifestations are endless. That is why we worship Devi in so many different forms. The same principle is also found in science. When electricity is flowing from one central circuit, the amplifier, tape recorder and all the appliances are working. The same energy which gives heat from the heater, gives coolness from the fan. These are the varied manifestations of one energy. The truth is that shakti is not just of one kind. Intellect is one shakti, memory is another shakti. Speech, prana, knowledge, are all shaktis, without which we cannot exist. So there are different bija mantras for the awakening of these different powers.
For example, take vidya shakti, the power of knowledge. It is in the form of Saraswati. I am not talking of the goddess Saraswati whose idol is worshipped in the temple, but I mean that energy, that shakti which is within us in the form of vidya or Saraswati. What is the way to awaken this energy? Of all the methods given, the best is to take the bija mantra of that shakti and to awaken its sleeping potential.
There are many other types of shaktis pertaining to the body, to disease, even to snake poison, and so on. In many diseases, if japa anushthana of Mrityunjaya mantra is perfomed, the power of the mantra is awakened internally, giving the desired result. By the practice of mantra japa, the aspirant’s conscious will is awakened and through the willpower everything is accomplished.
All the bija mantras must be practised strictly according to certain rules and regulations. They should not be practised just by reading them out of a book. Anushthana should only be undertaken after understanding the purpose and necessity of the bija mantras well. On this subject, it is explained in the tantra shastras that firstly a yantra or mystic diagram, should be made and within that yantra the bija mantra should be written. For example, the mantra Sri, the mantra of Laxmi, you will often find carved on crystal or on copper. This is called Sri chakra.
Next comes the group of mantras pertaining to the second body, like Om Namah Shivaya, Sri Ram, Hari Krishna. Anyone with faith may practise japa of these mantras.
Different mantras have different benefits. All those who practise japa of Gayatri mantra will find it very beneficial for the health and intellect. For skin diseases or iron deficiency, anushthana of the Surya or Sun mantras is beneficial if practised properly. Through mantra one can remove disease, sorrow and restlessness. Mantra is so powerful that within a moment one can change bad habits also. It is important for people to study and understand this science in the correct way.
In my childhood I had an experience which I will tell you about. It was in Allahabad, when I was very young, only seven or eight years old. I happened to see two Muslims playing with a snake. Just as I was passing, I saw one man make a circle on the ground with a stick. In that circle was a first class snake, a big cobra. The cobra belonged to the snake charmer and there was some kind of argument between him and the other man.
Being young I could not follow their words completely. It was all mantra-tantra business. The other man said, “Now I will see how your snake will get out!” And taking a stick he drew one or two more lines, then the snake just sat there. It came up just to the line then turned back again. I was just watching all this, not understanding anything, so I asked him what was happening. He told me, “I have thrown mantras on all four sides of the snake, so now it cannot come out.”
I saw them fighting together. One wanted to throw grains of rice or dal on the other, but he didn’t throw them for fear the other man would also throw some rice on him. Rice is one medium through which mantra is thrown. So they circled each other trying to throw the rice for about ten or fifteen minutes. At last a big crowd gathered bringing their tantric battle to an end. This incident stuck in my mind for many days.
Many years later I came to my guru’s ashram in Rishikesh. I am speaking about the Rishikesh ashram of many years ago in 1942–43 on the banks of the Ganga River, surrounded on all sides by dense jungle, where at night your step might fall on a scorpion. An American family came to stay at the ashram. One day, the small girl was stung so severely by a scorpion that it seemed she would be dead within ten minutes.
Just next to the ashram was a police station and from there somebody brought a constable. He brought a small knife with him and with that knife he removed the poison within five minutes. In another five minutes the girl was completely normal. I asked, “What mantra have you used?” He said, “Kali Calcutta wali”. The goddess Kali is the patron deity of Calcutta. I was amazed.
I was raised by Arya Samajis, a sect which does not accept the concept of personal gods and goddesses. I was educated at a convent school with Christians and many close relatives at home were Muslims. When I heard the name of Kali Calcutta wali, my entire faith was shaken. I said, “Oh, I know Kali Calcutta wali. Kali is just a name and Calcutta is a place, so how could poison be removed just by repeating those words?”
Gradually my attention was caught. I asked many people and started to read books about tantra and to practise mantra anushthana myself. Since then, I have had so many experiences, so many wonderful benefits, that it is not even possible to relate them. What I want to explain is that those words, Kali Calcutta wali, may seem completely simple and ordinary to us, but for the man who has realized them, they are not ordinary at all. Those sounds which the rishis realized are not only simple words but syllables full of power. That is why we say shabda, sound, is Brahma, supreme consciousness. There is power in the mantra and to awaken this power, everyone should find a method within himself.
Everyone should have his own mantra and practise japa with complete regularity for fifteen minutes or half an hour daily. Concentration is not necessary for japa. Understand this properly. At the time of mantra japa, concentration of the mind is not important, but what is important is faith and belief. If your faith is weak and your concentration is strong, you will not attain the power of the mantra. If your concentration is weak, your mind running here and there, but your faith and devotion unshakeable, the mantra will awaken soon within you. For this reason, a lot of emphasis is placed on faith and devotion in mantra shastra.
There are two forces, two powers in the mantra. One is the power of consciousness, Shiva or what is called purusha. The other is the force of nature, matter or prakriti. Through sadhana, these two forces are awakened and after awakening they will continue to help you for the whole of your life.
Chhattisgarh Yoga Seminar, Korba, 1974, first published in YOGA Vol. 13, No. 1 (January 1975)