Mantra means a sound, a certain utterance or a syllable. Today, modern science sees the whole existence as reverberations of energy and different levels of vibrations. Where there is a vibration, there is bound to be a sound. So, that means, the whole existence is a kind of sound, or a complex amalgamation of sounds–the whole existence is an amalgamation of multiple mantras. Of these, a few mantras or a few sounds have been identified, which could be like keys. If you use them in a certain way, they become a key to open up a different dimension of life and experience within you.
So a mantra is not something that you utter. It is something that you strive to become because unless you become the key, existence will not open up for you. Becoming the mantra means you are becoming the key. Only if you are the key can you open the lock. Otherwise someone else has to open it for you and you have to listen to him. Mantras could be an extremely good preparatory step. Just one mantra can do such tremendous things to people. They can be an effective force in creating something, but only if they come from that kind of a source where there is a complete understanding of all that is sound. When we say ‘all that is sound,’ we are talking about the creation itself. If a mantra comes from that kind of source, with that level of understanding and when the transmission is pure, then mantras can be an effective force.
Approaching mantras with awareness There are different types of mantras. Every mantra activates a particular kind of energy in a different part of the body. Without that necessary awareness, just repeating the sound only brings dullness to the mind. Any repetition of the sound always makes your mind dull. But when it is done with proper awareness, with exact understanding of what it is, a mantra could be a very powerful means. As a science, it is a very powerful dimension, but if it is imparted without the necessary basis and without creating the necessary situations, it can cause lots of damage because this is a subjective science. We know of people who have caused damage to themselves by the improper utterance of something as common as Gayatri mantra.
Mantra and Sanskrit: What’s the relationship? Mantras always come from a Sanskrit basis, and the basic aspects of Sanskrit language are so sound sensitive. But when different people speak, each one says it in their own way. If the Bengalis say a mantra, they will say it in their own way. If the Tamil people say it, they say it in another way. If the Americans say it, they will say it in a completely different way. Like this, different people who speak different languages, according to what language they have been used to, tend to distort various mantras, unless real training is imparted. Such training is too exhaustive and people do not have that kind of patience or dedication nowadays because it needs an enormous amount of time and involvement.
Nada Yoga: The link between sound and form The Sanskrit language is a device, not necessarily a medium of communication. Most of the other languages were made up because we had to refer to something. Initially, they started with just a handful of words and then multiplied them into complex forms. But Sanskrit is a discovered language because today we know that if you feed any sound into an oscilloscope, every sound has a form attached to it. Similarly, every form has a sound attached to it. Every form in the existence is reverberating in a certain way and creates a certain sound. When you utter a sound, a form is being created. There is a whole science of using sounds in a particular way so that it creates the right kind of form. We can create powerful forms by uttering sounds in certain arrangements. This is known as the Nada Yoga, the yoga of sound. If you have mastery over the sound you also have mastery over the form that is attached to it.
This happened to me as a child: I would be staring at someone who would be talking. Initially, I heard their words. Then, just the sounds. After some time, I just saw some crazy patterns happening around them which so engrossed, amazed and amused me that I could just sit staring at them forever, not understanding a single word because I was not listening to the words at all.
Sanskrit is one language where form and sound are connected. In English for example, if you say ‘sun’ or ‘son’ in utterance it is the same, only in spelling it is different. What you write is not the criteria. The sound is the criteria. When you realise what sound is attached to a particular form, you give this sound as the name for that form. Now the sound and the form are connected. If you utter the sound, you are relating to the form–not just psychologically, but existentially, you are connecting with the form. Sanskrit is like a blueprint of the existence. What is in form, we convert into sound. A lot of distortions have happened. How to preserve it in its right form has become a challenge even today since the necessary knowledge, understanding and awareness is largely missing.
Sound is more important than meaning That is the reason why when Sanskrit is taught, it has to be learnt by rote. People just chant the language endlessly. It does not matter whether you know the meaning or not. The sound is important, not the meaning. Meanings are made up in your mind. It is the sound and the form which are connecting. Are you connecting or not? That is the question. That is why it has become the mother of almost all Indian and European languages, except Tamil. Tamil did not come from Sanskrit. It developed independently. All the other Indian languages and almost all the European languages have their origin in Sanskrit.
Mantras: How to benefit from them? Music is an arrangement of sounds to generate certain sweetness. Music is a fine arrangement, but still it is like the water flowing. A mantra is not that beautiful aesthetically, but it is much more effective. I want you to try this out: Sounds of Isha has released a CD called Vairagya, which has five mantras: Nirvana Shatakam, Guru Paduka Stotram, Brahamananda Swarupa, Aum Namah Shivaya and Shambho (the auspicious one). This was released with a specific purpose. Listen to the CD over and over a few times, listening to each one of the mantras–each one runs for 10 minutes. Figure out which mantra really draws you. This isn’t about choosing a mantra like: “Oh, I enjoy this mantra. What have you chosen? Okay, let me also choose that.” It is not done like that. Just listen and listen. When you feel that one of them is really grabbing you, you just go by that. Keep it going all the time–in your car, in your home, on your iPad, iPod, phone and everywhere. There are one-hour versions of each of these also. Simply keep them going on and on for some time. After some time it will become so much a part of your system and it will set a certain ambience for you. Mantra is not consciousness but mantra sets the right kind of ambience. Sound will set the right kind of ambience within this physiological, psychological framework and also in the atmosphere. One can make use of this.
Nada Brahma: Experiencing the world as sound ‘Nada’ means ‘sound’. ‘Brahma’ means ‘divine,’ the all. Fundamentally, there are three sounds in the existence. Any given sound can be created out of these three sounds. If you know something about a colour television, there are only three colour webs. Given these three colour webs, any number of colours can be created. Similarly, given these three sounds, any number of sounds can be created. You can see this with a simple experiment: without the use of the tongue, there are only three sounds you can utter: ‘aaa’, ‘ouuu’, and ‘mmm’. Even if you cut off your tongue, you can still utter these three sounds. For any other sound, you need the use of the tongue. You are using the tongue only to mix these three sounds in many ways to produce all the other sounds. There are so many millions of sounds you can create with your mouth, but a person who is mute can only say ‘aaa’, ‘ouuu’, and ‘mmm’. He cannot say anything else because he is not able to use his tongue.
AUM: The fundamental sound If you utter these three sounds together, what do you get? AUM. It is not some religion’s trademark. It is the fundamental sound in the existence. It is said that Shiva can create a whole new existence just by uttering three AUMs. This is not a fact, but it is a truth. What is the difference between a fact and a truth? Let us say you are a woman. Does that mean your father made no contribution towards you? Does that mean your father does not exist within you? No. So the fact is, you are either a man or a woman. The truth is you are both. It is not that Shiva is sitting somewhere and uttering AUMs. That is not the point. What is being said is that everything is just a vibration.
If you just give yourself to that song, there is a kind of power to it. It has a power to dissolve a person, if you really throw yourself into it. There are many ways to look at this. Many years ago, I used to travel alone for a month or two every year in the Himalayas, and I happened to go to Kedarnath. Kedar is a very powerful and wonderful place. Above Kedar, there is a place called Kanti Sarovar, where people don’t generally go because it is a tricky climb. I trekked up to Kanti Sarovar and sat on one of the rocks there.
It is very difficult to put this into words, but after some time, everything turned into sound in my experience. My body, the mountain, the lake in front of me, everything had become sound. It had taken on sound form, and was just going on in me in a completely different way. My mouth was closed–I am very clear about that–but my own voice was going on loudly, as if it was on a microphone, singing a song, and it was in Sanskrit.
Nada Brahma Vishwaswaroopa Nada Hi Sakala Jeevaroopa Nada Hi Karma Nada Hi Dharma Nada Hi Bandhana Nada Hi Mukti Nada Hi Shankara Nada Hi Shakti Nadam Nadam Sarvam Nadam Nadam Nadam Nadam Nadam *
Translation: Sound is Brahman, the manifestation of the universe, sound manifests itself in the form of all life, sound is bondage, sound is the means for liberation, sound is that which binds, sound is that which liberates, sound is the bestower of all, sound is the power behind everything, sound is everything.
If you just give yourself to that song, there is a kind of power to it. It has a power to dissolve a person, if you really throw yourself into it.
Sadhguru is a yogi, mystic and founder of Isha Foundation, an organisation dedicated to addressing all aspects of human wellbeing through Yoga, Awareness and Meditation.
* This mantra is found in the album Ananda Nada by Manish Vyas