In India there are mantras for everything. From the time a child is born - Sanskara is what we call in the East when certain good values are passed already to a child when he is still in the womb - and until one dies and in between big events, there are mantras for daily activities or different moments, phases and occasions in one’s life – there is always a mantra! There are mantras when we enter into a new house, in astrology, in Ayurveda, in different occasions from the smallest to the biggest; so you see, in every dimension of life they have mantras.
This is the real application of the science of mantra – from simple worldly events to higher spirituality, from tangible to subtle, from earth to ether, from darkness to light, from light to enlightenment.
It is also understood in the science of mantra that all the mantras came from Shiva (the first Yogi) and Shiva is supposed to have transmitted these sounds in the universe. So the people who were meditating in the Himalayas were the ones who simply perceived or “heard” these sounds – that’s why it is understood that nobody “created mantras” whatever mantras that we sing or recite were not created or written by people in the different times – they already existed in the vibration of the cosmos, and they were simply discovered, they were not created (it’s a bit like the gravity, the gravity was not invented, it was discovered, gravity was already there inherent to existence.) So in the same way, mantras are like this: the sounds are already existing in the universe, and there were some people who had the capacity to tune to that frequency; in their different states of meditation they tuned, they perceived and then they practiced those mantras themselves for a long time feeling their effects, and finally they passed it on to their disciples, students or other people after years of practice, after they had understood, “aha, this is the purpose for this mantra... this is the energy of this sound or mantra, this is the outcome.”
As i said, there are many purposes of mantra, in Yoga also many mantras are used, in Pranayam there are many mantras used, in meditation. Mantra can have also a practical application, for example connected to the powerful Pranayam practice – there are many Pranayam (breathing) practices – for example there is one which we call “sahaj pranayam” which is a very simple, natural, spontaneous, meditative Pranayam, connecting to the mantra SO HAM. In the East, sages found many ways to describe the true nature of the self, so some discovered, “i am that”, but what is that? we have to find out; they did not define it, they left it to each person individually to find out, although they themselves have known. So this is the beauty of wisdom in India: many mantras are dedicated to different deities; I don’t call them Gods and Goddesses because actually, in India there is no concept of God; in India the concept of God is that “I can be God;” there is no separate God that we have to worship, the wisdom says, “you are That” (God), and the praising of different deities simply becomes a medium to reach That.
Let us also remember that in the path of Yoga we can find “karma yoga” or the path of action, “bhakti yoga” the path of devotion, “kriya yoga” where comes the Asana and the whole path and “jnana yoga” or the path of wisdom. All these paths are different ways to reach to the same point. So, depending on one’s personality or type, one can choose which path suits better, for example someone may be a Bhakti type, he/she just likes to be in the devotion, the love of the Divine; or someone may want to do service, helping people without expecting anything back so that is karma yoga; someone would like to meditate and go deeper within oneself, asking questions like “who am i,” so that is jnana yoga, the path of knowledge. So in this way, one can use many paths to reach to the point of finding “i am that” ...and what is That? Well, once we are there, we will know what is That. Interestingly, the wise ones in India have always agreed that ultimately it is very difficult to describe that state in words, because that point is beyond mind, beyond the world of our vocabulary; and although we have in Sanskrit words like Shivoham and So-Ham, it still falls short to describe that state; so that’s why these mantras were left... for us to meditate on them and find out.
When India was flourishing (before the invasions, mainly the British invaders who destroyed everything) they were able to differentiate what is real from what is not real: things which are not real are functional (mainly the materialistic world) and the real is very subtle, something beyond, to which we have to ‘work’ personally to get access to that plane. And because of that search, in India they have developed so many different ways ! Even i am amazed, having been born and brought up in India, i constantly discover new things or methods that have been devised in this country for the search in the inner world, and i feel bewildered how many different paths have been left along thousands of years in India, to reach to the same destination.
So one can imagine how much energy these people have invested! and mantra is only a small piece of this multi-dimensional path. But because i have always been involved with mantra, through my tradition and through the music, we will talk more about Mantra – but first of all, i feel responsible to give you the real picture:
If you are in the path of spirituality and if you happen to know someone – a guru or a spiritual teacher – what happens is that after having been with a guru for some time – at some point you will ask, or maybe the teacher will tell you, “ok, it is time to give you a mantra,” so the teacher will call you near and will whisper the mantra in your ears... which is very secret and private and only the guru and the disciple will know what that mantra is. Then the student is advised not to tell anyone what is the mantra that he/she has been given. Simply, whenever there is time, the student creates a space in a meditation room or a private place, burn an incense, light a candle, have a symbol of a deity if possible related to the mantra, tune in and with a mala repeat the mantra the quantity of times that one can or the number which had been advised – and never tell anyone what the mantra is. Some scholars even say that some mantras, like Gayatri, shouldn’t be sung loud, it should be just sung internally – i haven’t gone deeper in this, but just to show you how deep, secret and subtle this science is... nothing to do what is being presented by western musicians.
The chanting or Japa practice is done with a Mala of 108 beads (there is a very specific way to use the mala, which i explain in detail in another blog post.) Before starting the practice, first it has to be absolutely clear what the correct pronunciation of the mantra is. Once more i say that without the perfect pronunciation, the mantra will simply not work – there is no grey area here – some people justify they have a good intention, but that is not enough because this is a science, an exact science, because the right sound is like the right shape of the key to open the door – even if there is a millimiter difference in the shape, it won’t work. For example, the simple mantra Om Namah Shivaya ॐ नमः शिवाय has a very particular pronunciation (always 100% of times i hear mispronounced by western public singers!) which needs to be learnt with a person knowledgeable in Sanskrit. When one actually practices any mantra one has to know the actual pronunciation, the length of each syllable, and the length allowed in between words. Also in this example, Om Namah Shivaya, maybe you don’t know that these sounds represent the five elements as well: fire, water, air, earth, ether... so as an example, if ‘yah’ becomes ‘yá’ in the chanting, either that element is lost or some other element enters which is not required – this is what people have to understand... in mantra it is not about a nice melody or a goody-goody approach... it is about making the right call. This is broadly misunderstood here.
This is the real mantra practice, where the science can start truly working, which has nothing to do with a mantra concert – it is a very specific practice with very specific rules or requirements.
So one may do the practice as required, for as many repetitions as suggested. When one is done with the mantra practice, one can either wear the mala or keep it on the altar; but it is better never to give it to anyone, because of the energy of the mantra the mala has to be protected.
In order to see if the energy of the mantra is working, you have to keep on chanting, minimum 21 days and if you feel that it is working, you should continue at least for 3 months. Once you start feeling that the purpose of the mantra is working, then it is better to stabilize in it, don’t jump to different things. This is something also important – any practice needs patience and time – in the current world everyone is result-oriented and jumps from one science to the other after a week... recently i had a student who seemed to be totally passionate about mantra and Indian culture... after maybe 3 months learning with me, he said he discovered the Egyptian tradition and jumped to that... it is like a lack of trust. First requirements in any path are trust and patience... imagine that we are practicing techniques that have been developed over thousands of years; if one doesn’t put some time and deep faith, something more appealing will always show up... it is like the man, that every time that sees a new pretty woman, he wants to change the old for the new, never being able to develop any long and lasting commitment. One cannot take this as something light, as an entertainment or even worse as a fashion like some Yoga Magazines seem to be presenting it.
In Mantra, also, please do notice that everything is not a mantra! Last night, i heard a musician on stage saying, “i am love, this is the mantra,” NO! Mantra is a Mantra! Well, in the corporate world sometimes they use this term mantra to express things like “the success mantra is....” that is ok for a certain way of expression.
But an actual mantra has certain characteristics in it: 1) it will derive from Sanskrit and always start with an OM, 2) it will always mention somewhere a certain deity like for example Ganesha or Rama, 3) there will be a seed mantra within the mantra for example GAM or GAN for Ganesha, since that is where the lock is sitting, 4) the mantra will usually end with namaha or swāhā or phat and 5) in a mantra there is a hidden lock which is not always obvious, which it is said to open after very intense practice – sometimes this lock is told by the guru. So only when these elements are present, we can call it a mantra, otherwise it is not, so don’t be fooled by superficial use of the word mantra.
My responsibility is to let you know what is the reality; it is up to you to decide what you want to do, but you should know what is what. If somebody brings me a German dish, and i add all kinds of Indian spices and take it to India, and tell people in India that this is German food, maybe some people will like it because it reminds them the taste of local food... but the truth is that it has nothing to do with German food, it is not its representation, it has been altered, so i would be cheating people presenting it as German food, a German will come and say, “oh my God, what have you done to our food?”. This is what i mean, OK you enjoy it maybe, but it is not what you think it is. So up to here arrives my responsibility.
Also, everything is not a mantra! We have mantras, we have Shlokas, we have Stutis, Bhajans, Kirtans, Ashtakam, Shathakam ... and more, see so many varieties! Also there are in Sanskrit ...but not all texts in Sanskrit are a mantra. All of these texts carry a certain wisdom or a certain explanation of the qualities of the different deities, their energy. When i hear the new-age musicians in the west, they call everything a mantra... because they know people don’t know either. A huge example also is the US “kundalini yoga” this it is a great example because there are no “kundalini mantras” in India and there are no mantras in Sikhsm! This was an ‘commercial’ invention in the west and for the west – you can ask anybody in the Sikh tradition – in this tradition there are no mantras! they laugh if you ask about Yoga and Mantra from Sikhsm. They won’t even relate to it if you call their sacred texts mantras, because mantras come from Sananata Dharma (Hinduism) and Sikhsm has other roots, traditions and other sacred books. So people should know that commercially lots of terms and misrepresentations of India are being used, which are not true; for me is like a circus when i hear things... anybody is saying anything superficially with zero understanding of the real thing.
The music and the mantra
For the music for the mantra, a certain grace, a certain devotion, a certain depth is required. So for anybody who represents mantra in the form of singing, it is a responsibility to represent a tradition in its richest, purest way, and not compromising with the grace, the character or the serenity of the text. Mantras are not rock n roll, they are not samba, they are not reggae, not R&B, and not pop... To give full life to a text, that element needs to be brought to that text. So let’s say if i sing a Spanish love song, i cannot sing with my Indian background, i would need the fire and the feel of Spanish music. So in the same way, mantras have a certain divinity about them and the music needs to maintain it. That’s why i always introduce first the actual mantra practice. When you chant a mantra, you don’t need to necessary sing; actually no melody, no music is required for mantra – you can be simply chanting in a one-tone way – the actual mantra practice doesn’t need music: mantras don’t need music.
But if we want to put music to mantra, then it is a responsibility to put the right music, not rocknroll... or hiphop versions. If one wants to hear this kind of music, it is perfect, but then one should hear the original hiphop or rap music, they are doing a great job in that genre! But please there is no need to put mantras on rap or on a Brazilian grooves. Recently i heard “Asato Mā Sad Gamaya” presented in some kind of heavy rock style – i really wondered, does the singer know what this text means? It means, “lead me from the false to the truth,” but this kind of singing actually leads you from truth to the false – opposite. The music should do the justice, not only to maintain the purity and serenity of the mantra, but if possible take it higher, enhance it.
So my humble request to all the people around the world who like to listen to mantras, is, if you like rocknroll or rap, that is great and there is a great variety out there; but if mantras are put to that, it is not doing justice to the energy of the mantra. You may feel that “ok, now i am listening to mantra with the rap music that i love, how cool,” but it is not like that. You should know that there is a huge ‘commercial wave’ around yoga, India, Mantra, Ayurveda, etc. in which people are only commercially driven to use these sciences.
Currently my team and i are working on a documentary on the real science of mantras, only for people who are really interested in the genuine source. So we have been meeting some Sanskrit scholars who in depth know about this science – and in one interview with one of them, we were curious to show them a version of Gayatri mantra by one of these commercial singers... so they told us, “the music arrangement is nice, but the mantra does not work, because the pronunciation and the way it is sung is not correct; it will simply not bring any result, or even worse, the wrong result.” They added and example, “if you have blood pressure and you take a tablet for a headache, it will not work. In the same way, whatever has a certain mechanism should be taken as it is – you cannot re-pack it, it will not work.” You may enjoy the music, it may be a pleasant idea for the mind, but the science as such will not work. As i always tell, "for each thing, there is an authentic source - look for that source."
When we access such a deep ancient science, we must access it from its original roots with the original elements. Mantra from India needs mostly these “Indian spices,” so one cannot mix everything in the recipe. Each style needs its right approach... just like i cannot sing “i love you baby” in the same music that i have composed for a sacred text, it will be inadequate and it will lose its feeling and expression. One has to use the right elements from the right sources.
I can tell you that this science well applied will work – it can take you to that “so ham” that we talked about. But to have that connection, you must know what and how you are practicing. Also, in association with the mantra practice, the role of a guru is very important – in India a guru is given the highest place, he/she is really respected the highest; he/she can be really like a lighthouse in the middle of a dark, wavy ocean.
The path of Bkakti consists simply in dissolving oneself and then, suddenly, for a moment one simple forgets who one is in the worldly life – musician, teacher, accountant, doctor – which are functional identities. The real space is this: so ham, and in whichever way we can access that point in space, we should pursue it and practice it.
Spirituality is simply a process of remembering “who i really am” and anything which helps that remembrance, one should stick to that practice with trust, persistence and patience. One of these paths is sacred sound.