Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati
Three mantras are beneficial for all aspects of life: the Mahamrityunjaya mantra for health and well-being, the Gayatri mantra for mental tranquillity and wisdom, and the pranava mantra, Om, for peace and spiritual awakening.
During the 1998 Sita Kalyanam function, Paramahamsaji recommended the Mahamrityunjaya mantra and the Gayatri mantra to everyone. Paramahamsaji said that those who wish for health and healing must chant the Mahamrityunjaya mantra at least twenty-four times every day. He said, I am giving you a guarantee that if you do it with intensity of focus, willpower, purity of heart and feeling, then there is no question that health and healing will be provided, whether for oneself or for others.
If you ask about the meaning of the Mahamrityunjaya mantra, most people will say it is a mantra dedicated to Lord Shiva and give a definition according to the literal meaning of each word. But more important is the vibration you create. The combination of sounds in any mantra creates a specific vibration in the body. Our body also has a vibratory dimension. All the cells and atoms are vibrating in harmony with each other. The moment this harmony is broken at the vibratory level, destruction of the body takes place and we start to die. In death the pulsations of the body stop, the animation of the cells ceases and the life force leaves the body. The vibrations are the manifest symptoms of the life force.
Symbolically, these vibrations are represented in the various chakras or psychic centres. So when we use a combination of mantras or sound syllables, we are activating and bringing forth the potential of these vibrations that are inherent in the body. Some vibrations, like Om, are used to go into a deep meditative state. The effect of Om internalizes the awareness. From a scientific viewpoint, Om increases the alpha waves and decreases the beta waves. Subjectively, internalization of awareness takes place; we become more focused, tranquil and peaceful. When we use a string of vibrations, as in the Mahamrityunjaya mantra, these vibrations realign the disturbances in the vibratory system. Disease and illness can be managed effectively with this mantra.
In our ashrams we practise the Mahamrityunjaya mantra every Saturday night with a sankalpa, a feeling, to let the healing powers of this mantra heal our body and the bodies of those who are suffering or in pain. If we want to incorporate the practice of mantra into our routine in order to help others, we should also make the effort to chant the Mahamrityunjaya mantra. Every Saturday do at least one mala; it only takes about thirty-five minutes. This is for your personal well-being and for the well-being of everyone around you.
The other mantra that Paramahamsaji recommended everyone to practise daily is the Gayatri mantra. Traditionally, the Gayatri mantra is used to develop intelligence, knowledge and wisdom, and to expand the consciousness. Gayatri is taught to children at the age of eight, when they enter the period of academic education. Perception and attention are sharpened, retention and memory power are enhanced, and there is growth in intelligence. In order to develop awareness, wisdom and understanding, practise the Gayatri mantra twenty-four times every day.
Paramahamsaji also said not to underestimate the power of mantras. It is not necessary to understand the meaning of the mantra, but to connect with the vibration that is being created by the mantra chanting. If you are able to connect with the vibration, then in the course of time you can also learn about the points you need to concentrate on during the chanting of different mantras. Then it will become a very valuable tool for your spiritual growth and development.
The third important mantra is Om. Om is the synthesis of all mantras, leading to an enlightened state of consciousness. The tradition describes three methods of mantra repetition. The first is verbal, the second is whispering and the third is mental. Mental repetition is the most potent, provided we are able to steady our minds and there are no distractions to divert our attention from the mantra repetition, and provided we do not doze off as the mind becomes internalized, which is very common when practising the mantra mentally.
Although emphasis is given to mental repetition, the tradition also says that if you find the mind is drifting off and losing consciousness of the mantra, and if you find yourself dozing off, then in order to maintain awareness start to whisper the mantra. The whisper is a simple movement of the lips and should be audible only to yourself and nobody else. If you are still unable to control the introversion of the mind, and sleep comes, then begin to chant the mantra verbally. Even with verbal repetition some people cannot hold their mind steady or at one point. So in order to focus the attention a visual symbol is used.
Paramahamsaji used to give us the example of a bird flying over the ocean looking for somewhere to rest. It finds a piece of wood floating on the water and lands there. After resting, the bird flies off again, but remembers the location of the piece of wood for next time. This example relates to the use of mantra and yantra in the form of a psychic symbol. The psychic symbol can be anything. It is a point, a figure, an image on which we are able to concentrate and hold our attention, because generally mantra is practised mentally.
A symbol can be our ishta devata, which has the quality of God or divinity. It can be an image which has a feeling of closeness and affinity, or a symbol which does not denote either a negative or a positive state of mind, but is neutral. At the same time it can also unconsciously inspire the psyche, the mind, to realize the potential of consciousness. Powerful symbols are the sun or the figure of the mantra Om, or even a yantra, whether it be a triangle, interlaced triangles, a circle, a point or a complex geometrical figure. It can be the image of the guru who represents the source of inspiration. It can be the image of Jesus, a saint, or the image of different incarnations of God in the form of Rama, Krishna, Buddha and so on. It can be anything, but it should not have a personal emotional content.
Some people may imagine a family member, but then there is a selfish emotional association which should not be present. Therefore, it is recommended that one uses the image of saints, gurus and avatars, or the image of yantras or simple images like the sun, moon and stars. Each person has a specific symbol to concentrate on along with the mantra.
The mantra becomes the mind and the mind is represented as a bird flying over the ocean. The ocean becomes the consciousness, and in the vast expanse of the ocean or consciousness a point of support is needed, a basis which is away from sensorial interactions. The yantra becomes like a piece of wood floating on the ocean. When the mind becomes tired of going off in unknown directions, it can alight on the piece of floating wood, rest there for a while, then fly off again. This is the concept of mantra and yantra.
Just mental repetition or even verbal repetition of mantra is not enough. The mantra should be given a task, a purpose. The power of the mantra has to be channelled towards a goal, not straight into the environment because it will dissipate. When light is focused, it transforms itself into a laser beam. It is the same with mantra. There has to be one aim when practising mantra sadhana. Traditionally, different purposes have been assigned to different mantras, such as health and well-being to Mahamrityunjaya mantra, and intelligence and wisdom to Gayatri mantra.
Peace the basis of spiritual growth
The chanting of Om is the easiest and simplest of the mantras because it only has one sound, Om. The purpose of pranava sadhana is to transcend body consciousness, to connect with cosmic consciousness and to realize our spiritual potential. While the chanting is going on, we should have the feeling and awareness of spiritual advancement.
In order to understand the process of spiritual advancement we start with peace, shanti. The state of peace is the foundation of spiritual experience. In the absence of personal peace there can be no spiritual growth or development. That is the reality. The purpose of Om is to awaken the state of inner peace. This awakening of peace has to happen at various levels of our nature, personality and mind.
It will be impossible to identify the different aspects of mind, but it becomes possible to identify symbols that represent various states of mind. These symbols are the chakras or psychic centres. Whenever we chant Om, we need to focus our attention on the different psychic centres. When we chant Om three times at the beginning of any activity, generally the instruction is to concentrate at the eyebrow centre. However, for those aspirants who wish to go deeper into the practice of sadhana, there are three places where one needs to concentrate with each chanting of Om. These three places are the three granthis that exist in our body.
Students often ask why we chant Om three times at the beginning and end of a class and I have heard teachers give different answers. Some say for peace in the physical dimension, the mental dimension and the spiritual dimension. Others say something else, but the real reason is concentration on the granthis. The word granthi means 'knot'. The yogic system recognizes three granthis or knots in our bodies.
The first is Brahma granthi, the knot of Brahma, the creator, at mooladhara chakra. When you chant Om the first time, always have your awareness at mooladhara. Mooladhara is responsible for creation. Our consciousness is stuck in mooladhara, in the world of matter. The second knot is Vishnu granthi at manipura chakra. When you chant Om the second time, bring your attention from mooladhara to manipura. The third is Rudra granthi, the knot of Rudra, the transformer, the destroyer, the re-emergence of consciousness, rising of the phoenix from the ashes to ajna chakra, rebirth. When you chant Om the third time, bring your attention to ajna chakra, the eyebrow centre.
This is one addition to our practice of three Oms, and teachers should also remember it. Stop for at least five seconds at each of the three chakras and become aware of light there. In time the quality of your experience will change. It may take a week or a month, but you will notice a great difference.
When we chant Om seven times, the general instruction for novices is to focus at ajna. But for mantra sadhakas each chanting of Om can be visualized in all the seven chakras, with a five second pause in between each one. There are different ways to chant Om. Normally people just use the word Om, the sounds 'o' and 'm'. It gives one effect. Some people practise with 'A-u-m'. When we practise three times in mooladhara, manipura and ajna, it is 'O-m'. When we practise seven times, it is 'A-u-m'. In kriya yoga, there is another version of Om chanting, which is an explosive 'O' followed by a long 'm-m-m'. These little things make a big difference to our practice and the quality of our experience.
So these are the three mantras: Mahamrityunjaya for healing, Gayatri for wisdom, and Om for peace. They are important practices and very beneficial for all aspects of lifea