Mantra (mantram in the singular) are an important part of spiritual practice in many religious traditions. They are a core component of individual sadhana (discipline) and of the work done together in community, serving on multiple levels to effectuate transformation. Individuals, for example, may perform japa, the recitation of a particular mantram on a mala (rosary), to meditate and gain access to places of deeper insight. Spiritual practitioners working together may use mantra during puja (worship) to evoke the divine essence.
It is the vibration of sound in each case that forges a link between this world and the unseen realm. Mantra in this way can aid the seeker in harnessing the potency of one of the underlying truths of Tantra. The metaphysics state that a connection exists between the reality we experience through our bodies and the ripples left in space-time by the Divine moving into and out of the cycle of life on Earth. It offers that this provides a glimpse at (and potential access to) the unfathomable Goddess. With just the smallest fraction of this power—Shakti—in our midst, we may be able to overcome the burden of our karmas and become whole.
The sounds or series of sounds of mantra were each designed by rishis (sages) with a particular purpose in mind and therefore, mantra are ancient keys to unlocking cosmic truths. In fact, the seed syllables of mantra so ubiquitous in Tantric ritual are regarded as the primordial sounds of creation—the garland of letters that Maa Kali wears around her neck.
While mantra have for some time been accessible to the lay spiritual seeker (through books and more recently YouTube videos) and are in wide use in and beyond Hindu-Tantric India (from yoga studios and healing arts centers to Indo-Pagan rituals), they are still guarded by many a Tantric who may provide stern warnings and dictate prohibitions that the uninitiated stay clear. Simply put, they do this because mantra are powerful reservoirs of eternal energies. Even novitiates, they say, may cause damage to themselves or others without steadfast practice and proper guidance. Some go further and note that the use of mantra and other Tantric disciplines will offer the quickest road to eternal bliss. But if one is not well equipped on the path, madness and even death may result.
While some may pooh-pooh the idea that words have power (proceeding with mantra as garnish on their eclectic spiritual routine), there are others who hold a hard and fast line around ensuring the authentic transmittal of mantra from guru to disciple. In addition to the warnings already mentioned, they note that pronunciation must be proper to obtain benefit. Those who stumble into the flowing language of the Gods (as Sanskrit is known) untrained in its subtleties will achieve at best a greater sense of embodied awareness; but not the intended result of the practice or the more lasting benefit of the recitation.
In my own work, I demand that seekers have the decency to approach the tools of an ancient tradition with mindfulness and respect. So, ask me how to pronounce a mantram, and I’ll first ask you some questions. Certainly, I may offer you guidance, but I will always instruct that the seeker must be willing to do homework. Despite their power, mantra are not easy fixes, nor are they something one should use on a whim. Finally, Tantric or not, a word of advice: surrender your ego when you approach this spiritual technology. No one finds inner peace when the practice is just for show, the ritual mere ornamentation, or the goal purely self-serving.
Offered in Her Service by Chandra Alexandre
KRIM image by Pushpa Sabrina Payonk