The Power of Mantra: Science & Spirituality

 

The most basic form of energy is reverberation. Where there is reverberation, there is sound. Where there is sound, there is form. This is why it has been said by the yogis that sound is the basis of the whole creation. And as they discovered, the power of sound can be used as a tool for yoga through the vehicle of Mantra and the practice of Japa (repetition of mantra).

 

What is a Mantra?

As Swami Sivananda explained, the root ‘man‘ in the word Mantra comes from the first syllable of that word, meaning ‘to think’, and ‘tra’ from ‘trai’ meaning ‘to protect’ or ‘free’ from the bondage of Samsara or the phenomenal world. By the combination of ‘Man’ and ‘Tra’ comes Mantra.1

Mantras help to harness mental power by rooting out the vrittis or fluctuations of the mind that disturb its natural peace and attentiveness. With practice, they help the mind to subside into the God-self, merge into the Divine.

 

The Power of Mantras

The power of sound has created the entire universe. Mantras are sounds that have been scientifically arranged to create certain subtle forms when uttered. When we say scientifically, it does not refer merely to physical science where verification is by measurement using the five senses, but also the subtle or inner science where verification is by experience. As far as the latter is concerned, we have the testimony of the rishis, sages and yogis over many millenia. The former, which is more relied upon today, is catching up too.

Recent scientific research testifies the power of the mantras used in India since ancient times:

  • It has been shown that the recitation of certain yoga mantras, at specific frequencies, induce favorable psychological and physiological effects.2 
  • A study focusing on the effects of the recitation of “Om” in twelve experienced meditators found subtle changes in mental state indicated by reduction in the skin resistance.3 
  • In a control experiment, chanting Vedic hymns was shown to improve sustained attention in teenaged school students.4 
  • A study to assess the effect of the Gayatri Mantra on the power of attention showed a significant increase in performance of female school students who practiced chanting the mantra versus a group who chanted an ordinary poem line.5
  • A controlled study demonstrated that the chanting of the Agnihotra mantra at sunrise and sunset, accompanied by sacrificial fire (i.e. performing the Agnihotra ritual according to Vedic scriptures) had a remarkable effect on rice seed germination.6

Mantras are a very powerful way to prepare our minds for meditation as they increase our ability to focus our attention and attain calmness and clarity of mind. They can thus be a powerful preparatory step for yoga.

However, they can also be a full sadhana if used in the highest sense. In the highest sense, a mantra is not just something you utter, but it is something you become. Full commitment and a one-pointed dedication to the mantra enables the unlocking of the full power of the mantra, the power to manifest the Divine.

 

Sounds are vibrations. They give rise to definite forms. Each sound produces a form in the indivisible world, and combinations of sound create complicated shapes. Repetition of a Mantra has a mysterious power of bringing about the manifestation of the Divinity, just as the splitting of an atom manifests the tremendous forces latent in it. When a particular Mantra appropriated to a particular god is properly recited, the vibrations so set up create in the higher planes a special form which that god ensouls for the time being. The repetition of the Panchakshara Mantra – Om Namo Sivaya – produces the form of Lord Siva. The repetition of Om Namo Narayanaya, the Ashtakshara Mantra of Vishnu, produces the form of Vishnu.

– Swami Sivananda7

 

What makes Mantras so powerful?

The science of putting together different sounds to serve as a vehicle for manifesting the Divine was known by the ancient rishis. They developed the Sanskrit language, also called Devavani or the divine language.

In Sanskrit language, the sound and form are one. Further, these sounds and forms are not an intellectual construction but derived from subtle perception of the rhythms and patterns of nature and cosmic vibrations. When uttered with the right awareness and pronunciation, a Mantra has the power to transform the individual’s experience and the individual herself. They are like keys to unlock deeper dimensions of existence. This is the basis of Nada Yoga (yoga of sound). 

Today, the compatibility of Sanskrit with computer programming languages (and its uniqueness in this function) is well noted. One of the unique features of Sanskrit is that potentially infinite words can be generated using the algorithms of Sanskrit grammar (vyakaran).8 Panini, the great Sanskrit grammarian (6-4th  century BCE) used the method of “auxiliary symbols” which is today a standard method in the design of computer programming languages.  In 1985, a NASA researcher also noted the suitability of Sanskrit for AI.9

 

See also on LWP: Sanskrit, Science and Ecology and Lost in Translation, the Need to Revive Sanskrit

 

The yogis who developed the Sanskrit language did so on the basis of a deep, existential understanding. As Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev explains,10

Sanskrit is a language created in a particular way – it is based on the awareness of the root sound connected to every form. When you utter that sound, you also have access to that form; if you master the sound, you have mastery over the form. The language is the consequence of ritambharapragna, not a language created for the sake of communication alone. In Sanskrit, the utterance of the sound is more important than the meaning. Most languages are created for meaning, for the sake of communication. But here, simply uttering the sound creates a certain situation within you. It is like the blueprint of existence.

The power of Sanskrit is further amplified by it being the language of enlightened beings. As the spiritual teacher Osho explained,

[Sanskrit] certainly is divine in the sense because it is the most poetic and the most musical language. Each word has a music around it, a certain aroma. How it happened? It happened because so many people used it who were full of inner harmony. Of course those words became luminous: they were used by people who were enlightened. Something of their light filtered to the words, reached to the words; something of their silence entered the very grammar, the very language they were using.”

 

Try for Yourself: Aum Chanting Exercise

 

References:

  1. Japa Yoga by Swami Sivananda – free pdf ; See ‘Japa Yoga: A Comprehensive Treatise on Mantra Shastra’ by Swami Sivananda on Amazon: USIndia
  2. Bernardi L, Sleight P, Bandinelli G, Cencetti S, Fattorini L, Wdowczyc-Szulc J, et al. Effect of rosary prayer and yoga mantras on autonomic cardiovascular rhythms: Comparative study. BMJ. 2001 as cited
  3. Telles S, Nagarathna R, Nagendra HR., Autonomic changes while mentally repeating two syllables: One meaningful and the other neutral. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 1998 as cited
  4. Sripad G, Nagendra HR, Bhatta R, Vivekananda S, Samsthana YA, Bhawan E, et al., Effect of vedic chanting on memory and sustained attention. Indian J Tradit Knowl. 2006 as cited
  5. Comparison of effect of Gayatri Mantra and Poem Chanting on Digit Letter Substitution Task, Anc Sci Life Oct-Dec 2012
  6. Jina Devi Heisnam, Effect of Agnihotra on the germination of rice seeds, MBYR Dissertation, Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana, Bangalore, 2002. 
  7. Japa Yoga by Swami Sivananda – free pdf ; See ‘Japa Yoga: A Comprehensive Treatise on Mantra Shastra’ by Swami Sivananda on Amazon: USIndia
  8. See more: https://uttishthabharata.wordpress.com/2011/04/20/sanskrit/
  9. Knowledge Representation in Sanskrit and Artificial Intelligence, Rick Briggs (NASA Ames Research Centre), AI Magazine, 1985.
  10. Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, Adiyogi: The Source of Yoga, 2017 (Available on Amazon: US, India)

See also: ‘Mantras Explained – Mantra to Transformation’ by Sadhguru Jaggi VAsudev and Secrets of AUM Chanting by Sadhguru – YouTube video

 

You may also like: 108 Names of Devi (Sri Devi Ashtottara Shata Namavalih)

 

 

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Shruti Bakshi
Shruti Bakshi is the founder of the LivingWise Project. She has worked for several years in banking & financial services in London and Paris and holds an MBA (INSEAD) and MPhil in Finance (Cambridge). She is also a Hatha yoga instructor.
Shruti's debut novel 'From Dior to Dharma' was released in May 2017. Her latest book 'Yoga, Work and Life: Indian Wisdom for Modern Times' is a collection of her essays available on Kindle.



India links: From Dior to Dharma Yoga, Work & Life

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