“After all, you don’t agree to take a mantra initiation from me, do you?” Kalyaanaananda said to Mother once,
Your explanation of a mantra is inadequate. If it were adequate, I would have learnt one”, said Mother.
She was then seven years old.
The swamiji’s explanation was this: Some powerful syllables are selected, charged with energy and grouped by persons like us (gurus), and secretly whispered into the ears of persons like you. That one is a mantra. Mother thereupon expressed a doubt: Which of the syllables are powerful please?” There being no reason for naming some letters only as powerful and others as not the swamiji had to reflect for some time. All letters are man-made Different languages have different letters. and how could son e alone be powerful? Letters like Hraani. Hreem’, and Hraim’ are combinations of-not two but four components, two heing conso nants and two vowels, They are complex and are more difficult to utter. But, they could not be said to be more powerful just because of their extra weight. No wonder therefore that the swamiji could not quote any particularly powerful words. So he said simply, “We infuse them with power”. The first part of his definition of a mantra was thus bypassed, it could not be illustrated. But the position did not improve by his shift of stress to the second part. His reply brought forth a more difficult question from Mother. “If you have the power to infuse energy into such things as letters, you could straightaway infuse power into a piece of straw. Why do you need a mantra?” Realising that the discussion was getting into deeper waters, the swamiji diverted the argument saying. “You are a small girl. Why do you bother about such a discussion? Learn what you are taught”. May be he believed that a mantra was powerful though its power could not be proved by argument. One would like to know the underlying idea of this ancient tradition round a mantra. An analysis of the basic beliefs associated with a mantropadesam. might make some of its implications clear. The beliefs are these; “Aum, Aaim, Hreem, Kleem, Shreem” etc. are particulary powerful syllables by themselves. Each one is beeja akshara, or seed syllable for stirring up distinctive divine characte ristics. The sequence of these letters also counts (even as the parts of a body) in a reassemblage, and should be chosen only by a guru well versed in mantrashastra. On a sacred day, after prescri bing cleansing baths. at the oppurtune moment, the great guru secretly entrusts a mantra to the eager and attentive seeker. This initiation may be accompanied by the infusion of divine energy into the seeker by the pressure of the hand of the guru on the head, or of his thumb between the former’s eyebrows, etc.
I request the reader to particularly note the adjectives both explicit and implicit. Every one of them is a pillar for the edifice of the faith of the saadhaka in the whole ceremony. Even if one of them is shaky, the practice may fail to yield the success promissed. There should not be the slightest murmur of doubt, in any corner. Now to a question: “Isn’t this last condition very very difficult to satisfy!” Man being a rational animal, firmly and it is impossible for him to spread his faith over somany adjectives uniformly. And want of faith is the cause of the many failures.” How is success to be obtained? We shall proceed further with the story of mantropa desam, eliminating these impossible conditions one by one so as to arrive at the minimum prerequisites of success.
Mantras like the Panchaakshari, the Shadaakshari and Shodashaakshari point at a deity familiarised by the puraana or epic. They were probably chosen to eliminate the doubt that might envelop a combination of merely symbolic syllables like Hraam Hreem’ etc. But they mark a change from the abstract to the concrete; the saadhaka has before him the benevolent attributes of God and he can centre his faith more easily. Even if this change was due to the choice by the sadhaka, of particular attributes and not the general ones (signified by the symbolic syllables), it would nevertheless be change intended to turn the probability a of faith into a possibility. In these mantras, the muffled symbolism of ‘Hraam’ Hreem’ etc.. is replaced by known attributes. Mother said once, “A mantra is only that. which gives satisfaction, happiness, peace, and clears doubts”. The ercipient of a mantra should be able to derive satisfaction from its meaning, happiness from its fulsomeness, and peace of mind by its campre hensiveness. “Mantra” said Mother, is the target of the mind”, and such a one should necessarily give satisfaction through its meaning, and so should be explained to the devotee. Every time he repeats it, its meaning presents itself before him. (One interest ing point about the slips of the tongue of the saadhaka must be mentioned here. Though he learnt the meaning of the mantra from the guru, and thinks of it while repeating it each time, the sadhaka might. quite inadvertently. change a letter or intonation while saying it. A visitor once asked Mother, “Is there no loss if naamam or mantra is read with mistakes?” Mother replied, “To the reciter of the mantra as he knows the meaning; there can be no loss. But, to the one that hears it, the meaning gets distorted and is disgusting”. Valmiki doted upon God inspite of the inversion of the name of Rama by Narada! So, it is only its meaning as under stood by the devotee that counts.) The fulsomeness and compre hensiveness of a mantra mentioned above, arises from its meaning and explanation. When these give satisfaction, happiness and peace, all doubts regarding its efficacy disappear. The mantra then becomes the target of the mind. “Though what he got was a mere word, it becomes a mantra with its manana”.
To return to our discussion, a guru of today rarely explains the meaning of the mantra. He gives usually a mantra of his choice, says it is very powerful and warns the devotee, of the disastrous consequences of a failure to conform to the conditions of the sadhana. It is only the saadhaka’s faith in the guru, the mantra, and the efficacy of the practice, that could propel the saadhana. Valmiki had faith in Narada, in the mantra and it efficacy. The great fright that seized him on hearing the replies of his household, provided the power for his saadhana.
But we ordinary beings do not get stung to the extent he got. Our disappointments cause only small spells of sorrow, not crashes as they did with a Dhruva or a Valmiki. Nevertheless, we ask for divine help, though oftentimes it is for the fulfilment of wordly desire. God-vision is not what we normally seek, though for most of us, it looks like “a consummation devoutly to be wished for”. We would like to have it also if we could help it. So we ask for a mantra. The guru charges an a amount for paadapooja, and under the cover of a got up atmosphere, whispers a mantra in our ear. He tells us also that he had given us a very powerful mantra and prescribes almost impossible conditions to be observed during the days of the mantrajapam. We do it for a few days and give up. Some persons get frightened with the fear of the conse quences of giving up the solemn undertaking, suffer many kinds of hysteric maladies. and seek protection with some other ‘divine being’. Quite a good number of such sufferers came to Mother and begged for her help. Mother allayed their fears with caressing words, “There is no such thing like a deity ‘hitting on the head””, she would say, and advise them to do the best that was possible for them to attain their goal.
We have heard of the offering that Shabari had made to Sree Rama, Vidura’s wife, it is said, gave Sri Krishna the outer covers of plantain fruits, throwing away the pulp parts intead, being engrossed in hearing the words of that supreme being. The Lord did not take such persons as offenders did he? Kuchela had old parched rice to offer to Sri Krishna, and Mary Magdalene had nothing else but a devoted heart to Christ. The Lord is extre mely kind, and according to an islamic belief. would forgive the offences of a dead unbeliever, if one from the faithful utters a prayer for him. Would he then hit an erring aspirant on the head? It will be amusing therefore to hear of saadhanas of Baala Japa, or Hayagriva upaasana, leading to disastrous consequences when the conditions are transgressed. Viswamitra provides a glorious example of human effort and he proved that failure is a stepping stone to success, not a precipice sending one to hell.
Let us consider another point in support of this argument. Who is to punish a failure or transgression?’ Is it the Lord the letters of the mantra or the mantraadishtaana devata? How many Gods are there? Is not every shape His shape and are not nama skaars to any form directed to Him? Is there any power beyond or besides His power? The Lord would not punish a futile attempt to reach Him! Who causes all the maladies then? The saadhaka’s fear? May be. It is his faith that leads him on and it could be his feeling in the bad consequences of a failure. that may through auto-suggestion, cause bodily troubles and maladies. Doctors tell us of hysteria, which causes a soldier inten sely wishing to drop out of the marching army to develop overnight visible physical symptoms of debility. If I believe I had sinned against a sacred practice, I tremble, feel severely admonished, 1 would not be able to harness my normal strength, and would bring down upon myself the blow of congealed meloncholy.
The threat of the disastrous consequences of a breach of the conditions of mantrajapa may be interpreted as a caution to a saadhaka, but it is too dangerous a precaution against possible indifference. To make it worse, the guru tells that the mantra is a particularly powerful one. This is just a salf praise. A visitor to Mother asked her to give him a mantropadesham. He had just then completed the recitation of Lalita stotra. Mother said. “J heard you now this one you had recited is enough.” “This is Lalita’s,” he said, “I asked for a mantra from you.” “Whichever you can do” said Mother. “Yon can continue. Lalita or Anjaneyam or any other. All mantras are one. The power that is in this mantra. is also in that. Only, the names and letters may be different. The fears that this mantra causes harm and that mantra kills a person are all fakes. Every mantra has the same power.”
Let us think about the part the guru can play in the success of the practice. In a city of southern Andhra, a sanyasi of the Ramakrishna order coming from the Himalayas gave mantropade sham to a number of lecturers in the local college. The next day. the number of aspirants increased and the swamy commissioned his host, (also a college lecturer) to give the mantra. He told the aspirants, “The seeker’s devotion is all that counts, the giver of the mantra is just a tool. “We hear the same in a vaishnavite story that a disciple served Sri Ramanuja (or some other guru) to obtain the Tirumantra from him. Oneday, while they were trave lling across arid countryside, the guru felt exhausted, fell down and asked for water to drink. The disciple ran to fetch water. The guru having realised that his end was near, wrote the Tiruman tra on the level sand by his side and breathed his last. An acrobat passing that way with her attendants saw the guru and his writing. got the mantra written on a palm leaf, stripped the part rolled it and put it in her car-hole, to use it after finishing her next show. The gasping discipale returned, saw that his guru was dead, and noticed the rubbed off writing on the sand. He guessed what it could be, and after doing the obsequies for the dead guru, started off to trace the acrobat. He found her performing in the court of Dharmaraja and made a request to the king. The king having prescribed a feat which required the acrobat’s standing on her bead, the leaf fell down from her ear and the disciple got it. This story Obviously illustrates the two ways of obtaining the Tirumantra, but it tells us also, that a guru need not necessarily ‘give’ a mantra himself! The devotee’s faith is all that matters. Sri Ramanuja himself illustrated this truth by shouting the Tirumantra from the top of the Srirangam gopura to the hearing of one and all. His purpose might have been anything, but his act clearly indicates that he considered the mantra helpful inspite of its reaching the recipient quite unceremoniously, and that from anyone!
It is only the disciple’s faith in the Mantra that counts and nothing else actually counts. In the absence of this faith, the mantra ceases to be a mantra it is a mere word. A ‘seeker’ after truth requested a great scholar of Vedanta to give him the upadesha of the highest truth. A day was fixed for the upadesham, the seeker spent lots of money in purchasing cloth presents to invitees as well as to the guru. At the appointed moment, the guru whispered in the ear of the disciple, “That is only Yourself.” The disciple quietly said. “I have heard this said several times. Please tell me the highest truth!” The guru said “This is the highest truth.” The disciple would not agree. “Is it for this that I spent so much money?” he shouted! It is only faith that makes Truth’ actually the highest.!
“What is after all a mantra?” asked Mother one day. “You gather some letters, give it some sanctity and do japa or manana. When you do not feel it is a mantra, it is just a sequence of a few letters. What is it then that makes a mantra? Your mind. The strength of your mind is the strength of the mantra, I say. The mind is the mantra.” We do not know what the (power of the) mind is, we realise our power”.
“The mantra is like a supporting stick to an old or weak person.” He feals he cannot walk by himself, we give him a staff. He holds it firmly, puts his strength into it and walks. The staffs mobilises his strength. A mantra mobilises the power of the mind, and through it help the seeker realises his own strength. The mind is mantra.”