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The Mantra as an Instrument of Salvation - Carl Gustav Diehl

The word Mantra is ethnologically connected with the root "Man" meaning "to consider, know or think". "Tra" is reasonably to be taken as an ending with the force of creating a noun of an abstract significance "that which is thought or to be thought." Indian sources, however, connect it with a root "Tra", that is "protect, preserve or even save". Such concepts lie behind the use of the word in various religious connections in India and will require a more detailed study.

Traditionally the word Mantra is used of the Rig Vedic Hymns as distinct from the prose text of the Brahmanas which give rules for the rituals of the sacrifices, whereas the hymns, the Mantras, are read or sung at fixed points in the performance. Its obvious function was to address and praise the Deity for which the sacrifice was being performed. While the hymns are intelligible in meaning they also permit an esoteric interpretation, which in later Hindu thinking was developed into philosophical systems from Vedante to Aurobindu's Life Divine: "The Veda is a book of esoteric symbols, almost of spiritual formulae, which masks itself as a collection of ritual poems" (On the Veda, p.377).

The Hymns, however, in their formulation and use carry the concepts of special effects so readily attached to the word Mantra. Savitr for example takes away illness (I:35,9), or to be more correct the hymns of Savitr has this effect. Usas is requested to give children (L,92) and Varuna, as is well known and still believed, provides rain. In the middle of the 1960'ies when the rain failed in South India a Vedic sacrifice to Varuna was held in a village in the Ramnad District, in spite of the fact that Varuna is hardly known as a god and not at all worshipped.
The Hymns were partly replaced by shorter formulas, Yajus, written in prose or consisting of parts of the hymns. Thereby they became, more and more, efficient means to the success of the ritual and were even the object of worship and personified. This applies in eminent degree to the Gayatri (Rg 3:62, 10) Tat Savitur Vereniyam, Bhargo Devasya Dhimahi Dhiyo Yo Nah Pracodayat, ("Dieses vorzugliche Licht des Gottes Savitr emfingen wir, der unsere Gedanken anregen soll"). From a book on Gayatri we quote: "Gayatri the greatest and the most beautiful of all the ancient Mantras, universally hailed as the mother of the Vedas that has been chanted from time immemorial, has acquired such an enormous mystical power that, as Tagore writes: "By its help we try to realize the essential unity of the world with the conscious soul of man". The Mantra should be preceded by the syllable Om followed by the three Vyahrtis: Bhû, Bhuvar, Svar representing the earth, the atmosphere and the sky. About Om we read: "The sacred syllable Om consists of three letters A U M expressive of three aspects of God (creator, preserver and regenerator) and the three stages of consciousness: waking, dreaming and deep sleep". Every Brahmin should read this 108 times twice a day. (Viraswami Pathar Gayatri, Trichy 1970 p.t. and passim).

With Gayatri and Om we have already followed a development into an exclusive use of the Mantras. The rituals have differentiated into Srauta and Grihya, public and private, and it is for the Sandhya rites at home, morning, noon, evening, the Brahmins are expected to read the Gayatri. Parallel to this goes a philosophical speculation on the contents and effect of the Mantra. In the Kata Upanishad L,2,l5 we read: The word which all the Vedas rehearse, and which all austerities proclaim, desiring which men live the life of religious studentship. That word to thee I briefly declare, That is Om", and 16-17 continue: "That syllable, truly, indeed is Brahma! That syllable indeed is the supreme! Knowing that syllable truly, indeed, whatever one desires is his. - That is the best support, One becomes happy in the Brahma-world".

We find three components in the effect of the Mantra already here,
The Mantra contains the Veda, i.e. all essential knowledge in nuce.
It is a means whereby one achieves what one wants.
It gives happiness in the Brahma world, which can reasonably he considered as final salvation.

Mantras become the indispensable elements in all kinds of worship and in some instances replace all other requisites. When, for instance, circumstances do not permit a ceremonial bath, a Mantra may be substituted for it. Even in Bhakti it is so conceived as Bhagavad Gita says (8:12-13): "All the gates of the body closed, the mind confined within the heart, having fixed his life-energy (or breath) in the head, engaged in firm yoga, uttering the one-syllabled Om, Brahman, thinking of me, he who departs leaving the body, attains the supreme goal".

Along with the speculation on the all-importance and effect of the Mantra comes very naturally a trend of deification. Cayatri becomes a goddess and is called upon as are other gods with so-called Avahana Mantra (Gayatri p. 9). There are also other Mantra Murtis (god-forms). Siva is the very form of Mantra, Mantra Murti, says the dictionary, and as advaitic thinking pushes the Supreme into an unapproachable distance, Mantra becomes identified with Sakti, the divine power, the means of communication and identification with the ultimate reality.
Already in the Rig Veda the idea of the word as a creative force bringing the true knowledge about the universe is taking the form of a god, Vâc, and significantly a female, one of the few original goddesses in the Veda. J. Gonda writes about her: "Die allwissende, allgegenwärtige Rede ist eine Trägerin der von der visionären Intuition geschauten Wahrheit, Trägerin und Erkenntnisquelle wertvoller Traditionen, in denen die mächtige Weisheit der Vorfahren aufgespeichert ist. --- Höchster Sitz der honigreichen, somagleichen, aus den Urwassern entstandenen (RV. 10,125,7) Rede ist der Brahmanpriester, der sie als ein Instrument handhabt, um auf die göttlichen Mächte Einfluss auszuüben. Sie verschaft Reichtum --- Selbst in hohen Grade mysteribs - und auch demonisch - denn Ihre Feinde werden sterben - hilft sie den Menschen die Phänomene zu ordnen und die Zusammenhänge zu durchschauen". (Die Religionen Indiens I,96).

Similar concepts of the power and importance of Speech reappear under the term Mantra. The Agamas, in Saiva Siddhanta equal to the Vedas, open with chapters on the "descending of Tantras and Mantras". From the Mantra Avatara of Kamikam, the most authoritative of Saiva Agamas we gather that Mantra consists of two parts, Man - that is knowing everything, and Tranam, that is saving from the Samsara, but it is also analysed as Vacyam - "meaning" and Vacaka - "word". The analysis is carried out further. The fundamental element is Sound, Nada, from which comes the drop or seed, Bindu and then arise 16 vowel sounds and 34 consonants as in the Sanskrit alphabet. The same analysis is given in the book on Gayatri by Viraswami Pathar, (published in 1970). The 50 sounds are grouped according to the system of Sanskrit grammar giving the five classes a connection with the five elements (Bhudas) in the following manner: Gutturals - Vayu (wind), Palatals - Agni (fire), Linguals - Prithivi (earth), Dentals - Appo (water) and Labials - Akasa (atmosphere). Thus the sound or speech is systematically made to represent the universe and all its forces.

The book on Gaystri gives a further classification in saving that Mantras can consist of one or more syllables.

When it has more than five syllables it is either Pranava, Om, the mother of all Mantras, or Bija (seed) signifying the object of the Mantra, or it presents the name of the Devata.

A general summing up of the art and nature of Mantras can be had from two books of recent origin.

Man discovered a perfect parallelism between the physical process of the universe and the biological process in himself. He has found through spiritual experience that the entire universe exists in himself. His aspiration is to go deep into the matter and find out a concrete way by which he could discover the secrets of nature and merge himself with Sakti - the primordial force. This self-awareness led him to self-revelation which finally culminated in self-realization. The Mantra, Tantra (theory), and Yantra (diagram) are meant to aid him to this.
Mantras create ethereal vibrations in man which brings about him am extra-sensory perception. The origin of the Mantra is embedded in the basic belief of man that the divine word has creative power in it. The word is the subtle body of the object itself. The Mantra contains the subtle body of the God or Goddess it represents and at first the Sâdhaka (the one who is aspiring to achieve realization) cannot realize it. He has to follow the instructions of the Guru unquestioningly.

The correct recitation of the Mantra is most important, the sound of Mantras determining the degree of vibration that sets in the body. The author also refers to Arthur Avalon who naturally would give a thought-out explanation as e.g. "The letters are temporarily manifested by the action of the vocal organs and the circumambient air, but are in themselves, that is as attitudes of Power, eternal. They are, like all else, a form of appearance of the Magma Mater, the one great Mother-Power and are particular world-aspects of her. That power again, relative to any of its particular productions, is an aspect of the general Mother Power and is, as such, a Devata" (Shakti and Shakta p.452) partly referred to by A.V.Jevachandran in Sakti, Madurai 1966.
"Each Mantra has a power of consciousness embedded in it", writes M.P.Pandit. The Mantra is alive when this power or potency is aroused. This power can be awakened by the practicant by concentration and adoration, though this is difficult. Normally the awakening is done by the Guru who communicates the Mantra. He instills his own spiritual energy, Tapasya-power, into the Mantra and awakens its inherent consciousness. Both these, the power of the Guru and the life-consciousness, in the Mantra combine to lead the Sâdhana, the accomplishing instrument, to fulfilment. Thus the success in the Mantra-Sâdhana does not normally come from the personal effort of the Sâdhaka. It depends upon the spiritual dynamics of the Guru who transmits it through the Mantra in which he has acquired mastery. – A Mantra does not give fulfillment if adopted through unfair means of auditory stealing or picked up from any book by oneself" (Gems from the Tantras, Madras 1969).

Even at the risk of repetition a quotation from Buddhist sources may here find its place. In Buddhist Esoterism by B.Bhattacharua we read: "Simply because the Mantra is known and that correctly and accurately, there is no guarantee that by constantly muttering it one can attain perfection. It is well-nigh impossible and against the principles of Vajrayana. The worshipper is first to be initiated by the guru and he must obtain the different kinds of Abhiseka, or initiation from the guru; and then, if all his instructions are followed in the most precise manner possible, then, and then alone Siddhi is possible of attainment. Siddhi, the extraordinary power to be obtained through Mantras, can even amount to Buddha-hood, and the merits that accrue from the mutterings of the Mantra of Mahakala are innumerable" (op.cit. p.58). - From this it is understandable why the present Dalai Lama has performed Mahakala six times, in different parts of the world.

It is also well known that those who practice the Tantras look upon the Mantras with superstitious awe, and they believe that if the Mantra is changed or distorted at the time of muttering, either there will be no result or it will produce great harm. The accuracy of the Mantra, therefore was jealously guarded, and the Mantra was handed down from preceptor to disciple as long as the Tantras were a living religion. The Mantra which is not given by a guru therefore, should never be muttered, because a great sin is committed thereby" (op.cit.p.158).

The general idea of Mantra as outlined above is manifest more or less in the various practices which will now be indicated.
The concept of Mantra arose from the practices in religious rituals, from the Vedic Yajna to the Puja of the temples. As a fundamental rule it is laid down in the handbook of rituals, the Agamas (e.g. Karanagama 2,1) that no act of cult, Kiriya, can be done without Tantra, of which Mantra comes as the very first part. This means that from the beginning when the officiant prepares himself with acts of purification and dedication to the end of the temple act, all through the endless details, Mantras are read as suited to the action. As an example let us look at the opening ceremony called Prânapratista, consecration of the vital air: or Om. Of this great Prânapratista Mantra the gods Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesvara are the Rishis. Rig, Sama, Yajur and Atharva are the sacred hymns. The Sakti of Prana is the supreme God. Om is the seed, Bija. Hrim is the Sakti. Krim is the inner syllable, Soham - "I am this". This means that Om brings the Sakti in unification with the individual Atma.

Then follow applications (Nyasa) for the hand with Om, hail the thumbs, Hrim, hail the indexfingers, Krim, hail the middlefingers, Om, hail the ringfingers, Hrim, hail the little fingers and Om, hail to the flat of the hand. On Hrim Krim, Krom Hrim Am, ya ra la va sha sa sa Hom, Hamsah (lit. Swan but also Brahma, the supreme soul) I am he, Iam Hamsah. The ritual is endless and covers all aspects of life both privately and public (see for further details C.G. Diehl: Instrument and Purpose, Lund 1956).

The purpose and effect of the Mantras as used in temple worship is to bring about the presence of divine power, from choosing the ground for a temple, through every detail in its building up to the installation of the deities, the preparation of the priest and all through the daily offerings. In all these cases the technical term is Âvâhana literally - bringing to the place, inviting. In the Pranapratista, as shown above, the Vedic Mantra element come into use. In the following details of the ritual the 16 or 108 names of the Deity have to be read as Mantra for the invocation of divine life into the various limbs and accoutrements of the idol. For example in the case of Siva the list begins Om Sivaya Namah. Rudraya Namah, Pacupataya Namah etc.In order to qualify for service in the temple the priest must in similar way call the deity to be present in himself. His seat is made the seal of the deity by the Mantra Om Ham Sivâsanaya Namah (Hail the Sivaseat). He places a flower on his breast with the Mantra Om, Ham, Ham, Ham Sivamurttaya Namah (Hail the Siva form). He holds a flower and smears sandel paste on his forehead with the Mantra Om Haum Netrabyo Namah (Hail the eyes) and places the flower on his head saying Om Haum Sivaya Namah.

The effects of the Mantras are due to the right Mantra being used on the right occasion, that is which deity it is and what day it is. Mantras are available to counteract the bad influence of Saturn entering into the Taurus sign of the Zodiac as well as for more auspicious festivals. - The effect is also increased with the number of tines the Mantra is read. In the daily Sandhya rite the Brahmin should read the Gayatri 108 limes thrice daily. The number 1008 for special occasions. Recitation of the Mantra at the morning, noon and evening helps the lowering of entropy of the individual. In other words, the useful energy available for external work may get considerably increased. This is entirely a mental phenomenon. - Gayatri will not only lead us to beatitude but will also give longevity of life and health and other aspects of worldly auspiciousness. (Sakti pp.9 and 8).

Mantra reading has come to be called Archanai in the regular temple worship. They follow the daily performances in the temple and are then called Nityarchanai, perpetual Archanai. Their effect is given by Karanagama as "giving prosperity, destroying sin, killing the evil consequences of heinous sins and giving the result of all sacrifices". Archanais may sometimes have more intelligible meaning than mere syllables or formulas. This was partly behind the demand raised in Tamil Nadu for Archanais in the mothertongue, Tamil, instead of Sanskrit. When a visitor comes to the temple to offer incense or flower the Archanai read on his behalf may in that way have a more individual touch, but the way of muttering the Mantras is the same whether read in Tamil or Sanskrit.

On special occasions Archanai are announced to be read in great numbers for the welfare of society at large or for any number of individuals who pay for the reading. In 1971 ten million Archanais were read to the deity Aiyappan at Sabari Malmi in Kerala. The public were invited to sign up for an amount suited to their needs at a fixed rate per Archanai. The effect was, however, maintained to be the strengthening of the spiritual life through this act of devotion to god Aiyappan.

The effectful use of Mantras called into existence professional Mantra readers who carry out a private practice for the benefit of the public. The art has different degrees of perfection. The Siddhar are highly respected for their achievements in mastering the power of Mantras for eight purposes, the Siddhis. They are Anima, becoming as small as an atom, Makima, increasing size at will, Lakima, power of assuming excessive lightness, Karma, power of increasing weight, Piratti, the power of obtaining anything, Pirakamiyam, irresistible will, Icattuvam, supreme dominion over nature, Vacittuvam, subjection and bewitching. In order to master these powers the aspirant will have to observe rules of rituals as well as of Yoga but, as Madame H.Brunner writes, in all cases he disposes over the power which the Mantra represents. He is called Mantrin along with the titles of Siddha or Sadhaka, "the one who can" because he has the power to accomplish things impossible to ordinary people. As Siddhar he has at the same time reached a stage which corresponds to "salvation" in the sense that he has succeeded. (Inde Ancienne, vol. II, pp 173, Paris 1976). There is, however, another line of development based on the extraordinary skill the Mantra provide. In South India Mantra readers, Mantravadis, represent a profession of their own. It is often a hereditary profession but not always. Mantirikam, as the art is called, can be the practice of anybody who is willing to submit to the rules. As a general rule Mantirikam is, however, in the hands of professional people who serve the public in their needs corresponding to the 8 "deeds" available to the Mantiravadi. They are somewhat different from the eight Siddhis but clearly of the same kind. The Mantravadi can take control of a person or a spirit, he can exercise a fascinating effect, arrest and paralyze, drive away, or summon a spirit or an absent person etc. He sits down on a board of cedar wood puts on a deer skin and facing Northeast he meditates with the help of a crystalpearl RAN NACIYAMAVA. Thus he secures the favour of Lakshmi and call in what he wants. On another occasion with different paraphernalia and the Mantra OM TAM MACIVANAVA he causes sown seeds to grow and give fruit....

In the preparation for ritual service the climax is reached with the words Sivoham, I am Siva, according to the rule Nadevo Devam Arcayet, as non-god you should not worship the god. From this, or along with it, comes another line of development which cannot be altogether absent even along the more practical trend. Man seeks union with God and when the concept of the "Ultimate Substance" prevails the philosophy of sound as its projection into the visible world gives to the Mantra the power of final release of man. The Mantra is the Devata, that is the power which releases man from his ignorance in thinking himself different from the ultimate reality. It is in the tantric tradition we meet this effect of the Mantra. Again the syllable AUM (= OM) is speculated upon as e.g. W.Eidlitz presents it: "Das wache Schreiten von A zu U and von U zu M kann die Erfahrung der Welt and das Absterben der Welt beinhalten. Der lautlose Nachhall der Silbe bringt die grosse Entsagung, das sich Loslösen von allen Irdischen Farben und Formen und Tönen und ein Hingelangen zu den, was über die drei Zeiten Vergangenheit, Gegenwart und Zukunft liegt".

Again another trend of Mantra effect is manifest in the Hare Krishna movement. When you sing "Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare" a transcendental vibration arises which revives our transcendental awareness...

Whether intellectual or emotional the Mantra is held indispensable for salvation. In a physiological way this is expressed by means of the Kundalini concept. The working of the Mantra is related to the concept of Nadi or artery running through the human body. Susumna is the chief of the Nadia and runs through the spinal axis. It begins by the Muladhara in the region of the hips and runs upward through six Cakras. "They are the centers of cosmic consciousness. Meditation awakens the Kundalini, the divine force, Sakti, which rises through the Cakraa and brings final liberation". The disciple attains the state when he sees no duality. He becomes one with the supreme soul... (P.N.Boae, Tantras, p. 156). It is, however, also true that Mantras are seldom used without an act of ritual. In temple worship, the Puja is the occasion for reading the Mantra and its necessary accompaniment just as the Mantra is needed for the effect of the rite.

As explained Mantras are always associated with a superhuman power. It may be a particular god or the ultimate reality in its creative force, the Sakti.

When no act of Puja takes place the usual companion is a Yantra, a geometrical figure drawn for the occasion or engraved in metal with Mantra syllables inscribed in its various triangles and squares. Basic for Mantra reading are also the practices of yoga with appropriate Asanas and Mudras, that is sitting postures and handgestures.

The three words Tantra, Yantra and Mantra belong together. Tantra from a root meaning rule, stands for the basic informative instrument, the scripture. Yantra brings with it the idea of restraining power, and Mantra, as we have seen, refers to the activity of the human mind which is thereby brought in relation to the Ultimate. It thus remain the ultimate factor.