by Sharon Gannon |
December, 2014
Mantra: the Jivamukti FOTM

The ancient yogic scriptures declare that God is sound and sound is God: Shabda Brahman. There is nothing but God. God is everything. God is real. God is reality. God is sound. All forms of reality are sound forms—music—their very substance composed of vibration. What we see as material existence, matter, is sound slowed down so that the eyes can see it, the ears can hear it and all the other senses can cognize it. Sound gives birth to matter—in the beginning was the word.

Our minds—through our words, whether spoken out loud or silently—create the reality we live in. Most people are unaware of the powerful force their words unleash upon the world. None of us like living in a world of chaos, conflict, destruction, pollution, disease and despair, yet few of us realize that it is our words that create and maintain such a world. We misuse our words when we use them to deceive, condemn, complain or blame others. Words spoken in anger and despair create a destructive atmosphere.

If we feel bound or limited by our reality, if don’t like what we see, a mantra enables us to change our perception of what is by going beyond what appears as normal to us. The Sanskrit word mantra means to “cross over the mind”: man means “mind,” and tra means “to cross over.” Mantras are magical words with the potency to shift reality, or at least our perception of it, which may well be the same thing. But to utilize this magical potency of mantra to shift our perception of reality, we must acknowledge that mantras are spells, and like all spells, to be effective, they must be uttered with sincere intention and pronounced correctly. Most of us must repeat a mantra many times for the desired effect to manifest. As the alchemists of old used to say with encouragement, “with repetition the magic will be forced to rise.”

One might ask, If God is everything then how come there is so much ugliness and suffering in the world? Think of it this way: Right now the Earth’s environment is being destroyed due to human greed and ignorance. Nature is harmonious with God’s laws. We take naturally occurring, pristine resources and refashion them into all kinds of material things to buy and sell. Money seems to be our God and money is our mantra. Most of the things we manufacture end up as garbage thrown into landfills and the ocean, creating a polluted world and releasing toxicity into our environment. Nearly all of the stuff we have made from the Earth’s basic raw materials we have also altered in such a way that this stuff is unable to break down naturally into components that will biodegrade and re-nourish the environment. The garbage we have made is poisoning our world and causing all kinds of suffering—an indication that we have lost our musical sense and have become out of tune with the Cosmic laws of harmony. God provides the basic raw materials but gives us the option to fashion those materials in accord with the laws of nature or not. In a similar way God gives us voices and a choice to play and sing in His orchestra or one assembled from our own selfish, short-sighted egos. God allows us to choose which words we want to think and say, and our choices will determine the kind of world we live in now and in our future.

It is said in the Bhagavad Gita and in other scriptures that whatever you are thinking of at the time of your death will propel you into your next life. That being said, it is sad to know that many people when they meet death unexpectedly, like in an accident or plane crash say the mantra, “Oh Sh-t!,” unconsciously giving direction to their next incarnation. The great yogi Gandhi was practiced in his recitation of mantra, and when the assassin’s bullet hit him, he remembered to utter “Ram,” which no doubt pointed his soul in a good direction for his journey.

The nature of God is satchidananda—existence (sat), knowledge (chit) and mostly bliss (ananda). God is omniscient and omnipresent, but if you want to know His blissful form—and who wouldn’t?—you must focus on that with every thought or word you say. God is polite and does not interfere with us unless we reach out to Him and ask for His presence to be in our lives. When you want to get someone’s attention, knowing their name is important. It is the same with God: to get God’s attention you must call his name. “Hey you” is not enough. It is better to be specific.

Sanskrit is the spiritual language of refinement. Sanskrit mantras composed of the names of God are particularly potent. Most people unconsciously fill their minds and their world with words that manifest as mundane, destructive forms, ensuring negativity and suffering. The wise work to deconstruct a negative reality through chanting God’s holy names. Sound precedes form. His name (nama) creates his form (rupa). There is no difference between God’s name and God. If you want to dwell in the bhav of the Divine then use the mantras of his holy name to lift your mind from conflict, fear, anger, despair and all ordinary concerns and bring you into the reality of ananda—your true h(om)e.

Teaching Tips

  • During this month immerse yourselves in mantra and drink in the Divine atmosphere. Limit your speech to only sweet and uplifting words.
  • Teach students the value of an affirming mantra like “Let-Go”, which is non-denominational (not built from one of God’s names) and will most likely not offend any one’s religious principles. It even works for atheists. It is easy to pronounce and can be easily translated into many languages. But do not underestimate the “Let-Go” mantra. It is very powerful as it allows a person to calm their minds by letting go of thoughts and can set the stage for meditation. The “Let-Go” mantra can also pave the way for the recitation of other Sanskrit mantras that include the name of God, but those mantras might be best introduced to a student later on as he or she advances in their practice.
  • Teach students the value of other affirming mantras, like the mantras lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu and shantih. These mantras, like “Let-Go,” are affirming mantras, but because they do not specifically contain a name of God, they are usually more accepted by people of different religions. Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu is nonetheless a powerful mantra because when the speaker says it they are making a pledge to contribute to the happiness of others. That in itself will help to release one from their own negative emotions, purifying their mind so as to be open and available to serve God—to become His instrument. In a similar way, the effectiveness of the mantra shantih purifies the mind of the person saying it by invoking the conflict-free state of peace.
  • Lead students in the recitation of a holy mantra for 108 times. Use the mantras “Let-Go” or lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu or a mantra that contains the name of God, for example, Shri Krishna sharanam mama, Hari OM, Om Namo Narayanaya, or Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare, etc. The teacher should use a mala themselves to keep track of the number of repetitions. The teacher could invite the students to bring their own malas to class to participate in this type of japa.

Methods of japa: Teach the students about the traditional methods of japa—ways that japa can be practiced, which are:

  1. Vachika japa: the mantra is repeated out loud
  2. Upamsu japa: the mantra is repeated semi-audibly by moving only the tongue and lips
  3. Manasa japa: the mantra is repeated mentally without allowing the tongue and lips to move
  4. Likhita japa: the mantra is written continuously or for a fixed number of times
  5. Akhanda japa: the mantra is repeated for a specific number of times without a break, or for a fixed period of time, such as from sunrise to sunset. Akhanda japa is often performed rhythmically and congregationally.
  6. Alapa japa: the mantra is repeated mentally at all times and with every breath.
    • Teach the students that the Jivamukti form of meditation is mantra meditation. There are two initiations: the first is into the “Let-Go” mantra and the second is the secret refuge mantra.
    • Explain to the students that Om is a mantra. According to the Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutra it is one of the Holy names of God. Patanjali refers to it as the pranavah, which means “that which is ever renewing”—the true fountain of youth and immortality! Tasya vacakah pranavah God is Om PYS 1.27
    • Remind the students that there are other ways to benefit the physical body besides asana, chanting holy mantras being one of those ways. Because all physical matter is actually made of sound vibration, chanting affects the cells and molecules of your body resulting in healing, health and well-being.
    • As a music soundtrack during this month—choose only songs composed of mantras. Playing mantras while practicing asanas purifies the atmosphere in the room as well as in the minds and hearts of all who are in that room. Hearing over and over again the sound of mantras piped through the speakers can instigate spontaneous “singing along” with the recordings.
    • Lead your class with kirtan or invite kirtan musicians to play live in your classes.

It may be interesting to reflect that chanting mantra is a practice that falls under the category of all five tenets of Jivamukti Yoga.

    • Ahimsa: Mantra undermines fear and reactivity which lead to violence.
    • Bhakti: Mantra purifies the emotions and is the means to devotion. Nama and rupa are not different—to know God’s form chant his holy name.
    • Dhyana: Jivamukti meditation is practiced with mantra—japa, using Let-Go or Shri Krishna Sharanam Mama
    • Nada: the purification of the mind is through deep listening and hearing of the sacred sound—the shabda Brahman
    • Shastra: the value of mantra is found in scriptures. Sanskrit mantras are the most potent and through the study of Sanskrit you learn to pronounce mantras correctly.