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KISHORE ASTHANA discusses the use and misuse of mantras.In Sanatana Dharma, there are three ‘tools’ used in spiritual pursuit — mantra, tantra and yantra. Mantras belong to jnana yoga, the yoga of knowledge. Tantra, which incidentally is not only used by tantriks but by virtually all seekers in some form or the other, signifies the fulfilment of lower desires through worship. Tantriks just practise an extreme form of this. Yantra is the use of external objects such as mystical diagrams in spiritual pursuit.However, while mantras are beneficial, their misuse could lead to undesirable results. A friend posted the Mahamrityunjaya Mantra on Mahashivaratri day:

  • Om trayambakam yajamahe sugandhin pushti-vardhanam
  • Urvarukamiv bandhanan mrityurmukshiye, maamritaat

The Mahamrityunjaya Mantra is an often misunderstood mantra. This is what these lines mean: “Aum. We worship the three-eyed One who is fragrant and who nurtures all. As the ripened cucumber or melon breaks free of its stem irreversibly, may He liberate us from death. I am immortal.”

People usually recite this mantra thinking this will keep them alive in the mistaken notion that this mantra gives victory over death. Though this mantra is entirely first-person oriented, many even recite it when someone else is very ill.

This kind of misunderstanding of mantras is one of the reasons why gurus say that a mantra should only be imparted to those who understand its true significance. Another reason is that mantras often have vibrational significance. Sometimes the words do not even have any dictionary meaning and it is their sound that is the power behind them. Beej mantras or single word mantras are an example of this.

Unprepared, some people usually mispronounce the words while reciting a mantra, making the recitation a waste of time that can lead to negativity in their minds.

Counterintuitively, the vibrational power of mantras is the strongest when one recites them silently — but correctly — in the mind as opposed to chanting aloud. The reason is all mantras focus on the inner Self and affect the mind. When they are repeated silently, they become inwardly focused and influence the mind in a positive way.Mantras are oriented at freeing the mind from mundane concerns and elevating consciousness. In Sanskrit, the word ‘mantra’ is a combination of ‘man’ and ‘trai’ — that is, ‘mind’ and ‘freedom’.

Single-word mantras are called beej mantras. These are ‘seed’ words out of which other mantras grow. They are words like Aum, shrim, hrim, krim and hum. Each beej mantra has a vibrational power of its own. Combined in the correct sequence and context, they form powerful mantras.

Each beej mantra is associated with a divine power. For example, ‘phat’ is the beej mantra for Pralay-Agni-Mahajwala, the great fire at the time of the dissolution of the universe. Shrim is the beej mantra of Vishnu Priya — the beloved of Vishnu that is Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.

Those who have correctly recited any of these mantras individually, can feel the power embedded in them through the transformation they bring to the individual consciousness. Again, they should not be pronounced wrongly, in the wrong combination or at the wrong time, for they have the potential to harm the mind if not practised properly.

Sir John Woodroffe has explained mantras quite succinctly in Chapter 24 of his book, Shakti And Shakta. He says: “The Supreme Absolute, Parabrahmn, exists in the human being, jivatma, as Shabda Brahmn, the Absolute as sound. Mantras are not prayers and the relationship of the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, whether consonants or vowels, point to the appearance of devata (divinity) in different forms. An expressed mantra is the manifestation of a more subtle sound while mantras themselves are forms of kundalini. Mantras may be male, female or neutral. Female mantras are called vidyas.”

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