Actual Question: “…and then lately at a facility I go to for Meditation, they give us phrases or sentences for what they called “mantras”. My knowledge has led me to believe this is wrongful use of the term and practice. I notice in your meditation last week you used the word “affirmation”, and that makes sense to me. Why are other teachers calling these Mantras? Can you explain the difference?
Answer: Dear XXXX, Without knowing an example, I’ll do my best to explain what a mantra is. First, what is an affirmation? An affirmation is a word or group of words that have a special or ‘positive’ meaning. An example would be: “Let there be peace” or “I open my heart to love”. A guide might ask you to repeat this silently or as a group over and over. Its a nice way of telling yourself something nice! Nothing wrong with that, why not? A mantra has much deeper work and can be create quite a profound change and permanent change in one’s life. Allow me to transfer information from one of my early teachers at the Himalayan Institute.
It is not due to the meaning of the words that the mantra has its impact. It is the effect of the sound that helps the mind to become still and eventually go beyond sound, to experience the silence within.
Mantra will naturally move inward through stages, if allowed. It is important to remember this, so as to not unintentionally keep meditation shallow when it is trying to move into deeper peace.
For example, the word shanti means peace or tranquility. The feeling that gradually emerges is more internal and peaceful than is the repetition of the syllables alone. When the syllables drift away, one might then meditate on the feeling of peace itself, which is more subtle. Initially, this feeling might fade quickly, and be resurrected by again remembering the syllables of the mantra.
Gradually, that feeling has fewer breaks or distractions, and becomes a somewhat constant, pervasive awareness.
This eventually leads inward to a deep awareness that is the root of the sound. It somewhat defies description, but as a root of the sound, it is like a soundless sound of the mantra that is resting in silence.
Dealing with thoughts
Mantra can unwisely be used to repress ones thinking process. Mantra should not be used to avoid life and dealing with mental and emotional issues. At meditation time, one can easily get into an inner fight between the mantra and the stream of thoughts. This is not the best thing to do.
Better than fighting, is to allow a period of time for inner reflection or internal dialogue to explore and deal with those thoughts and emotions. Then, it is much easier to remember the mantra as it naturally arises in the stream of the mind.
I sit down, and I observe my whole being listening to the mantra. I do not remember the mantra or repeat the mantra mentally, because then the mind repeats many things. Instead I make my whole being an ear to hear the mantra, and the mantra is coming from everywhere. This will not happen to you immediately in meditation, but when you have attained or accomplished something, then this will happen to you. Then, even if you do not want to do your mantra, it is not possible to avoid it. Even if you decide that you do not want to remember the mantra, it will not be possible. Finally, even the mantra does not exist; only the purpose for which you repeat the mantra is there; you are There. The mantra might still be there, but it exists as an experience that overwhelms your whole being, and is not separate from you.
I look forward to continuing our discussion if you would like to learn more about mantras. Please give a call when you are ready or stop on in. My office hours are Tuesday, Wednesday Thursday 11-4.
(Thank you Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati for your teachings.)