Thoughts on Mantra: Beware of False Mantras
The internet is a wonderful technology, freeing information to flow unhindered over borders and across languages to allow anyone with an intense appetite for spirituality to gain their fill.
There are many sources of mantra on the internet. Unfortunately not all are reputable. The three most significant problems are as follows:
This is probably the biggest issue with internet media. Transliterations into English from Sanskrit are often corrupted by the writer attempting to recall the mantra or stotra from memory. If they have learned it wrong, it is inevitable that they reproduce it incorrectly.
Secondly, writing something from Sanskrit – a language with an alphabet with twice as many letters as English is often a difficult to impossible task. Certain sounds in Sanskrit simply DO NOT EXIST in English.
These problems make it critical that the aspirant to gain an audio recording of any mantra they are attempting to learn.
Confusing personal interpretations with a translation
The greatest difficulty I have seen for the beginner is in obtaining an accurate translation of a mantra or stotra. Even searching for the word by word meaning often turns up conflicting and completely different versions! One of the biggest victims are the Gayatri and Maha Mrityunjaya mantras. What is incredible is that words are often introduced into translations that do not actually occur in the original text!!
To make the distinction clear, the posts on this blog attempt to provide the purest semi-literal Sanskrit translations with minimal interpretation. Why? Because self contemplation of any mantra is critical to its understanding. Aspirants are provided with the words and through meditation should actively contemplate its proper meaning.
Secondly, a huge amount of the beauty and meaning of a mantra is lost in translation. The Vedas and Puranas have often been written in poetic script with a huge scope for metaphorical, literal and esoteric meaning to be inferred from each and every line. It would be incredibly arrogant and disrespectful of anyone to dare to limit even a single verse, which is pregnant with meaning, to their own limited understanding.
Sing the mantra to cultivate bhakti
Sanskrit mantras are loaded with incredible power. Why? Because each and every single syllable, intonation and pause in a mantra is the product of thousands of years of meditation to channel the very voice of God.
To achieve the purpose of the mantra, one always should endeavour to stick to the correct pronunciation. Whilst many popular mantras have been set to beautiful and inspiring melodies in recent times (and even introduced into cine songs!) it is doubtlessly a material deviation. A mantra is not a simple prayer and should be treated as such.
There are many reasons as to why singing mantras is not as powerful as chanting them, but here are two: (1) hearing a song over and over is unlikely to be as conducive to meditation as chanting is; (2) it will not have the same effect on the subtle body as its original conception. The reason is that anything conceived of by the ordinary human mind is limited by its very nature. Why constrain divine words in a human construct??