These are some thoughts on mantra chanting and errors; they are very much intended as food for thought.
Real mantras are not human concoctions; they are heard (Sruti) meaning they are of divine origin. Rishis (ancient seers) were merely the instrument through which the Divine communicated. This means they interact on a spiritual level with the body mind and soul – not just the physical.
One interpretation of the method by which mantras interact with the subtle body is akin to medicines in the field of biochemistry. They have been constructed with a precise detail with a specific effect to unlock energy currents within the body and vibrate chakras.
An enthused amateur is not qualified to self-prescribe complex medicines, nor wise to concoct his or her own pharmaceutical medicines in their kitchen! Therefore, it is advisable to adhere to the original, precise pronunciation, hopefully learned from a scholar or Guru.
For most mantras, there are no adverse effects for incorrectly chanting mantras per se, but mistakes are more than likely to limit the impact.
Our spiritual history shows us that there are always exceptions to ‘the rules’. Viswamitra (Kaushika) became a Brahmarishi despite his warrior heritage, Valmiki prayed with the words ‘Mara Mara’ instead of ‘Rama Rama’; Mara means death! And yet both represent incredibly inspiring stories of the human capacity to overcome all obstacles to succeed against all the odds.
Secondly, one would argue that the very existence of mantras to ask for forgiveness at the end of every puja , stotra and parayana (for example – Kayena vaacha – see the Satvika on this page) implies that the benevolent Gods are ever willing to put aside practice when considering an aspirant’s sincerity and devotion in prayer.
My personal view is that in the West, we unfortunately live in a ‘try’ culture. We half-heartedly attempt things only to fail. Too many excuses are made by children, adults, students, workers as to why their achievements have been hindered by external forces, such as discrimination, a lack of time, other responsibilities etc. Ultimately, the absolute responsibility you have is to your own conscience.
The basis of sincerity and good judgement is to adhere to the original method with full enthusiasm and devotion, and then humbly ask forgiveness for any mistakes we have unknowingly committed.
Understand that effort (sometimes spanning several births and lifetimes) is always proportional to the benefit. That is the very infrastructure on which the universe is founded.
…lies in yourself
Of course the ‘answer’ is entirely idiosyncratic. Hinduism (more accurately, Sanatana Dharma) is flexible enough to allow its aspirants to have a spirited debate and agree to differ.
Above all else, let us remember that all paths lead to the same goal.
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??
One of the key pre-requisites of preparation to chant a mantra in which you want Siddhi is the Gayatri Maha Mantra.
The foundation of all
The Gayatri is an incredibly flexible and unbelievably powerful mantra.
One can build a tremendous amount of spiritual power through diligently reciting the Gayatri, then ‘spend’ this power through other mantras to focus on improving that particular part of your life. This will allow you to gain faster siddhi of any mantra and more spectacular results from your sadhana.
Typically, one should either recite the Gayatri at least 1008x daily in addition to any mantra, or finish an anusthan beforehand.
Read my prior post on supercharging your prayers with the Gayatri by clicking here.
It is inevitable that the early stage sadhak (spiritual aspirant) feels the effects of mental and physical tiredness during mantra Japa (chanting).
The most auspicious time to chant any Vedic mantra is during the Brahmamuhurtha (the time of Brahma) – 2 hrs before sunrise. In India, this is between 3-4am. In the Western World, and more northern territories in general, the change of climate means that sunrise timings are variable between Summer and Winter and daylight hours change significantly, so some adjustment must be taken into account.
Western Culture is not oriented around early rising; in fact it is almost the opposite – most social activity for adults occurs in the evening. In this regard, it is incredibly difficult for those accustomed to such regimes to change.
The mind is a powerful device but the beginner will find it difficult to access its full potential. Sadhus (holymen) have long shown us that it is possible to go into deep trances of meditation for hours to days on end and go without sleep! But this is a stretch for a beginner and the initial problem is more that enthusiasm will begin to wane and thoughts wander, resulting in mental tiredness. Note that this is effectively the same for any mantra japa – whether bija or longer verse.
Here are some tips to stave off tiredness
- Eat lightly! A heavily meal will often send the sadhak to sleep while digestion kicks in!
- Stretch your muscles before sitting. This gets the blood flowing and avoids unnecessary fidgeting or physical discomfort.
- Get a good nights sleep. Needless to say, one must balance japa with the requirements of the day. Proper rest is essential to maintain both.
- Vary the speed of Japa. This helps to cut through the monotony. Slow down when you feel your concentration deepening. If you feel enthusiastic and more motivated toward your goal, then by all means speed up! The goal is to increase the intensity of japa to your own limits of concentration and focus; if you are inclined for a fast rousing speed then use it – eventually the mind will find a stillness on its own and you will automatically enter silent mental japa.
- Stand up! Do not feel that you must maintain one specific posture (asana) through out. If you’re tired and find yourself actually falling asleep, stand up! Move your body, rengage your enthusiasm with some japa out loud then resume as your previous asana once vigour returns.
Think hard to get big benefits!
The benefits you will receive from any mantra is directly proportional to the intensity with which you meditate on the mantra.
This is not only measured by the duration of your daily efforts to chant the mantra, but the level of mental energy you devote to the task.
If Cash is King, then Mental Energy is Maharaj!
In a very similar manner to the concept of the Law of Attraction, one spends mental energy on achieving goals and attracting things as one does cash on material possessions.
Things to bear in mind
Enter each meditation with: (1) an intense need and determination to receive or achieve what you are praying for; (2) with an absolute expectation that something will manifest in your life.