Article on Hinduism

OM SHANTI OM 

 Dr. Gautam Chatterjee

article published in Discover India (Jan.2001)

It is said that the universe was created within shound and that sound also gives man his spiritual destiny. With the chanting of mantras, a psychological atmosphere is created which goes towards the purification of the mind and the body Vedic literature has come down to us as an oral tradition. And Vedic verses form part of mantras (sacred sounds) which roll within the ether of the body and come out as sound with varying frequencies. This sacred sound is the omnipotent nama and rupa (name and form).

The earliest reference about the interpretation and value of mantra is found in Brahmanas: Ninya Vacamsi which means 'the word rising from the depths' (rig Veda IV 3.16). Analysing the essence of mantra, Shrimat Anirvan wrote in his article: Vedic Exercises (the Cultural Heritage of India Vol.1) that, "The connection of the Vedic mantras with rituals is very deep. The chief aim of the Brahamanas is to give a clear and connected account of rituals with occasional exegetical comments, where it is assumed that the listeners are already familiar with the atmosphere in which these rituals arose. Every detail of a ritual has to be accompanied by a mantra….though the mantras were evidently composed in ritualistic atmosphere, it cannot be claimed that every mantra of the Samhita (Scripture) has always a necessary reference to some rites…."

 

Yaska, the renowned sage, once said the mantras are deeply interlinked with jnana and karma. Symbolically placing the context (Rig Veda X 71.5) Yaska wrote L "It speaks of the meaning as being the flower and the fruits of the word. Esoterically, knowledge of the rituals and of the Gods are respectively the flower and the fruit of the word. (Nirukta I.20) Furthermore, the text Nirukta proclaims that within the mantra the secret knowledge of the Veda resides.

Thus the sacred word is a mode for man to expand his consciousness. And mantras unfold a process of spiritual experiences through the primal word or cosmic sound.

Mantras are an integral part of the Guru-Shishya-Parampara (a tradition of spiritual leader and disciple ) where the guru initiates his disciple with the seed mantra or beeja mantra to experience mystic spiritualism within oneself. Elaborating the point Swami Vivekananda wrote:"…but only the Siddha gurus (teachers who have attained glory), they, as a rule, have to convey the germs of spiritual wisdom to the disciple by means of words (mantras) to be meditated upon" (Complete Works Vol.III p.56).

Thus we see that the life of a Hindu is enveloped with sound symbolism right from the days of initiation. The effective verbal power of correctly articulated sounds is an accepted belief of the Hindus. These sounds can destroy, create and sustain the world. It is said that the sound of mantras have all the creative power provided the devout has been properly initiated into its mystical meaning and taught the methodology of its pronunciation

The founder of Agama Anusndhan Samiti, Atal Bihari Ghosh, wrote in an article, The Spirit and Culture of the Tantra (Cultural Heritage of India Vol. IV pp.256-246): " Initiation or diksha means that which gives a knowledge of things divine and destroys all that leads to a fall. The teacher, for example, explains how three letters - a, u and m constituting pranava or AUM, represent the three gunas: Sattava, rajas and tamas; how these are embodied in Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva; and how these three deities can function only with the help of their respective Saktis (consorts). The guru also teaches how the AUM is but a subtle form of the sacred formula hamsah which is also the vahana (carrier) of Brahma the creator in as much as hamsah means 'the breath of life'. Ham is inspired breath and sah is that which is expired. Everything movable and immovable breathes and therefore Brahma who is nothing but the creative aspect of the Supreme substance manifest in the world is represented as seated there. To the ordinary man hamsah is a waterfowl. The aspirant ahs also to learn that the pranava contains within itself besides the three letter (AUM) - bindu nada (sound), sakti (power) and santa (quiescence). When he has learnt this, he is to know that which is beyond. These remarks apply to every mantra".

According to the Hindu dharma, there are three 'inaudible' stages before sound is heard. According to Atal Behari Ghosh: "Something ought to be said about the four stages of speech, in three of which sound s inaudible; it is only at the fourth stage that men give utterance to it. The first of the three stages is para located in the muladhara, the lowest of the six centres in the spinal column commonly called chakras. This is but a mere stress toward articulation. As this stress takes definte shape, it becomes pasyanti which means 'seeing'. The next stage is reached when it arrives at the anahat chakra opposite the heart; it then becomes madhyama which means 'middling'.

These are the three names given in Tantra to the three silent stages of vocal sound, and the last stage is vaikhari. There are some who hold that there are three stages of sound prior to para. Padampada Acharya, the chief disciple of Sankaracharya, says that the stages preceding para are sunya, samvit and suksma. The first is the vibrational stage, the next is that when the sound is about to form, and the third is that when it is forming".

Thus we see that the creation of sound within the human body is analogous to cosmic creation which also starts with the initial vibration at sunya or zero level.

For a Hindu, mantras are mandatory because the whole life cycle from birth to funeral rites requires mantra chanting as it sanctifies both the occasion and the ritual. Physical efforts of worship get enhanced when accompanied by mantra.

Chanting right

A mantra can be a monosyllable as in the case of AUM, or it can be a verse from vedic scriptures running into more than sixty syllables. In tantric Shastras, mantras run into 110 syllables. Generally, mantras are written in Sanskrit.

To pronounce the mantras there are specific pulse, pitch and speed. Each individula syllable in the mantra should be pronounced neither slowly nor rapidly. According to the Tantra school of thought, the perfect process of pronunciation and pause thereof gain effectiveness as it is more and more silently uttered; and the greatest efficacy attaches to meditation where there is no loud muttering but only silent meditation over the fundamental unity.

However, there are sects who belief in one name and shape and often call themselves Advaitists who take the name of Rama any number of times. In some belief systems a specific name of a God is taken for a particular purpose by a devotee. According to ancient scriptures Vishnu is remembered at the time of taking medicine. At the time of eating, a devout remembers the name of Janardhana. At bedtime he recites the name of Padmanabha.

Likewise, mantras are chanted repeatedly and each mantra has a specific significance and purpose. It is believed that once the meaning of the mantra is understood and recited correctly one attains one's aspirations.

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