What are Mantras ?
Imagine that mantras are the weapons used to protect the mind from enemies (weaknesses). After all, mantra comes from mana and tra and does mean “that which protects the mind”. If regular mantras are like sticks with which you can beat up enemies, veda mantras are like powerful guns with which you can shoot with precision. However, the correct knowledge related to chanting and experiencing veda mantras is pretty much lost today. Though there are people who possess a lot of guns, pretty much nobody knows how to shoot a gun. Thus, one who wants to use a gun will have to use it like a stick and beat the enemy with the gun.
What is the right way of chanting mantra ? Loudly or just whispering or Manan?
Both are ok. But, in my view, the best way to chant is to chant mentally. When some people chant mentally, there is subtle movement of muscles in the throat. If you can chant in the mind with complete silence, i.e. with NO movement of any internal [physical] body part, it is the best. In fact, if you attempt that, you will realize that your focus on the mantra has to be very high to achieve the above. When you say a mantra loud, mind can be thinking of something else while the throat and lips say something. In order to say something mentally without any movement, however, your focus has to be much higher. It just forces a higher level of focus.
If you attempt the above, it is difficult in the beginning to avoid occasional movement of muscles in the throat. If you practice more, you will be able to say without any movement. Secondly, if you can also avoid the movement of other physical body parts (not involved with sound production) such as hands, legs, head etc, it can result in a more productive meditation session.
If you have decided to express your love to your parents, will you say it with a hurried tone and a business attitude? Or, will you say it slowly and clearly with love, care and expression? Worshiping a deity is also like expressing your love to your father/mother!
Especially, Vedic chants have a special power. When chanted with the correct pronunciation and intonation, they have the power to transform. But one cannot hurry them. If one hurries a Vedic chant, certain sounds will not be clearly audible. The intonation – ups and downs – on various aksharas get mixed up. It is not possible to put the correct intonation on each akshara (and for the entire duration of the akshara) if one hurries. Some intonation levels sometimes get carried over wrongly from one akshara to another. That is not good. There is no comparison between the energy and bliss produced by a perfect Vedic chanting and an erroneous one under haste. Vedic chants are not meant to be read too fast. Those who cling on to fixed counts and sacrifice the quality of chanting are missing the main point and losing the actual benefit.
Does Japa or Mantra Chanting have to be done with a Maalaa?
Mind always preoccupies itself with many things! 🙂 By giving it an anchor to focus on (like handling of the maalaa), you are actually stabilizing it somewhat. If this specific pre-occupation minimized many other (and worse) pre-occupations, it is not a bad thing at all.
It is like a monkey that keeps jumping from one place to another place being tied to a pole with a chain to limit its jumping. The monkey may still be jumping up and down, but the chain atleast *limits* its movement around one pole. Of course, if the monkey learns to stay in one place without jumping, it needs no chain or pole anymore. Chain was there in the first place to limit its jumping.
Each person is the best judge of where one is and what is appropriate for oneself. We make progress by recognizing our weaknesses and addressing them. In addition, there are certain chakras in the tips of fingers that are directly connected to the brain. Objects like rudraksha and tulasi beads can stimulate those minor energy centers. Thus, there is *some* use in the beginning.
Power of Mantra
Mantras in Sanskrit have been meditated upon by many saints and yogis in the past and their effect on the mind is well-understood. A sequence of sounds, when repeated with full mental focus, creates a certain energy. Just thinking of the meaning may not create the same energy. For example, sounds without any meaning also produce specific energies in the mind when we focus on those sounds single mindedly. The sadhana of so many saints and yogis who used the mantras before adds to the power of those Sanskrit mantras.
When Jnaneshwar Maharaj composed Jnaneshwari (Marathi translation of Bhagavad Gita in poetic form), he was in a very purified state of consciousness. Hence there is divine power in his Marathi words and many saints experienced divinity by chanting his Marathi verses. Same with Ram Charit Manas by Sant Tulasidas. Those are inspired translations.
If one has access only to words spoken by a normal person in a language that one can understand, it is better to repeat words spoken by an elevated being instead, even if one does not understand the meaning.
Mantra After taking Bath Only ?
The vibrations produced by the subtle body are far more important than the vibrations produced by the gross body. Thus, mantra is more of a subtle body activity than a gross body activity. Thus, purity and cleanliness of the subtle body is more important than that of gross body. However, people cannot perceive the subtle body and its purity. Maintaining the purity of subtle body and mind is far more difficult than taking bath, wearing clean clothes and being in pleasant surroundings. Thus, people shoot for the easier external thing (which is a symbol), in the hope that it eventually brings the desired internal end result. If one takes bath, wears clean clothes, keeps one’s surroundings clean and pleasant, it will make the mind feel clean. It eventually can bring purity to the mind. Thus, even while maintaining external purity, remember that what matters is the internal purity and that external purity is being maintained only to promote internal purity in the long run.
What wil happen , if we chant without knowing meaning of Mantra ?
Merely chanting Chandi saptashati without understanding the meaning is also excellent and produces results. Understanding the meaning and marveling at the power of the Mother makes one fearless and energetic and also give material benefits. Understanding the deeper meanings and appreciating the True Nature of the Mother makes one realize one’s own true nature. It has various benefits at various levels of sadhana. It is tough to exactly say what benefit it gives, as that depends on the evolution level of sadhaka and his attitude. But, there is something in Chandipath for everyone!
However, the highest purpose is self-knowledge and that is why Vedas are its swaroopam.
Sanskrit is a fantastic language. Sanskrit names selected by Rishis for expressing various concepts and stories are very thoughtful. Depending on how deep one goes, there are many meanings of the same word. Thus, Rishis expressed concepts that may have one meaning to a layman and a different meaning to one who is ready to understand the deeper meaning! I salute to the wisdom of our Rishis!
Can anyone do the mantra, or does this require initiation from a Guru?
If one’s parents did not do a proper “anna praasana” ritual (the ritual of first feeding of solid food to a baby) to one, should one consider oneself not entitled to eat any solid food? Not doing a mantra because of no initiation is basically like that.
Getting initiation is good, especially if the one initiating has some level of sadhana in that mantra. But it is neither necessary nor sufficient for making progress in your own sadhana.
If you see my homam document, I gave an analogy for this. A millionaire may open a bank account in his son’s name with a starting balance of a million dollars. This is akin to a good guru initiating a sishya in a mantra. Sishya starts off by getting some of guru’s attainment. But the son may waste those million 48 dollars and end up with nothing. Similarly the sishya may fall and not achieve anything. Another person may not have anyone to give money and may start off with a zero bank balance but accumulate millions of dollars with own effort. This is akin to a person doing sadhana with a mantra without guru and attaining some level in the mantra.
Some people hold the view that mantras cannot be chanted without a proper “initiation”. This view is especially prevalent in some sections of society w.r.t. navarna mantra. However, I disagree with that view.
If you know the mantra (!), just chant it. What would an initiating guru have done for you? Perhaps he would’ve given some of his attainment in the mantra to you. Well, you can do it yourself if you work hard. Or a guru would’ve taught you the right nyasas to be done before the mantra. Well, you can get the nyasas from books too. Moreover, what most people do today for nyasas is anyway just a ritual with no meaning. Nyasa literally means placement.
You place various sounds in various body parts (like the tips of various fingers, heart, top of head, eyes etc). People merely act out some signals while saying the sounds. This “placement” is actually supposed to be an internal act and it creates an ideal environment for the repetition of mantra. Due to the external actions, what is supposed to occur internally does not occur in most. So the sounds end up not getting properly placed in the body. In other words, what I am trying to say is that most people do not know how to “place” various “sounds” in various body parts. They merely perform meaningless ritualistic actions. So, if you do not know nyasas, you are not really missing much compared to others who were initiated.
In my humble opinion, the most important qualification is to have devotion and sense of surrender to God or Mother Nature.
If you have them, you can consider yourself “highly initiated”.