Wednesday 25 May 2022
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Intricacies Of Mantra Sadhana

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The Om syllable is considered a mantra in its own right in Vedanta school of Hinduism.
The Om syllable is considered a mantra in its own right in Vedanta school of Hinduism.

Among the various practical methods of spirituality that have become a part of Sanatana Dharma, mantra sadhana as an exclusive path may have gained prominence at a later date, but its efficacy and applicability in the context of today’s time stands uncontested. Without a good grasp of the basics of performing mantra sadhana, one can never succeed in practical tantra, be it of the higher variety that aims at a spiritually transformative experience or the lower class dealing with various ethereal entities other than those classified as gods. Two scriptures from the mediaeval period that were instrumental in systematising the methods and process involved in this path and that gained tremendous prominence among tantra sadhakas were the Mantra Mahodadhi by Mahidhara composed in Varanasi in 1589 AD and Brihat Tantrasara by Krshnananda Bhattacharya Agambagish composed towards the end of the 16th century in Nabadwip Bengal. While the former was more generic in its scope and thrust, the latter was specifically a compendium for every sort of practice that went by the name of vamachara tantra, the infamous left-hand path.

It is accepted by tradition that authentic mantra sadhana requires a qualified guru who can initiate and guide the disciple, providing the dos and don’ts that need to be followed strictly during the course of the sadhana. Moreover, there used to be elaborate astrological and intuitive methods for determining the kind of influence that a mantra of a particular god would have on an individual. No doubt having a good mentor/guru proves a great help, and it is possibly even mandatory for some particular kinds of practices, but there are also a section of generic mantras and related sadhanas that can be performed safely without any external guru. This is scripturally and spiritually justified using the logic that many are there who have prepared themselves over past incarnations; thus they are able to continue and succeed in mantra sadhana without a formal guru. However, as a word of caution, it is good to remember that there are certain practices which cannot be performed without help from an adept guru, and in some cases may even need the helping hand of an uttara sadhaka (an advanced practitioner) which normally the guru assigns.

Essentials of mantra japa for mantra sadhana

Japa Mala, or Japa beads, consisting of 108 beads plus the head bead.
Japa Mala, or Japa beads, consisting of 108 beads plus the head bead.

Japa quite simply implies repetition of the mantra. A mantra is not merely a combination of sounds and words, but also importantly and practically the body of the god of that mantra. Which is why an accomplishment of the mantra, that is mantra siddhi, is exactly the same as obtaining a siddhi of that particular form of the god which in invoked using those words of the mantra. It is of capital importance for the seeker to establish this fact inside his mind that mantra and god are non-different. There are various styles and manners of mantra japa possible, but from the point of view of mantra sadhana as prescribed in the tantras, there are some fundamental rules that need to be followed. The first rule being one must never utter the mantra loudly so that others can hear it. That depletes the power of the mantra. This has also to do with the fact that the externalised speech-consciousness or vaikhari is too superficial to be able to hold and nurture the real power of a mantra. It is only in vaikhari that an individual can speak falsely, saying a thing which he may not mean, but that would be impossible in the higher levels of speech and consciousness — madhyama, pashyanti or para.

Before starting the sadhana, one must take a sankalpa stating clearly the purpose, duration and other self-imposed disciplines that the seeker chooses to follow in this period. Every mantra has a particular number of japas that energise it. Different mantras have their own rules regarding this number, but a generic, safe bet is to multiply the total number of words in the mantra with a lakh. Therefore a mantra with five words may need about five lakh japas for mantra-siddhi. If this is to be performed over a period of a few months, accordingly the sadhaka can calculate the number of japas that must be performed daily. Once the process is started, it is mandatory that the minimum number of japas have to be complete every day. Even one less would nullify the whole process, whereas doing more than the stipulated number is good, but those cannot be counted.

The second rule is to ensure that the japa is done at the same time and same place every day. Different mantras have different periods of the day when they gain more potency. But the crucial factor is to maintain a fixed time and place for the sadhana. It is also imperative to do the japa in an empty stomach, otherwise the inner subtle psychological fire of the intellect, known as bhuta-agni, becomes incapable of digesting the effects of the sadhana.

The third fundamental rule is to maintain celibacy during the whole time of the sadhana. Celibacy or brahmacharya and its connection to spirituality is a vast topic in itself, but, during initial stages of mantra sadhana, it is of tremendous help and importance. As the effect of the mantra keeps building and creating an impact on the inner consciousness of the sadhaka, eventually at one point it causes the apana vayu to move upwards and connect with the prana vayu, resulting in the release/awakening of a pent-up evolutionary spiritual force present inside every individual. The tantras call this kundalini shakti. While lack of celibacy causes a forceful movement of the apana downwards, the mantra sadhana tries to pull this vayu upwards. This causes a clash inside the sadhaka that can render the whole process ineffective or, in the worse case, may even precipitate a psychological and/or nervous breakdown.

Apart from the above, it is also desirable to maintain discipline in food and lifestyle during the period of the sadhana, avoiding any sort of excess, or conflicts that can disturb the mind and create a lack of equanimity. Some mantras, texts confirm, gain more potency if the sadhana is performed in specific locales which have a natural energy more conducive for manifesting the god of the mantra. Like a mantra sadhana of fierce forms of the goddess is best performed in a deserted place, under a Banyan tree, in a cremation ground away from people, on a hill top, near a flowing river, or sitting beside a Shiva linga, provided that is the only linga within a large radius.

Homa, tarpana, marjana, bhojana

A homa being performed
A homa being performed

Once the requisite number of japa is done, the next step is performing a homa (fire ritual) with 1/10th count of the japa. Then tarpana has to be performed for 1/10th of the number of ahutis given in the fire, marjana with 1/10th of the amount of tarpana and finally the sadhaka must feed a certain number of people, which is 1/10th of the number of marjana. This makes it a ritualistically complete purushacharana of a mantra.

The basic idea of any tantric worship is bhuta shuddhi, or purification of the five great elements. Essentially a purushacharana is like an elaborate pachopachara puja, where the sadhaka learns to activate the mantra in and through the five great elements — vayu, agni, jala, prithvi and akasha (air, fire, water, earth and space respectively). Once completed, the sadhaka attains what is known as mantra chaitanya, or a sanguine inner identification of the sadhaka’s consciousness with the consciousness of the god whose verbal form is the mantra. Though it is difficult for most people in this day and age to perform the whole ritual flawlessly, even practicing a disciplined japa of a mantra for a few months while following the fundamental rules mentioned above, can produce some interesting and verifiable effects. As with all things in spirituality, an ounce of real experience is worth more than truckloads of theory.

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Rajarshi Nandy
Rajarshi Nandy
He is a practising spiritualist, eternal pilgrim and, by profession, a technical writer. He does not belong or subscribe to a particular sect of Hinduism; he is open to the idea of exploring all of them.

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