The Needed Engagement That Enlivens the Outer Forms of Worship

The inner life-force behind any action is more important than the outer form which it takes. Japa and Mantra can become habitual and repetitive, and if that happens, the outer shell remains, but there is nothing alive within. Such japa sadhana has little value. The living energy needed is either the mental focus and engagement or the emotional/vital support for the activity so that it is something that goes beyond mere droning repetition. Given the nature of the human instrument, most will find it easier to harness the energy of the vital being, through devotional aspiration or dedicated work, while some will naturally gravitate to the focus on the mental process and the search for knowledge that can entice and capture the attention. Either way, as Sri Aurobindo so clearly describes, there must be a real focus and energy that underlies and supports the outer actions.

We see in the world today a movement away from mainstream religions and a shift towards spiritual fulfillment, as people describe the emptiness they feel in many of the rituals that religions tend to promulgate. When they started, these acts, which are now ritual efforts, likely spoke to a living truth and force that communicated an experience to those who were involved. When that force recedes, people experience only the dullness of an outer form devoid of force to provide significance and focus to their lives. For those who are engaged and receptive, simple acts, or ritual formulas may still awaken the deeper sense, but for most, there appears to be a dull “tuning out” of the essential relation that was at the core of what is now habit or ritual.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “Prayer and meditation count for so much in yoga. But the prayer must well up from the heart on a crest of emotion or aspiration, the Japa or meditation come in a live push carrying the joy or the light of the thing in it. If done mechanically and merely as a thing that ought to be done (stern grim duty!), it must tend towards want of interest and dryness and so be ineffective…. You were doing Japa too much as a means for bringing about a result, I meant too much as a device, a process laid down for getting the thing done. That was why I wanted the psychological conditions in you to develop, the psychic, the mental, for when the psychic is forward, there is no lack of life and joy in the prayer, the aspiration, the seeking, no difficulty in having the constant stream of bhakti and when the mind is quiet and inturned and upturned there is no difficulty or want of interest in meditation. Meditation, by the way, is a process leading towards knowledge and through knowledge, it is a thing of the head and not of the heart, so if you want dhyana, you can’t have an aversion to knowledge. Concentration in the heart is not meditation, it is a call on the Divine, on the Beloved. This yoga too is not a yoga of knowledge alone, knowledge is one of its means, but its base being self-offering, surrender, bhakti, it is based in the heart and nothing can be eventually done without this base. There are plenty of people here who do or have done Japa and base themselves on bhakti, very few comparatively who have done the ‘head’ meditation; love and bhakti and works are usually the base; how many can proceed by knowledge? Only the few.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Love and Devotion, Mantra and Japa, pp. 165-167


Secrets for the Successful Use of Japa or Mantra for Spiritual Realisation and Daily Life

There are tales of devotees reciting various mantras millions of times in order to achieve some boon or result in their spiritual progress. The mantra, or the recitation of a name of God, is the sound-body of the form or deity and thus, the theory goes, continued repetition of that name or sound will lead to the embodiment of the named form within oneself. And it is of course possible that after some extended period of time, the vibratory pattern in fact impresses itself upon the being and the manifestation does indeed take place. However, the reliance on a purely mechanical action, without the active leverage provided by the mind’s attention or the heart’s devotion, can be a very time-consuming path with little chance of any immediate result. Attempting this method also requires abandonment of most, if not all, other activities in the world due to the time commitment involved. So, what is the secret to the use of mantra or japa, that can make it effective and beneficial for the practice of yoga?

The mind can be a powerful aid in directing the consciousness, focusing the attention and creating the receptivity needed to accept and embody the vibratory patterns of the mantra. Thus the active participation of the mind, not just the mechanical physical mind, but the higher mental powers of attention, understanding and the ability to align with the sense and meaning, is a powerful aid to the process of japa.

The emotions similarly can act to focus the attention of the being and create and maintain a connection with the object of the japa, and thus, the emotional being’s commitment and the direction of the emotional energy represents another powerful aid to the process.

Mantra japa may also have short-term practical uses, such as helping clear the mind of extraneous thoughts or calming the emotions so that the “mind stuff” (chitta) can be brought to a state of quiescence for meditation or to foster a state of receptivity. When the mind is occupied with distressing thoughts that will not be calmed, or when the emotions or vital energies are disturbed, when there is a feeling of fear or any other strong reaction, the use of mantra japa may also be of benefit to replace the disrupted thoughts or feelings with the calming influence and coherence that the mantra can bring into the being. Thus, putting aside for the moment the use of mantra japa to attain liberation, there is clearly a noticeable benefit for helping steer the individual through the ups and downs of living in the world and facing the issues and obstacles that arise.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “The japa is usually successful only on one of two conditions — if it is repeated with a sense of its significance, a dwelling of something in the mind on the nature, power, beauty, attraction of the Godhead it signifies and is to bring into the consciousness, — that is the mental way; or if it comes up from the heart or rings in it with a certain sense or feeling of bhakti making it alive, — that is the emotional way. Either the mind or the vital has to give it support or sustenance. But if it makes the mind dry and the vital restless, it must be missing that support and sustenance. There is, of course, a third way, the reliance on the power of the mantra or name in itself; but then one has to go on till that power has sufficiently impressed its vibration on the inner being to make it at a given moment suddenly open to the Presence or the Touch. But if there is a struggling or insistence for the result, then this effect which needs a quiet receptivity in the mind is impeded. That is why I insisted so much on mental quietude and not on too much straining or effort, to give time to allow the psychic and the mind to develop the necessary condition of receptivity — a receptivity as natural as when one receives an inspiration for poetry and music. It is also why I do not want you to discontinue your poetry — it helps and does not hinder the preparation, because it is a means of developing the right position of receptivity and bringing out the bhakti which is there in the inner being. To spend all the energy in japa or meditation is a strain which even those who are accustomed to successful meditation find it difficult to maintain — unless in periods when there is an uninterrupted flow of experiences from above.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Love and Devotion, Mantra and Japa, pp. 165-167

OM, the Mantra and the Use of Mantra in the Integral Yoga

The ancient Mandukya Upanishad describes OM in considerable detail as the sound-body of the Universe: “OM is this imperishable Word, OM is the Universe, and this is the exposition of OM. The past, the present and the future, all that was, all that is, all that will be, is OM. Likewise all else that may exist beyond the bounds of Time, that too is OM. All this Universe is the Eternal Brahman, this Self is the Eternal, and the Self is fourfold.” (Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Mandukya Upanishad 1-2, pg. 319)

Modern day scientists, attempting to capture the sounds of the universe and the planet have recorded the vibratory patterns of the planet as well as the ‘big bang” of the creation of the universe, and converted them into sounds and one can identify the vibration of OM when listening to them. OM, as the Rishis indicated, is the characteristic sound of the universal creation in its entirety.

Chanting of OM can bring about a calming and focusing influence that is palpable. Crowds of angry, fearful or upset people have been brought to a state of calm through initiation of a chant of the word OM. All contrary feelings or emotions can be brought under control through proper attention to OM.

In terms of the sadhana of the integral yoga, the use of a mantra is, like every other tool in the toolkit, something that should be applied at the right time, in the right way, under the right circumstances. It is not a tool to be used all the time, and to use it correctly, it must be done with attention to its significance and the proper intonation to create the vibratory pattern that creates the coherence of energy that is being sought.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “OM is the mantra, the expressive sound-symbol of the Brahman Consciousness in its four domains from the Turiya to the external or material plane. The function of a mantra is to create vibrations in the inner consciousness that will prepare it for the realisation of what the mantra symbolises and is supposed indeed to carry within itself. The mantra OM should therefore lead towards the opening of the consciousness to the sight and feeling of the One Consciousness in all material things, in the inner being and in the supraphysical worlds, in the causal plane above now superconscient to us and, finally, the supreme liberated transcendence above all cosmic existence. The last is usually the main preoccupation with those who use the mantra.”

“In this yoga there is no fixed mantra, no stress is laid on mantras, although sadhaks can use one if they find it helpful or so long as they find it helpful. The stress is rather on an aspiration in the consciousness and a concentration of the mind, heart, will, all the being. If a mantra is found helpful for that, one uses it. OM if rightly used (not mechanically) might very well help the opening upwards and outwards (cosmic consciousness) as well as the descent.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Love and Devotion, Mantra and Japa, pp. 165-167

The Principle Behind Mantra and Japa

Everything we experience is based on vibrations that impinge upon us and bring about a response in the substance of our being. All matter is created by energy, which consists of vibratory waves. All energy is created by consciousness, which provides the specific impulse of vibration to be created. This principle is recognised throughout the world. The New Testament of the Bible starts with a statement to this effect: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Succinctly put, this recognises the essential nature and power of vibration.

The use of Mantra and Japa is based on this principle; namely, by tuning oneself to and repeating the “sound-body” of anything, we change the mental, vital and physical complex to vibrate in tune with that particular sound. Thus, repetition of a Mantra, particularly if we hold its meaning in our awareness, can create in us the state of consciousness that is the essential nature of the name, word or chant chosen.

Practitioners of yoga have found that repetition of a mantra can help align the vibratory patterns of the mind and life energy in such a way as to overpower and eliminate contrary forces and to bring about a state of calm, focused awareness and receptivity. A state of coherence is developed. This has been validated through scientific study of the effect of vibration, words and sounds on water, by Masaru Emoto, reported in his book Hidden Messages in Water. He subjected water to various sounds, vibrations, mantras and photographed the patterns of the water when frozen. Harsh and disharmonious sounds yielded very disorganized patterns, but sounds that represented higher vibratory states created incredibly well-organized, complex and beautiful patterns. Similar work has been done by recording the aura of individuals chanting various mantras. The aura took on a well defined and energetic pattern when recorded during these sessions. Similarly, rocks that had been in temples were compared to rocks found somewhere in nature. Those rocks subjected to years of constant prayer, uplifting song and mantra in the temples exhibited a strong and organized energetic radiation, while rocks that were not subjected to these sounds were dull without energetic radiation in evidence.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “The word is a sound expression of the idea. In the supraphysical plane when an idea has to be realised, one can by repeating the word-expression of it, produce vibrations which prepare the mind for the realisation of the idea. That is the principle of the Mantras and of Japa. One repeats the name of the Divine and the vibrations created in the consciousness prepare the realisation of the Divine. It is the same idea that is expressed in the Bible: ‘God said, Let there be Light, and there was Light’. It is creation by the Word.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Love and Devotion, Mantra and Japa, pp. 165-167