There is no power like the power of sound. No other sense takes hold of your being and won’t let go- like hearing. All you have to do is hear three notes of “your song” from high school. You know the one: you were sooo in love- your heart was broken – you played this song over and over again- because you felt that the singer was singing to YOU! Somehow that singer knew what was in your heart and hearing that song made you feel understood. You felt that the singer knew the true you- the you that no one else “got”. It gave you the feeling of being ”seen”, and for that, you listened to it over and over until you knew every word- every beat, every note.
Such is the power of MANTRA.
The yogic system acknowledges this “feeling” as truth. And for this, an insightful explanation is advanced. In short, all elements (earth, water, fire and air) are all perceived by different senses in the body. Earth is perceived by smell, water by taste, fire by sight and air by touch. The ancient yogis believed that there is a fifth element, called “akasha,” which we can loosely translate as “space”. Not space in the sense of a vacuum, but rather as the openness wherein all things have their play. And, within this philosophical analysis, space is said to be most fundamentally revealed through our sense of hearing. Stay with us here …
We have all heard it said that people who have lost their sense of sight have an accentuated sense of hearing. Quite remarkably, it is said that a blind person can tell you how big a room is- just by listening to the surrounding sounds. The way they are able to do it is by virtue of the fact that sound bounces off of the boundaries of the “space”. The time that it takes for the sound to “bounce” off of an object or a wall is an indicator of the space.
Another example may be experienced by walking into a dark cave.We have all played the “echo game.” You shout out “helloooooooo” and wait for your voice to answer back “hellooooooo.” The amount of time it takes for the echo to return is determined by the dimensions of the physical space. Even in the darkest place, we get a sense of spaciousness through the pervasive magic of sound.
Sound is real. Even though we can’t see it, we can feel it- a shrill sound can even shatter a window! Anything that powerful can have a profound effect upon a human being. The yogis knew this to be true and found ways to harness or “yoke” that power.
The entire Sanskrit language may be thought of as a profoundly “Vibrational Language.” That means that even if you don’t know what a particular mantra means in the sense of a word-for-word translation, you may still experience the transformational benefit of the sound vibration. It doesn’t need to make sense- you just feel it. It is not totally unlike your favorite song- very often there are lyrics that don’t really make any sense, but you sing along loudly anyway!
Mantra has this magic. Somehow, some way, it brings about a feeling of peace. Not everyone experiences this at first, but, over time, most people who chant a mantra will experience some sort of “quieting of mind” or “expansion of consciousness”- or sometimes even an ecstatic emotional release! This release might make no sense, just as, when you sing along to that rock song, you might burst into laughter or tears of joy.
The Sanskrit word “mantra” has two parts. The first part is the verbal root “man”, which means to think, believe, imagine, or suppose. It also means to set the heart or mind upon something. In fact, this Sanskrit root word is cognate to our English words “mind” and “mental”. It is the mind that creates our illusion of separation, the mind that creates our suffering- and it is thus the mind that needs protection! It is the mind that is lost and “scatter-brained”. But it is also the mind that can set one free.
The second part of the word, “tra,” has two possible denotations. Drawing on a more common usage, the suffix “tra” may refer to an instrument, a tool, or a device. By this reading, then, the word ”mantra” may be understood as a “mental tool” or “device of the mind”- thus designating an instrument that the mind utilizes to see things clearly or to generate or invoke a specific state of consciousness.
But there is also a less commonly known, alternate meaning for the suffix “tra”. The Monier-Williams dictionary, the definitive Sanskrit English lexicon, cites the ancient grammarian Panini as noting that the ending “tra” may designate the verbal root “trai”, which means “to save,” “to protect”, “to carry over” – or, my favorite: “to ferry over”. (I can’t help it. This one just evokes childhood images of reading ”Siddhartha” and waxing philosophically about ”The Ferryman”.) In fact, it is from the root “trai” that we get the name Tara- designating both the Hindu Goddess of Protection and the Buddhist Bodhisattva of Compassion.
Through this alternate reading, the word “mantra” would then take on the meaning of that which “saves the mind”, “ferries the mind over”, or ”protects the mind”. “Very well, then”. you might rightfully ask, “what is mantra protecting the mind from?”
Mantra protects the mind from ordinary appearances.
In this inaugural issue of Mantra magazine, we dedicate ourselves and ask for blessings to be “ferried over” -
From untruth to the truth,
From darkness to seeing the light,
From death to immortality,
(that we may connect with that part of ourselves that is eternal).
There is a Sanskrit mantra from which this blessing is derived. As we take our first steps on this new journey of discovery, let’s say it together …
Asatoma Sat Gamaya
Tamaso MaJyotir Gamaya
Mriryor Ma Amritam Gamaya
Om, Shanti, Shanti, Shanti …
Posted on Mon, January 20, 2014
by Sara Ivanhoe