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Mantra and Silence

Mantra and Silence
By Swami Rama

Sounds themselves merely vibrate and actually have no literal meaning. Mantras operate at a level deeper than its meaning in words; a mantra has its effect because of its qualities of sound and vibration.  Imagine that you are standing on the bank of a river and you hear the current as it flows. If you follow the river upstream, you will come to its origin. There, you will find that there is no sound. In the same way, a mantra leads the mind to the silence within. That state is called “soundless sound.”

The seven sounds, or mantras, of the chakras, if magnified, create a form. Each mantra will make a different form. But magnifying sound in the external world is not going to help you. You have to go to the source within, from which that sound comes. This form gives you a knowledge of the sound, and the sound gives you a knowledge of the silence from which all sounds come. You have to learn to go to the silence, both physically and mentally.

There is a science deeper than the science of chakras, though it is not explained in any manual. It is what the gurus impart to their disciples, not through books or words, but only through silence. Gurus impart the best of their knowledge in silence. When you are in silence, they communicate with you through silence, and in silence. For the student whose mind is in tune, that teaching is the finest of teachings. This silent communication can happen no matter where you are physically, whether you are 10,000 miles away or very close.

It is not due to the meaning of the words that the mantra has its impact. It is the effect of the sound that helps the mind to become still and eventually go beyond sound, to experience the silence within.  Sounds arise from silence. For example, the sound created at the root chakra is “lam.” Now, “lam” is, itself, a magnified sound. It arises from silence. When the potential energy of that silence becomes manifested at the root center, it forms the bija mantra “lam.” Knowing that sound in this magnified form does not really help you. If you want to go to the subtler aspect of the mantra, then you, like the sages, must go to the state of silence. From the silence flow all the rivers that create the great nada, and the ocean makes great sound and motion. This motion is going and coming, like a wave comes and goes. There, in silence, you will find out what the mantra really means. Out of silence comes sound, and out of sound comes form.

A mantra has four bodies, sheaths, or koshas. First, as a word, it has a meaning; another more subtle form is its feeling; still more subtle is a deep intense and constant awareness or presence, and the fourth or most subtle level of the mantra is soundless sound. Many students continue repeating or muttering their mantra throughout life, but they never attain a state of ajapa japa—that state of constant awareness without any effort. Such a student strengthens his awareness, but meditates on the gross level only.

The mantras that are used for meditation in silence are special sets of sounds that do not obstruct and disturb the flow of breath, but help regulate the breath and lead to sushumna awakening, in which the breath flows through both nostrils equally. This creates a joyous state of mind and the mind is voluntarily disconnected from the senses.

Then, the student has to deal with the thoughts coming forward from the unconscious. The conscious mind has the habit of recalling memories from the deep levels of the unconscious mind. The mantra helps one to go beyond this process. Mantra creates a new groove in the mind and the mind then begins to spontaneously flow into the groove created by mantra. When the mind becomes concentrated, one-pointed, and inward, it peers into the latent part of the unconscious and there, sooner or later, finds a glittering light.

The only time our minds usually become somewhat still is in deep, dreamless sleep. The rest of the time the mind tends to drift like a boat without an anchor. One of the goals of mantra is to quiet the mind by giving it one focus of attention. This concentration does not imply effort, tension or mental strain—it simply means “focused attention.” This focused attention is in contrast to a scattered, distracted state of mind. It is an alert, yet relaxed focus of attention, and if you are relaxed and comfortable, this should not be difficult.

The mantra should not be repeated without understanding its meaning. Before repeating the mantra, the student should be fully convinced of its importance. It should be repeated with meaning and feeling. Parrot-like repetition is not of much use. Repeating the mantra merely with the rosary and the tongue is a very inferior practice. It won’t do merely to complete a given count. The purpose of japa, or repetition of the mantra is to lead the mind to the higher dimensions and to rungs of meditation.

Eventually, the mantra becomes a part and parcel of life which infuses awareness at all times. The meaning and spirit of the mantra should so intertwine with every in-coming and out-going breath, that in whatever circumstances the aspirant might be, he or she is always conscious of it. As the mind grows one-pointed by thus uttering the mantra and concentrating on it, interest in sadhana deepens. When japa is thus carried on in the midst of worldly activities, it is called meditation in action.

The mind often has thoughts and feelings which seem to “pop up” in our minds. In meditation, one should focus attention on the mantra, and allow the mental noise to still itself. However, sometimes when other thoughts come to mind, your awareness will actually shift to those other issues. When this occurs, you should allow yourself to witness or observe the thoughts and associations in your mind, and gently bring your awareness back to the mantra. It is important to not create a tug-of-war about this process, engage in mental arguments, or become angry or judgmental with ourselves about these mental distractions. Thoughts will continue to arise, but most will dissipate if you witness them in a neutral way, without creating an internal conflict. 

When…questions that are pending in my mind come to me, I say to them, ‘Okay, come.’ What you do, when such thoughts come, is try to think of your mantra. This means that you try to use your mantra to avoid and escape from certain situations. Then, when you have done your mantra for a while, your mind again goes back to the same worry. That is not helpful; instead, let everything come before you for a decision—just watch.

In my practice, when all the thoughts have gone through the mind, then I sit down and start to remember my mantra. Usually you try to remember your mantra from the very beginning, and there are those thoughts waiting for your consultation, but you do not pay attention to them. Then, the thoughts are coming and going in your mind and you are trying to repeat your mantra, and the more the thoughts come, the more you repeat your mantra, and the result is an internal battle. That is not helpful; you do not need that.

 My way of using the mantra is different from yours, because I do not want to fool around with the process. I sit down, and I observe my whole being listening to the mantra. I do not remember the mantra or repeat the mantra mentally, because then the mind repeats many things. Instead I make my whole being an ear to hear the mantra, and the mantra is coming from everywhere. This will not happen to you immediately in meditation, but when you have attained or accomplished something, then this will happen to you. Then, even if you do not want to do your mantra, it is not possible to avoid it. Even if you decide that you do not want to remember the mantra, it will not be possible. Finally, even the mantra does not exist; only the purpose for which you repeat the mantra is there; you are There. The mantra might still be there, but it exists as an experience that overwhelms your whole being, and is not separate from you.

In the process of meditation we must learn to explore our minds so that the mantra may be used effectively. The first stage of meditation is to clear the mind. It is essential to observe the thinking process and witness the contents of our minds.  Thoughts will appear and disappear, but always learn to be a witness. Do not identify with thoughts, images and symbols. In this way we will learn which of our thinking processes are helpful and which are harmful. Always recall that our train of thoughts is our own product; it is our own direct creation and that is why it affects us. It is at this point in meditation training that a mantra becomes invaluable. The mantra is like a seed, and we are like the soil. The mantra needs time to grow. The mantra must be nourished. Persevere in repeating it mentally and silently within and slowly a new object will grow and come to occupy the mind. Eventually instead of watching our thoughts we will begin to watch ourselves repeating our mantra.

Above all else, remember this one thing: it is easy to meet that Infinity within—to attain this awareness, you just have to be silent and quiet. When you calm your mind and make it one-pointed, it can penetrate those fields of the mind that are not ordinarily penetrated by human beings, and then you will perceive the Reality within.  Remember, you go to the silence, you go to the silence, you go to the silence.

You are busy listening to mere sounds that are useless or meaningless, and which have adverse effects on your mind. Learn to put yourself into silence. Your normal habit, your training, and your education is to go to the ocean of the external world and become lost in the sounds. Learn instead to go back to the Source of silence; this is the method of meditation, the inward journey.

In the Kathopanishad, the King of Death describes the process by which the aspirant can realize the true Self. He says, “Merge the words into thoughts.” By words he means the power of speech. The words that are uttered by us are the expressions of our thoughts. No word is uttered without a thought behind it. In fact, words and thoughts are one and the same, but thoughts are finer and subtler, while words are gross.

 [Swami Rama writes that when he used to sing, compose a poem, or paint, his master objected. He advised him to avoid such diversions and to practice silence. He would say,] “The voice of silence is supreme. It is beyond all levels of consciousness and all methods of communication. Learn to listen to the voice of silence. Rather than discussing scriptures and arguing with sages, just enjoy their presence. You are on a journey; don’t stop for long at one place and get attached to anything. Silence will give you what the world can never give you.”

Sometimes a great teacher teaches his students through silence. The best and deepest of the teachings is not communicated through books, speech or actions, but through silence. That special teaching is understood only when you are silent. The language of that silence sometimes comes to you and that is called sandhya bhava, the emotion of joy and equilibrium. Sandhya is the wedding between the day and night, the time when the day weds night, and night weds day. A teacher may ask a student, “Have you done your sandhya,” which means, “Have you united all this and attained a state of equilibrium and joy before you meditate? Have you studied the behavior of your breath?”

Mantra leads you not to the external world, but to the source of silence. The mantra leads your mind to the state of silence. Mind does not want to go into silence—it has many desires to fulfill.  When you create a new groove, the mind stops flowing into the past grooves and starts flowing in the new grooves that you have consciously created. These new grooves lead you to silence. Your aim in meditation is to go into the silence from where wisdom flows with all its majesty. Meditation is a good thing to do; it is a great solace.

When your mind starts going inside you will hear millions of types of sounds. All sounds originate from silence. A moment of real silence is enough for one year. [Swami Rama says of silence,] “If someone offers me one year’s pleasures or one moment of absolute silence, I will take one moment of silence, and you can keep my year of pleasure. If you put yourself into absolute silence, you will understand whatever you want.”

The final step of meditation is to remain in silence. This silence cannot be described; it is inexplicable. This silence opens the door of intuitive knowledge, and then the past, present, and future are revealed to the student. Beyond body, breath, and mind lies this silence. From Silence emanate peace, happiness, and bliss. The meditator makes that silence his or her personal abode; that is the final goal of meditation.

If you do your practice, it is not possible that you will fail to make progress, although you often do not see the subtle progress at deeper levels. The gurus impart the best of their knowledge, the heart of their teachings, in silence. And when you are in silence within, they communicate with you at that level. Do your practices if you want to make progress.

The teacher in the external world has his responsibility. That responsibility is over when he leads his student to the path of silence, from which everyone receives knowl¬edge.



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of Swami Rama of the Himalayas

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