Sunday, November 9, 2014


Why should We Need to know Deeper Meanings of Mantras in Worships and Rituals?

(Compilation fora discourse at Ganesha Temple, Nashville, by N. R. Srinivasan, Nov. 2014)

Our rituals, rites and sacrifices (Yajnas) have all arisen from ancient past and are often performed without understanding their meaning. Sacrifices constitute the major portion of the Hindu Sacraments (Samskaaras). Wrong interpretation or understanding of Vedic Mantras may lead to wrong conclusions and will not lead us to our desired goals. Blind religious belief and practices will not harm us but will not also help us in spiritual advancement towards liberation.  People started neglecting Vedic study and turned to be  atheists or materialists disillusioned by wrong sacrificial practices that crept in with the passing of times misinterpreting Vedas.  So Puranas were composed in the name of Vedic rishis and gods making them more interesting by way of stories to draw the people away from the influence of such wrong turns. Even Bhadgavad Geetaa which was a Yogopanishad was brought out as the Sayings of the Lord (Bhagwaanuvaacha) while two armies of opposing views were facing each other, one focused on ego and materialism and other on Dharma.

Temple Rituals and procession of idols were introduced for the same purpose to win over atheism and materialism. New gods were created and holy men   deified and worshiped. Most popular among the Puranic God is Lord Ganesha. You can see the icons of these holy men being worshiped in Hindu Temples and focused as Avatars.  People needed someone in particular to take care of all obstacles and impediments they face with. The epithet Ganapati used to praise Rudra (Brahman) in Rigveda (ganaam tva Ganapati[ga]m havaamahe) was used to name the Puranic deity created.  Ganesha was raised to the status of Brahman and even an Upanishad was   brought forth named Ganesha Atharvaseersha Upanishad introducing it to Atharvaveda.  Elaborate slokas were composed on Puraanic deities including Phalasrutis promising heaven misguiding people (ekakale pathen nityam mahaapaataka naasanam) falsifying Karma and Prayaschitta theory.   We find in Ganesha ashtottara, a prayer term which says “Sacchidaanada Vigrahaaya Namah”. Here the Vedic concept of Nirguna Brahman has been brought down to Puraanic level making an idol of even Nirguna Brahman. Again we worship with the prayer Gunaateetaaya Namah. Gunateeta according to Geetaa is a liberated soul earning to get absorbed in Brahman.  Ganesha can’t be a liberated soul if he is to be meditated upon as Brahman. These prayers are   chanted in all Ashottara worship in all temples without Vedic thought even today.  Of course we can argue if Ghee (Ghritam) used in yajna can be meditated upon as Brahman mentioned in Vedas why not these? But the Vedic philosophy behind this is “Sarvam Brahmamayam Jagat’’--We can’t think other than Brahman in all things we see. These new trends have made the study of Vedas futile by thrusting Puraanic ideas in the interpretation of Vedic expressions which were in   enigmatic capsule form for easy recitation and remembrance as writing was not in vogue then. Minds of people got progressively engrossed in these Puraanic ideas and elaborate colorful festivals and rituals. These were forced on people as being means for Salvation based on Puraanic incidences and events some true and some false and  many imaginary. You can find in every village or idol a Sthala puraana or local history called Mahatmya.  Grihya ceremonies were instituted as Grihya sootras on the basis of Vedic word of the Mantra not explaining the Vedic Philosophy and thoughts. Thus we find to-day that all rituals and customs which are only means to an end are ends in themselves. They are also considered as the only practical religion to be observed which has led us to many blind beliefs and showmanship.

The great value of Vedas lies in promoting human happiness. The habit of evil or idle thoughts cause man’s mind to wander away, prevents concentration and wastes mental energy. Vedas have ordained mental contemplation on the Omnipresence of the Supreme Self within us. Vedic Rishis discovered recitation of Vedic hymns and Sooktas change the habit of mind’s chatter over vain thoughts or idleness. Hymns lead us to meditation of the All-pervading and so to Jnaanamarga (Intelligence Path). The essence of Vedic religion is peace of mind and this can be achieved only by control of thoughts and moving away from vain chattering of the mind. Spiritual impulses arise only in a mind that stands still. This is the principle involved in Praanaayaama (not Naasikayaaama, simple holding of the nose but stand still state of mind) and Yoga. Praanaas are five Vital forces as you all know. We come to a state of transcendence when we hold Praanas for a while still and meditate.  Vedas say only then we could be relieved of our miseries and sufferings. This also promotes calmness in the environment.  Mantras give the will power for thought transference in peace of mind. Thought uncontrolled is a deadly enemy to will power. It is easier said than done.  It was easy for Vedic rishis who developed the technique by symbolic Soma sacrifice with spiritual understanding and thought (please refer to Purushasookta Yajna discourse).

The purpose of Hindu sacrificial rites, temple rituals and festivals with Puranic exposition is to nourish the religious sentiments of the people to suit their mental conditions according to their stage of development. This culture is physical and gross in nature. This process of external worship needs to be transferred to intellectual (subtle) plane.  All Vedic rites, religious ceremonies, modes of worship, yoga practices, festivals and rituals are for strengthening of our faculties to work on a higher plane by the power of habitual thought and conduct.  Upanishads, the later portion of the Vedas   teach us how to withdraw from the physical to mental plane, and from the mental plane or subtle physical plane to the spiritual plane in which alone the activity of the intelligent being   achieves and sustains the desired and lasting fruit. This is what the Yoga Upanishad popularly known as Bhagavadgeetaa which got introduced into Mahaabhaarata later teaches us, as well the later Kaivalyopanishad.
Of Course many people like Ramanuja, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Chaitanya, Tyagaraja, Meera and others who are religiously devoted have experienced the spiritual sanctity with or  without applying  the core process of transformation that I have described above. In fact their examples have made many to follow religion blindly thinking they are devoted like those noble souls or what they are doing is right. Such privileged ones are few and far between who in their past have exhausted almost all their bad Karmas. However, the educated intellect-scholars of modern days  like Vivekananda, Chinmayananda, Swami Dayananda and others with their enquiring mind have struggled hard to know and understand the original teachings of Upanishads and their  core meanings and have   spread the message to modern society particularly to those not well read in Sanskrit, English educated and spiritually inclined.

The reasons are many for the prevalent corrupted religious practices of today which includes political influence and interference as seen in India.  One main reason for the corruption is that religion and religious ceremonies have become gradually a business and core focus of profitability and job security for those who claim to be the owners of God’s messengers or expression of their ego as philanthropists. No one wants to challenge them because of the fear of God and the curse that such authority may impose on the religiously faithful.  We do not know who is genuine and who is not!  We have heard of many popular Sadhus (self-proclaimed Gurus) going out of   circulation or behind bars. We are helpless in such situations. Considering the pros and cons the spiritual focus with proper understanding of religious practices, which were regulated by later Aagamas without proper explanation, seems more appealing to the modern educated, particularly to Hindu Americans.  Hindu Americans are   also caught between inter-faiths and cultures and influenced by the major culture or religion.  The result is hotchpotch approach in our religious practices without focus on the Supreme. We find Hindu wedding and Christian Solemnization of marriage for the same couples.   Instead of blindly following these religious protagonists or simply repeating after the priests without understanding Veda mantras and rituals conducted in divine language, the logic would be right spiritual understanding, orientation and enlightenment in performing worship and rituals  described above seem  logical for those who are caught between cultures.

The process of understanding the real meaning of the mantras and rituals started in the Yajurveda, Aranyakas and Upanishads expounding the principles contained in the mantras and in describing   the rituals in Rigveda throwing light on the spiritual aspect. To understand all these, the  knowledge of Niruktas, Mimasa Sutras, Srauta Sutras, Brahma Sutras and Puranas are necessary. The study of Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads is therefore essential for understanding the Vedic religion. Our present day religious practices though based on these remain as mere do-how without having the knowledge of   why we are doing it like Panchamrita Snaanam in Abhishekam, Naivedyam etc.  Bhagavadgeetaa says Patram Pushpam Phalam Toyam in symbolic little quantity. Bhaktimaarga enthusiasm has culminated in the over-flow of these materials today   ending in sewers and dumpsters without thoughts  being focused on  spiritual uplift.  We mostly depend on Western interpretation of Vedic mantras or Western Education trained Indian authors. For various reasons such people  cannot be expected to see things, and revolve thought under exactly the same angle of vision and in the same light as are the   birth–right of the Vedic scholars like Ramanuja, Sankara, Ranga Ramanuja, Sayana, Madhva and others or those scholars who have made deep study of their commentaries. We need to go to their elucidations of Vedas and Upanishads.

Vedas are one of the greatest gifts to humanity that India or the world has ever produced. A few Vedic mantras like the Gayatri mantra are commonly practiced that have afforded great reverence, yet the rest of the ten thousand verses of the Rigveda are seldom examined or recited. I have broadened your vision by  quoting Veda mantras and giving their deeper meaning as I learnt from great Indian Gurus   for your awakening to the above facts.  Professor P.R. Mukundan from  RIT  in USA is also  presently engaged to research and preserve old Rig Vedic manuscripts.   

May I draw your attention to a Rigveda mantra which I chant daily during Veda-parayana of Mahnarayana upanishd contained in Dharavidya (knowledge of Brahman: “Chatvari sringa trayo asya pada dve sirse sapta hastaso asya, Rigveda IV.58.3.” This means Brahman has Four  horns, three feet, two heads and seven hands.  This only suggests Brahman is  Kaalpurusha or Time, symbolizing  the Yuga number or cosmic age of 4,320,000,000 years which is one Kalpa. We are now in Svetavaraha Kalpa. The mantra suggests only the numbers in order 4, 3, 2 and seven zeros but  we must understand   the true depth of the riddle language of Vedas.

The Vedic priests did not believe in gods and demons as does the average man of today. They were men of superior intelligence and training and felt the presence of God, realizing the truths of Vedas, in their spiritual Consciousness. Unfortunately today we are led by priests who are mechanically trained as they too in turn could not find proper Gurus and receive proper training. This again has become a profession for living and not for the spread of Vedic wisdom.

The Vedic mantras we employ in our worship and rituals have three meanings as we end all prayer mantras with repeating the words Santi three times in high, medium and low voice. These are: 1) Adhyaatma or Intuitive; 2) Adhidaiva or relating to the story of Gods referred in the mantras; and 3) Adhibhoota, relating to unintelligent matter, both in its subtle and gross forms.

The religious philosophy of Vedas was aimed at the knowledge of the internal working of the body. Life was a sacrifice. The body of the man and the whole universe were all considered as divine creation.   The priests who conducted sacrifices were also divine working on the senses (Indriyas). Later on these truths were cleverly dressed up in stories and fables as we find in the great epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata so that progressively all people may attain right knowledge.  The story remains and knowledge rarely seen in the acts performed. We find Vedic names in these Epics treated as proper names as kings, subjects and servants in the stories. Finally, the whole moral code was taught in the Bhagavdgeetaa which was inserted into Mahabharata in simple language. Are we making use of their wisdom thoughts?

Vedas, Hindus believe are eternal or revealed by God or Brahman. They are the records of the great Rishis from whom Hindus have descended as revealed by our Gotras.  The Rishis are so called because they are the seers of the Supreme Self or the greatest Truth. Each Sookta has a Rishi or an inspired   teacher to whom it has been revealed. The language, meters and presentation of Sooktas,   all show a considerable amount of learning needed.  The knowledge of Vedas is considered as true wisdom and also the real wealth of man which is imperishable unlike the ordinary wealth. In Vedas it is said the Gods or Divines obtained the wealth of the Asuras or demons through Veda or   Knowledge and hence it is so called (Hayagreeva Incarnation was brought in for its exposition) as Veda.
Present day Yajnas (Fire sacrifices) in temples and at home are performed meaninglessly and lots of money are spent without any attempt to understand consistently the ideas of rituals in the light of Rigveda mantras on   which it is based. Even if it is known to some priests the knowledge is not seen has influenced the vast participants who follow the rituals in blind faith. The rituals which are aimed at deifying the vessels, the fagots and the ingredients used has to be understood by the devotees as well as the performers in the light of the Tantric concept of the Mantras being practiced  and a consistent real meaning of the ritual has to be known and conveyed to the participants.  In this contest it is worth referring to the detailed discourse on Purushasookta Yajna.

“The sacrificial works which  the wise read in the Hymns of the Veda, have been performed in many uninterrupted courses in Tretayuga, distinguished for sacrifices; Practice them diligently, ye lovers of Truth, this is the path that leads to the true path” says Mundaka Upanishad.

There is a mantra in Brihadaaranyaka Upanishad (4.2.2) which describes the benefits derived from Yajnya (sacrifice).  It says “Brahmins (those devoted to Vedic learning) endeavor to realize Self through Vedic learning, through the performance of sacrifices, through charity, through austerities and through fasts.  When this purpose has been achieved they renounce all and become Sannyaasins”.
Sacrifice, Charity and Austerity and actions are necessary and obligatory and all acts should be done as worship to God says Geetaa in sloka 5 of chapter 18.   Yajnadaanatapah   karma na tyaajyam kaaryameva  tat | yajno daanam tapaschaiva paavanaani maneeshinaam || [Work  in the form of sacrifice, gift and austerity should not be relinquished, but indeed should be performed; (because) sacrifice, gift and austerity  are sanctifying to the  wise”. What we see today is good   participation and attendance enjoying the show of mechanical religious performance of Yajnaas and Homas for few hours and then to forget everything without understanding the spiritual import of Veda mantras, or practicing in life what these mantras conveyed.

Chandogya Upanishad says: “There are three branches of the Law of Dharma viz., Sacrifice, Study and Charity governing the life of the follower of Veda”.

Brihadaaranyaka Upanishad defines a Muni as follows: “They seek to know   Him through the study of Vedas, through fasting and by knowing Him alone to become a Muni (saint)”  

These texts clearly explain that the object of a sacrifice is to make a person understand the secret knowledge or the Supreme Self, and also the working of nature in the body and outside world.  It is also to make nature a living presence with which the contemplator may come in communion, in his spiritual consciousness, and to act in real   harmony with the Divine will, and live in God.

We can canalize water produced by rains but we cannot produce rains. We have to dispatch certain goods to the abode of celestials as a barter deal. It is the kind of exchange Geetaa speaks of: Devaan bhaavayataanena te devaa bhavayantu vah | Parasparam bhaavayantah sreyah  param  avaapsyatha—“You keep the Devas satisfied with the performance of sacrifices (Yajnyas). And let them look after your welfare by producing rain on earth. Thus helping each other is  for being  more and more prosperous and Happy”. We also learn from Vedas: Dharmo rakshitu rakshitah— Dharma protects you at the same time you have to protect Dharma.

What about the concept of God by these Rishis in Vedic Religion? The rishis distinguished Eternal from the perishable and held that the seed of the Eternal exists as Aatman or Aanadamaya Kosa in us.  Its realization must be through mind and the heart.  Upanishads say a connection between the heart, mind and brain for self-control exists through Sushumna Naadi. Katha Upanishad says the smaller than small, greater than great is hidden in the inner cavity of heart of the body as Antaryamin”.  The story of the banyan seed which grows into a large tree illustrates the same. “It becomes manifest in the Sushumna which divides the cerebrum into two hemispheres. He saw the light, the all-pervading Brahman manifest in the Sushumna” says Aitreya Aaaranyaka.

Vedas and Upanishads often employ metaphors,  symbols (Om)  and numbers (odd and even numbers as in Chamakam)which has caused confusion in the minds of all when literally translated  without explaining the implied meaning of terms like pasu  (literal meaning animal) and Vritraharna.  This has also made some of our religious acts to move away from original intentions of sacred thoughts and indulge in killing animals in order to please the deity. It also looks silly when asked to meditate upon food, honey and ghee and describe Sun as Dadhikra.   Our focus is on Dadhi (yogurt) and the   appreciation of the sculptural beauty of the idol in a white background as the yogurt is poured chanting mantra “Dadhikraavinno akaarisham” rather than focus on invisible Nirguna Brahman on whom we are presumed to meditate!  In the absence of Vedic knowledge of sacrificial and various other rites in our present day religious practices, the Veda mantras used in such rituals prove to be a mass of tediousness and stupidity and the practices   which cover up Yajus formulas become covered up by silly details of formalism, conveying   no real   meaning of human values. Even in Sraaddha (to the deceased ancestors) and temple rites, customs and ceremonies, all offerings to God are treated as Pasu and no animal sacrifices are made. The Maadhva and Vaikhaanasa Brahmins and other Aagama followers have been for a long time using in sacrifices a Pasu made of wheat flour only and not any living animal at all to slowly bring around blind believers indulged in killing by misunderstanding scriptures.

Great philosophers and religious thinkers from generation to generation through many centuries must have realized these facts. This has made possible for Vedas to keep their exalted place in spite of the wrong practices on the part of many based on their mistaken notions and uninquiring traditions. If we care to rightly understand the procedure of four-faced Brahma, in transferring himself into a horse and making himself an offering, and the spiritual interpretation there off, we are bound to have a correct idea of Aswamedha Yaga and the human sacrifice in Purushasookta, “Bound man to a sacrificial post”. This may be rightly interpreted spiritually   as:  1) that the spiritual being absolutely offers himself in devotion to the Supreme Being or 2) the soul or the limited spiritual being has after all to make the Lord Himself, both the material of worship and the object of worship, for everything has to be given to him by the Almighty Being, and in every activity he would be willing to help him on. This has been beautifully  explained in Geetaa: “Brahmaarpanam Brahmahavih Brhmaagnau Brahmanaa hutam | Brahmaiva tena gantavyam Brahmakarmasamaadhinaam”—the ladle is Brahman, the oblation is Brahman, it is offered by Brahman in the fire, which is Brahman; Brahman alone he attains who sees Brahman in action. Here the performer’s thoughts are focused on “Sarvam Brahmaamayam Jagat”—there is nothing other than Brahman in the whole universe. In the words of Madhusudhana Saraswati “In a sacrifice, there are five constituents: the Karta (doer); the Karma (act); Karana, the instrument; Sampradhana, the deity addressed as Adhikaari, the receptacle that is fire into which the oblation is poured. One who considers the sacrificial action in the light of Samaadhi (consciousness in Brahman) has Karma Samaadhi”.

Hindu Sastraas give more importance to Nitykarmas and Naimittika Karmas more than performing worships   and sacrifices at home and temples. They feel these are the foundations on which our other modes of worship should be built.

What should be our goal in Life?  Smritis say our life, mind, speech, ears and eyes are all for sacrifice in life (Ayur yajnyaaya dhattam aayur Yajnyapataye dhattam;srotram yajnyaaya dhattam; vaag yajnyaaya dhattam; chakshur yajnyaa dhattam). This personal Yajnya should be done with a spiritual approach   and not mechanically to complete the task in a limited time or appointed day   but understanding the Self is within you. It says even while consuming food for nourishment it should start with Pranaahuti about which we have discussed a lot.  We all rush to the temple for offering food to the Lord. Some even question the wisdom of it? “Nivedana” does not mean making the Lord really eat what is offered. He does not have to eat.  Poojaa (worship) is meant to make us inwardly pure and the Lord does not have to gain anything from it. “Nivedyami” means “I am making it known to you (informing you)”. We must so speak to the Lord while offering food: “O Lord! In your compassion you have given us this food”. Then we must consume the food, thinking of him. Vaayu, Soorya Agni, Indra and Yama are subjected to Lord’s fear and are performing their duties in obedience to the Lord. Bheeshaasmaadvaatah pavate; bheeshodeti sooryah; bheeshasmaadagnischa indrscha; mrityurdhaavati pancham iti | If that is so to even the divines, who are duty-bound, we as human beings must discharge our duties in good faith and understanding if not in fear. It should not be blind faith and mechanical.

Hindu Americans have moved away from the rigidity with which they grew up in India.  Yet they seem to have certain degree of social conservatism compared to the major Western culture. We have seen their children want to be in interfaith marriages more often than not. Their parents do not endorse wholly the permissiveness in their adopted land. Hindu partners often wish a marriage celebrated with both faiths.  The Hindu partner tries to make a compromise with the active co-operation of his non- conservative and pervasive partner and continues to attend Hindu temples in order to keep the relationship and Hindu values more so when the partner happens to be male.  Hindu partner also tries to bring up their children with broad based Hindu Values and openness to adopt what is good in the   partner’s faith or culture.  It is therefore necessary for the Hindu society living abroad with liberal values should think of making the rituals and worships more meaningful and appealing for easy adoption by such a society.  This does not warrant a radical change if we clearly understand Veda mantras used in our religious worships and rituals. Hindu Americans realize in a globalized world India too   has become more socially liberal and religiously relaxed focusing on spiritual and human values with its secular adopted political system.  Compatibility, commitment shared values have taken priority over caste, creed religion and family background.  We have also seen that such thoughts have moved many to communist or atheist philosophies if religion and faith are not able to bend their conservative views.  In order to avoid such extreme approaches it is necessary to make our worships and rituals more meaningful and spiritually appealing which appeals to all modern educated. Proper understanding of Veda Mantras used in our rituals and worships and focusing on Universal Oneness and Spirituality  which Vivekananda preached on which these mantras are focused  will go a long way in restoring Hinduism to its original spirit of Sanatana Dharma—Sarvejanah sukhino bhavantu,; eko viprah bahudaa vadanti; krinvanto viswamaaryam; Aatmatvat sarvabhooteshu ; sarve saantih etc.

“Hinduism is more a recent nomenclature given to a conglomeration of heterogeneous traditions and plurality of beliefs and worship with a long history of development from the Vedic sacrificial religion through the worship of epic and Puraanic heroes and personal deities, cults and sects, as well as philosophical systems rather than a monolithic tradition or a structure based on single beliefs and worship or a single text as scripture” says Champaka Lakshmi in her book “The Hindu Temple”. We must get back to our original thoughts of Sanatana Dharma for which the proper understanding of true meaning Veda mantras used in our worships and rituals is necessary and need of the hour living in multi-cultured society yet trying to preserve Hindu values. We should under all circumstances move away from conservative thinking, commercialization and exploitation in our religious and ritualistic practices.


What are Mantras?

Posted by M. Krishnakumar | Dec 09, 2013 | IndiaDivine.Org

What is a mantra and how does it work?
Mantras are powerful sounds. Mantras are the sounds that when chanted produce great effects. These are chanted repeatedly and that is called japa. Japa is a key part of Hindu prayer.
Mantras are very rich in their meaning. While doing japa one can meditate on the mantra and its meaning. As the mind dwells more and more into that meaning, the mantra conditions the mind and takes it up to higher states and forms the path to the great liberation – eternal bliss.
What makes mantras so special as compared to the normal words? Mantras are not composed by humans. One may wonder how can that be possible. Especially given that there are sages associated with the mantras. The point to be noted is that these sages are not composers of these mantras, as we would normally compose sentences. They are not the inventors, but they are the discoverers of the mantra. They get to know the mantras in a state in which these words do not emanate from their thoughts, but they are just passive audience to it. Those who go deep in meditation and realize God may be able to get a feel of this situation.
To be such a discoverer, even though they are just passive hearers, needs great amount of qualification. Only the perfect one can unchangingly reproduce the mantra he has heard. The only one that is absolutely perfect is God. All other discoverers reproduce that mantra only as pure as their closeness to perfection.
Veda samhitas are full of mantras and hence have been preserved for ages in their pure form by utilizing the various techniques like patha, krama, jaTa, gaNa pATas, that ensure that the chanter clearly gets the correct letters and even the correct level of sound for each letter (svara). The chanters are advised to chant the mantras only after getting the right pronunciation of it, so that the mantras are preserved against deterioration over time. There would be gurus who initiate the disciple in a mantra. The guru ensures that the disciple got the mantra right, so that the person can chant independently as well as initiate others in that mantra. Ensuring this preservation, the vedas were passed on only through the tradition of guru and disciples and was never written down till the very recent past. (It is really amazing to note that without being written down the vedas have been preserved in pure form across the land by these techniques. Though the texts are freely available now for anybody to read, it would be important to ensure that these mantras are properly learnt and then chanted. This way the treasure that has been preserved so carefully over multiple millenniums does not deteriorate due to indifference.)
It is to be noted that many of the hymns of ThirumuRai are known to have the great powers of mantras that are practiced even today.
While there are plenty of mantras available, there are a few that are chanted with high esteem by the shaivas. Definitely those are highly powerful ones that can lead the chanter on the great path to mukti (liberation). pranava, paNJchAkashra, gAyatri to name a few. For shaivites the Holy Five Syllables (paNJchAkshara) with or without combination of the praNava is the ultimate mantra.
Definition #1: Mantras are energy-based sounds.
Saying any word produces an actual physical vibration. Over time, if we know what the effect of that vibration is, then the word may come to have meaning associated with the effect of saying that vibration or word. This is one level of energy basis for words.
Another level is intent. If the actual physical vibration is coupled with a mental intention, the vibration then contains an additional mental component which influences the result of saying it. The sound is the carrier wave and the intent is overlaid upon the wave form, just as a colored gel influences the appearance and effect of a white light.
In either instance, the word is based upon energy. Nowhere is this idea more true than for Sanskrit mantra. For although there is a general meaning which comes to be associated with mantras, the only lasting definition is the result or effect of saying the mantra.
Definition #2: Mantras create thought-energy waves.
The human consciousness is really a collection of states of consciousness which distributively exist throughout the physical and subtle bodies. Each organ has a primitive consciousness of its own. That primitive consciousness allows it to perform functions specific to it. Then come the various systems. The cardio-vascular system, the reproductive system and other systems have various organs or body parts working at slightly different stages of a single process. Like the organs, there is a primitive consciousness also associated with each system. And these are just within the physical body. Similar functions and states of consciousness exist within the subtle body as well. So individual organ consciousness is overlaid by system consciousness, overlaid again by subtle body counterparts and consciousness, and so ad infinitum.
The ego with its self-defined “I” ness assumes a pre-eminent state among the subtle din of random, semi-conscious thoughts which pulse through our organism. And of course, our organism can “pick up” the vibration of other organisms nearby. The result is that there are myriad vibrations riding in and through the subconscious mind at any given time.
Mantras start a powerful vibration which corresponds to both a specific spiritual energy frequency and a state of consciousness in seed form. Over time, the mantra process begins to override all of the other smaller vibrations, which eventually become absorbed by the mantra. After a length of time which varies from individual to individual, the great wave of the mantra stills all other vibrations. Ultimately, the mantra produces a state where the organism vibrates at the rate completely in tune with the energy and spiritual state represented by and contained within the mantra.
At this point, a change of state occurs in the organism. The organism becomes subtly different. Just as a laser is light which is coherent in a new way, the person who becomes one with the state produced by the mantra is also coherent in a way which did not exist prior to the conscious undertaking of repetition of the mantra.
Definition #3: Mantras are tools of power and tools for power.
They are formidable. They are ancient. They work. The word “mantra” is derived from two Sanskrit words. The first is “manas” or “mind,” which provides the “man” syllable. The second syllable is drawn from the Sanskrit word “trai” meaning to “protect” or to “free from.” Therefore, the word mantra in its most literal sense means “to free from the mind.” Mantra is, at its core, a tool used by the mind which eventually frees one from the vagaries of the mind.
But the journey from mantra to freedom is a wondrous one. The mind expands, deepens and widens and eventually dips into the essence of cosmic existence. On its journey, the mind comes to understand much about the essence of the vibration of things. And knowledge, as we all know, is power. In the case of mantra, this power is tangible and wieldable.
Statements About Mantra:
Mantras have close, approximate one-to-one direct language-based translation.
If we warn a young child that it should not touch a hot stove, we try to explain that it will burn the child. However, language is insufficient to convey the experience. Only the act of touching the stove and being burned will adequately define the words “hot” and “burn” in the context of “stove.” Essentially, there is no real direct translation of the experience of being burned.
Similarly, there is no word which is the exact equivalent of the experience of sticking one’s finger into an electrical socket. When we stick our hand into the socket, only then do we have a context for the word “shock.” But shock is really a definition of the result of the action of sticking our hand into the socket.
It is the same with mantras. The only true definition is the experience which it ultimately creates in the sayer. Over thousands of years, many sayers have had common experiences and passed them on to the next generation. Through this tradition, a context of experiential definition has been created.
Definitions of mantras are oriented toward either the results of repeating the mantra or of the intentions of the original framers and testers of the mantra.
In Sanskrit, sounds which have no direct translation but which contain great power which can be “grown” from it are called “seed mantras.” Seed in Sanskrit is called “Bijam” in the singular and “Bija” in the plural form.
Let’s take an example. The mantra “Shrim” or Shreem is the seed sound for the principle of abundance (Lakshmi, in the Hindu Pantheon.) If one says “shrim” a hundred times, a certain increase in the potentiality of the sayer to accumulate abundance is achieved. If one says “shrim” a thousand times or a million, the result is correspondingly greater.
But abundance can take many forms. There is prosperity, to be sure, but there is also peace as abundance, health as wealth, friends as wealth, enough food to eat as wealth, and a host of other kinds and types of abundance which may vary from individual to individual and culture to culture. It is at this point that the intention of the sayer begins to influence the degree of the kind of capacity for accumulating wealth which may accrue.
Mantras have been tested and/or verified by their original framers or users.
Each mantra is associated with an actual sage or historical person who once lived. Although the oral tradition predates written speech by centuries, those earliest oral records annotated on palm leaves discussed earlier clearly designate a specific sage as the “seer” of the mantra. This means that the mantra was probably arrived at through some form of meditation or intuition and subsequently tested by the person who first encountered it.
Sanskrit mantras are composed of letters which correspond to certain petals or spokes of chakras in the subtle body.
As discussed earlier, there is a direct relationship between the mantra sound, either vocalized or subvocalized, and the chakras located throughout the body.
Mantras are energy which can be likened to fire.
You can use fire either to cook your lunch or to burn down the forest. It is the same fire. Similarly, mantra can bring a positive and beneficial result, or it can produce an energy meltdown when misused or practiced without some guidance. There are certain mantra formulas which are so exact, so specific and so powerful that they must be learned and practiced under careful supervision by a qualified guru.
Fortunately, most of the mantras widely used in our portal and certainly those contained in this chapter are perfectly safe to use on a daily basis, even with some intensity.
Mantra energizes prana.
“Prana” is a Sanskrit term for a form of life energy which can be transferred from individual to individual. Prana may or may not produce an instant dramatic effect upon transfer. There can be heat or coolness as a result of the transfer.
Some healers operate through transfer of prana. A massage therapist can transfer prana with beneficial effect. Even self-healing can be accomplished by concentrating prana in certain organs, the result of which can be a clearing of the difficulty or condition. For instance, by saying a certain mantra while visualizing an internal organ bathed in light, the specific power of the mantra can become concentrated there with great beneficial effect.
Mantras eventually quiet the mind.
At a deep level, subconscious mind is a collective consciousness of all the forms of primitive consciousnesses which exist throughout the physical and subtle bodies. The dedicated use of mantra can dig into subconscious crystallized thoughts stored in the organs and glands and transform these bodily parts into repositories of peace.
Some of you may be interested or even fascinated by the discipline of mantra, but feel somewhat overwhelmed by the array of mantras and disciplines, astotaras and pujas you find in here. If so, then this chapter will be of use to you. It contains some simple mantras and their common application. They have been compiled from vedas and upanishads, drawn from the various headings of the deities or principles involved. These mantras address various life issues which we all face from time to time.

[This discourse is condensed, edited and adapted from a booklet written to suit the present context by an old time philosopher Srimushna Narasimhacharya of Chennai suitably rendered by Prof S. K. Ramachandra Rao of Kalpataru Reseaerch Academy of Sri Sarada Peetham, titled “A True Interpretation of Vedic Sacrifice”. His original booklet badly printed and edited went out of circulation soon after reaching few interested and the author forgotten. It contained many thoughts of wisdom based on research from Vedic text itself.]

1) Ramachandra Rao, S.K., Rigveda Darsana, Kalpataru  Research Academy, Bengaluru, India.
2) Varadaraja Tirumale, Veda Maarga, Hayagreeva Seva Trust,  Bengaluru, India.
3)  Prabha Duneja, Bhagavad Geeta, Govindaram Hasanand, Delhi, India.
4)  Swami Vireswarananda, Srimad Bhagavad Gita, Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, India.
5) Chandrasekaharananda Saraswati, Dharma,  Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, India.
6) Tarun Surti, Personal communication, Brentwood, TN, USA.
7) Sarita Prabhu, Cultures Collide Raising Kids, The Tennessean, November 9 2014.
8) Champaka Lakshmi. The Hindu Temple, Rolli Books, India.

[This discourse material is a compilation from the reference above    as well as other sources for a prepared lecture for delivering at Vedanta Class of Sri Ganesha Temple which is gratefully acknowledged. I do not claim anything as original though I have included my explanations and comments elaborately suitably editing. Anybody is free to download partly or fully this discourse, modify and redistribute this as well as other  discourses from the blog Hindu Reflections <> for spreading the wisdom of Vedas and scriptures further.  These  lectures are  posted on the blog for the benefit of those who are not able to attend my lectures personally due to personal reasons or due to not living in Nashville or able to go through the various sources as I have done.]

Mantras and Their Significance in Hinduism
Posted by Shriram Bhandari | Sep 14, 2015 |IndiaDivine.Org

There is a saying in Sanskrit, “Amantram Aksharam nasti, nasti moolam anoushadam”. There is not one “Akshara”, in this case a syllable (in this case the syllables used in Sanskrit) which is not a mantra. Now what is a mantra, this needs a little explanation.
Let us take the example of a small data chip that contains enormous amount of information, would we be able to actually see this data without being connected to the appropriate computer equipment? Obviously not.
Similarly, the potential power of the mantra can only be unlocked by the practitioner who has done a lot of Sadhana and repeating the mantra. In the Shiva Purana, Lord Shiva is shown to be the source of all “Aksharas”, hence mantras can also be used to invoke Ishwara who is the source of the cosmos.
Now let me explain the next part of the saying “nasti moolam anoushadam”, which means there is not one plant root which cannot be used as a medicine. Hence the meaning of the saying is very clear, there is not one “Akshara” which is not a mantra and there is not one plant root that is not a medicine.
One must understand that although all of the plant roots can be used as medicine, not every Tom, Dick and Harry will know how to use these plant roots as medicine. It is only an Ayurvedic doctor who will actually know how to combine, concentrate and use these plant roots for medicinal purposes, he will also recommend the appropriate doses for different patients and also give them personalized medicine.
Similarly it is only a Mantra-vits or knowers of mantras or Rishis who will actually know how to combine these “Aksharams” and form different type of mantras. These mantras again have to be given to appropriate individuals as per their requirements; hence the tradition is that certain mantras will have to be taken from traditional Gurus. One cannot simply take a mantra and start repeating it without getting a “Mantra-Upadesam” (telling of a mantra) from a traditional Guru.
Mantras are actually told in utter secrecy to people. The practitioner of a mantra will keep repeating the mantra and this repetition of a mantra is what we call “Japa”.
The mantras that are available to everyone are the names of Iswara. Let us take an example of the “Rama naama”, the very name “Rama” is actually a mantra. There is a saying that about 7 crore maha mantras are packed into this one name “Rama”. Repetition of the name “Rama” thrice is equivalent to saying the whole Vishnu Sahasranaama once.
Let us have a closer look at the name “Rama”. It has 2 parts “Ra” and “ma”. In the astaakshari mantra “Om namo Narayanaya” if we take out “Ra” , the whole mantra changes to “ Om Namo Na ayanaaya” which gives the meaning there is no way or goal, similarly in the panchakshari  Om nama Shivaya” if we were to take out “Ma” we get the mantra as “Om na Shivaya” which will mean there is no Shiva.
Hence the 2 Aksharas “Ra” and “Ma” form the basis of the Ashtaakshari and Panchaaskshari respectively; taking out their 2 Aksharas will make both the mantras meaningless. Therefore these 2 Aksharas can be taken as the very essence which gives life of meaning to both the Ashtaakshari and the Panchakshari. In other words, repeating the name “Rama” will give the practitioner the benefit of actually repeating the Ashtakshari and Panchakshari at the same time, the very name “Rama” has packed within it the power of both Lord Vishnu and Shiva.
There is also a certain mathematics associated with mantras, let me take the example of the name “Rama”.
If we were to take the varna mala in devanagari, we have “ya” “ra” “la” “va” and so on, one must notice that “ya” is the 1st Akshara and the “ra” comes 2nd in the varnamala, so we assign the number 2 to “ra”, in the varna mala we have it as follows “pa”, “pha”, “ba”, “bha”, “ma”.
Notice that “ma” comes 5th in this part of the varna mala. Hence we assign the number 5 to “ma”, now when we say “Rama” it is combining the 2nd akshara and the 5th akshara viz 2*5=10.
If we repeat “Rama” thrice, it is equivalent to 10*10*10=1000. It is for this reason the repetition of the name “Rama” thrice is equivalent to repeating the whole Vishnu Sahasranama".

This is in short about mantras and their significance.

I have talked to you about Beejaaksharas (seed letters) in Ashtaksharee and Panchaksharae before. I have also talked to you how Sanskrit alphabets are all sacred. I have elaborated on Aum, Rama and Krishna mantras in the past. I have also talked about divinity of numbers in Hindu scriptures as well as significance of  numbers in Chamakam. You have also gone through the significance of 108 and 1008 times repetition of Mantras.  I have also said how sanskrit alphabets are all divine.  Also you know every mantra has a Rishi and that it needs  to be  administered  through Guru Upadesa. I have acted as a pseudo-guru not glamorous enough with saffron robes.  I have also focused on several Veda Mantras used in our rituals and worships. It is very educative and informative to note among my 260 discourses given so for my readers have focused maximum on discourses dealing with ritual mantras, homa mantras shoedasopachara mantras, Sandyavandan mantras samskara mantras  and Veda Suktas. It is also interesting to note my readers are all very well Western  educated  besides some of them are religious and spiritual scholars, more knowledgeable than I am.  You may thus know what majority of Hindu educated people are looking for in their pursuit of   religion and spirituality. Your valuable comments are always welcome as they often guide me in my endeavors to serve better.