16 Dec The Essence of Mantra by Nataraj Chaitanya
The Essence of Mantra
by Nataraj Chaitanya, December 2020
The path of Mantra is an exquisite practice.
“The secret essence of mantra is establishment in the body of the knowledge of oneness.” -Shiva Sutra II.3
Swamiji refers to mantra japa as a “blue-collar” practice, something that can be done by everyone at any time. The mantra Om Namah Shivaya has been my greatest friend and companion throughout my life. I’ve chanted it in states of great happiness and incredible sorrow. In every circumstance, when I chant the mantra, it reveals something new to me.
When I first began sadhana, the idea of a “Self” or consciousness was very abstract to me. Through the practice of japa, I learned to love myself by loving the practice of mantra and the breath. In giving my love to these two powerful pulsations, breath and mantra, I began to cultivate self acceptance and a vision of the Self.
Guruji once asked Baba Muktananda:
“You often stress that we must love ourselves and only then will we be able to advance in sadhana and love others. I have made many unpleasant discoveries about my own ego. How can I avoid the tendency toward Self-hatred?”
To which Baba replied:
“You feel self-hatred when you are face-to-face with your own ego. Why don’t you make yourself aware of egolessness? When I say that you should love your own Self, I mean loving the Self, which is beyond ego, not your ego. You can spiritualise your ego by identifying it with the Self. Instead of saying I am this or that, say I am the Self. The ego is nothing but a sense of Self. How much better to say, I am the Self, than I am a sinner or I am a king. Then the ego, too, becomes helpful.
Continually repeat, I am the Self. We used to recite a hymn whose refrain was Shivo’ham, Shivo’ham (I am Shiva). That provided a healthy channel for the ego. For a great seeker the best thing is to identify the ego with the soul. If you were to look at it subtly, you would find the ego, too, is a stirring of the soul. We fall into misery because we do not know how to use the ego. If we were to repeat to ourselves, I am the Self, I am truth, I am perfect, the ego would be of great help. It would become a powerful mantra.”
Here in the Shiva Sutras, we are instructed to contemplate the essence of mantra to imbibe and receive it’s grace-bestowing power. Through repetition, we try and grok the true meaning of the mantra Om Namah Shivaya as the great statement Shivo’ham, which Baba references.
Guruji says of mantra:
“A phrase like Om Namah Shivaya has no external meaning, no outer world referent. It comes from within and connects us to the Divine. We can use numinous language like mantra or G-Statements to uplift us, and we can also edit our own brain. When our matrika or self-talk is separative, when our language is, ‘I hate this person. I am no good’, we should edit our minds and move towards higher awareness.”
Our continual contemplation of and returning to the mantra re-aligns and edits the negative thoughts and feelings of the mind and heart. When we hold the mantra within our relaxed awareness, we can begin to experience ourselves as an energetic process rather than a fixed object or way of being. Through the repetition of the mantra we can begin to experience ourselves as ebb and flow–a rising and falling–we learn to feel the presence of livingness within us.
In all times, places, and circumstances we can feel into our own nature as a never-ending cycle or process of creation, sustenance, dissolution, concealment, and revelatory grace (what the tantrikas referred to as the Five Acts of Lord Shiva, contained within the syllables of Na-mah Shi-va-ya). This mystical contemplation is a radical one. It overthrows the ordinary mind’s never-ending monologue that’s trying to convince us that we are just a collection of attachments and aversions, or a prisoner to our current life situation. Experiencing ourselves as that process, Shiva’s Process, takes us out of a victim mentality and allows us to consciously unfold ourselves and be in creative collaboration with the flow of life. That energy that we are is pulsation–primordial, causeless sound vibration, and the yogis have called this Mantra.
Normally our words are the product of the thinking, judging, analyzing mind. They enforce a feeling of separation as we endlessly criticize, micromanage, categorize, and judge our lives. The mantras, or sound acts, from the yogic tradition were born from ecstatic experiences of unity consciousness. Oneness is enshrined in the mantra.
Listening to and connecting with that inner sound, the same sound we rode outward into this life, we are able to mount the hidden tide within the mantra as it takes us back to that beautiful, experiential knowledge of divine oneness. We find ourselves to be oceanic consciousness and tune ourselves to the frequency of holistic unity. In that sacred resting place, hridayakash, the mantra, the one chanting the mantra, and the goal of the mantra are all one. We cry out to God and experience ourselves as That.
We release our tensions in favor of growth and expansion.
We learn to feel ourselves as ever-new.
We are an endless cycle.
We are a wave and the sea.
We are boundless love.
We turn within and realize ourselves as Shiva.
The Pratyabhijnahridayam, Sutra 20 ends:
Tada prakashananda sara maha mantra viryatmaka purnahanta veshat sada sarva sarga samhara kari nija samvid deyata chakreshvarata praptirbhavatiti shivam
“Then, as a result of entering into the perfect I, the perfect I-Awareness or Self, which is in essence light and bliss and of the nature of the power of the great mantra, there accrues the attainment of lordship over one’s group of deities of Consciousness that brings about all emanation and reabsorption in the universe. All this is of the nature of Shiva.”
Close your eyes and turn within. Gently direct our awareness toward the steady flow of the repetition of Om Namah Shivaya.
Experience the feeling-space that the mantra connects you with.
Allow that feeling to be–open up to it, become receptive to it. Don’t try and suppress, change, alter, or increase the feeling. Appreciate its subtle nuance.
As you merge more fully with the feeling-state of the mantra, understand this to be an experiential meaning of the mantra.
After meditation, write down any reflections or insights you may have had.
Om Namah Shivaya!