Your meditation questions answered! Does chanting mantras ever get monotonous? Is Aum a mantra? Can mantras be bought and sold? Is chanting a kind of self-hypnosis? Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda answers these questions and more.
Mantra Meditation Questions & Answers
Question: Doesn’t chanting the same sound over and over again get tedious or monotonous?
Jagad Guru: No. When a person chants, the mantra begins to evoke more and more feeling. It does not become dull or mechanical, but instead it more and more pulls out the longing of the soul to actually be established in a loving relationship with the Supreme Soul. The more a person chants the mantra, the more he begins to experience the Supreme Soul in the mantra Itself. He begins to taste the Supreme there, and the mantra comes to be experienced as being very sweet.
Mundane sound vibration is, of course, completely different from transcendental sound vibration; the more you hear or chant it, the less attraction it holds. A hit song may be a hit for a month, then it is finished. People grow tired of it and it begins to drive them crazy.
The transcendental Sound, however, acts in the opposite way; it takes a little while for a person to begin experiencing some attraction, but gradually the taste becomes sweeter and sweeter. My spiritual master began hearing and chanting the transcendental Sound from birth, and by the time he left the planet at eighty years of age he was very much attracted. Unless a person is a masochist, it is not possible to continue hearing and chanting the same sound if there is no pleasure there. A person who is engaged in repeating the transcendental Sound is not a masochist but, just like everyone else, desires pleasure.
We all want pleasure. Pleasure is the goal. For example, someone may try to squeeze pleasure out of a new record album. He takes it home, puts it on the record player and gets out the headphones thinking, “Wow, this is it!” But after listening to it a hundred times, he does not want to hear it anymore. The transcendental Sound, however, can be chanted hundreds of times every day and you will never get tired of chanting; rather, you will come to experience a higher taste, an inner happiness.
Question: Is “aum” a mantra?
Jagad Guru: Yes, “aum” is the sound vibration of the Supreme Soul.
The transcendental vibration omkara is the sound form of the Supreme. All Vedic knowledge and this cosmic manifestation are produced from this sound representation of the Supreme Lord.
Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya-Lila 6:174
The Vedic sound vibration omkara, the principle word in the Vedic literatures, is the basis of all Vedic vibrations. Therefore one should accept omkara as the sound representation of the Supreme and the reservoir of the cosmic manifestation.
Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi-Lila 7:174
Unfortunately, some people chant the sound vibration “aum” with the aim of becoming God. Such people are called “I am God”ists or Mayavadi philosophers. Most so-called yogis and spiritual masters who come to the West from India are actually teachers of this “I am God” or Mayavadi philosophy. Many of them and their students chant “aum.” Therefore, sometimes we are reluctant to chant the sound vibration “aum” lest we be misunderstood by others as being of that “I am God” school of thought. Such people also are very attached to chanting “so’ham,” which basically means “I am That” or “I am God.” But we do not accept such a foolish conclusion.
If the living entity were God, then there would be no question of the living entity coming under ignorance. In other words, if you were God, you would not need to sit around and meditate, trying to remember your identity as God. God does not need to meditate to remember who He is. So if a person chants “aum,” it will be more beneficial if they appreciate that it is the sound representation of the Supreme Person. The Supreme is a person, not just an impersonal force.
Question: Isn’t chanting a kind of self-hypnosis where a person is simply mesmerizing himself so he can just become a robot and not feel anything?
Jagad Guru: A person is not hypnotized by the mantra. In fact, the mantra wakes a person up. People are already hypnotized. They are caught and hypnotized by their senses. For example, some guy is driving down the street when all of a sudden he sees a big McDonald’s arch and has a “Big Mac attack.” What is a “Big Mac attack”? It means he is going about his business driving down the street when suddenly he becomes hypnotized by the big arch; it grabs hold of him, brings him into the parking lot, drags him from his car up to the counter, takes money out of his pocket, makes him do things he knows he should not do, and finally he is just sitting there in a trance eating. Then he goes off with a glazed look in his eye. That is a “Big Mac attack.” He was captured and hypnotized by his senses.
So the point is to be free. We all want to be happy and free. No one wants to be a slave, but the fact is that everyone is a slave of their senses. Because people think that they are their bodies, they become enslaved by their bodies; whatever their senses demand, they do. The senses continually nag them like a bunch of wives or kids that always want something more. They demand our attention all at the same time. “Gimme this, gimme that, I want, I want …” A person comes home late at night, for example, and his body is tired and wants to sleep–but his tongue wants to eat. So he is sitting there, practically falling asleep, but his tongue is saying, “No! I want more!” Or maybe the genitals start begging for sex. A person is continually harassed by the sensual demands of the body.
Therefore the question is how does a person get out of this situation where he is simply being pulled here, there and everywhere by his senses? Someone may say, “Well, I just want to do what I want to do when I want to do it.” But all this person is really saying is that whenever any of his senses call, he follows. People think this is freedom, but it is actually slavery. Their senses are their masters and make them do all kinds of things.
Of course, advertisers love this. Why? Because a slave of the senses is also a slave of those who make the products that the senses are attached to. For example, there was a TV commercial that says, “Let yourself go to Pizza Hut, let yourself go to Pizza Hut!” In other words, if you see a Pizza Hut sign when you are driving down the road and your senses say “I want that,” you are supposed to let your “self”—your senses—go. You are not supposed to control your senses in any way. They want you to just let go and be controlled by your senses so they can grab you.
A person who is not in control of his senses is like a drug addict who is controlled by the drug dealer. A heroin addict is not only the slave of his addiction but is also the slave of the guy selling the heroin.
A truly free person is one who is able to discern the actual physical needs of the body. Only a person who is satisfied within can do this because he knows his real identity and is established in a loving relationship with the Supreme.
If you chant the mantra regularly, you will begin to experience how it actually helps you get out of your trance and become a free person. The senses may call and try to pull you away from your business, but if the mantra is there in your mind, it actually acts in the same way that a slap might awaken a person who is hypnotized. It wakes you up to the reality that you are not the body. You are eternal spirit soul, the servant of the Supreme Soul; therefore you don’t need to serve your senses.
Self-realization is an ongoing process. We are living in a material body in the material world. Everyone continually relates to us on the bodily platform, especially our relatives. Therefore it is very easy to fall into the illusion of bodily identity even though logically we know that it is not correct. When we speak of yoga or a yogi, we mean a person who is in constant remembrance of his real identity even while living in the world. The aim is to remain in jnana, or knowledge. A person can be in the world but not of it or touched by it. This is possible by the practice of mantra meditation.
Many people mistakenly distinguish between their practical life and their practice of meditation. But real meditation means constant remembrance of your identity and your relationship with the Supreme. This is the real meaning of meditation. You can be meditating while you are moving around or while sitting down.
Question: Some meditation teachers teach that if you tell someone your mantra or if you chant the mantra out loud that it loses its power. Now, since you teach that people can chant the mantras or the Holy Name out loud, and even with musical instruments and even congregationally, then this would obviously seem to contradict the teaching that a mantra loses its power if chanted out loud.
Jagad Guru: A real mantra is not separate from the Supreme Person. The Names of the Supreme Person, His glories, His words—these are all included in the word “mantra.” In other words, a mantra is really the sound representation of the Supreme. Now, those who say that the Supreme Lord can become covered up by ignorance or He can be covered up by illusion, or that He can lose His power, then they are atheists. In other words, they believe nature is more powerful than the Supreme Person.
Those who teach that the Supreme (which includes His Names) loses His power when He comes into contact with the world are simply lacking appreciation for the power of the Supreme—the power of His Names, His words, and glories. The Vedic scripture, which is the source and foundation of the practice of mantra meditation and yoga philosophy, states very clearly, “Harer nama, harer nama, harer namaiva kevalam, kalau nasty eva nasty eva nasty eva gatir anyatha”—”Chant the Holy Names, chant the Holy Names, chant the Holy Names of the Lord. In this age of quarrel and hypocrisy, there is no other means of deliverance.”
More recently, in the fifteenth century, the great Lord Chaitanya stated that the congregational chanting of the Holy Names cleanses the heart of all the impurities that have accumulated for lifetimes and lifetimes. He prays as follows:
All glories to the singing of the Holy Names which cleanse the heart of all the dust accumulated for years, and extinguishes the fire of conditional life, of repeated birth and death. The chanting of the Holy Names is the prime benediction for humanity at large because it spreads the rays of the benediction moon. It is the life of all transcendental knowledge. It is the ocean of transcendental bliss, and it enables us to fully taste the nectar for which we are always anxious.
O my Lord, Your Holy Name alone can render all benediction to living beings, and thus You have hundreds and millions of Names, like Krishna, Govinda,Madana Mohana, and so on. In these transcendental Names You have invested all Your transcendental energy. There are not even any hard and fast rules for chanting Your Holy Name. O my Lord, out of Your kindness You enable us to easily approach You by Your Holy Names, but I am so unfortunate that I have no attraction for them.
It is sheer foolishness to think that somehow if the Holy Name goes into the atmosphere, that the atmosphere will dilute It or something. This is total nonsense. The Supreme Person is not so weak that He will become diluted if He comes into contact with the world. The Holy Names are not diminished by anything.
Besides, if a person chants the transcendental Sound silently or softly, just to themselves, then they are chanting for themselves, and there is benefit in that for themselves. But if they chant out loud or they sing the Holy Names out loud, then the effect is not only good for them, but is good for others also. All kinds of living entities who are trying to make their way to the Supreme, whether they are in lower forms of life or the human form of life, actually become gradually purified by such transcendental sound vibration, whether they know it or not.
And mothers can bring their children up hearing the transcendental Sound from even before they are born. Even while he is in the womb, the mother can be chanting the Holy Names to the child. And when the child comes out of the womb, he can be hearing the Names and glories of the Supreme. A home which reverberates with the sound of the Holy Names and glories is surcharged with transcendental happiness. It is very unfortunate that paranoid, faithless people spread the nonsense idea that the Holy Names will lose power if chanted out loud.
Question: But maybe if a person just keeps it to himself, then it’s secret, therefore he feels it’s more powerful because nobody else knows about it.
Jagad Guru: The power of the transcendental Sound is not in the power that one attributes to it. In other words, you may think that your mantra has great power, but it may not. If you receive it from a so-called spiritual master who is not bona fide, who is not in disciplic succession from the Supreme Himself, then the so-called mantra is actually powerless.
Some psychiatrists and psychologists and even some so-called yogis claim that a person can get the same result from repeatedly chanting the number one— or any other sound–as they would from chanting the Holy Names. That’s nonsense. You can repeat “one,” “one,” “one” all your life and it will not help your heart become purified at all. You can think it’s going to have great power, but it’s not going to have any power because there’s no inherent power in it. So you can think it’s going to have power, but it won’t.
But the Holy Name has power whether you think it has power or not. You can think the transcendental Sound doesn’t have power, but in fact it does. In other words, it’s not just a mental game. The power of a mantra isn’t just the power that a person puts into it. It’s not just a mirror that’s reflecting the belief of the chanter.
Just like if you stick your hand in fire, it’s going to burn you. You may be a child. You may not know that fire is supposed to bum. You may not think it’s going to burn you. But when you put your finger in it, it burns you just the same. Similarly, with the Holy Names, the power is inherent in the Name. If you chant the Holy Names, then the effect will be there. You don’t need to have great belief. You don’t need to project belief onto it. All you need to do is chant It and the effect will be there. It’s not you who is doing it—it’s the transcendental Sound.
Just like if you go swimming in the ocean, you’re going to get cleansed. Your body is going to get cleansed. You don’t need to think that your body is going to get cleansed if you go in the ocean. All you have to do is go in the ocean and your body will get cleansed.
Question: What about the selling of mantras? Isn’t that a contradiction?
Jagad Guru: The mantra, or names or words, or glorification of the Lord, is not separate from the Lord Himself. So to sell a mantra or to buy a mantra is actually not even possible. You may buy or sell an imitation of a mantra, but you cannot buy or sell a real mantra. You cannot, in other words, buy or sell the Supreme Person. The Supreme cannot be bought or sold. Someone may think that they’re selling a mantra, and some may think that they’re buying a mantra, but in fact what they are selling is simply a shadow of a mantra, and what they are buying is simply a shadow of a mantra. It is not the real thing. The actual spiritual potency is not there. The mantra must be handed down through disciplic succession, and the disciplic succession must begin with the Supreme Lord Himself. Or, to put it another way, a person must receive his mantra from a bona fide spiritual master who is a pure lover of the Lord. If he receives his so-called mantra from anyone else, then that mantra will not bring about the desired effect.
So in conclusion, let me ask you, please put some serious effort into this practice of mantra meditation, the chanting of transcendental Sound. You can chant with beads by yourself, or you can get some musical instruments and chant with your friends or family. Or you can chant quietly by yourself, mentally. You can take the transcendental Sound with you and become perfectly enlightened, perfectly happy. Namaste. All glory to the Holy Names!