The sanskrit word MANTRA comes from a combination of manah (the mind) and trayate (to deliver, to protect). Mantra is a spiritual sound vibration that has the power to deliver us from the influence of the materially conditioned mind, the agency by which we identify with the material world and remain entrapped within material activity.
Although the atma, our true self, is neither a product of this world, nor belongs in this world, due to material conditioning we are now identifying with our current mind and body. Based on such misidentification we then engage is so many material activities - driven by the desire to enjoy - and consequently, according to the law of karma, we become entangled in a network of actions and reactions. Such misadventures of the soul compel us to endure an endless cycle of repeated births and deaths through one body after another. Although it’s popular in modern society to romanticise this material sojourn, the seminal yoga text, the bhagavad-gita describes this world as duhkalayam (a place of suffering), and lord Buddha confirms – sarvam hi duhkham (certainly, everything, is nothing but suffering).
The original nature of the soul however, the atma, is described in bhagavad-gita as sat-cit-ananda-vigraha, the very form of eternity, knowledge and bliss. Our natural heritage is eternal happiness in spiritual activity. The resurrection of this heritage is the aim of mantra. This sound is not ordinary sound. It emanates from the spiritual strata, and just as we can awaken a sleeping person by calling their name, by the repetition of the transcendental sound of mantra we can awaken the soul from its nescient slumber.
Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the incarnation of God who appeared in medieval Bengal, sings,”jiv jago, jiv jago – wake up sleeping soul, wake up sleeping soul, how long will you sleep in the lap of the witch called maya (illusion)”. He goes on to describe how we, the conditioned souls, have “forgotten the way of devotional service and have become lost in the world of birth and death”.
So, this is our fate, the fate resulting from entrapment by the material mind. The purpose of mantra is to free us from such entrapment and, as Jesus would say, “deliver us from evil”. Mantras are sound representations of the Supreme; names of God, in other words. These names are sacred, as in “hallowed be thy name”. By repeating these transcendental names of God with reverence and attention our spiritual consciousness awakens, our memory is restored, and we gradually rediscover our original identity and eternal activity in service to the Supreme. The chanting of mantra is not meant as an expression of vain sentiment, nor to be cultivated as a cheap, feel-good experience. Though by such indulgences no great harm may result, the chanting of mantra is especially meant for the serious and systematic practice of a dedicated sadhaka, or yoga practitioner.
Written by: Atmarama das