(Interactive session on 31.10.2015)

Address by Asish K. Raha




Mantra is a sanskrit word as old as the Vedas of the Hindus, comprising the root word ‘man’ or mind and the suffix ‘tra’ meaning an instrument or wave or projection. According to Vedic tradition, the meaning of mantra goes well beyond its etymological meaning, i.e. projection of mind or wave of thought. It is believed to have originated from the cosmic perception of the Vedic sages, and is meant to evoke supernatural power by repeatedly chanting a combination of words thereby creating the right vibration to achieve a specific objective. However, it comes with a caveat, viz. mantra must be pronounced correctly with proper intonation, failing which it will have no effect. In Buddhism, the word mantra has been used more in the sense of protecting mind rather than achieving supernatural feats.

Our rational mind, however, needs to address the following pertinent posers in regard to mantra.

  1. Granted that every word chanted or spoken causes vibration, does the vibration so caused by repeated chanting or muttering of a mantra achieve the result that may be called supernatural? Or, the so-called sound vibration generated by a mantra is merely incidental, not capable of creating any magical power or effects?
  2. Is there any scientific explanation for the power attributed to mantra?
  • Is the meaning of a mantra relevant?
  1. Is the mantra chanted in silence as effective as the one pronounced with proper intonation?
  2. Is mantra divine or God-neutral?

Before we address those questions, let us dwell upon the traditional concept of mantra and its purported power as has been recorded or recounted since time immemorial.



It looks prima facie, more than just a co-incidence that both the Vedas and the New Testament describe the ‘Word’ (root of Mantra) as Brahman or God, ascibing the origin of the universe to it. It is stated in the Vedas as follows:

Prajapatir vai idam asit; Tasya vak dvitya asit; Vag vai paramam Brahma” (ref. Krishna Yajurveda, Kathaka Samhita, 12.5, 27.1; Jaiminiya Brahmana II, Samaveda, 2244)

[In the beginning was Prajapati (Brahma), with Whom was the Vak (Word), and the Vak is Brahman.]

In New Testatmant vide John 1.1 it is stated that “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God Himself.”

The striking similarity between the Vedas and the New Testament in regard to identity of the ‘Word’ with God cannot be missed except for a subtle difference. While the Vedas use Prajapati and ‘Paramam Brahma’ in two different contexts, Prajapati for the existence in the beginning and the ‘Word’ as Supreme God (the Ultimate Cause of creation), New Testament uses the expression ‘God’ in both the contexts. The distinction between Prajapati or Brahma (one of the Trinity, responsible for creation of the universe) and Brahman or Supreme God has been brought out in the Vedas, the Upanishadas and Bhagavad Gita extensively. While the former was a living existence, the latter was non-existence in phenomenal sense or beyond all phenomenal existence, and symbolically described as the word ‘OM’, the ultimate cause of the creation. It is said that Prajapati used ‘Word’ as the instrument for creation of the universe.



The sanskrit word nada meaning sound is derived from the root nad meaning flow. Read together, nada literally means flow of sound. Since nada vibrates in inner consciousness, it implies flow of consciousness. Nada yogis have identified four stages of manifestation of nada, viz. i) para or transcendental, ii) pashayanti or visible sound, iii) madhyama or in-between subtle and gross sound and iv) vaikhari or gross audible sound.

Para nada happens to be the subtlest nada, which is not audible nor perceptible by sense organs. The sound generated by para nada has a very high frequency of vibration which our ears cannot capture. It acquires stillness having gone to the maximum pitch. In the upanishadas para nada has been identified as the sound of ‘Om’.

Pashyanti nada is grosser than para nada, having less frequency, and yet it cannot be heard. It can, however, be visualized. When we hear a piece of music in our dream or even in awaken stage, losing sense of the outer world or sound, it is called pashyanti nada.

Madhyama nada has lower frequency than the preceding two nadas, but not yet audible. It is akin to whispering sound, producing very minute vibrations. It is called madhyama or middle sound as it is in-between gross audible sound and subtle inaudible sound.

Vaikhari nada is both audible and producible by friction of two objects.

According to nada yogis para nada or transcendental sound Om is the seed of the creativity, from which the universe has evolved as a projection of sound vibrations. The Sufis in India call it surat yoga while the Sikhs call it shabda yoga. According to nada yogis, five elements, ten indriyas, manas (mind), buddhi (intelelct), ahamkara (ego) and the three gunas have evolved out of the eternal sound Om or para nada. Nada yoga has been extensively dealt with in Nada Bindu Upanishada (contained in Rig Veda) and Hamsa Upanishada. Mantra and music are materialized form of nada. It is on record in the annals of contemporary authors that Tansen, the famous court-musician of Emperor Akbar, could make the rain happen even in drought by singing the Raga MEGH MALHAAR, and could lit the lamps by singing RAGA DEEPAK, thus suggesting a strong and intimate link between music and the nature.

Nada yogis, according to Swami Satyananda Saraswati, a well-known Kriya Yogi, classify human into following five categories: physical, pranic, mental, supra-mental, and finally the ananda or atmik. The first to the fifth category is a journey from the grossest to the subtlest nada. The yogis have broadly divided human consciousness into three parts, viz. annamaya and pranamaya kosha (bodies made up of food and life force), manomaya and vigyanamaya kosha (consciousness resting with mind, astral matter or cosmos), and finally anandamaya kosha (blissful state).

According to Nada Vindu Upanishada (part of Rig Veda) and also Hamsa Upanishada, nada sound is of ten types, depending on the spiritual level of the yogi. Those sounds are as follows: 1) Chini, 2) Cninchini, 3) bell-like sound, 4) conch-like sound, 5) lute-like sound, 6) cymbal-like sound, 7) flute-like sound, 8) drum-like sound, 9) Mridanga-like sound, and 10) thunder-like sound.

A yogi can access knowledge of hidden things when he hears sound of flute at the seventh level. At this level, he tends to lose his individual identity. The Yogic explanation of the irresistible attraction of the Gopis toward Krishna when he played his flute, as depicted in Bhagavat Mahapurana is as follows:

First the story from Bhagavat which reads as follows: “”Lord Krishna left his place at midnight and went into the jungle. It was the full moon night of the first month of winter. He began to play the flute. The echo of the flute spread in the calm and undisturbed atmosphere. Music rose from the jungle and was heard by the gopis (the village cowherd girls). When they heard the sound of the flute, they immediately left their houses and their husbands, forgetful of all that was taking place. They ran, without consideration, to the place from where the nada from the flute was emanating. They started dancing about the flute player. After some time, it so happened that each one found herself dancing individually with Krishna.”

The interpretation of the above story by nada yogis is that Krishna represents higher consciousness at seventh level wherefrom nada emanates as flute music. The senses and the indriyas renounce their respective acitivities and rush to the place from where the flute sound or the nada is emanating. There the senses dance around the nada, withdrawing completely from all outer objects. Thus in yogic parlance, a dharana (conception) has taken place as a precursor to dhyana (meditation). Significantly, each gopi felt that she danced with Krishna exclusively, which in real life could not have happened.

A more realistic interpretation of the above story would also suggest that the nada of flute music of Krishna struck the receptive inner chord of the gopis at the seventh level which drove them almost crazy and completely lost. To be more precise, the gopis heard the flute nada internally and not through their ears. Their state of withdrawal from the outer world is known in nada yoga as pratyahara (withdrawal).

When a nada yogi reaches the ninth level, the yogi’s Third Eye awakens, and at the tenth level, he attains para Brahman. At this level, the thunder-like nada comes from the sphere beyond anandamaya kosha, and individual consciousness merges with the cosmic consciousness. The yogi sees the whole universe in form of sound only.



In a Mahayana sutra, known as the Śūraṅgama Sūtra, which is well known in the Chán (a Chinese word derived from sanskrit dhyana or meditation) school of Buddhism, Avalokitesvara is cited as saying that he attained enlightenment by concentrating on the subtle inner sound. The Buddha then praised his method as the supreme way. He called the transcendental sound of Avalokiteswara as the ‘pure Brahman sound’, describing it as the ‘subtle murmur of the sea tide setting inward’. Buddha pronounced that this mysterious sound would bring nirvana (liberation) and peace to all sentient but distressed beings who sought nirvana. He directed all his disciples and Ananda in particular to reverse their outward perception of hearing and to listen inwardly for the sublimely unified and intrinsic sound of mind in order to attain enlightenment.



Like in the human micro-cosm there cannot be a single wave in the mind stuff (chitta-vritti) unconditioned by name and form, cosmic macro-cosm cannot also be without name and form, as is explained by Swami Vivekananda (vide The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, vol 3, pp 56-57). There may, however, be serious challenge from physicists to the above proposition at the very threshold as to how macrocosm can conceive name and form, which smacks of cosmic mind or consciousness, which is highly improbable, if not impossible. The above objection is countered with simple logic as also yogic perception that lies beyond mundane logic. As for the logic, it is posited that since nothing comes out of nothing, our mind stuff or consciousness must necessarily have a source in macrocosm, as it cannot simply crop up from nothing. Therefore, it would stand to logic that there is cosmic mind or super-consciousness. As regards yogic perception, we will deal with it later.

Now reverting to the philosophical proposition of the Vedanta, as has been explained by Swami Vivekananda, In the evolved state of Brahman, Brahma (distinct from Brahman) or Hiranyagarbha (golden womb) or the Mahat (cosmic mind) is the name and the universe is the form. But the cause of both the name and the form in the macro-cosmic universe is the eternal, inexpressible Sphota (sound that bursts forth). And that Sphota is OM.

Swami Vivekananda is, therefore, inclined to call the word ‘OM’, ‘the mother of all names and forms’. One may argue that there may be various word-symbols for the same thought, and it is not necessary that the single word ‘OM’ is representative of the thought that is responsible for the manifestation of the world. The Swami’s reply to that objection is that “this ‘OM’ is the only possible symbol which covers the whole ground, and there is none other like it.” To substantiate his contention, Vivekananda explains that if all the distinctive features that distinguish one word from the others are removed, then what remains is OM. The three letters ‘A’, ‘U’ and ‘M’ at the root of OM is the generalized symbol of all possible sounds. The letter ‘A’ being the throat sound is the least differentiated sound. ‘M’ is the lip sound, and ‘U’ rolls forward the impulse which begins at the root of the tongue till it ends in the lips. Pronounced together properly, the OM covers ‘the whole phenomenon of sound production and no other word can do this’. Therefore, according to the Swami, OM was the fittest symbol of the Sphota (or Brahman).

Viewed from another angle, when a person pronounces ‘A’ (as in ‘bar’), he opens his mouth and brings forth the throat sound from the root of his tongue. This may be called macro-cosmic sound of creation. When he pronounces ‘U’ (as in coup), there is a funnelling effect taking his consiousness into subtler region of Gunas or attributes. ‘U’, therefore, represents micro-cosmic sound of creation. The last component ‘M’ ending with lips produces sounds like the drone of a bee with prolonged vibration.



We have briefly mentioned the Vedic propositon that the repeated sound-vibration of OM is the primordial mantra of creation of the macrocosm and the microcosm, which include the physical and the mental world. The super-string theory, even though it does not refer to OM as the cause of creation, appears to have a striking similarity with the above Vedic proposition. Here is a brief background and the essence of super-string theory.

Physicists in general were struggling to reconcile Albert einstein’s Theory of Relativity that deals with the macro-cosmic universe with the theory of Quantum Thermodynamics that deals with the micro-cosmic one. Einstein himself focussed during the later part of his life on the discovery of the Grand Unified Theory or the Theory of Everything, that would unify macrocosm with microcosm, but died without completing his mission. The super-string theory now appears to offer the much elusive unification. It suggests that at sub-atomic level incredibly small strings like those of a violin have been constantly vibrating and thereby creating sub-atomic particles, ever since Big Bang. This theory appears to provide a framework that may encompass all forces and all matters. According to this theory, the constantly vibrating loops of the strings have their varying patterns of vibration for different particles, just as strings on a violin or piano vibrate at resonant frequencies to create various musical notes. Though strings vibrate in different ways for different particles their patterns of vibration are not chaotic, but systematic. So far super-string theorists have conceptualized eleven dimensions of matter.

OM or AUM also, like strings, are believed to send sound waves through the medium of ether, which are transformed into energy. Now the question is whether the primordial sound OM, as perceived by Indian Yogis, can be called the cause or the effect of the Big Bang, as envisaged by physicists. Based on yogic experiences, OM has been held as synonymous with Brahman in the Vedas, the Upanishadas (refer first chapter of Chhandogya Upanishada, believed to be the oldest one) and in the Bhagavad Gita (refer verses 8.13 and 9.17). It is pertinent to refer to the personal experience of Swami Yogananda as recounted in his Autobiography of Yogi (refer chapter captioned ‘An Experience in Cosmic consciousness’). By a gentle touch on his chest by Sri Yukteswar, his spiritual master, writes Yogananda (then known as Mukunda), he experienced ‘the vibration of the Cosmic Motor in form of resounding AUM’. Since that vibrant sound of AUM has been experienced by yogis from time immemorial even to present time, it cannot be termed as either cause or effect of the Big Bang in mundane sense.



“Among poetic metres, I am Gayatri”, so said Krishna in verse 10.35 in Gita. Among all mantras in Vedic time, Gayatri undoubtedly was held in the highest esteem. The Atharva Veda states that Gayatri endows chanter with longevity, power, energy, fame, wealth and divine radiance. It is said that according to Yajnavalkya, when Gayatri was weighed in a balance with all the Vedas, the balance tilted in favour of Gayatri mantra. Was it because of its purported or deeper meaning or for the effect of the mantra on the body and mind of the chanter or on the environment as such? There has been considerable research on the real meaning and effect of Gayatri mantra. But before we dwell upon the meaning of Gayatri, let us first understand the essence and characteristics of a mantra in general in yogic parlance.

According to yogic interpretation, a mantra is a means of activating cosmic energy of the words (shabda) contained in it. It may have meaning, like in the case of Gayatri, or no meaning at all like in the case of some tantric mantras. By repeated chanting of the mantras, specific result-oriented vibrations are created, not chaotic or random, but pre-determined by the yogi who had explored it. The symbiotic relationship of a mantra with subliminal energy centre that is supposed to be awakened by it, is implicit or explicit, as the case may be, in the viniyoga (structural classification) of that mantra. All Vedic and Tantric mantras have distinct viniyogas, usually described in the scriptures of Agama and Niyama. Each mantra has following five components: 1) Rishi, 2) Chhanda, 3) Devata, 4) Bija and 5) Tatva. The first component names the Rishi who had discovered the mantra, while the second contains the rhythmic composition – a combination of swaras (musical accents), gati (amplitude) etc. Sonic wave forms of a mantra depend largely upon its syllables and the type of chhanda. The third component viz. Devata represents the deity or the targeted cosmic field that is aimed at by the yoga practitioner. This is known as sakara upasana (worship of God in form of deity) primarily with a view to concentrate mind on a form. Bija (the root) constitutes the fifth component of a mantra. It is the essence of the mantra as it contains the gist of it in coded form. It helps in activation of the latent power of the mantra. Finally tatva is the gist of the mantra.

We are given to understand that when some mantras were tested with the ultrasonometer developed by Dr. Fristlov, it triggered chemical reactions in varying degrees, some so fast that it made steady water churn violently. This corresponds to yogic conception of acquiring super natural power by using vital power of the fire, air or akasha element. It is believed that a mantra correctly pronounced has effect on five elements of the nature as also on the minds of individuals, targeted or otherwise within its periphery. The mantras like radar devices are capable of sending sound signals in the space and receiving the echoed sound back in a few micro seconds. It is thus believed that mantras properly and repeatedly chanted to invoke deities create vibrations that travel like waves of light to that particular deity and return to the chanter with the blessings sought for.

As for gayatri mantra, it is believed that when it is repeatedly chanted, it creates ring shaped sound waves which move up with the speed of light through ether toward the Sun and after touching its surface bounce back with the subtle power of the Sun to enter the subtle body of the chanter. It is important to note that our body being made up of 70 per cent water becomes an excellent conductor of sound vibrations, with its cells acting as sound resonators.

The shorter form of Gayatri mantra is as follows:

“OM Bhur, Bhuva, Swaha

OM Tat Savitur Varenyam

Bhargo Devasya Dheemahi

Dhiyo Yonaha Prachodayat”

[“We meditate on the glory of that Being who has produced this universe; may He enlighten our minds.” – Swami Vivekananda

“We meditate on the adorable glory of the radiant sun; may he inspire our intelligence.” – Dr. S. radhakrishnan]

We notice a difference in the interpretation of the gayatri mantra by Swami Vivekananda and Dr. S. Radhakrishnan in that while the former refers to the creator of the universe for the word Savitur, the latter accepts the literal meaning for savitur to denote Sun only. However, the strength of the Gayatri mantra is not in its meaning, but in the 24 syllables that being repeatedly and properly chanted are believed to produce strong vibrations that eventually rejuvenate extra sensory 24 energy centres (or Chakras) in the subtle body of the chanter.

The longer version of Gayatri mantra invokes the seven lokas (spheres), viz. “OM BHUR, OM BHUVAHA, OM SWAHA, OM MAHAHA, OM JANAHA, OM TAPAHA, OM SATYAM”, each spiritualy more advanced than the previous one.

It is pertinent to mention here that our emphasis on proper pronunciation of mantra for having the desired effect should not be misunderstood as suggesting that mantra chanted or muttered in silence has no effect. As a matter of fact Japa (muttering of mantra) is performed in silence only and the state of Ajapa (non-stop muttering of mantra) is considered as one of the highest states of pratyahara (withdrawal from the material world). As we have already explained, nada is inaudible vibration in our energy centers resulting from mantras, whether muttered in silence or chanted loudly. Likewise, mantra inscribed in a talisman or locket is also believed to be effective depending upon the occult power of the dispenser.



The link between mantra and occult power is widely believed not only in India but almost in every country. When such power is misused for selfish end, primarily to harm others for self-interest, it is called black magic or witchcraft.

From the epics, viz. Ramayana and Mahabharata, it can be seen that mostly the Asuras and demons with asuric vritti (destructive tendencies) were engaged in using their occult power acquired through mantra to fight the devas known for their sagacity and righteousness. To fight the asuras in self defence, the devas also used their occult power. Various non-conventional weapons described in the epics were invariably triggered by some specific mantra, for want of which those weapons were ineffective. For a medium for the purpose of activation of occult power, bow, arrow, trident, axe, and even blade of grass may have been used by devas, asuras and sages. Sage Nara, for instance, had used a blade of grass to activate his occult power to destroy the whole army of king Dambhodbhava who challenged him to a battle (refer speech of Parasurama in the court of Dhritarashtra, Udyoga Parva, Mahabharata). Likewise, Ashvathwama had used a blade of grass for activating Brahmashira weapon to kill the Pandavas (refer Souptika Parva, Mahabharata). Both Ramayana and Mahabharata mention several such unconventional weapons activated by mantra, with devastating effect. Karna was cursed by Parasurama for deception that he would not remember the mantras for activating his unconventional weapons while engaged in a life-threatening battle.

Same Parasurama described 8 unconventional weapons (with their properties), obtained by Arjuna from Indra, the king of the Devas, stating that if Arjuna used those weapons in the battle, Kauravas would not be able to counter the same (Incidentally Arjuna did not use any of those weapons as he was under oath not to use the same on humans except under serious threat to his life). Those weaons were named by Parasurama as follows:

Kakudika, Shuka, Naka, Akshisamtarjana, Santana, Nartana, Ghora and Ajyamodaka. The attributes of those mantra-triggered and mantra-protected weapons were described as follows: ‘Those who are hit by those weapons would confront inevitable death, or move around insane, or would become unconscious, or would be put into sleep, or jump around, or vomit, or urinate, or incessantly cry or laugh’ (refer Mahabharata, p.413, vol.4, translated by Bibek Debroy).

What is patently clear is that those weapons named above were not conventional man-made arrows or weapns. In the above given fact, there are following three possibilities. First, above said weapons were not real but fictitious. This would cast serious doubt on the integrity of Vedavyasa who wrote Mahabharata as history and not fiction. The second possibility is that those wepons were code-protected scientific invention by devas who were scientifically much more advanced than contemporary humans. And thirdly, those weapons were nothing but occult power which needed a medium such as a bow and arrow, and even the blade of a glass for application on material objects and subjects. Undoubtedly, there is scope for research into the real character of various unconventional mantra-protected weapons mentioned in Ramayana and Mahabharata.

We may mention here two more instances from Mahabharata, in one of which mantra power was used and in the other it was intended to be acquired. The first instance refers to the Yajna by king Drupada to facilitate killing of Drona in order to avenge his defeat against Drona’s young disciples and consequent loss of half of his kingdom to Drona. The yajna was conducted by sage Yaja who, according to his own brother sage Upayaja, was unscrupulous and prepared to do any unethical thing for material gain. The mantra chanted by sage Yaja with assistance from his brother sage led to the emergence of a young warrior from yajna fire, named Dhristadyumna, who was adopted by king Drupada as his son. Eventually said Dhristadyumna killed Drona.

The second instance where mantra or occult power was intended to be acquired was the anecdote of Jarasandha, king of Magadha, who imprisoned a number of kings with the intent to sacrifice them as soon as the number reached 100, in order to acquire occult power which would make him invincible. Jarasandha could not accomplish his mission as he was killed by Bhima in an one on one wrestling, contrived by Krishna.

It may be reiterated that those unconventional mantra-linked weapons were not man-made and were invariably linked to devas or mantra power of sages.

In course of time, mantra-generated occult power became accessible to commoners during post- Vedic period. Consequently, the mantra power was being widely misused by contemporary men to achieve their selfish ends. Cultivation and pursuit of Tantra cult became widespread. The blatant misuse of mantra power led to regimentation of caste system with a view to restrict the access to mantras to qualified Brahmins only who were expected to practice self-effacement and mendicancy and to refrain from misusing the occult power for material gains. Unfortuantely, once the fruit of super-natural occult power was tested by Brahmins, some of whom were highly materialistic, degeneration of the society could not be prevented. The caste system became strictly hereditary, and exploitation of weaker sections of the society became the order of the day. It was Buddha who revolted against such Brahminical exploitation and domination but in course of time, even a large number of Buddhists fell for the lure of occult or esoteric power and deviated from the spiritual goal of Nirvana. The above historic background is deemed as essential to drive home the point that mantra power has often detracted seekers of Truth from spiritual path. Therefore, it would not be correct to assume that mantra invariably has a divine goal to achieve, per se.



Let us now address the posers made in the Introduction. Our first poser is: Granted that every word chanted or spoken causes vibration, does the vibration so caused by repeated chanting or muttering of a mantra achieve the result that may be called supernatural? Or, the so-called sound vibration generated by a mantra is merely incidental, not capable of creating any magical power or effects? Secondly, is there any scientific explanation for the power attributed to mantra?

Even though considerable researches are in progress to determine the effects of mantra, we are yet to reach any conclusive finding as to the causal connection of a mantra with its purported effects. Empirical evidence, however, strongly suggests that mantras have effects on human body and mind, and also help one in acquiring occult power as tantriks and kriya yogis have often demonstrated. However, scientific researches in the realm of consciousness are quite scant. Of late, consciousness has been receving some attention in neuro-biological and psychological fields. In view of the above, it would not be logical and fair to be dismissive about the empirical evidence on hand about the existence of occult power and its causal connection with mantras.

Our next poser is: is the meaning of a mantra relevant?

It is a fact that in Tantrik mantras, meaning is not relevant as the words known as Bija mantras appear to be meaningless. Some such Bija mantras meant to be repeatedly chanted are shrim, hrim, krim, hum, aim, krom, phat, klim, drim etc. But there are mantras with deep meaning. It is important that those meaningful mantras are chanted with clear understanding of its deeper meaning so that the mind gets absorbed in cosmic consciousness. As for symbolic sounds like tantrik mantras it is important to visualize the deity concerned with every Bija mantra.

As to the question whether the mantra chanted in silence is as effective as the one pronounced with proper intonation, the whole of nada yoga is about mantra in silence. Its efficacy has never been in doubt.

We now come to our last poser, viz. is mantra divine or God-neutral? It has been extensively covered in our discussion above under the sub-title ‘Abuse of Mantra Power’ to substantiate that all mantras are not necessarily divine. Some mantras are destructive in intent, content and effect, meant to harm targeted person(s) or people, while some others are beneficial to individuals and mankind in general. It is thus safe to conclude that mantras are God-neutral.


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  1. Kushal Shah says:

    Thanks a lot for such a detailed article on mantras and its various aspects! It will be very interesting to see if there can be any connection between mantra-power and science. However, science is based on ‘repeatable and predictable experiments’ whereas efficacy of mantra-power seems to be quite subjective and not so repeatable. For example, efficacy of Arjuna’s use of mantra depended on Krishna being alive (as mentioned in the article below). Its not clear how to resolve this disconnect between the two.

  2. RKGupta says:

    Very interesting discussion, the subject matter has been extensively covered in all aspects and, therefore, there is nothing for me to comment. I would, however, like to add a story:
    A man insistently requested his Master to give him some Mantra. The Master, in his ears uttered ‘Ram-Ram’ and told him not to disclose this Mantra to anyone lest the effect of the Mantra will be lost. After a few days the disciple went for a pilgrimage and there be heard people enchanting ‘Ram-Ram.’ He thought that this Mantra is known to everyone and that his Master had not told him any great Mantra. He lost his faith in the Mantra. He left the pilgrimage in between, reached back to his Master and told him about his doubt. The Master understood that due to the lack of decisive willpower, his disciple had lost faith in the name of the Almighty. The Master took out a shining round stone and told his disciple that he will give him a special Mantra but before that he (disciple) will have to go to the market and make enquiries with everyone in the market about the value of the stone but the stone was not to be sold at any price. The disciple proceeded to the market and enquired the price of the stone with a lady who sold vegetables. She liked the stone and thinking it to be a good thing for his children to play with, offered to buy it for some vegetables in return. The disciple then went to a shopkeeper who valued it at two rupees. Another shopkeeper offered fifty rupees. As the disciple kept on making enquiries, the price went on increasing, with some jewellers valuing it at millions of rupees. At last he went to the biggest jeweller of the town, who after examining the stone told him ‘it is an invaluable diamond, the price of which cannot be judged by anyone. This diamond makes everyone happy in whose hands it goes and, therefore, even a person who does not know about it wants to buy it. It is your fortune to possess such an extraordinary and rare jewel. Even then if you want to sell it, I shall buy it at any price you quote.’ The disciple, however, was not to sell the diamond. He went back to his Master and narrated the entire episode to him. He then requested the Master to give him the special Mantra. The Master then explained him that the lady did not know anything about the diamond and, therefore, she wanted to offer some vegetables in return. The shopkeepers wanted to give two rupees, fifty rupees and so on. One offered as much as one appreciated the qualities of the diamond. The jeweller who, however, recognised the diamond fully well held it to be invaluable and offered any price in return. Similarly, everyone utters the name of the Almighty but one who does not have firm faith in it, sells this diamond for vegetables in return but one who knows the greatness of ‘His’ name, it is invaluable for him.
    The moral of the story is firm faith. The Mantra is effective with faith. In my opinion it is the will power which is the essence of Mantra, it does not matter whether mantra is chanted or practiced in silence. The greatest mantra is the ‘Bhav’ (the intention or emotion attached to it). The will power of the one who recites the mantra and the one, who gives the mantra, both can work and it is because of this that the mantras given in scriptures are powerful, as the will power of the Rishis act behind those mantras.
    Another point that I would like to point at is what the mantras convey. If one considers various mantras and prayers in any religion, all these point out that there is the Creator and we bow before Him, be it Gaytri Mantra or any other mantra, all these glorify the Creator. The essence of mantra, therefore, is to recognise that there is a creator, who has created us and that we should shed our ego, that is we should realize that it is He, who is the essence of all that exists. Once this realisation dawns, the purpose is served.
    Lastly, I feel that our ancient Rishies were conducting scientific experiments, which in common parlance were known as Yagnas and the results of these experiments were codified as mantras and conveyed through generations. I have read in the Yajurveda a mention that lightening converts Pranvayu (oxygen) into Ozone. This is also mentioned as a mantra, which has led me to think that the Rishis were conducting experiments. The Rakshas were afraid and did not want these experiments to succeed and that is why they used to destroy these Yagnas (experiments).

  3. akraha1948 says:

    Kushalji, it is time that the research to find out whether there is any connection between mantra and science is undertaken by scientists and yogis with open mind and in perfect co-ordination.

    As for your observation that efficacy of Arjuna’s mantra depended on Krishna being alive is not vindicated by critical edition of Bhandarkar. According to said authentic version of Mahabharata, when Arjuna asked Vedavyasa the reason why he could not even string Gandiva and had lost his valour, this is what Vyasa explained: “O Dhananjaya! Time is the root of everything. It is the seed of the universe. As it wishes, time also draws everything back again….. Having accomplished their tasks, your weapons have now returned to wherever they came from. If time should so ordain, they will arrive in your hands again. ……The time has come for you to attain the greatest end.”

    As to Arjuna’s query as to why despite the presence of Krishna, the Vrishnis and the Yadavas perished, Vyasa explained: “This was the destiny of these great souled ones.That is the reason why, despite being able to counter it, Krishna ignored it. Krishna is capable of countering everything in the three worlds, mobile and immobile, not to speak of a curse imposed by learned ones.”

    Guptaji, I am indeed thankful for the enlightening anecdote. Indeed it is the grace of the spiritual master that helps spiritual progress of a disciple. But the master himself ought to be spiritually enlightened, and it is perfectly in order for a keen learner to test his master, like Swami Vivekananda often did with his master Sri Ramakrishna before finally surrendering to him. Pertinently, Sri Ramakrishna also endorsed said approach of Vivekananda.

    We also have an alternate & contra anecdote from Mahabharata, as recounted by Bhishma to Yudhisthira, in Shanti Parva. In this anecdote, the master was a debauch and pretender, while the disciple was sincere and exceedingly devoted to his master, worshipping him like God. When the master died, he went to hell, while the disciple after death was taken to heaven. Not finding his master there, and being told that his master was in the hell, the disciple opted to go to hell to be with his master who was like God to him. Thereupon Vishnu decided to promote the master to heaven rather than demoting the latter to hell. The moral of the story is that each one is accounted for his action and thoughts. The master can only guide or misguide and it is entirely for the disciple to grow spiritually under the guidance (or despite mis-guidance). The above anecdote from Mahabharata is quite topical & apt in the context of present time.

    • Kushal Shah says:

      Asishji, from a scientific viewpoint, Veda Vyasa’s response to Arjuna would not make much sense. Its true that modern science is heavily dependent on probabilistic ideas but what Veda Vyasa is saying is something very different. According to Veda Vyasa, these events are essentially unpredictable and ‘time’ seems to be associated with some kind of free will. But as I mentioned earlier, science deals only with predictable events and currently, it has no place for ‘free will’ which is more a matter of philosophy. Understanding mantra-power from a science perspective would require a complete overhaul of our understanding of either mantra-power or science. I would personally be very interested in taking this up, but I don’t see any direction along which to proceed.

  4. akraha1948 says:

    Kushalji, Vedavyasa speaks of destiny which appears to suggest that future events are mostly pre-programmed and predictable. It’s not much different from the hypothesis of Stephen Hawking in Grand Design that man is a pre-programmed robot or a biological machine. If that be so, future events can be foreseen and are predictable by those who have that capability, such as Vedavyasa, Krishna and other advanced sages. However, I agree that such foresights belong to the domain of consciousness and not physical science. We understand that some neuro-scientists are carrying out researches into consciousness, but independently of yoga or yogic science.

    It will indeed be a great news for all of us if you ever undertake such research into consciousness and pre-programming of destiny from scientific perspective.

    • Kushal Shah says:

      Asishji, I think the first step towards connecting mantra-power with science would be to actually meet someone who can reliably demonstrate these powers in a repeatable fashion. We can then try to design proper scientific experiments to unravel various aspects of these powers.

      But the problem is that the mantra-power is not a static thing like nuclear power, for example. Once I have a recipe for nuclear power and the required materials/equipment, I can always make a nuclear weapon which will work in the exact same fashion. But this is not true for mantra-power. It depends on a certain state of mind of the person using it. As we know, siddhis do not remain with a person forever. This is what prevents a proper scientific study of mantras. The brain-states and mind-states of a human are too dynamic. A phenomenon which is not repeatable indefinitely is not amenable to scientific study. This is also what makes biology a much more complex subject as compared to physics.

      One more important point here is that certain states of the mind are attainable but not understandable. Thats because of the limited powers of the mind to express thoughts. I may experience a lot of joy on watching a movie, but there is no way I can actually explain the experience to anyone else. And this experience of joy is often found to be non-repeatable. I may again feel lot of joy on watching another movie, but this experience would usually be quite different from the previous experience of joy. Now, can neuroscience ever ‘understand’ these experiences of mine? I don’t think so. Even if we have a technology to map the state of all neurons of my brain, there is no way the technology can actually tell what I am experiencing. These experiences fall in the category of ’emergent properties’ ( As we commonly say, the whole is larger than the sum of its parts.

      Science is a great tool for sure. But its applicable only to a certain aspect of the world, like any other system of thought. I don’t think there can ever be one system of thought that can explain everything that exists in this world. So, even if we can’t understand mantra-power through science, it only means that these two belong to two mutually exclusive aspects of the world we live in. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

  5. akraha1948 says:

    Kushalji, if you have come to the conclusion that science and mantra power belong to two mutually exclusive aspects of the world, there is hardly any scope for scientific research on mantra power. Since you have expressed some interest in undertaking research on mantra power as a scientist, please keep your mind open to the propositions and possibilities pertaining to mantra or occult power. You may have to study Kriya Yoga from an advanced master of either Yogananda or Sivananda school. Merely by reading books you will have no insight into or understanding of the occult science.

    If a yogi can predict what science cannot, we may logically infer that yoga is that branch of science which is not yet accessible to modern scientists, rather than discarding correct predictions as mere co-incidence or figment of imagination. Even to discard predictions as unreliable a researcher needs to critically examine some such predictions personally experienced or encountered by him. Same would apply to mantra power. Nothing could be more exciting than this subject for research, and none to my knowledge is fitter than you to undertake such research.

    • Kushal Shah says:

      Asishji, let me give a different example. People like Warren Buffet are extremely good investors and have made billions by investing on the stock market. Now, can science every come up with a good understanding of his process of investment and what makes it so much more successful compared to that of thousands of other investors? Can science ever understand the technique which makes one human a much better painter or poet or writer compared to others? I don’t think science can ever have any convincing answers to these questions. Now, surely many books have been written on these subjects, but these books are nowhere close to what science would call a good explanation. I personally believe that mantra-power falls in these categories. Its more of an art than a science. This is, of course, not any final conclusion that I have arrived at but only my current understanding. If I come across a good argument, I am certainly willing to change my opinion.

      I am surely interested in a deeper understanding of mantra-powers, but I don’t pursue this seriously mainly because I totally agree with Vivekananda when he says that these powers only weaken the human mind.

  6. akraha1948 says:

    Kushalji, power in any form or sphere tends to corrupt man unless he is innately spiritual. This is precisely the reason why neither Sri Ramakrishna nor Vivekananda encouraged cultivation of occult power or use of it. When a man’s target is to reach the pinnacle of a mountain, he should not get stuck by the splendour of a garden in the middle and stop his climb. A researcher of mantra power is, however, not a power seeker. His prime objective is to seek the truth.

    If mantra creates supernatural power in man so as to enable him to command the nature or interfere with laws of nature, there ought to be science underlying such phenomenon. A researcher need not certainly postulate mantra power as a reality, but can certainly start his research to find out whether it is reality or myth. I’ve already suggested that known and reputed Kriya yogis may be of considerable assistance in the matter. That apart, reputed tantriks in West Bengal & Assam may also throw some light on the subject.

    Last but not the least, mantra power can hardly be compared with investment analysis by economists or trade analysts.

    • Kushal Shah says:

      “If mantra creates supernatural power in man so as to enable him to command the nature or interfere with laws of nature, there ought to be science underlying such phenomenon.”

      Asishji, that’s a very non-trivial statement and needs to be analysed carefully. It’s true that mantra power has effects which must have a cause and an underlying process. But are all cause-effect relationships and all processes amenable to scientific analysis? I certainly don’t think so. Painting, music, dance, equity investing and other art forms fall in this category. Now, in which category does mantra power fall? Is mantra power an art or science? I think mantra power is an art form for the simple reason that it cannot be demonstrated in an indefinitely repeatable manner. I will certainly change my opinion if I get to meet even one person who can demonstrate otherwise. But that would refute Veda Vyasa’s words.

  7. akraha1948 says:

    Vedavyasa was the one who not only spoke about destiny but is also said to have possessed the power to foresee future. Hence, we have reasons to infer that destiny is not something which is random and unpredictable. Krishna categorically told Gandhari that he knew that the Vrishnis and the Yadavas were to perish like the Kauravas. Even in recent time, we have come across yogis and astrologers who could predict future. Palmistry and astrology have also developed as empirical science predicting future events with a fairly high degree of certainty. In western countries also, psychists like Nastrodamus and Cayce are well known for their predictions of the future.

    True that we are yet to conduct requisite experiments to pass yoga, tantra, astrology and palmistry for science in academic sense, but we cannot reject predictability of future by experts/masters in those fields as baseless and unreliable. According to Gita, every event has fivefold causes, and one of the five causes is destiny that is pre-programmed. And what is pre-programmed is linked to prarabdh, or the result of past deeds of a being.

    As for your remark that you would change your opinion if you come across even one person who can demonstrate the efficacy of mantra power in an indefinitely repeatable manner, I welcome your approach which befits a scientist. I am sure you will come across such person if you look for him in right places and right earnest.

    • Kushal Shah says:

      It is not clear what Veda Vyasa means by destiny or prarabdha. It certainly can’t be true that every single event in this universe is predictable. Certain major events seem predictable for sure even at a much more gross level also. Several economists had in fact predicted the 2008 crash. According to modern science, our universe is fundamentlly random (Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle) and all we can predict are certain averages. Einstein fought against this view for many years (his famous claim: God doesn’t play dice!) but eventually he also gave up during his last years.

      Now, if some prediction is not scientifically explainable, does it become baseless? I certainly don’t think so. I think we should not expect science to explain all mysteries of nature. Science offers a particular set of tools which are very powerful but they can answer only a certain kind of questions. But Mother nature is much more complex than that!

  8. akraha1948 says:

    “It certainly can’t be true that every single event in this universe is predictable.”

    It’s not any one’s case that every single event is predictable. Gita in verse 18.14 states that of the five causes for every action, only the fifth cause happens to be destiny (pre-programmed). Remaining five causes for human actions are body, senses, mind, ego, intelligence, etc. which are not predictable, as these depend largely upon human application. Had all our actions been predictable or pre-programmed, the very concept of prarabdh would have been redundant or meaningless.

    As to the moot question whether even destiny is predictable, one can perhaps put under scrutiny some astrological predictions made by eminent astrologers like Mr. K.N.Rao of Delhi. Books on palmistry relating to predictions made by reputed palmists like Cheiro may also come handy for our scrutiny. I also recommend a book titled ‘Same Soul, Many Bodies’ by Dr. Brian Weiss, that deals with progression therapy for cure of psychic patients.

    As for living yogis with occult power, I am afraid, I cannot suggest any name from my personal knowledge, even though I came across a few of them decades ago. You may be able to find such yogis if you look for them in right places and right earnest.

    • Kushal Shah says:

      I have read Cheiro’s books long time back and also personally know few very good palmists&astrologers. They can certainly make some amazing predictions. But based on my discussions with them, I am fairly convinced that their process is an art form and can’t be understood using scientific tools.

      I would love to meet a yogi! So far my search has been fruitless and I have almost lost all hopes.

  9. Prasanta Ray says:

    Thanks and kudos to you Ashish for the wonderful article on mantra; it edifies and engages. The topic is rather intractable and yet you have made it so appealing.

    As to whether mantra power and science are mutually exclusive, I would like to point out that there are two kinds of science: (a) ‘empirical’, where only correlations among facts are discovered without discovering any basis for such correlations ― cp statistical correlations as basis of hypothesis ― and (b) ‘theoretical’, where a basis too is discovered (or, rather, ‘formulated’). (a) could be considered to be a statement of ‘what’, (b) of ‘how’. (The answer to the ‘why’-question, I am afraid, is beyond the scope of science or philosophy for it would need an as yet scientifically undiscovered conscious will). Homoeopathy is an example of empirical science, physics, of theoretical. Indeed many sciences, sometimes labelled ‘inexact’, are empirical. (Even economics and psychology are said to be so to an extent). Physics is very largely theoretical. So, in any scientific research on mantra power, there will be two stages, or phases: first, recognizing correlations, if any, between mantra and events, second, formulating a theoretical basis for such correlations. I think we are not yet done with the first phase, the second is yet to quite begin.

    There is this pastime of attempting to establish that mention of machines and suchlike in ancient Indian literature, usually mythology, are references to what modern science actually has (achieved) today, for example, that the ‘brahmastra’ is the nuclear bomb, and that the ‘vimana’ is an ‘aerospace’ machine! Firstly, not only Indian, but other mythologies too mention such things, secondly, there is near-zero scientific evidence that it is so ― in fact, descriptions of vimanas as involving use of wood, etc. would lead to the scientific conclusion that vimanas were not aeroplanes or rockets and actually did not exist ― thirdly, science being work-in-progress, a comparison based on today’s science would not have been possible in the past and would probably not be possible in the future when technology would most probably have accomplished what is inconceivable today. So, why dwell on a ‘snapshot’ current picture of science? From a scientific point of view, these attempts at establishing resemblance are in the realm of speculation. (All this is not to say that what the mythologies state cannot have been a fact, it is only to aver that there is no scientific evidence to support the veracity of such statements, and evidence, if any, mostly tend to belie such statements).

    Therefore, to begin to speculate on things like mantric vibrations and their effects, to me, is to jump the gun. What vibrations? Of sound in air, or of electromagnetic fields in ‘nothingness’? Air is mechanical and vanishes beyond some 100 km above the earth, and electromagnetic waves include radio waves, microwaves, heat, light, x-rays and gamma rays ― so what exactly, and how? As far as I know, some mantras, like the tantrika, are said to have been ‘heard’ by rishis in meditation, but such ‘hearing’ is unlikely to be any common hearing of sound at all, it is probably a sort of internal intuition. Again, rishis are called mantra-drashtas (seers of mantras) ― can this be normal ‘seeing’ with eyes?

    Anything that is a fact would be includible in science no matter how rare or curious such fact is. If there are acceptable (preferably recent) records of scientifically demonstrated mantra power, such records would be a part of scientific facts ― and possibly there are (a very few) such records. The rarity of a certain kind of established fact often leads to its being construed as a ‘miracle’ but it is surely not so. Says Einstein: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle”. How correct. So, mantra power, if a fact, is anything but a miracle.

    There is another important matter. Mantra power can be realized or exercised only by the competent, meaning the one with truly exceptional controlled mental power. Mantras uttered by the distracted, as many are, may not avail ― mantra is not physics, nor a medicinal pill. Mechanical, absent-minded chanting ― is it likely to work? That is why self-styled yogis have rarely, if ever, been able to acceptably demonstrate efficacy of mantras in scientific experiments. Some calming of nerves and the like are not achievements of mantra only, there are other ways also. There is not much credible proof yet of mantra-shakti in practice. I think, this is because, in these times of mental distraction, there are only a very few true ‘wielders’ of mantra-shakti.

    This leads to the meaning of the word ‘mantra’ ― already discussed at length. I would beg to add an observation. One construction of the word ― probably ascribed to Shankaracharya ― is: mantra = manana + tra = ‘mananat trayate iti mantrah’. Its direct connotation could be ‘protection (or salvation) from manana’; but that can be misleading. Here ‘from’ means ‘by means of’ or ‘achieved by’, as in ‘japat siddhi’ ― meaning ‘accomplishment by means of japam’. Again, manana is not simply constant (audible or inner silent) utterance or chanting, it means such utterance along with constant, focussed recollection of its meaning and significance ― mentation ― which is most important. (This is where the practitioner’s prowess is involved). Where mantras have no meaning, the mind should be always fastened on the sounds. To me, this mental concentration bit stands to reason.

    Thus, mantra can be interpreted to mean ‘protection (salvation) by means of constant (audible or silent) utterance along with constant mental focus on the mantra’s sound or its meaning and significance’. This interpretation is accepted by quite a few.

    Thank you all.

    Prasanta Ray

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