Carolyn Ellis bwy diploma Course Unit 3 5 Mantra Question: Definition of Mantra, & The significance of om

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Carolyn Ellis BWY Diploma Course Unit 3 W3.5 Mantra


Definition of Mantra, & The significance of OM:

The Symbol of Om – The Sacred Sound (shown above)

Definition of Mantra:

Mantras are energy based sounds that vibrate through the body. It is a Sanskrit word which consists of two syllables and means, “man” (mind) and “tra” (deliverance) However, the word, ‘mantra’ itself has many shades of meanings in Sanskrit. It can range from:

“tool of the mind” - divine speech” – and, “language of the human physiology”

The Sanskrit word for mind is ‘manas’ as stated but “trai” can also mean, “to protect” or “to set free from”

Mantras are a very powerful way of reducing negative energies and effects, they may be done singly or within a group in which case it raises the vibrations and energy levels to create a very powerful atmosphere. Chanting is the process of repeating a sound over and over again to touch the very deepest level of the self, this is known as “japa”, more of which later on in the assignment.

According to Thomas Ashley-Farrand who has been a Vedic priest for over thirty years, (also known as Namadeva) mantra is a mental tool which can release us from all our mental conditioning and habits and from bondage of any predetermined life circumstances, by working on types of karma presented.

The mystic Sufi, Vilayat Inayat Khan, once stated that:

The practice of mantra actually kneads the flesh of the body with sound”

(Ashley-Farrand, Healing Mantras, 2000 pg 8)

In an article by Derek Thorne from our BWY, 2006 Foundation course he also includes an even earlier meaning of the use of the word ‘mantra’

He states that mantras were first heard interiorly by sages in deep meditation. Therefore true mantras are known as,”sruti”“that which is heard” The yogis felt and experienced what effects the mantras had on their body, mind and soul. The results of these experiments in consciousness were understood to be the meaning. This would tie up with the meaning above, which involves human physiology.

Hundreds of years later, grammarians codified these sounds into the language we now know as Sanskrit. A grammarian, a Guru, and a Mantra Yogi generally give a very different interpretation as to the meaning of any given manta. It is rare that even two Gurus ever give the same meaning. Those who are deeply fixated on the ‘translation’ given by their own Guru and believe therefore that ‘your own Guru’s translation is wrong’ may be safely left to their own delusions. Mantra is therefore best approached without preconceptions and simply experienced to understand its value and the quality of its living resonance in the soul.

To return to Namadeva, who has worked with mantras all his life until his death last year, October 2010.

He maintains that using mantras can help you with the material concerns and necessities of life. All of us want and need something whether it is a mate, money or better health, career and so on. Many of us seeking our spiritual path also want help with emotions and inner lives. Mantra practice can help you gain clarity over your life your purpose in life and yourself. In terms of spiritual physiology, mantra can from the Vedic teachings offer up a direct way that we humans can do something about our fate or Karma.

Namadeva continues in his book that fate implies a feeling of helplessness, whilst karma invokes an empowering concept. The simple understanding of the word, ‘karma’ now so popularly used here in the West, takes the idea that basically, ‘as ye sow, so shall ye reap’

All of this can be done through many lifetimes too. The Vedas maintain that we can all ‘work off’ our karma and the ultimate goal of all, is to release all karma both good and bad. This is also mentioned in The Gita by Krishna to Arjuna.

To recap and understand briefly, there are four main types of karma which have been discussed in previous assignments.

Sanchita karma, the karma of all accumulated past actions

Prarabdha karma is that portion of Sanchita karma that has resulted from past actions in this present lifetime. We can alter this karma with the practice of mantra which alters our inner conditions both physically and emotionally and change the effect that this karma could have on us.

Agami karma, results from actions in the present lifetime that will affect future incarnations. This type of karma can be thought of as sowing the seeds that will be later reaped. The ideals of The Ten commandments can be used as guidelines in this lifetime for optimum karma in our next lifetime.

Kriyamana karma results immediately form our present actions. It is known as instant karma.

To store karma is like keeping excess baggage in various parts of the body. Sanchita karma is stored in the soul according to Namadeva. (Healing Mantras) At the moment of our birth it is released into the physical body and another portion goes into the subtle body. However, to return to the main theme of the assignment and mantra, which is also sound, this is ‘music’ of the human voice was really the first instrument and sound not only alters our mood but our general well being.

In a BBC Radio 3 program quite awhile ago, a musicologist form Bristol University was explaining how music altered moods etc. From the little that I remember of this program, he stated that if you wanted ‘happy’ music composers always wrote in major keys, if you wanted some sad sounding music then the music would have to be composed in a minor key. The majority of great music was largely composed in major keys he told the program.

In many ways music brings its own kind of energy into play, we all have our favourite music and not only that but certain pieces we will always play when we ‘feel’ in a certain way emotionally. There is also ‘Music of the Spheres’ that J.S. Bach was supposed to know about and Pythagoras connected geometry in a sacred way which could mean that they heard something internally whilst doing their work similar to the word, ’sruti’ that which is heard. Mozart must have heard all his music in a truly very special way as he had composed most of his major works by the time he was six years old!

All musical notes have their own sound and a vibration that goes with it. The lower the sound as in the old lighthouse foghorns, the further away it can be heard. The length can be also measured in kilohertz cycles on a graph and the noise level in decibels. Mantra carries its own vibrations, which is why when groups chant altogether, there seems to gather a particular energy that is ‘felt’ as opposed to being measured scientifically. Namadeva calls this a ‘spiritual wattage’. There is no particular meaning per se but when the syllables are pronounced repeatedly, then the vibration increases. There are fifty letters in the Sanskrit alphabet. These letters correspond to the fifty petals on the six chakras from base to brow.

With the advanced spiritual adepts they could ‘see’ the letters on the petal of the chakras. When a Sanskrit mantra is uttered the petals corresponding to the letters contained in the mantra vibrate in spiritual resonance which increases the person’s spiritual energy in turn. It could also be called a work out for the chakras as it balances them, sends Kundalini energy through the chakras and balances male and female energies in the body.

Therefore, as mantra stimulates and energises the chakras, more energy is sent into the subtle and physical body and this begins to alter our inner conditions. This can be anything from subconscious habits or predispositions to a karmic potential for a mishap. But it is also possible to burn off the Sanchita karma from past lifetimes in this way.

Here are some facts about mantras taken from Namadeva’s book, healing Mantras:

Mantras are energy based sounds creating a special physical vibration.

Mantras are also chakra-based sounds as will be seen later in bija mantra way.

Mantras combined with intention increase physical and spiritual benefits.

Mantras have only an approximate language based translation. The only true definition is the experience that a mantra creates for the individual chanting it.

Mantra can energise ‘prana’, it is stated that if we were to concentrate and focus ‘prana’ while visualizing an internal organ, there is a conscious transfer of ‘prana’ to this area. This then could bring about a healing provided the chant had been said a number of times, which can amount to 125,000! This certainly takes some discipline and time.

Mantras are energy that can be likened to fire, which is a good servant but a bad master as the saying goes. Any use of mantra creates special power and therefore needs to be treated with respect and many mantras are still held in secret today for this reason.

Overall there are the following types of mantras:

Japa - which has been mentioned before but is the constant repetition of a mantra with focus, concentration and surrender. This can be a verbal repetition or mental repetition or even a written one. During this process the form and meaning of mantra can be held in the mind but eventually the power of the mantra will pass through the intellect to pure thought energy and invoke transformation. A mantra can also be whispered which is very useful if teaching a lesson in a church hall!

Bija – this is known as seed sound.

There is no exact meaning. The purpose is to make sounds which resonate with the chakras and on the nadis and release blockages.

These are associated with chakras too and each chakra has its own ‘bija’ mantra and they are:

Muladhara = LAM

Svadisthana = VAM

Manipura = RAM

Anahata = YAM

Vishuddhi = HAM

Ajna = OM

Narguna - Without form

Without form but with a verbal structure and meaning which can be translated


Saguna - With form

These mantra relate to specific deities and/or aspects of the Absolute

Kirtan or Bhajan

When mantras are sung rather than chanted, they are called Kirtan or Bhajan eg. Om Namah Shivaya or Hare Krishna.

To return to the issue of chanting mantras and the number of repetitions. Namdeva recommended that any mantra could be chanted whilst doing housework or driving the car. However, repetition is needed over a specific amount of time. It is usual to say a mantra either 108 times or halve it into 54. Generally five minutes is usual each day. However, Namdeva has taken years in some cases working with specific mantras as a discipline. It is also interesting to note here that 108 adds up to the number 9 and half a mantra which is repeated 54 times also adds up to the magic number 9. On our residential course in May, this magic number was discussed but not with any enlightenment. The excellent book,
“Tantra, The Path of Ecstasy” by Georg Fuerstein now throws some light on this magic number.

He tells us that the number 108 has long been held as sacred and auspicious in India since ancient times. There have been many explanations but Fuerstein relates here that the most likely explanation comes from astronomy. In the Vedic era, the sages were aware of the suns’ and moon’s average distance from the earth is 108 times their respective diameters. As the American Vedic researcher Subhash Kak has demonstrated, this number was also crucial in constructing the Vedic fire altar. Therefore, symbolically, 108 is the number signifying the midregion or ‘antariksha’ the space between heaven and earth. Thus 108 beads on the mala or rosary, is said to represent the number of steps from the material world to the luminous world of the divine Reality, India’s version of Jacob’s ladder in the Bible. I am glad to have found this out and shed light on something that I have been wondering about for years as to the significance of that number 108. Indeed a quote from the Mahanirvana-Tantra mentions a ‘calculator’, the following quote is given via Fuerstein’s excellent book:it could have been the forerunner of an abacus perhaps?

O rosary! O rosary! O great calculator! You are the essence of all power!”

(Fuerstein, G pg 198)

To return to the disciplines of saying mantras and the advice that Namdeva, Ashley-Farrand writes about in his book, Healing Mantras.

As with meditation a reserved time of day is useful and there is also a forty day discipline that can be used. He recommends that mantra is done early morning and evening. I once tried doing mantra and got up at 5 am but I only lasted around 28 days as it was Winter and I overslept, the evenings weren’t so bad but early starts proved not so useful for my mantra chanting. For me using bija mantras are useful which I tend to do for a chakra or balancing. My favourite mantra is the Gayatri mantra which I sing along to whilst driving in the car or chanting to “Om mane padme hum’ when I feel unsettled. This has a very calming effect and I would like to think that the more I work with mantras though in not such a highly evolved or disciplined way that Namadeva practiced, I do at least find a quiet resonance within me, which does seem to help in my daily life.

To return to the subject of mantras and its inclusion in The Upanishads. It is interesting to note if Vedic hymns developed into mantras over the centuries or did they just remain as hymns and are mantras entirely different in that they specifically work on karma? I haven’t been able to find this out.

The Brhadaranyaka Upanishad in Chapter 5 goes into great detail about the breath in the Vedic hymn “Uktha” and talks about the breath rising up. It continues to mention in this order the effects of, the ‘yajus’, to join, ‘saman’ from the Samavedic chant, and ‘kastra’ ruling power of the breath. This continues to illustrate that there are eight syllables in “bhu.mi” or ‘earth’ and “an.ta.ri.ksa.” which is the intermediate region and “” sky. This Upanishad then states that the first foot of the Gayatri mantra verse also consists of eight syllables so this foot is the same as the construction of the Rgvedic hymn ‘The Uktha’.

From Patrick Olivelle’s translation it says:

A man who knows this foot of the Gayatri in this way wins a territory extending as far as these three worlds”

(Olivelle,P Upanishads, pg 76)

This goes some way to supporting the magic number of 108 and the number of steps between Earth and Heaven as the Gayatri is the considered to be the most sacred chant of all which would obviously link all this together. On another note, it was the Greeks, who supposedly ‘invented’ modern language and had set down specific meters and feet or ‘iamb’ in the construction of verse and these included the famous ‘iambic pentameter’ beloved and used of Shakespeare. The language and the use of syllables were noted in this one example of the most sacred mantra. In fact we do mostly speak in ‘iambic pentameter’ therefore, that is why Shakespeare used it!

The Chandogya Upanishad explains the essence of the High chant which is preceded by the use of, ’Om’

In Chapter 8 of this Upanishad, three men, Silaka Salavatya, Caikitayana Dalbhya and Pravahana Jaivali meet up to discuss the High Chant which they have mastered. It is quite funny how they think they have understood the chant from their own perspective but it is Jaivala who ‘wins’ the explanation by saying:

Your descendents will have the most extensive life in this world, as also a world in the next”

(Chandogya Upanishad Ch 1 pg 104-105)

Incidentally, Patrick Olivelle outlines in the preface of the Chandogya Upanishad that this is the Upanishad of ‘the singers of the Samaveda’ and is a section of the Chandogya Brahmana which belonged to the Tandya school of the Samaveda. The preoccupation with these chants is consistent with the fact that the authors were Samavedic priests. However, one thing remains clear and that is the part in which ‘Om’ is considered and used. This will now be dealt with in the next part of the assignment using both the texts of The Bhagavad Gita and some of The Upanishads.


A - U - M
Aum sign is the most prominent symbol of Hinduism. The Om symbol signifies divinity and the oneness of all the creations of God. Om or Aum presents the never ending Brahman, where all forms of life exist. In this article, we will tell you the meaning of Om symbol, which will help you understand what does this Hindu symbol Om signify. From Jack Hawley’s introduction of “The Bhagavad Gita” he gives a few meanings of the sound “Om”:

It is said of “Om’ that it is the primeaval sound of the universe, the basic sound form which all else comes.

Om is in every place, mind and heart.

It is also said that the reciting of “Om’ while contemplating the mystical symbol will help calm even the roaring waves.”

A represents the creator

U represents the Preserver
M represents the Destructor

The sign A-U-M, signifies the trinity of God. It is symbolic of the three main Gods of Hindus:

Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
According to the Mandukya Upanishad, there is another explanation of how the ‘translation’ of A-U-M is meant to sound:
A-kara means form or shape like earth and trees.

U-kara means formless or shapeless like water air or fire.

Ma-kara means neither shape nor shapeless but still exists so it is a combination of these letters:
The Katha, Chandogya and Taittiriya as well as the Mandukya Upanishads all give teachings about the meaning of “Om”

In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna that when at the gates of death to repeat the syllable, ‘Om’. Krishna says:

It is not just the outer sound of Om that is beneficial; it is what happens inside”
(Ch 8 pg 79 Bhagavad Gita)

In the book by Amit Ray on Om Chanting, he maintains that to think of Om as a sound or vibration or a symbol even, is to miss the whole point as Om is the entire cosmos and the very core of our existence.

The three letters symbolize the three worlds, i.e. heaven, earth and netherworld. In the Vedas, the word AUM is the sound of sun, thus representing the sound of light.( I feel a Dr Brian Cox moment arriving any minute now in this essay) Almost all pilgrimage places of Hindus have the Om symbol enshrined. Many Hindus wear the Om sign symbols, as it is considered very auspicious. Here are but two examples of ‘Om’ symbols and the one on the right hand side is the Buddhist sign of ‘Om’.

However in the beginning, according to the very useful book written by the late Thomas Ashley-Farrand (died October 2010) “Healing Mantras” also known as Namadeva and had been a Vedic Priest for over thirty years, he uses Sir John Woodruffe’s “The Garland of Letters” to explain the beginning of this mantra, “Om”

Sir John Woodruffe, (1865-1936) a Judge, of the late Victorian period and living in India was a Sanskrit scholar of considerable note, and his writings are widely used by Georg Fuerstein and indeed many Victorians living in India were responsible for some of the pertinent translations that are being used today for their references to these ancient works of literature. Many of whom have been forgotten. (There is a British female writer from the 70’s whose name I have forgotten but all her relatives, including herself were born in India and spoke many dialects etc. Her grand-father wrote up all his examinations in such correct grammar in Hindi, that he was accused of cheating!)

The translation that is given here, relates to a translation of the Scripture, Sata Patha Brahmana written thousands of years ago. It is from Volume 6 and is quoted from Ashley-Farrand’s book:

In the beginning was God with power through speech. God said,’ May I be many..may I be propagated.’

And by his will expressed through subtle speech, he united himself with that speech and became pregnant with Prajapathi and Saraswati were then created. And Prajapathi is called the progenitor of all beings.”

(Ashley-Farrand, 2000)

This particular writing seems to be astonishingly similar to the opening expressed in the Bible, Genesis, and the Gospel of St. John.

In fact, this might sound contentious, but the Bible was supposedly written 300 years after Jesus died, and there has been speculation that he did travel to India as most of his life was an enigma, much of it unrecorded in the Bible, we only know that he was born and then performed miracles as an adult and then died. So who is to know that plagiarism wasn’t alive and well in those ancient times making it up as they went along and like all good journalists adding spice to what might not have been the original story or meanings. Oral traditions were carried on down the centuries so unless they were fully and precisely committed to memory, they may well have become Chinese whispers. We all know that writing began in the form of tablets marked with strokes made in the clay from ancient Babylon, now Syria, so it is an interesting speculation, many tablets could have easily been lost, destroyed and changed to suit the political times even then.

On another note, from Patanjali’s sutras, I can find only one reference to ‘Om’ in Fuerstein’s translation.

This is from Yoga Sutra 1.27 and 1.28 and is:

Tasya vacakah pranavah”

(1.27 Patanjali – Fuerstein, G. pg.44)

This sacred mantra is also known as ’pranava’ according to Fuerstein, the fourth element is the actual humming of the syllable, ’m’.

It may be that Patanjali did not think that anymore of an explanation was required as he tersely reminds us that using ‘om’ is not enough as it must be done in a meditative state of mind to become an authentic instrument of internalization. He actually sounds impatient from the way in which Fuerstein translates it!

In ‘The Gita’ there are five references to ‘Om’, on page 69, 7-8 Arjuna is reminded by Krishna that He is the sacred word, ‘Om’’

The translation is rather beautiful as Krishna likens the entire universe to a string in a necklace of jewels.

On page 79, verses 12-13, Krishna then tells Arjuna that using “Om” as the act of using this sound internalizes, all the focus is on the Divine and the individual consciousness flows like a river in to the ocean so “Atma” flows into the Cosmic Consciousness, Brahman.

On page 86, verse 17, “Om” is referred to as in the karmic sense which has been dealt with earlier on in this assignment. Krishna tells Arjuna that it is used to purify ‘Man’

On pages 93-95 verses 12-15 & 25 words such as, ‘omnipresent’ and Krishna tells Arjuna that ‘Om’ is the most sacred symbol. The Samavedas are also mentioned here and again song and music intervenes.

And finally on page 149 towards the very end of ‘The Gita’ “Om, Tat and Sat” is explained and the its meaning:

God alone is the Reality”


Ashley-Farrand, Thomas, Healing Mantras pub Gateway, Random House, Dublin 2000

Fuerstein, Georg, Tantra- The Path of Ectasy, pub Shambhala Publications, Boston, Mass USA 1998

Fox, Paul, BWY Diploma Course Tutor, all notes 2011

Hawley, Jack The Bhagavad Gita A Walkthrough for Westerners, pub New World Library, Novato California, USA 2001

Olivelle, Patrick The Upanishads, Oxford University Press, England UK, 1996


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