“The widest possibilities for spiritual growth lie in the give-and-take of everyday relationships.”
In the spiritual heritage of the world’s great religions there are many mantrams and prayer words hallowed by long use, more than we can list here. You may prefer to use another mantram that is familiar to you from your own spiritual tradition. It is important, however, to choose a mantram hallowed by long use, rather than make up your own. Easwaran emphasized that the words should have spiritual meaning and power, and that they should appeal to you deeply.
Om mani padme hum
(“The jewel in the lotus of the heart”)
(“I put my faith in the Buddha of infinite light”)
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me
(Known as the Jesus Prayer)
(“Lord have mercy”; short form of the Jesus Prayer in Greek)
(“Lord have mercy”; short form of the Jesus Prayer in Russian)
Deus meus et omnia
My God and my all
(This was the phrase used by Saint Francis in his prayers. Easwaran recommends using either the English or Latin version, whichever appeals to you.)
Om Yesu Christu
Haré Rama, Haré Rama
Rama Rama, Haré Haré
Haré Krishna, Haré Krishna
Krishna Krishna, Haré Haré
Om Sri Ram, jai Ram, jai jai Ram
Om namah Shivaya
(A mantram in honor of the Divine Mother)
Barukh attah Adonai
Ribono shel olam
(“Lord of the universe”)
Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim
(“In the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate”)
On festival days in India you will often see a huge elephant, caparisoned in gold and gorgeous cloth, carrying an image of the Lord on its back through the village streets. Everyone enjoys the sight: the musicians with their drums and cymbals in front, then the beast slowly lumbering along and the devotees behind, all on their way to the temple.
But there can be one difficulty. Stalls of fruits, vegetables, and sweets line the narrow, crooked streets, and the trunk of an elephant, as you may know, rarely stays still. It sways back and forth, up and down, constantly. So when the procession comes abreast of a fruit stall, the elephant seizes a shelled coconut or two, opens his cavernous mouth, and tosses them in. At another stall the big fellow twists his trunk round a bunch of bananas suspended from the roof. The mouth opens again, the whole bunch goes in with a thud . . . you hear a gulp . . . and that’s the end of it.
The humble people who own these stalls cannot afford this kind of loss, and to prevent it the man in charge, the mahout, asks the elephant to grasp a firm bamboo shaft in his trunk. Though not sure why, the elephant, out of love for his mahout, does as he is told. Now the procession can pass safely through the streets. The elephant steps right along with his stick held upright in a steady trunk, not tempted to feast on mangoes or melons because he has something to hold on to.
The human mind is rather like the trunk of an elephant. It never rests . . . it goes here, there, ceaselessly moving through sensations, images, thoughts, hopes, regrets, impulses. Occasionally it does solve a problem or make necessary plans, but most of the time it wanders at large, simply because we do not know how to keep it quiet or profitably engaged.
But what should we give it to hold on to? For this purpose I recommend the systematic repetition of the mantram, which can steady the mind at any time and in any place.
Of late, the ancient word mantram (or the familiar variant mantra) has had considerable exposure on talk shows and in the Sunday supplements. To many it may conjure up an exotic image of flowing robes, garlands, and incense. It may seem to be something impractical and otherworldly, perhaps a bit magical and mysterious. Actually, just the opposite holds true. The mantram – under other names, to be sure – has been known in the West for centuries, and there need not be anything secret or occult about it. The mantram stands open to all. And since it can calm our hearts and minds, it is about as practical as anything can be.
If you have preconceptions about using a mantram, let me ask you to put them aside and give it a personal trial. Why take someone else’s word for it? Enter the laboratory of your mind and perform the experiment. Then you will be in a position to judge for yourself, and nothing can be as persuasive as that.
A mantram is a spiritual formula of enormous power that has been transmitted from age to age in a religious tradition. The users, wishing to draw upon this power that calms and heals, silently repeat the words as often as possible during the day, each repetition adding to their physical and spiritual well-being. In a sense, that is all there is to a mantram. In another sense, there is so much! Those who have tried it – saints, sages, and ordinary people too – know from their own experience its marvelous potency.
We find a clue to the workings of the mantram in the popular etymology which links the word to the roots man, “the mind,” and tri, “to cross.” The mantram, repeated regularly for a long time, enables us to cross the sea of the mind.
An apt image, for the mind very much resembles a sea. Ever-changing, it is placid one day, turbulent the next. Awesome creatures lurk below in the unconscious – fears and animosities, desires and conflicts. Each of us drifts about on the surface, blown by typhoons and carried by currents, in a rudderless little boat called “I.” With such vast and treacherous waters before us, with no glimpse at all of the far shore, can we ever hope to make the crossing without some help?
The mantram is such help. The scriptures of all religions proclaim it to be a radiant symbol of ultimate existence, the supreme reality which, depending on our background, we call by various expressive names: God, Nature, the Divine Mother, the Clear Light, universal consciousness. What we call it matters little. What matters greatly is that we discover – experientially, not intellectually – that this supreme reality rests at the inmost center of our being. This discovery constitutes the goal of life, and the mantram stands as a perpetual reminder that such perfection is within all of us, waiting to flow through our thoughts, words, and deeds.
In the simple act of repeating the mantram we accomplish remarkable things. The tension in our bodies, the cause of specific complaints and general malaise, ebbs away, and we find delightfully that real health is more than just an absence of disease. We toughen our will, too, which signals the end of addictions that may have enslaved us for years. Internal divisions are healed and our purposes unified, so we become a beneficent force in life and not, as all of us may have been at times, something of a burden on the earth. We gain access to inner resources – courage, patience, compassion – which are presently locked up within. Then all our relationships flourish; we love and are loved. Gradually, if we repeat it often, the mantram permeates and utterly transforms our consciousness.
This is a strong claim. Can a mere word achieve all that? It is a natural question. I remember when I had to give a speech to my high school class; I was so nervous at the prospect that I was afraid my knees might not hold me up. My spiritual teacher said, “While you’re waiting for your turn, don’t sit there worrying about the audience; repeat the mantram.” I was skeptical, but because I loved her I did as she suggested. I remember saying to myself, “Rama, Rama, Rama . . . I hope it works.”
I got through the ordeal safely enough, so the next time I had to give a speech I tried the mantram again . . . and again. I soon found myself saying, “Rama, Rama . . . I think it works!” Now, after many years of practice, I know it works. As a medical friend once told me, until recently we didn’t know how aspirin works, but that didn’t keep it from relieving pain. Similarly, with the mantram, no explanation I can give can take the place of your own personal verification.
In daily life we often credit even common words with immense power. Take advertising. Be it soup or soap, cereal or cigarettes, product makers understand the impact of words and spend millions yearly trying to lodge a jingle, slogan, or brand name in our minds. And the key element of the campaign is repetition. All that pounding away harms us because we are induced to buy things we don’t need, things that may weaken our bodies. But why can’t we use the obvious effectiveness of such repetition for our health and peace of mind? When we repeat a mantram, that is precisely what we do.
Repeating a mantram sounds so simple that most people cannot believe it works until they try it. For one thing, many consider it mere mechanical repetition – a job for any voice recorder. But I would say that a journey makes a better analogy. Each step on a journey superficially resembles the others, but each uniquely takes you into new territory and moves you closer to your destination. In just the same way, the repetitions of the mantram are superficially alike, but each takes you ever deeper into consciousness and closer to the goal of love and joyful awareness.
Mystics East and West have answered this objection. Mahatma Gandhi wrote:
The mantram becomes one’s staff of life and carries one through every ordeal. It is not repeated for the sake of repetition, but for the sake of purification, as an aid to effort. It is no empty repetition. For each repetition has a new meaning, carrying you nearer and nearer to God.
And in The Way of a Pilgrim, the remarkable tale of a Russian peasant’s spiritual pilgrimage, we read:
Many so-called enlightened people regard this frequent offering of one and the same prayer as useless and even trifling, calling it mechanical and a thoughtless occupation of simple people. But unfortunately they do not know the secret which is revealed as a result of this mechanical exercise; they do not know how this frequent service of the lips imperceptibly becomes a genuine appeal of the heart, sinks down into the inward life, becomes a delight – becomes, as it were, natural to the soul, bringing it light and nourishment and leading it on to union with God.
Nor can we call the mantram mere reverie or self-hypnosis – an attempt to escape from problems, whether personal, social, or global. When we are refashioning our consciousness so that what is ruinous in us becomes creative, our actions cannot help adding to the welfare of the whole. Our sensitivity grows until we become quite incapable of thinking of our own needs in isolation from the rest of life.
In the program presented in this book, the use of a mantram is distinct from meditation. You have to sit down to meditate, close your eyes, and repeat the inspirational passage for a certain period of time. You can’t practice meditation while you are walking or waiting in a queue. Nor can you resort to it on the spot if someone aims an unkind remark at you, or if you find yourself besieged by an old temptation.
The mantram, on the other hand, can be repeated anywhere and at any time. And while meditation demands discipline and will, the mantram requires only the effort needed to start it up and keep it going. What matters is saying it; as long as you do that, the healing work goes on.
Meditation, to put it playfully, is like placing a call to the Lord on your own phone. You can talk, but you must work hard every day to earn the money to pay for the account. But even if you have no money, you can always call collect. Just say, “Lord, I’m broke – not a cent to my name to pay for this call – but I’m really desperate!” If you keep calling the Lord through the mantram, he’ll finally say out of infinite love, “Yes, I see your situation. You can count on me.” After all, you are not calling on anybody outside you. The Lord is your real Self, and when you use the mantram to call on him within you, it releases deep inner resources.
The mantram fits everybody. It does not matter where you live, what you do, or how old you are. Whether you have four degrees or never went to school at all, whether you are rich, poor, or something in between, whether you are sick or well, you can use the mantram.
Because the mantram is, above all, a spiritual tool to be used, I am going to skirt around its more technical aspects. You can come across some very erudite theories that link mantrams to the basic vibrations of matter and energy in the universe, but here our focus will be on a method for changing lives, not on speculation. I admire the impulse, common in this country, which leads someone to listen for a while to theory and then say, “Okay, when do we start?”
Let us begin by looking at some of the great mantrams that have come down to us. You will find them in all the religions of the world – itself a testimony to their universal appeal and proven worth.
In Christianity, the mantram is often called the Holy Name. Indeed, the very name of Jesus constitutes a mantram that can be repeated – Jesus, Jesus – by anyone who yearns to become more like Christ, full of wisdom, mercy, and love. In the Orthodox Church, the Jesus Prayer – Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us – has been used in this way for centuries. Shorter versions, such as Lord Jesus Christ or Kyrie eleison, are also found.
Catholics who have been saying Hail Mary or Ave Maria regularly for years may be surprised to hear that they already have a mantram – a bit like the character in Molière’s play who discovers that he has always been speaking prose. In India we say that a mother will busy herself at the stove while her child plays happily in the next room, but when the child grows tired of toys, throws them down, and begins to cry, the mother immediately comes in to give comfort. So, too, when we stop playing with our adult toys and call out for Mother Mary, she will come to our rescue from within.
Jews may use the ancient Barukh attah Adonai, “Blessed art thou, O Lord,” or Ribono shel olam, “Lord of the universe,” which I am told has been used continuously by Hasidic mystics for almost two hundred years. In Islam, Allahu akbar – “God is great” – remains one of the most popular mantrams. Other popular choices are Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim, “In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate,” or simply Allah, Allah.
Om mani padme hum, used by Buddhists for centuries, signifies “the jewel in the lotus of the heart” – a reference to the hidden spark of divinity within each human being. Here the heart is likened to the lotus, a symbol as universal in the East as the rose is in the West. The lotus takes root in the mud at the bottom of a pond and sends its tall stalk up through the water towards the light. At last it breaks into the clear air, the leaves resting on the surface, the blossom opening to the sun and following it throughout the day. We are thus reminded that however imperfect our beginnings, whatever mistakes we may have made in the past, all of us can purify our hearts and come to dwell in spiritual illumination.
Of the many mantrams from India, one of the most powerful is the simple Rama. This was Mahatma Gandhi’s mantram; with it he transformed himself from an ineffective lawyer into the irresistible force that won his country’s freedom – not with bullets, not with hate, but with truth and love – Rama comes from a Sanskrit root meaning “ to rejoice.” Anyone who repeats it summons the great joy found in our deepest Self.
Rama also forms the core of the mantram I heard so many times from my own spiritual teacher as she went about her daily chores, milking the cows or sweeping the courtyard with a coconut-fiber broom. I think that is the sweetest sound I have ever heard, and it echoes in my consciousness strongly still:
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
This mantram consists of three holy names. Hare (pronounced ha-ray) is a name for God derived from the Sanskrit har, “to steal.” What bold imagery! The Lord may be tagged the Divine Thief because he has stolen our hearts, and we cannot rest until we catch him. Rama, as we have seen, represents the Lord as the source of all joy. And Krishna comes from the root karsh, “to draw” – he who ceaselessly, ceaselessly draws us to himself.
These are some of the most widely used and best-loved mantrams from the major religions of the world. Clearly, when you decide to use a mantram, you are not taking up a practice that has, as we say in my mother tongue, “sprung up like last night’s mushrooms.” The repetition of the mantram is venerable, universal, proven. It has been verified by the experience of millions of men and women everywhere, in every age. True, mantrams have different sounds and come from diverse traditions. But essentially they all do the same thing: turn us away from our dependency on what lies outside – money and things, awards and position, pleasure and comfort, selfish relationships and power – to the serenity and goodness within our own being.
Please exercise some care in your choice of a mantram. After all, it will be with you for a long time. Deliberate for a while and take into account the practical significance of the words, your religious background, and your personal response. A bit of self-knowledge is required when it comes to making a selection. Some people respond profoundly to the Virgin Mary, and Hail Mary may be the mantram for them. Or perhaps her holy son touches them deeply, and Jesus, Jesus will be their choice. But other people, owing to the conditioning of their youth, have a kind of allergy to certain names, sometimes the ones from their own religious traditions. When people tell me they do not care for a particular holy name, I simply encourage them to choose something else. That’s plain economy. It will take a long while to become established in the mantram; is there time to spend a couple of years just learning to like it?
If you have such negative associations from childhood, you might choose Rama. Easy to say, sonorous, it embodies a principle – the principle of joy – that everybody, irrespective of background, can appreciate. I also recommend Om mani padme hum to those with reservations about the Holy Name. This mantram, associated with the Compassionate Buddha, does not refer to God at all. The Buddha’s approach is free of ritual, theology, and dogma, full of empirical examination. He does not indulge in metaphysical speculation; he simply says, “Here is the boat; there lies the goal, the opposite shore. Don’t take my word for what you will find there; go and find out for yourselves.”
Initially, the mantram you have chosen may not sound natural to your ears. But I assure you this will soon pass. After a little while the mantram will “take,” and you will see for yourself the difference it makes in your life. These matters go beyond the diversity of languages, and your higher Self, your true Self, will not care whether you speak to it in English, Arabic, Latin, or Sanskrit.
Occasionally someone will ask, “Can I make up my own mantram? How about ‘Peace’?” Peace is a beautiful word, I know, but not any word will do as a mantram. I strongly urge you to choose a mantram that has been sanctified by long use – one of proven power, that has enabled many men and women before you to realize the unity of life. The roots of such a mantram go far deeper than we can ever know when we begin to use it. This profundity enables it to grow in our consciousness.
After you have chosen your mantram carefully, please do not change it under any circumstances. Many people let themselves be swept away by novelty; it is part of the restlessness of our age. They will use a mantram for six weeks and then tire of it. They change to another, and then grow weary of that one too. So they go on in this way, new mantram after new, like a farmer who keeps starting a new well; they will never find water.
Let me urge you not to yield to the temptation to change your mantram if you do not seem to be getting anywhere, as may happen from time to time. That is only a trick of the wily mind to throw you off – usually because you are getting somewhere, and the mind knows it. No matter what comes up that seems newer and better, keep digging away with your chosen mantram. One day you will strike the living waters!
The mantram works best when we repeat it silently in the mind with as much concentration as possible. Mantrams are usually rhythmical, but if you sing or chant them it will draw your attention towards the tune or rhythm and away from the mantram itself. Saying your mantram a few times out loud may help you get it going in your mind, but by and large I encourage you to stick to a silent repetition.
And you need not concern yourself with finding just the “right” pronunciation or intonation when you say your mantram. If the Lord will listen to you in any language, he will certainly accept your accent, wherever you are from. Above all, it is the calling that counts, and we want to focus on that and on nothing peripheral.
Our aim, remember, is to drive the mantram to the deepest levels of consciousness, where it operates not as words but as a healing power. So avoid anything that holds you to the surface level; otherwise, you are in the position of someone trying to dive to the bottom of a lake while wearing water wings. For this reason, I do not recommend counting your repetitions or using manual aids like a rosary. Though these things may seem helpful at the start, keeping track of numbers or remembering what your hands are doing binds you to the physical level and can lead to a merely mechanical repetition.
Trying to synchronize your mantram with physiological processes, such as heartbeat or breathing, also divides your attention. No harm will result if this happens by itself, but do not try to make the connection. Actually, it can be quite hazardous to interfere with vital functions that are already operating smoothly without our conscious intervention.
The purpose of having a mantram is to repeat it as often as possible. Beautiful calligraphy of the words for your wall is not enough; you have to set about making the mantram an integral part of all your responses, all your thoughts and feelings. And you have to persist. If you do it for just a few minutes and then lose heart, little will be gained.
Sometimes you hear that it is essential to repeat a mantram a certain number of times or for a specified period of time. Perhaps some spiritual teachers living in the monastic context have required that of their students, but where are we who live in the world going to find an hour or two of uninterrupted time for repeating the mantram? You might manage that if you work the graveyard shift at a toll bridge, or if you have a role in a movie where they need a couple of hours to put on your makeup, but most of us are going to have to catch as catch can.
Over the years I have learned to use every opportunity, no matter how brief, to repeat the mantram. We can take advantage of all the odds and ends of time that present themselves during the day, and even set out to find them, as a miser scans the sidewalk for a coin that has chanced to fall from someone’s pocket. We all come upon these little bits of time, you know, but most of us fail to seize them. Look at the people at bus stops at a loss for what to do! Some tug their ear lobes or work their knuckles; some vacantly watch the cars drive by or read a billboard for the eleventh time. Others keep rising to see if the bus is coming, as if that would bring it any sooner. And just watch people at a theater intermission as they rush out to have a cigarette or to eat food they don’t need!
Actually, many injurious habits result from our efforts to fill empty time. Considering the health risks in smoking and overeating, imagine how people must dread having nothing to do and what price they will pay to avoid it. The mantram ends this dread permanently.
Two minutes here . . . five minutes there . . . all those snatches of time add up. On the Blue Mountain in India, where I lived, the villagers lacked the means for traveling to town, so the small bank sent a boy around to the cottages every day on a bicycle to ask if anybody wanted to make a deposit. Usually there would only be a few small coins, but all was carefully recorded, and at the end of the year someone might have amassed fifty or a hundred rupees. That is how the mantram works. It accumulates and accumulates, finally paying a far richer dividend than any bank ever can.
The mantram also proves to be an absorbing companion when we are doing mechanical tasks. All of us have chores which don’t require concentration – cleaning the house or shop, washing the car or the dishes, brushing hair, brushing teeth – and most of our attention flies elsewhere, commonly to the future or past. All that excess mental power can be put behind the mantram, so that as we clean things, we clean our consciousness as well.
But do distinguish such mechanical tasks from activities that require concentration. When listening to music or lectures, when reading, writing, studying, or conversing with others, it is good to be fully attentive. These are not times for repeating the mantram.
I have observed that many people treat driving as automatic. But lives are at stake, and to avoid accidents we must be supremely vigilant. Even in light traffic the unexpected can happen: a tire goes flat, an animal or child darts onto the road. So please do not repeat the mantram at the wheel. When operating any kind of powerful machinery, or when using dangerous tools like chisels or kitchen knives, concentrate on the job at hand.
It is refreshing to close one’s eyes and repeat the mantram silently a few times before each meal – a reminder that food comes to us as a gift from the Lord, a precious gift of energy to be used wisely. If you eat lunch on the job, the mantram also brings detachment, the ability to drop your work and enjoy the meal in front of you. In fact, you might stop briefly to repeat the mantram and draw yourself out of your involvement several times during the day. If you are doing close work – reading, typing, sewing, or small repair jobs – you can use this moment to rest your eyes by shifting your gaze into the far distance.
Carry the mantram along when you step out for your daily exercise, too. Energetic movement is not an option, not a luxury, but an imperative on the spiritual path if we are to do the work that needs doing. Young people require strenuous activities, such as jogging, swimming, and hard work, that tax the heart and lungs. And nearly all of us, of course, can walk, as briskly as our condition permits. I say “briskly” because the body is designed for and thrives on vigorous motion, so give it a pace that will send the blood spinning through the veins and bring the cells to life. And as you exercise, repeat the mantram; you will be regenerating your mind as well as your body.
Here again, you should not wait until you come upon a full free hour; perhaps it will never happen. Use the time you have, five or ten or fifteen minutes. Instead of coffee or a snack, try a mantram break. To the store or bank, at the beach or park, up and down stairs, wherever you can, move with your mantram.
Above all, use the mantram as a preparation for sleep. Few of us realize the impact of what goes on in our minds at night. “Oh,” we say, “I have some dreams, but I don’t remember them very well.” They seem no more substantial than movies seen years ago, and we dismiss the matter. Actually, there is a vast newsroom in our deeper consciousness that starts to hum just before we fall asleep as everyone prepares for the night edition. Reporters rush hot items – the events of the day – to the city desk. One Pulitzer Prize winner pounds out a special piece on resentment; he has been working on it all day and filled up quite a sheaf of pages. Another reporter calls with a “stop press” – he has some fears about tomorrow, big ones, that simply must go in. So the edition is “put to bed” right there in your bed, and it appears as dreams. An extra, a really sensational edition with giant headlines, that’s a nightmare.
All the turmoil of the day rises in our minds as we loosen conscious control, and it continues on into sleep. As a result, we don’t rest very well. Haven’t you ever got up unrefreshed, almost as tired as when you lay down? And when we read agitating books and magazines or watch violent television shows and movies before we go to bed, we make it much worse.
That is why I recommend that you read some spiritual literature before you turn out the light. I will suggest specific material in a later chapter, but I want to stress now the connection between what you do before going to sleep and the contents of sleep itself. After you have finished your reading, close your eyes and start repeating your mantram silently – Rama, Rama, Rama or Jesus, Jesus – until you fall asleep saying it.
This is not as easy as it sounds. You will have to practice it for a while, and you will have to exert some effort. At the beginning, it may even keep you wakeful for a time. People have complained that they lose an hour’s sleep repeating the mantram. I don’t think that constitutes a crisis, and I usually reply, “Congratulations! While you’re learning to fall asleep in it, you are getting an extra hour of repetition.”
If you keep practicing this skill, your entire attitude towards sleep will change. Have you ever seen youngsters stand at the foot of their beds and fling themselves backwards onto the mattress without even looking? No broken bones, no broken beds – they are sure of themselves, and it all works out. When you have learned to fall asleep in the mantram, you too will be sure that everything is well as you near your bed. There will be no anxiety about what lies ahead: will I sleep or thrash about, or have nightmares, or wake up tired – or fail to wake up at all? The mantram is the ideal tranquilizer, and it leads to a full night of restorative sleep.
Between the last waking moment and the first sleeping moment, a tunnel stretches down deep into consciousness. Most people do not perceive this subtle state; indeed, you cannot be aware of it with your everyday mind. At that instant, when you are neither awake nor asleep, this tunnel opens up, and if you know how, you can send the mantram down it as you might a bowling ball. The proof is that you may hear the mantram during sleep; when an unpleasant dream begins, you may discover the mantram echoing through consciousness, dissolving that dream completely. A profound and peaceful sleep comes to you, so you wake up in the morning refreshed in body, calm in mind, and strong in your faith in the mantram’s power.
In one other context the mantram is of inestimable help – when negative emotions sweep through our minds. We make a remark, for instance, and someone suddenly fires back a verbal fusillade. The normal response would be to speak even more discourteously in return – which, of course, only provokes the other person to retaliate. This can go on, insults flying about, until one party breaks something or starts packing a suitcase.
Instead of getting caught in this destructive game of tit-for-tat, repeat the mantram. If you can, leave – gracefully if possible, ungracefully if not – and go for a long, brisk walk repeating your mantram. Leave as soon as you become aware that you are about to get entangled. Don’t try for one final cutting remark, one last clever double entendre; go outside and begin your mantram walk.
You will have more than just the mantram working for you. The rhythm of the words will soon be reinforced by the rhythm of your footsteps – and, as the anger subsides, by the rhythm of your breathing and heartbeat too. In this harmony your mind will gradually grow calmer and you will gain the precious detachment you need to understand the quarrel clearly. Gradually you will see the other person’s point of view – perhaps you will realize the stress he is under, or how her conditioning has shaped her attitudes – and hostility will give way to compassion.
It may take a while for anger to be transformed on such a walk – half an hour, an hour, or even longer. But isn’t that a sound investment of your time? You might well waste that much or more in enlarging the conflict, and still more in seething with resentment. But now you return with a measure of sympathy, able to bring the estrangement to an end. Often the other person will see the change and respond. Deep inside, he or she too has been suffering acutely at the rupture between you.
Psychologically-minded people sometimes ask, “Aren’t you advocating a kind of unhealthy suppression?” As I understand it, in suppression we force a wave of, say, anger below the surface level, where it acts destructively on our own bodies. Today we are assured that we do better to let negative emotions gush forth, however painful this may be for those around us, than to let them build up and stagnate within. But the mantram provides a third alternative. The tremendous power behind these emotions can be rechanneled, put to work to calm the mind and to conciliate differences. The power is there in both cases, but now it works for us rather than against us.
Like a skilled trainer, the mantram harnesses restlessness. We live in an era of hectic movement, of going places, of shifting from job to job, house to house. When I see marked restlessness in people, though, I am hopeful, because I know they possess the energy they need for spiritual growth. But they cannot grow if they continually drive off to see the sights, or window-shop, or drop in at the spots where, supposedly, the action is. All of that depletes vitality and gives us nothing to show for it. If you ever feel such restlessness – or the mental kind that leads to compulsive talking, reading, and TV-watching – take a mantram walk or write your mantram a fixed number of times, say, a hundred or more. In this way, your vital energy will be consolidated and will not ebb out.
Extreme oscillations of the mind like elation and depression – not severe clinical depression, but those all-too-familiar mood slumps that bleach the color out of life – can be controlled by the mantram. You will find excitement played up everywhere today – thrilling flavors, intoxicatingly new eye shadow, vans with breathtaking accessories – and everywhere today you will find depressed people. Hardly anyone sees a connection. Hardly anyone realizes that the old truth “What goes up must come down” applies to the mind too. We believe that we should pursue excitement as much as possible and that if we are lucky we can have it all the time. If we are unlucky – well, we can have a drink or take a pill and try again later.
This whole problem is a large and complex one, and I have dealt with it at length in a companion volume, The Mantram Handbook. Let me just say here that in our behavior, we often defy an inescapable principle: if you let your mind be ruffled by what is pleasant, it is bound to be ruffled by what is unpleasant. Outwardly, the slump and downturned gaze of someone down-in-the-dumps seem far from the giddy gestures and chatter of the elated person, but in both cases the mind has gone out of control.
In other words, excitement makes us vulnerable to depression. When I say this, you may think that I am trying to wrap a wet blanket around you. But actually, when we reduce the pendulum swings of the mind, we enter a calm state of awareness that allows us to enjoy the present moment most fully.
Whenever you find disappointment starting to drag you down, use the mantram to pull yourself back again. But more important, learn to prevent low moods altogether by repeating your mantram when you first feel yourself becoming excited. When praise comes, for instance, don’t let yourself be swept away by it. If you do, you will as surely be swept away by the criticism that life inevitably brings. When you find yourself dwelling on future events – the party tonight, your next vacation, graduation, retirement – bring yourself back to the present moment so you can avoid disappointment if future events take an unexpected turn. Above all, use the mantram to free yourself from the tyranny of strong likes and dislikes – all those preferences, aversions, fixed opinions, and habits that make us soar when things go our way and crash when they do not. The mantram can free us from all dependence on outer events, so that we can remain cheerful whatever happens.
The mantram works beautifully also when fear and worry invade us. During my first year in this country I became good friends with the handful of students from India who were attending the University of Minnesota. One afternoon a very bright chap told me he had a final in physics the next morning and was sure he would fail. I asked him if he had been studying right along. “Yes,” he said, “but I know I’m going to forget everything at the critical moment.” He wrung his hands and looked most miserable, a Romeo throwing himself down in Friar Lawrence’s cell and crying out that all was lost.
It was a frigid day, snow blanketing everything, and most Indians are not at all fond of cold. But this called for immediate action. “Get your coat, please,” I said, “and start repeating your mantram. We’re going out.”
We did. From time to time he wanted to bring up the matter of his impending failure, but I just said, “Don’t talk. Repeat the mantram.” On and on we walked, from Minneapolis to St. Paul and back again, a distance of about twelve miles. When we got back that night I led him up to the dorm, opened his door, gave him a loving push, and he dropped on the bed so completely relaxed that he fell asleep instantly. I made sure that there was someone to get him up on time, and left. Of course, he did splendidly on the exam.
The mantram took care of his anxiety, but it didn’t put any physics formulae in his head. Hard study did that. You can’t spend an entire semester playing chess or chatting in the campus co-op and then expect the mantram to rescue you. Similarly, when it comes to travel, the mantram cannot take the place of good tires and properly adjusted brakes. But if you have done all you can, then the mantram can free you from energy-sapping, pointless fear.
Children often suffer from little fears, and they too can use the mantram to mitigate them. When they wake up from a nightmare, for instance, we can comfort them and then suggest they repeat the mantram. Divine figures like Krishna and baby Jesus appeal to the young; so they can often learn to say the mantram at an early age. It is not good to be insistent about such things, of course; choose the right time and the right degree of exposure. But even preschoolers can take easily to repeating the mantram before meals and when they are afraid.
The mantram disposes of painful memories, which prowl through the mind, abducting us into the past. When these apparitions appear – resentments, missed opportunities, rejections – we can render them powerless. If they come at night, their favorite time, drive them away with the mantram. Eventually you can reach such a secure state that you can say to one of these fellows, “I’ll give you five minutes. Go ahead and put on your show.” And the Guardian of the Tomb of Time looks at you through his empty sockets, rattles his keys and chains, and opens the crypt door. The memory of a sweetheart leaving you crawls forth, and there it is . . . the same tired performance. Instead of getting agitated and reaching for a drink or a pill or a piece of chocolate cake, you sit there and watch. At the end, you applaud and call out, “Well done, you old fraud!” And the memory, terribly disappointed that it couldn’t upset you, leaves, never to be heard from again.
When pain comes, as it must to all, the mantram gives the mind something to hang on to. It is especially helpful during illness – particularly for those who have been hospitalized, who often feel anxious and even angry as they lie in an intensive care unit or wait to be wheeled into major surgery. Instead of repeating “Pain . . . pain . . . ,” adding mental anguish to physical, why not say Jesus, Jesus or Rama, Rama and cast ourselves into the arms of one who transcends all suffering? I would not hesitate to offer the mantram in such circumstances, even to agnostics. True, such people may not believe in God. But if you are dear to them, they may be willing to try something that helps, though they don’t understand how or why it works.
In the midst of any powerful emotion like fear or anger, you may find it difficult to hold on to the mantram if it is a long one. In such emergencies I suggest you repeat a shortened form based on the most potent word: Rama if you use Hare Rama, Hare Rama or Jesus if you use the Jesus Prayer. When you are greatly agitated, it will be easier to stay with this kernel word.
Naturally, skill at holding on to the mantram increases with practice. In the early days the mind is out of shape, and its flabby fingers won’t close tightly. The grip feels tentative, modest. In time, however, its fingers grow stronger and the mind can grasp firmly, though occasionally the mantram still slips away. After a long while, the mind builds up sensational strength and has a permanent hold on the mantram.
In this glorious state, the mantram repeats itself ceaselessly without any effort whatsoever. Walking along a road, waiting for a friend, dropping off to sleep, you will hear the mantram tolling through consciousness. If you’re fully absorbed in some activity – at a concert, for instance – the mantram repeats itself on a deeper level. Then, when the intermission begins the mantram rises and resounds on the surface level as well.
Sanskrit has a precise word for this state: ajapajapam. Japam alone means the repetition of the mantram, and a here means without: ajapajapam is japam without having to do japam. You receive all the benefits without having to do the work. There is nothing magical or occult in this. It results from the steadfast practice of repeating the mantram at every possible moment for many, many years. This state may be likened to that of a person retiring from his career. For decades he has had to be at the office faithfully, and sometimes it may have taken a lot of effort. But now the harvest has been gathered – he draws a pension without having to report ever again.
At this stage, the mystics say, the Lord himself is present, pleased to utter his own name as a perpetual blessing on a devoted servant. Great waves of joy sweep through such a man or woman, and a divine radiance touches everything. Meister Eckhart spoke of this more than six hundred years ago:
Whoever has God in mind, simply and solely God, in all things, such a man carries God with him into all his works and into all places, and God alone does all his works. He sees nothing but God, nothing seems good to him but God. He becomes one with God in every thought. Just as no multiplicity can dissipate God, so nothing can dissipate this man or make him multiple.
The Mantram Handbook
by Eknath Easwaran