Mantra & Ancient Insight
Whether reading the Bible, Vedic/Buddhist scripture or other ancient text, it is important to remember the “broken telephone” syndrome. Often the English version will have a cultural-ized flavour to it, or may reduce the original meaning to something with less dimensions. This is because the concepts and context of a language from a differing place and time have elements that are not translatable. Also because the person translating it will have limitations in their ability to articulate, and in their understanding of what an ancient master was imparting, particularly if they are a scholar and not a practitioner.
One way to deal with this is to learn about the context of the writing and the people involved. Also, look up some possible English meanings of each word of the mantra and line these up as non-linear possibilities out of which sentences, memories or feelings may arise. Look this over from time to time.
When chanting, we chant in the ancient language to arouse the intuitive self, open to transmission from other times and places, or from a time and place that has no time or place. Work with your heart, your creativity and free-associative self. Work with your vision and your deepest longing. This will reveal some valuable experience and Truth. From time to time you can check your experiences or insights against commentaries by your teacher, if you have one, or famous enlightened Gurus that you resonate with. But then, feel into your own experience. We can all heal and we can all “know” – this is part of what mantras are for.
An enlightened modern-day master can bring fresh insight into ancient scripture based on their own practice and insight. Use discretion in whom you take hints from, and do more practice than reading and thinking – this is the way to “know” things, with your cultivated spiritual heart.
Many writings will describe mantras as a magic spell that when uttered, certain things will happen just because it was spoken. There are many layers to what makes things happen from chanting mantra. An important component is what we bring to it, and our ability o notice changes in consciousness. Keeping an open mind and moving forward we can develop a deeper understanding of how to work with Mantra for our own benefit and the benefit of others.
Most important is to understand that Mantra, like silent meditation, is an opportunity to go beyond every day conceptual thinking and experience something more vast. This has the potential of addressing complex things in a simple way – going directly to the core matter (our spiritual heart). At the same time, we do not want to use it as a means to avoid problems or temporarily “bliss out” while perpetuating the approach that caused our trouble in the first place. Bliss can be real. Bliss can be healing, but sometimes we have to step back with courage and consult our inner intelligence about where to place our efforts at balancing ourselves.
Mantras I work with are usually from ancient languages – Sanskrit, ancient Korean, Tibetan/Pali, Japanese. There is much written in English about Sanskrit, saying that the actual words themselves, especially names of God carry special power and that proper pronunciation carries a resonance that invokes Divine awareness and charges the process.
The feeling that comes with uttering these phrases in an ancient language helps go beyond one’s every day experience and travel to transformative states – almost like you can gain access to a collective memory of other times and places.
Ancient languages are less linear, providing broad block concepts instead of “sentences”. This can lead to a deeper, poetic conveyance that allows one to apply their own path to the wisdom and joy that is being expressed. The times and places that these languages came from had some differences in priorities and perspective compared to what English is used to describe today. A major part of the difference is that earlier times seems to have had a deeper concern with divinity and the mystery of things – a more surrendered, “listening” kind of attitude towards nature and the Universe. At the same time, the fundamentals of human problems and the human condition don’t change much over time. Therefore, practicing with these mantras in their own language can be powerful medicine. Translating them into English (with integrity) can help for reflection and insight, as does reading interpretations by masters with whom you resonate. The same mantra can have an entirely different spin depending on path. This is part of what makes them so powerful.
I has been said that a mantra has three powers – the energy of its source (divine or human), the momentum of all those who have uttered it, and the power you bring to it when you practice.