Overcome the Barrier to Effective Mantra Practice

By Rudra Shivananda

Mantra Yoga is that discipline by means of which one can attain Self-realization through the repetition of sounds or words that bridge the gap between our normal consciousness and super-conscious states of awareness. It said to be a powerful and effective means especially during the eras when the average human consciousness is gravitating towards the lower levels of materiality. Mantras are also used as part of other yogic methodologies such as kriya yoga, raja yoga and bhakti yoga as well as in devotional practices such as ritual pujas and all types of tantric techniques.

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However, I’ve often heard from practitioners who have been initiated into one or more mantras that even after many years of repetition (some tell me that they’ve been repeating their mantras for twenty years), they have not received the spiritual breakthrough promised. At the beginning, there occurs some encouraging signs such as less tension and more mental focus and maybe even visions but after some time, they are discouraged – their teachers tell them to be patient and keep practicing. Most spiritual seekers give up after a few years while others repeat their mantra sporadically as a security blanket or out of habit, hoping something will happen.

It is of course important to have patience and persevere in any spiritual discipline but the barrier to effective mantra yoga is more fundamental then the modern tendency towards the quick-fix and immediate gratification of desires. We have a desire to become Self-realized and we think that by getting initiated into a mantra will be an easy and quick method because that is what is promised in many cases. The fundamental barrier is the lack of preparation in the modern spiritual seeker.

The mantra works like a seed in the mind and by proper cultivation, it will grow as a spiritual tree that can bridge the gap between lower and higher consciousness as a physical tree has its roots in the earth and its branches in the sky. The spiritual tree has its roots in the higher consciousness and its branches in the lower. The seed cannot grow if the ground is not properly prepared or it might grow a little and wither away after some time, even if it is properly watered. The ground that has to be prepared for the mantra is the mind itself.

There are different consciousness levels for mantras – they come down from and can lead back to different levels of super-consciousness. The modern tendency is for teachers to give students higher levels of mantras, especially tantric or vedic ones which cannot grow due to the inherent unpreparedness of the student’s mind. The normal mind is full of confusion and myriad thought patterns due to our karmic dispositions and is not a suitable ground for higher mantras. It would be like giving a physics book to a child in kindergarten. The students are demanding higher mantras because they have read or heard about them but what is missing is the proper means. Even teachers have forgotten or do not know what the proper sequence of mantra yoga should be taught.

Traditionally, the student is prepared first with mantras that can remove some of the minor disturbances of the mind – these mantras were taught to children and they repeated them every day. Prior to puberty, the student is then given a mantra sadhana or practice which involves a higher level of awareness and concentration. This second level of mantra sadhana would be practiced for a few years or longer depending on the aspirations of youth – whether towards more spiritual pursuits or towards the house-holder duties.  However, should the student at some time in life have the desire and opportunity to receive initiation into the higher mantras, his or her mind would be well-prepared and there would be rapid progress and results.

The issue is that in our times, the preparation phases have been neglected by the rapid modernization of India and the increasing demand for spiritual fixes in the West, leading to the degeneration of the effectiveness of mantra yoga. There are many unqualified teachers who are forced to give initiations to satisfy their students and even Masters have had to lower their standards to cater for the demands of the spiritual seekers. It is more difficult to find a good student than to find a good teacher these days!

It is necessary to put back the step-by-step structure into mantra yoga and not promulgate misleading and unrealistic expectations from a single mantra initiation for the unprepared. It is important to understand that even if one has the good karma to receive an initiation, if one has not made the effort to prepare one-self, the fruits of the initiation may not appear in this life. However, be of good cheer, because any sincere practice will have a positive effect sooner or later and no effort is wasted.

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