These days we hear a lot of talk about the mantras used for meditation. Some people say a random word is best, others recommend the universal sound Aum or Om. But what about the mantras used in the Transcendental Meditation technique? Are they generic or special? Secular or religious? Useless or effective? And where do they come from? These are important questions so let’s find an answer for them.
The Transcendental Meditation technique is an effortless mental procedure whereby an individual experiences increasingly quieter levels of thinking, leading to the experience of total silence; the source of thought, at the deepest level the mind. The technique of Transcendental Meditation has many unique features and one of them is the mantra. As part of personal instruction each student receives a suitable thought/sound or mantra for their meditation practice. These mantras are meaningless sounds which serve as the delicate vehicle on which the mind glides through deeper, more silent levels of the thinking process.
For maximum effectiveness students are encouraged to refrain from speaking or writing down their mantra as this has a damaging and dulling effect on this highly delicate and refined meditation tool. Also, there is a limited pool of mantras that each Transcendental Meditation teacher draws upon to select the appropriate sound for each student. So it’s entirely possible that some students could have the same mantra.
The mantra is selected by the Transcendental Meditation teacher based on the suitability and harmonious effect it will create for each student when properly used. Also, the technique of how to use the mantra is just as crucial as the proper selection of the mantra/sound itself.
It’s important to note that the mantras are used for their sound quality only and have no assigned meaning. These two important aspects, suitability and meaninglessness, allow the mind to be lively but undirected at the same time, so it can sink deep within, ‘transcend’ thought and experience its own silent, inner nature. This is the process called ‘transcending’ which takes place during the Transcendental Meditation technique.
To understand this principle more clearly lets examine the word ‘flower’. A word has two aspects: the sound value and the English meaning. When we say or think the word ‘flower’ we automatically consider the word’s meaning, its qualities and context. We might think of the color, the smell, the quantity, the location and so on and these thoughts about the flower engage and hold the mind on the surface, conscious thinking level and do not allow the mind to fathom its inner nature.
Therefore by intention and by design, the mantra used in the Transcendental Meditation technique is a sound that has no meaning attributed to it either by the teacher or their student. At the same time it should be clear, that if a science, religion or cultural group were to assign a meaning to a mantra, in the past or future, it would still have no bearing on the use of that mantra in the instruction or practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique.
For centuries “google” has been a delightful, nonsensical sound, uttered by babies. More recently however it has been attributed a meaning; the name of a worldwide, Internet search engine. However this new adult meaning has no bearing on a baby’s use of that same sound. Likewise mantras are sounds that are meaningless both to the Transcendental Meditation teacher and the student even though other people, cultures or religions may or may not have assigned a meaning to them.
To further illustrate this point let’s consider the word “flat”. In the USA this sound has a meaning associated with the shape of an object. In England however, “flat” also refers to an apartment. Therefore, each respective culture utilizes sound and assigns meanings for their own localized purpose. Other languages, cultures and people who also use that same sound or word, are completely indifferent to the meaning assigned to that sound/word by other countries or cultures. The same is true with respect to the Transcendental Meditation technique. It utilizes specific mantras/sounds completely irrespective of their intended meaning in other languages or cultural settings.
The Transcendental Meditation technique and the mantras/sounds it utilizes have their origin in the ancient Vedic tradition which predates all religions and cultures including the Hindu religion. The Vedic tradition is a universal body of complete and timeless knowledge encompassing the total field of natural law, or underlying intelligence, that governs the universe. Because the Vedas and the Vedic tradition are ancient and universal, many of its sounds, names and principals are found in many countries, cultures and religions around the world.
The ancient Vedic tradition of India is the oldest continuous tradition of knowledge on earth. In 2003 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) proclaimed the Vedic tradition (specifically the recitation of the Vedic hymns) a “masterpiece of intangible heritage to humanity”.
The TM technique and its mantras are derived from this same Vedic tradition. Over thousands of years, the technique of Transcendental Meditation contained in the Vedas had been misinterpreted and therefore lost its effectiveness. It was then revived in the 1950’s, to its original and highly effective form, by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who was the custodian and representative of the Vedic tradition in our generation.
So we conclude therefore, that the mantras used in the Transcendental Meditation technique not only have their roots in a timeless tradition of knowledge but that they are also simple and powerful, ancient and unique, meaningful and meaningless, all at the same time!
®Transcendental Meditation and TM are registered trademarks of Maharishi Vedic Education Development Corporation, a non-profit educational organization.
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