In my early days in the ashram in India I went through a period of intense fear. I felt so hopeless and disempowered that I could not bring myself to speak to my teacher. One day, as I was doing my work in the ashram garden, he (Baba Muktananda) came up to me. He stood an inch from my face, nose to nose. He whispered to me: “Om Namah Shivaya, Om Namah Shivaya, Om Namah Shivaya.”
He forcefully said: “Repeat this twenty-four hours a day. Meditate intensely for four hours a day!” I began at once. Less than a day later I was again experiencing joy bubbling in my heart. I felt triumphant and empowered; I had shifted my mood without recourse to unhealthy diversions.
When you go through a particularly difficult period of depression, it is hard to make rational decisions. The mind dwells on negativity. You can uplift your mind by intense mantra repetition.
Mantras are given in all the traditions of meditation including the Hindu yoga tradition, the Buddhist tradition as well as the Pilgrim’s Eastern Christian tradition. That tradition continues today in monasteries like Mt. Athos in Greece and other places.
Monks have been meditating in caves for 30 or 40 years, repeating this prayer and attaining inner ecstasy.
There are many effective techniques of meditation. However, it is possible to get overly caught up in various techniques, to the detriment of the goal. The first step is to concentrate the mind on one thought. The mantra is a single thought. With practice, the mind can become concentrated and move beyond thought to deep meditation.
Dr. Herbert Benson of the Harvard Medical School thought that you could repeat any word or phrase as a mantra. His idea was to say the word “one” repeatedly. He called it the “relaxation response”. Actually, “one” is rather a good mantra, but ordinary words will not have the same effect as a mantra. Some words are simply more powerful than other ones. Even an effective mantra should be received from the proper source.
Ramana Maharshi used to tell an amusing story of mantra initiation. Once there was a king whose Prime Minister used to practice mantra repetition. The king, aware of its positive effect, asked him for initiation. The Prime Minister told the king that he could not do it. Later the king called the Prime Minister before him and asked him why he refused his request for initiation. The Prime Minister called a palace guard and ordered him to take hold of the king.
The guard just stood there. The Prime Minister again repeated the order. The guard did not respond. Angry at the minister’s impudence, the king ordered the guard to seize him. The guard immediately took hold of him. “Do you see?” laughed the Prime Minister “you and I gave the same order to the same guard. My order to seize you had no effect, whereas your order to seize me had the authority and power of the throne behind it. It is the same with mantra.”
Swami Shankarananda, born in US as Russell Michael Kruckman, is head of Shiva School of Meditation and Yoga, Melbourne. Excerpted from ‘Happy For No Good Reason’ Chapter Seven: Mantra – The Power Of The Word