As we purify our own consciousness by extricating ourselves from the grosser vibrational planes, we turn back toward the formless. The practice of mantra is a technique for tuning us to those subtler vibrational levels. As we move more and more deeply into mantra, the sound becomes the vehicle that allows us to experience both halves of the act of creation-and-return, so we’re going from the many back into the One, and then from the One into the many, all on the strength of the mantra.
Mechanical vibration alone won’t do it, of course. The mantra and the reciter of the mantra are not separate from one another, and the power and the effect of the mantra depend on the readiness and the openness and the faith of the one who’s doing it. In fact, mantras in and of themselves don’t do anything at all – it all has to do with the beings who work with them. Mantras aren’t magical spells; power mantras are just sounds, unless you’re the kind of person who has the one-pointedness of mind and the particular personality characteristics that make those power mantras work. That is, what a mantra does is to concentrate already-existing stuff in you. It just brings it into focus. It’s like a magnifying glass with the sun: The magnifying glass doesn’t have any heat in and of itself, but it takes the sunlight and focuses it; it makes it one-pointed. The mantra becomes like that magnifying glass for your consciousness.
Mantras can be used as a way of stilling thought as well as focusing it. If you imagine the mind as being like an ocean, with waves of thought surging along on it, waves going in all directions because of the crosscurrents of the tides and the winds – in that ocean, a mantra sets up a single wave pattern that gradually overrides all the other ones, until the mantra is the only thought-form left. Then there’s just one continuous wave going through your mind – going and going and going.
– Ram Dass
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