You are here

The Basics of Sound & Mantra

By Shakti Parwha Kaur

One story I read when I was a child told about a beautiful princess who was held prisoner in a tower. She gained her freedom by guessing the name of her captor. (It was "Rumplestilskin,” in case you've forgotten.)

Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves found the treasure cave by saying the magic words, "Open Sesame," whereupon a hidden door miraculously appeared. These words were, in effect mantras. It's no fairy tale, it's a fact—when you know the "magic" words, you can find the hidden treasure! 

The scientific use of sound to affect consciousness is called Mantra Yoga. Next to breathing (necessary for any endeavor, the use of Mantra is the most important aspect of the practice of Kundalini Yoga.

"Man" means mind. "Tra" means to tune the vibration (just as one tunes the strings of a guitar). Mantra is a sound current which tunes and controls mental vibration. It is the "directive psyche," a word or words, combinations of syllables, which help focus the mind. Such words have enormous power.

"What does it mean to master a mantra? When you have repeated it so much, so often, and so well that you hear it within your being, and it comes handy to you—especially at the moment of death, you have mastered a mantra." -Yogi Bhajan

Claims for mantras may seem like miracles, but mantras are actually formulas that work according to physical and metaphysical laws.

Good Vibes

We live in a sea of energy. Energy vibrates. Everything in the manifest creation is vibrating. Even seemingly solid, inanimate objects are constantly vibrating. They are simply vibrating at a slower or lower frequency than animate objects. Some vibrations are audible; they are sounds we can hear with our ears. Thoughts are silent sounds, electromagnetic vibrations. The higher the frequency, the less dense and more etheric the quality of the vibrations we hear and speak, the more our own vibrational frequency is raised.

Raising our own vibration brings us closer to experiencing and merging with the highest vibration of all, God, the original cause of the creativity of the Universe. Our entire Universe was built on sound, on vibration. God vibrated, and all the universes and worlds, solar systems, oceans, land, and sky, and the myriad of beings that inhabit them appeared.

There's a vibratory frequency that corresponds to everything in the Universe. By vibrating a particular combination of sounds, you tune in to various levels of intelligence, or consciousness. Situations, people, and events respond to the signals you send out. The vibratory frequency of a mantra draws to you whatever you are vibrating. You are like a magnet attracting vibrations to you by what you send out.

Chanting mantras, either silently or aloud, is a conscious method of controlling and directing your mind. Happiness or sorrow, joy or regret are vibratory frequencies in the mind. We can call them attitudes, or beliefs, but fundamentally, they are vibratory frequencies or thought waves. They determine the kind of program our mind "plays." Which scenario we choose to hold on to becomes our vibration, defines how we feel and what we project to others. We can exercise our right to choose at any time.

When we chant a mantra we are choosing to invoke the positive power contained in those particular syllables. Whether it's for prosperity, peace of mind, increasing intuition, or any of the other multitude of possible benefits inherent in mantras, simply by chanting them we are setting vibrations into motion that shall have an effect. It doesn't actually matter if we understand the meaning of the sounds or not.

We are creating with every word we speak, and even with every word we think. Words are like boomerangs, every vibration we send out shall come back to us sooner or later. We get what we tune in to.

Your Personal Mantra

Some people think they need a personal mantra. Actually whatever mantra you chant becomes your personal mantra! As the Master of Kundalini Yoga himself has said:

"The word 'mantra' means mental vibration to the infinite mind. It's a direct connection between God and you. Mantra is personal. It affects us personally. Its vibrations are personal. Because, if it is your heartline telephone, and you're dialing it, and you're reaching God, it's not mine, and it's not anybody else's. It's yours."

"The conversation of the mind with the soul is the essence of mantra. Mantra means to project and protect the mind. It gives the mind direction. When language and rhythm blend to instill a thought at the deepest level, it is a powerful mantra. It is sacred speech. It is a special use of language.”

The Power of Positive Thinking Works

Dr. Emil Coue created a major sensation in the early part of the twentieth century when his affirmation, "Day by day in every way, I'm getting better and better," became the rage. The concept of positive thinking seemed revolutionary. Dr Norman Vincent Peale reached millions of people with his famous best seller, The Power of Positive Thinking. Dale Carnegie applied these same principles in his How to Win Friends and Influence People.

These men discovered and taught the creative power of words. The yogis understood this power very well. In yogic terms, positive thinking is the substitution of a positive thought wave in the mind for a negative one. Positive affirmation is a form of mantra. Positive words can heal, uplift, and inspire. The other side of the coin is that careless, unkind, negative words can hurt. Words are like sharp tools, which people can use like a surgeon's scalpel to save a life, or a butcher knife to kill.

It's been said, "The pen is mightier than the sword." Each word we think or say literally starts a creative process in the Universe. Don't underestimate your power of the Word. Be careful what you say. In fact, be especially careful what you pray for, you're liable to get it!

Why Don't We Chant in English?

Sometimes we do. However, to achieve the greatest impact on our consciousness, we use mantras in Gurbani, a language based on the science of Naad. These mantras are the most effective. Affirmations and mantras in English certainly have an effect on our minds and emotions, but the most profound changes in our consciousness take place on a much deeper level. The actual chemistry of the brain has to change for us to experience Infinity.

Combination Lock

In addition to the vibrations set in motion, something else happens when you chant. This is really important. There are eighty-four meridian points, or pressure points in the roof of the mouth. Every time you speak you stimulate them with the tongue. By stimulating these pressure points on the upper palate in a particular sequence, using the right access code, you increase the secretion of the hypothalamus gland and actually bring about a change in the permutation and combination of your brain cells. You affect the chemistry of the brain. When giving instructions for chanting certain mantras, Yogi Bhajan has been specific in saying, "Use the tip of your tongue."

"You can feel the upper palate with the tongue and experience its different surfaces. There are two rows of meridian points on the upper palate and on the gum behind the upper teeth. The tongue stimulates those meridian points, and they, in turn, stimulate the hypothalamus which makes the pineal gland radiate. When the pineal gland radiates, it creates an impulsation in the pituitary gland. When the pituitary gland gives impulsation, the entire glandular system secretes and a human being obtains bliss. This is the science." –Yogi Bhajan

It's as if you have an electronic, computerized security system in your mouth. Punch in the right code on the upper palate and you gain entry to the brain and your inner chambers of higher consciousness!

When we chant, we are also using prana, the life force of the Universe to create a sound current. No wonder chanting is so powerful.

Here are some important guidelines to apply when chanting any mantra.

  • Remember, chanting is not singing or speaking, it is vibrating. You want to "feel" the mantra vibrating.
  • Keep your spine straight.
  • Chant from your navel point for maximum power.
  • Hear the sound of the mantra coming through you. (After all, you aren't really chanting anyway, the One who breathes in you is doing it!)
  • If you're chanting with other people, listen to the leader and/or the group vibration and match it, stay with it.
  • When chanting aloud, be consciously aware of the activity of your tongue on the meridian points in the roof of your mouth. Some mantras, such as Har, or Haree, are supposed to be chanted only with the tip of the tongue, without moving the lips at all, while other mantras, such as Wahe Guru, at certain times call for exaggerating the movement of the lips. Read all the instructions and follow them. Do the best you can, and let God do the rest!

Excerpts from Kundalini Yoga: Flow of Eternal Power by Shakti Parwha Kaur available through KRI.

Shakti Parwha Kaur Khalsa was Yogi Bhajan’s first student in the United States. She has been teaching Kundalini Yoga since 1969. She is the author of Kundalini Yoga: The Flow of Eternal Power; Kundalini Postures and Poetry; and Marriage on the Spiritual Path: Mastering the Highest Yoga. She is a frequent movie-goer in the City of Angels.