“The Sanskrit word mantra is a combination of two syllables, man and tra. Man means ‘mind,’ and tra means ‘deliverance.’ Therefore a mantra is that which delivers you from mental concoction, from hovering on the mental plane. So if you chant this mantra—Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare—very soon you'll find that you are coming from the darkness to the light.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Journey of Self-Discovery, Ch 2.6)Download this episode (right click and save)
The typical use of the word “mantra” is with regards to repeating something.
- “It’s our company mantra: work until you get the job done.”
- “My mantra during that particular time was, ‘Don’t give up.’ I would tell that to myself every day.”
The word is actually of Sanskrit origin, consisting of two terms. “Man” refers to the mind. “Tra” refers to trayate, which means “to deliver.” Therefore a simple definition of mantra is “to deliver the mind.”
Vedic culture, which has descended from time immemorial, starting with the person of no known origin, brings many mantras to us. From reading history contained in works like the Ramayana, Shrimad Bhagavatam, and Mahabharata we see that from a single mantra amazing things can happen.
The secret is in the potency of sound, and more specifically, transcendental sound. Just like a particular potion can cure an ailment within the body, a sound vibration, uttered properly and through authority, can be as powerful as physical objects, things with perceptible form.
1. Prahlada overcoming Hiranyakashipu
On one side you had a very powerful king. Just how powerful? The good guys around the world feared him. Though they had potency themselves, they knew Hiranyakashipu was immune against attacks in so many different situations. The good guys hid in different places to avoid his wrath.
That king was overcome by his own son, the five-year old Prahlada. How did the boy do it? Did he follow an exercise regimen? Did he pray for favor from the same benefactor who helped the father, Lord Brahma? Did he enlist outside help, with a bodyguard detail protecting him day and night?
Actually, all it took was sound. The boy received that sound while in the womb, no less. Narada Muni, the travelling glorifier of God the person, imparted wisdom to the mother while she was pregnant. At the time of birth, unlike in most other cases, Prahlada remembered everything he heard. Even his own mother forgot over time.
“Narada Muni delivered his instructions both to me, who was within the womb, and to my mother, who was engaged in rendering him service. Because he is naturally extremely kind to the fallen souls, being in a transcendental position, he gave instructions on religion and transcendental knowledge. These instructions were free from all material contamination.” (Prahlada Maharaja, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.7.15)
The transcendental sound accepted by Prahlada allowed him to stay fixed in devotional service, bhakti-yoga. That connection to the Divine protected him against the antagonism which came from practically everyone in the kingdom. In the end, the Supreme Lord got so fed up with Hiranyakashipu’s attempts at murder that He appeared in a half-man/half-lion form to do away with the king.
2. Lakshmana overcoming Indrajit
The same Narasimhadeva appeared on earth at a different time in Ayodhya, as a handsome warrior prince. Named Rama, He had three younger brothers, with Lakshmana the closest in terms of constantly staying by His side.
The two brothers learned the military art of fighting with the bow and arrow during youth. Their preceptor, Vishvamitra, was pleased with their service offered to him, so he passed on to them confidential mantras to be used in battle. These amazing sounds would augment the potency of their released arrows to the point of matching modern day nuclear weapons.
In one battle Lakshmana was facing off with the son of the king of Lanka. The fighter was named Indrajit since he had once conquered the king of heaven, Indra. After a lengthy conflict, Lakshmana was prepared to release an arrow to finish the enemy. But just before he did, he took the name of Rama. He swore on Rama’s dedication to dharma, or virtue. From the power of that sound the arrow reached its target and gave victory to the dedicated younger brother.
3. From highway robber to celebrated saint
The deeds of Lakshmana and Rama come to us primarily from a lengthy Sanskrit work known as the Ramayana. That sacred book may never have been written were it not for the power of transcendental sound and a seemingly chance meeting.
A highway robber by profession once stopped Narada Muni, looking to steal. The saint doesn’t have anything on him, since devotion is his wealth. Narada used the opportunity to ask some pointed, but sobering questions to the robber.
Soon realizing the error of his ways, the robber surrendered to Narada Muni. The saint then advised the thief to simply chant the name of Rama. Being unable due to the great accumulation of sin, a concession was made. The robber could chant the name backwards, which then gave it the meaning of “death,” to which the man was more accustomed.
What happened was that the chanting went on for so long, with such a deep trance, that an anthill formed around him. Chanted backwards, the sound of Rama was produced all the same. When Narada returned later on, he initiated the man into the bhakti tradition, giving him the name Valmiki. It was Valmiki who then authored the Ramayana. The amazing transformation took place through sound alone; the most potent one in fact, that of the holy name.
Not just in physical form found,
Most potent is transcendental sound.
Used Prahlada to compelling win,
Over Daitya father of heavy sin.
By Lakshmana of devotion unceasing,
Final arrow to Indrajit releasing.
From highway robber to saint celebrated,
By Narada with Valmiki name initiated.