The word mantra in Sanskrit is very meaningful, and it has no synonymous term in any other language. Mananát tárayet yastu sah mantrah parikiirttitah – “Mantra is that particular word whose repetition or auto-suggestion or outer-suggestion helps the microcosm free itself of all the fetters of physical and psychic life.” Man plus trae plus d́a is the derivation of the term.
Now for a mantra two things are essential. It must be meaningful, that is, in the ordinary sense of the term the word should have proper significance; and at the same time it must be supported by the proper acoustic root, that is, it must be supported by acoustic propriety. In the realm of spirituality, each and every term should have these two meanings – one the mundane significance, and the other the acoustic significance.
Take the word krśńa. The root verb is krś. One meaning of krś is “to attract”. So the faculty that attracts everything towards itself is krś plus ńa, that is, “Krśńa”, the all-attracting, all-attractive faculty of the world, the nucleus of the universe. “Krśna” means Puruśottama, the nucleus of the entire Cosmic order, because it comes from the root verb krś.
Another meaning of krś is “to be”. A sádhaka says that “Krśńa” means, “I exist because He exists,” “My existence is dependent on His existence.” Krś means “to be”, “to exist” – that’s why He is “Krśńa”. “He is my life’s life. He is the supreme existence behind all my existences in so many frameworks, in so many structures, in so many lives.” That’s why He is “Krśńa”.
Among so many colours, the dark colour is most attractive, and for that reason in Sanskrit “dark” is also one meaning of krśńa. And so far as the acoustic root is concerned the acoustic root of Krśńa is klrḿ. The Sanskrit term, the Sanskrit acoustic root (not just Sanskrit – the acoustic root is universal for the entire Cosmos) of Krśńa is klrḿ.
What is klrḿ? Ka + lr. And what is ka? The word ka has three meanings in Sanskrit.
One, it is the first consonant of the Sanskritic alphabetical order. The second meaning of ka is as follows. You know in the phase of expression or manifestation, that is, when the Noumenal Cause is translated into the phenomenal effect, the sound created (during this phase of translation) is ka; and that is why ka is the first letter of our alphabetical order.
The entity from which this phase or this process of translation starts, from which the process of metamorphosis starts, is represented by the sound aum. Because in it, within its scope, lie the faculties of creation, preservation and destruction.
The acoustic root of creation is a. First comes creation, then follows everything else – and that is why a is the first vowel. A is the first letter of the Indo-Aryan alphabetical order.
First creation – When the Supreme Entity creates something, this creation takes place within the periphery of the Macrocosmic order; but a stir is created in the Macrocosm during the phase of creation, and wherever there is a stir, there is movement, there are waves – light waves, acoustic waves and so on. When He desires to create something, the stir created in the Macrocosm is represented by the sound a.
And in the next phase He is to preserve those created beings. So in that Macrocosmic structure another stir is created representing the desire to preserve. And that is represented by the sound u. And the point from which the culminating march starts is represented by the sound ma, hence ma is the last letter of the vargiiya varńamálá.(1) The pa varga is the last varga, and ma is the last sound of the pa varga pa, pha, ba, bha, ma. So the creating personality is represented by these three sounds – a, u, and ma – the Generating Entity, the Preserving Entity and the Destructive Entity. (Here everybody should remember that His destruction is not the destruction of ordinary living beings. His destruction means withdrawal withdrawing the created being from the phenomenal world to its noumenal cause. Just a play of withdrawal, and nothing more than that.) The Generator, the Operator, the Destructor – if we take the first letter of “generator”, “g”; of “operator”, “o”; and of “destructor”, “d”; we get G-O-D, “God”.
Now, while this Supreme Entity, the Supreme Subjectivity, the Supreme witnessing faculty, creates something, then He is aum. Aum gets as its counterpart the objective world, this quinquelemental universe; and this world of objectivity is represented by the acoustic root ka. Hence, aum is the Kárańa Brahma, or Causal Brahma, and ka is the Kárya Brahma, the Effect Brahma. The second meaning of ka is the Effect Brahma, the objectivated universe.
So the first meaning of ka is that it is the first consonant. The second meaning is this objectivated world or effect world. And the third meaning of ka is “water”. A few days back I told you that kaccha means “the land surrounded by water”: ka means “water” and cha means “surrounded by”.
The acoustic root of Krśńa is klrḿ. The first letter is ka. Ka means the objectivated world. The entity that preserves this objectivated world is ka. (Human beings who have taken the responsibility, the moral responsibility, of serving this ka, that is, of serving this objectivated world, are called kápálika. Our avadhútas and avadhútikás practise kápálika sádhaná, that is, they do the pálana kriyá of ka, they do the pálana kriyá of this objectivated world. They are to serve humanity.) The first letter is ka and the second is la. La represents solid entities; that is, everything converted into solid is represented by the acoustic root la. Now, the divine faculty that serves, or helps, or rather vibrates, the entire objectivated world, and keeps close proximity to the material world (at the same time vibrating the entire objectivated universe), is ka + la. Hence the acoustic root of Krśńa is klrḿ.
Similarly, all mantras must have two meanings. One meaning is the mundane significance, and the other is the acoustic root. And wherever either meaning is wanting, the word cannot be treated as a mantra. That is why I said the word mantra cannot be properly represented by the word “incantation”. But for want of a proper word in English, we find no alternative but to use the word “incantation”.
Similarly for Shiva. One name of Shiva is Hara. Ha represents the ethereal stratum, and ra represents energy – kriyáshakti, electrical energy, magnetic energy, etc. All these energies are represented by the acoustic root ra. So ha plus ra means “the entity that rules over the entire ethereal plane and at the same time controls all the energies of the universe”. Hara is the acoustic root of Lord Shiva.
So only when a particular word has both a mundane meaning and an acoustic root may it be accepted as a mantra – if, that is, it is recognized as a siddha mantra by a Mahákaola, by a Mahásambhúti. Otherwise it is not a mantra.
29 November 1978, Madras