An Interview with Dr. David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri)

According to Dr. Frawley, mantra is perhaps the main method of the Yoga of technique. He regards mantras as asanas for the mind. He’s written an entire book on the subject (Mantra Yoga and Primal Sound) and, in this interview, he details the use of mantra as an aid in meditation.

Integral Yoga Magazine (IYM): How do mantras work to prepare the mind for meditation?

David Frawley (DF): We always think of mantra and meditation as going together. There are some meditations that are almost entirely mantric. Others begin with mantra and then forget about the mantra. When you forget about the mantra, you merge into the vibration of the sound or nada and the repetition dissolves. The mantra allows you to forget the mind. Then the mantra can also dissolve or it may continue in the background or it may open into space, light or awareness.

When the mind is fully focused and energized, a natural transcendence occurs. The mind becomes one-pointed. Yoga talks about dissolving the mind, but you can only dissolve it if it becomes one-pointed. Dharana precedes dhyana. Yoga defines this dissolution as nirodha. The ekagra or one-pointed state of mind, precedes the nirodha state, when the mind is withdrawn. Nirodha is only possible from the ekagra state. Mantra aids in the one-pointed state of mind.

A mantra is used to prepare the mind because meditation is essentially either an effort to silence the mind—according to the Yoga Sutras—or an attempt to access the natural silence of the mind or consciousness. Our mental activity—sensations, memories, thoughts, emotions—blocks that, so a mantra is an excellent tool for harmonizing and calming the mental field. The mind consists of words, sounds, memories and samskaras with a vibratory base. Our fragmented thinking patterns create a fragmented vibratory field in the mind. The mantra harmonizes and integrates the vibratory field of the mind and undermines the entropy so the entropy goes away. When you sit to meditate you will then have the mantra vs. the other thoughts, fears and desires going on. The mind’s background activity reflects your mind’s most habitual thoughts. Like the mother thinking of the child while she’s away at work, we need to continually draw the mind back to the mantra. That is mantra dharana. Dharana precedes dhyana. You concentrate the mind to meditate and the mantra is the best and simplest tool for concentration.

There are some modern groups that tell you, if you meditate, not to use a mantra because meditation is designed to decondition the mind and mantra conditions it. But, actually, mantra breaks down the samskaras, so it’s the best tool for deconditioning the mind and it leaves you with a sattvic samskara that contributes to a sattvic mind. That’s why most meditation traditions—Advaita-Vedanta, Zen and even Tibetan—use mantra. Sometimes the mantra is used before meditation as the focus, or fruit of, meditation.

There are people who use mantras in a mechanical way that conditions the mind. Public Relations gurus use slogans or mottos that become rajasic or tamasic mantras. But sattvic mantras decondition the mind and give the mind a sattvic condition, which is conducive to the higher knowledge. It’s only the sattvic mind that can meditate—otherwise it will be running all over the place. The sattvic mind rests upon a sattvic lifestyle, as defined in the yamas and niyamas. You need a sattvic intention, because you can use mantras for nonspiritual, rajasic or tamasic purposes that increase one’s passions, desires and greed. In India, there are books on mantras that are used for these kinds of purposes, but they don’t tell you that if you do that you increase those gunas, or qualities, and there is negative karma that comes from that.

IYM: What types of mantras are used for what types of meditation?

DF: There are two main lines of meditation: devotional and knowledge-based meditation and three main types of mantras: bija, holy names and extended prayers. Devotional meditation is Bhakti Yoga. In Bhakti Yoga, the main tool is the use of divine names, like OM Namah Shivaya. Knowledge-based meditation is Jnana Yoga, or the pure meditation traditions that use mantras like OM—or, in Vedanta, they have the Mahavakyas such as Aham Brahmasmi, Tat Tvam Asi. There is still the focus of the mantra there. Then there is a third line that entails all the kriyas, the kundalini-type Yogas and uses many mantras. There are mantras for the chakras, deities, prana, the shakti mantras. Whichever of these approaches to meditation you follow, mantra has primary role…

Read the rest of this article in the Spring 2011 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.