A Comprehensive Introduction to Mantras

- Dr. Debabrata Sen Sharma

Yāska in his Nirukta has provided us with the etymological meaning of the term Mantra in this way - mantra signifies that which saves one 0from taking recourse to reflection (manana), a kind of intellectual activity (mananāt trāṇatā). Abhinavagupta, while shedding light on the meaning of the word mantra, has accepted this etymological meaning given by Yāska. Shabaka in his commentary on the Mīmāmsā sūtra of Jaimini, as quoted by Mahāmahopādhyāya Gopinath Kaviraj, improves this etymological meaning by adding a few very significant expressions. The derivative means of the term mantra that Abhinavagupta gives is as follows:

mantrādi cimarīcayaḥ tadvācakatvād vaikharī varṇavilāsabhūtānāṃ vidyānāṃ mananāt trāṇatā |

That is, mantras are of the nature of the effulgence of the consciousness-light (cinmarīcayaḥ), the word in gross form (i.e. ordinary words used by common man in his daily life) called vaikharī varṇa or vāk denotes the highest and purest spiritual knowledge embodying within them the consciousness-light, which, when grasped by men, saves them from the trouble of resorting to reflection by their intellect for understanding its real import. To put it in other words, the mantras heard or used by us in vaikharī or gross verbal form contain within their bosom the effulgence of the consciousness-light which shines forth when the potency ‘lying dormant in it’ is aroused, i.e., when the outer cover encasing the consciousness-light is broken open by the Guru at the time of initiation (dīkṣā). The mantras received in this manner by the disciples and used during their spiritual practices provide them with the opportunity of obtaining a direct vision of the light of consciousness. When the mantras are used as an instrument for the revelation of consciousness (chaitanya) contained therein, the disciple is not required to look for spiritual knowledge from any other external source. This is what the expression trāṇatā (saving) signifies when used by Shabara in his commentary.

The word mantra is a generic term connoting different shades of meaning in different contexts. For example, mantras are used by people belonging to different levels for accomplishing different purposes. For instance, devout religious minded persons utter mantras for propitiating their favorite deity in the course of their daily worship. These mantras are drawn from different sources, such as Purāṇas, Stotras etc. It is impossible to conduct social rites, technically called daśakarma (ten kinds of rites), beginning with the ceremonial shaving of the head of a young child, the sacred thread ceremony, marriage or offerings to the departed souls, without using mantras as prescribed in the treatises on Dharmaśāstra. These mantras, borrowed freely from different texts, do not play however any role in the spiritual upliftment of the user. Such mantras are devoid of special potency, hence they are not relevant in the context of our present discussion.

Before we take up for discussion the nature of mantra and the role it plays in the spiritual discipline of a sādhaka following the Tāntric mode of sādhanā, it would perhaps be useful if we give a bird’s eye view of the development of the concept of mantra from the Vedic tradition, and then turn our attention to the Tāntric tradition.

When we study the Vedic literature, we find that the term mantra was first used to denote the spontaneous utterances of the Vedic seers on their obtaining the vision of the spiritual Truth through their inner eye called ārṣacakṣu. The Vedic seers are traditionally called mantradraṣṭā, the ‘seers’ of mantra or the Spiritual Truth. They articulated their deep and sublime experiences spontaneously in their own words before their disciples. As ordinary words were incapable of conveying their vision of the Truth, very deep and complex, they had to employ symbolic language pregnant with deep implications, which was later difficult to grasp by ordinary minds. Nonetheless, their words contained the vision of Truth in a condensed verbalized form, and the disciples of the Vedic seers had the privilege of listening to Vedic mantras coming directly from the lips of the seers of Truth, hence they could immediately grasp their inner meaning. The Vedic mantras had a denotative power hidden in them, which got ‘stirred up’ as it were as the Vedic seers uttered them before their disciples. This led to revelation of the spiritual Truth seen by them as a result of their saṅkalpa (conscious resolve). Others who came later, in succession to their direct disciples, could not decipher the hidden meanings in the Vedic mantras, but, realizing their sacredness because they had been uttered by the seers, made great efforts to preserve their outward verbal structure and then pass them on orally to their disciples. Thus the process of oral transmission started. The Vedic mantras, embodying the esoteric experiences of Vedic seers, came down orally through a chain of disciples without any distortion, but their true meaning remained hidden. However, some seekers of truth succeeded to a great extent in decoding their true meaning by elevating themselves to that level of consciousness on which the supreme Truth was ‘seen’ by the seers.

Looking from the point of view of the verbal structure, the Vedic mantras are mostly multi-worded complete sentences, which are difficult for the spiritual practitioners to use for their spiritual elevation. The Brāhmaṇa texts however have found their utility in the performance of different kinds of sacrifices for obtaining mundane results. The focus of the Brāhmaṇa texts is to secure the welfare of the sacrificer on the mundane levels, but they are only minutely concerned with the spiritual life of man.

However, a few mantras occurring in ṛgveda saṃhitā (II,3,2) and the Atharvaveda samhitā (IX,25,27) refer to a theory pertaining to the nature of vāka which has deep spiritual ramifications. They mention for levels of speech or vāk enshrined in the mantra, but does not spell out what these levels of speech are, neither whether these levels have any relevance in the field of spirituality. Taking clue from these Vedic mantras, Bhartṛhari, the celebrated grammarian philosopher formulated the philosophy of vāk (Primordial Word) in his famous work Vākyapadīya. According to him, the four levels of vāk in the descending order from subtlest to grossest are parā, paśyantī, madhyamā and vaikharī.

While the vaikharī represents the speech in grossest form, the form we use for communication in our daily life, the other three forms are very subtle and beyond the ordinary reach of our mind. These, parā, paśyantī and madhyamā represent the Shakti which is enshrined in the gross form of vāk, vaikharī.

This Shakti underlying vaikharī vāk is designated as the vīrya (potency) innate in the ordinary world. It may be mentioned in this context that some logins are well known for possessing the extraordinary power to use the potency lying encased within the word in vaikharī form to materialize gross objects denoted by the particular word by concentrating on it, thereafter unlocking the vīrya lying innate in it. There are several instances of amazing feats demonstrated by some Indian yogins, miracles which cannot be otherwise explained. It might appear as a miracle to ignorant persons but it can be explained on the basis of the theory of vāk mentioned above.

Let us now turn our attention to the mantra, the role it plays in the spiritual life of a seeker of truth, and the manner it secures their spiritual elevation. It is well known that the Guru ‘implants’ the mantra in the psychophysical apparatus of the disciple during dīkṣā (initiation), after it is purged of impurities. The Advaita Shaivites of Kashmir hold that with the influx of divine grace from the Supreme through the Guru into the spiritual seeker, the thick crust of basic defilement, āṇavamala gets ‘broken’ when the initiation takes place and when the divine mantra is implanted in him. When the Guru ‘gives’ him the mantra for use in spiritual practices, like japa of mantra during the control of prāṇavāyu (technically called prāṇāyāma) or for meditation (dhyāna) etc., he first arouses the Shakti lying encased in the mantra, and thereby ‘enlivens’ the mantra, drawing the consciousness energy (chaitanya shake) from the Parā vāk. The Guru has access to that level of vāk from which he can ‘draw’ shake and transform the mantra in gross vaikharī form into what has been called chaitanya mantra - the mantra becoming ‘alive’ with the arousal of Shakti lying latent in it.

It may be mentioned here that the Vedic tradition, prescribing the path of spiritual knowledge as a mode of spiritual discipline to be followed by practitioners, held similar views about the role of mantra in sādhanā. The Yajurveda Samhitā refers to the hams mantra. The term hams represents so.ahaṃ (‘That I Am’) arranged in reverse form, which was capable of bringing about self-realization by the spiritual practitioners as ahaṃ brahmāsmi. As a matter of fact, when the Upaniṣadas speak about the Mahāvākyas which are ‘great sentences’ conveying the spiritual experiences in different steps, this very idea about the role of mantra in sādhanā is somewhat implicit there.

The role of the mahāvākyas in the sādhanā as laid down in the Upaniṣads needs a little elaboration. It is said that as soon as the spiritual master utters the mantra ‘tattvamasi’ before the disciple who has acquired all the qualities needed for following the path of knowledge, and who has also succeeded in cleansing fully his antaḥkaraṇa, he grasps the highest spiritual knowledge contained in his great mantra through reflection (manana), deep and continued reflection (nidhidhyāsana) in samādhi of the savikalpa type. The Great Word contains within its verbal form the shake, which is manifested spontaneously the moment the Guru utters it. He immediately begins experiencing ahaṃ brahmāsmi. This is called anubhavavākya, the expression conveying the highest spiritual experience. This expression conveying the spiritual experience of the sādhaka is, in fact, an echo of the haṃsa mantra (so.ahaṃ) mentioned in the Vedic Saṃhitā texts. As the sādhaka turns around to experience his surroundings, he discovers the presence of his consciousness nature everywhere (sarvaṃ khalvidaṃ brahma). His own being-experience expands from individual being-experience into universal being-experience, i.e. Brahman. He is filled with ecstatic delight. When he reaches the peak of his spiritual path, his individual being-experience melts, as it were, into the Universal, and that is the indescribable state of spiritual realization which the savants of Kashmir call pure ‘bodha’ (self-experience). The sādhaka then gets immersed in his fullness-nature (akaṇḍa svarūpa).

As is clear from the brief account of modes of spiritual discipline followed by the sādhakaS belonging to the Tāntric as well as to the Vedic tradition, the role of the mantras ‘given’ by the Guru to disciples plays a pivotal role in their spiritual elevation, culminating in the achievement of the ultimate goal.

Let us now turn our attention to another aspect of the nature of mantra, namely the structural aspect. We have already mentioned that the Vedic mantras comprise complete sentences. It is obvious that the Vedic mantras, found in the multi-worded form is not commonly used by sādhakas for their spiritual elevation, in the classic sense, but for few exceptions. The mantras must be short so that they can be uttered with ease during contemplation or meditation. We find some shorter mantras comprised of fear words, also in later texts like the Purāṇas etc., but these are also not immensely popular with the sādhakas.

The Tāntric bījamantras, on the other hand, have found favor with the practitioners of spiritual discipline. These represent certain sounds of mātṛkā varṇas, coalesced together and put in an encased (saṃpuṭita) form. Since the components of bījamantras are mātṛkā varṇas i.e., letters symbolizing the spiritual energy or the consciousness force (Shakti), they, when used properly during the practice of sādhanā, are capable of generating the experience of true consciousness nature in the sādhaka. The bījamantras are likened to the ‘seed’ which, when implanted in the pure psychophysical framework of the sādhaka by the Guru, fructifies in the course of his sādhanā and produces the desired result.

The origin of the bījamantras can be traced to the Vedic times; the Praṇava mantra is the classic example. As is well known, the Māṇḍūkyopaniṣad explains the significance of the Praṇava mantra in philosophical terms. The Tāntric texts mention a large number of Bījamantras, which have been collected from different texts and listed in the Mantrābhidhānakośa, a dictionary of Tāntric mantras, along with shirt explanations.

We come across a reference in the first āhnika of the Tantrāloka by Abhinavagupta where the probable origin of bījamantras is given. It is said there that bījamantras originated from sañjalpa, i.e., sounds escaping involuntarily from the lips of a yogin during the transitional period from the state of trace (samādhi) to the normal state of awareness. The yogin is then in a state of half-trance and half-waking condition, being in a spiritually intoxicated state, and having no conscious control over his sense faculties. It is believed that during samādhi the yogin has wonderful spiritual experiences or visions, which he is unable to articulate, or wish to communicate. He only mutters something, which apparently does not appear to convey any meaning. These apparently meaningless sounds, condensed or juxtaposed one over the other, were heard by persons who were nearby, and constitute the bījamantras. These mantras contain a natural shakti or potency, and are therefore capable of revealing the power of chaitanya shakti.

There is a corroborative evidence about this explanation provided by Abhinavagupta from the spiritual life of many sādhakas. The Pātañjala yoga also refers to sañjalpa indicative of deep spiritual experiences of yogins during the state of of saṃprajñāta samādhi.

Vajrayana, Consort Practice and Sublimation

- Jigme Khyentse Rinpoche

The Tantras, which are the almost exclusive preserve of Tibetan Buddhism, form part of the teachings of the Mahāyāna. Like the Mahāyāna sūtras, they are animated by the attitude of Bodhichitta, the determination to attain supreme Buddhahood for the sake of all beings. A number of features distinguish the tāntric teachings, or Vajrayāna, from those of the sūtra. One of these is the great variety of skillful means whereby the process of attainment is vastly accelerated. According to the sūtra teachings, the two accumulations of wisdom and merit required to produce the state of enlightenment are expected to require continuos practice over a period of three countless eons. By contrast, through the implementation of the most advanced tāntric yogas, and given favorable kārmic circumstances, the fruit of Buddhahood may be actualized within the course of a single human life.

The reason for the esoteric character of the tāntric teachings is given by Guru Padmasambhava. He says that they are kept secret not because they are in some way shameful or defective, but because their power renders them proportionately precious and perilous. Being profound, they are easily misunderstood and are to be transmitted only to appropriate persons at the right time. They are likened to the milk of the snow lion, an elixir of such potency that it will shatter a vessel of anything but the purest gold.

In contrast with the ascetic approach of the Hīnayāna teachings, and unlike the meditative antidotes used on the Mahāyāna sūtra path to counteract emotional defilement, the Vajrayāna is characterized by its direct utilization of emotion, as well as the psychophysical energies of the mind and the body. The external supports of ritual, visualization, mantra recitation and yoga are all of great importance. It is convenient to speak of the tāntric path in terms of four initiations or four levels of empowerment that introduce the disciple to the different aspects of the fully enlightened state. In the simplest terms, the first of the four initiations empowers the disciple to undertake the yogas of the Generation Stage. These aim at the realization of the true nature of all phenomena and mainly involve the practice of visualization and recitation. The second initiation introduces the disciple to the practices of the Perfection Stage, in which the subtle channels, energies and essences of his or her own body are meditated upon and brought under control. When this has been perfectly accomplished, the disciple is ready to receive the third initiation, which empowers him or her to practice a similar type of yoga but this time taking support of another person, in other words a consort. Finally, the fourth initiation is directly concerned with the introduction to the nature of the mind itself.

The most striking aspect of the yoga related with the third initiation and one that many will find intriguing and perhaps troubling, is that it specifically involves the use of sexual energy. Given that Tantra works directly with the emotions and utilizes various physical and psychic yogas, it would be surprising if it neglected what is after all a driving impulse in human existence. Even so, for many people, the idea of using the sexual act as a spiritual path may seem strange if not actually contradictory. perhaps this is due to the fact that in western religions, the morally correct environment for sexual activity is considered to be marriage, and the spiritual dimension of sex is intimately associated with the begetting of children. At the other end of the spectrum, it is evident in secular life that sex is often trivialized and debased in exploitative and degrading ways. These two contrasting attitudes are apt to complicate our approach to this aspect of the tantra, and in the task of interpretation it is hard to find a vocabulary able to express the notions of both physical intercourse and spiritual purity in ways that are not either unduly diffident or else tainted by prurience and vulgarity. In Tibetan Buddhism, the instructions associated with the third initiation are regarded as extremely high teachings and are the object of profound respect. they are not widely disseminated and are well beyond the reach of the majority of practitioners.

The ability to feel but not to crave, to experience and yet not hanker for more, or indeed for anything at all, is the mark of long training and a sign of great spiritual stature. The practice of the third initiation can only be implemented by people who are able to feel and yet remain without attachment, even in the situation of physical climax. It stands to reason that individuals who are genuinely able to practice in this way (as distinct from those who merely think they are) are few and far between. On the other hand, for those who can implement it, the yoga of the third initiation is said to be of immense power and swiftness. At the same time, it is a profoundly dangerous path, involving an area in which people are particularly fragile and prone to self-deceit. It is hazardous even for advanced and sincere practitioners because the arising of attachment can be extremely subtle, with the result that they may go astray and fall from the path. It is no doubt for this reason that few people are encouraged to attempt these practices. Active discouragement is much more likely to be encountered.

In his commentary on the Treasure of Precious Qualities, Khenpo Yonten Gyasto says: The teachings say that those who take and practice explicitly the third initiation must have previously trained their own bodies by the path of skillful means, so that their subtle channels are perfectly straight, the wind energy is purified and the essence-drops brought under control. Trained in the view of the two previous empowerments, they must be able to tread the path with the help of the extraordinary view and meditation, without any craving for pleasure. If a beginner, who lacks this capacity, goes around claiming to be a practitioner of Mantra and becomes enmeshed in ordinary desire, he is destined for the lower realms. It is better to practice according to one’s true capacity and to the limit of one’s ability.

In this advanced yoga, sexual energy is used in a way entirely cleansed of the impurities of ordinary passion and lust.

Srividya Laghu Krama Diksha Vidhi of Unmatta Bhairava

There were several questions regarding Laghu Krama Diksha, and I attempt to answer the same below.

There are three ways to initiate a disciple:

महादीक्षा तथा दीक्षा उपदेशस्ततः परम् ||

Upadeśa is the least recommended but easiest of all, where a Guru gives upadeśa of a mantra to his disciple. This seems to be the most commonly followed method in Southern India especially among worshipers of Srīvidyā.

Dīkṣā refers to Pūrṇadīkṣā within a specific Mahāvidyā such as Srīvidyā which, for example, is taught variously by Tantras such as Paramānanda and Paraśurāma Kalpasūtra. This is considered madhyama or average.

Mahādīkṣā is known as Kramadīkṣā and involves various Mahāvidyās, with the primary focus on either Tripurasundarī or Kālikā. This can be taught only by a Siddha Guru.

There are three main Sampradāyas of Srīvidyā Krama Dīkṣā and they are:

1. Mahāmanthāna Bhairava Krama
2. Unmatta Bhairava Krama of Gauḍas (elaborated by Tantras such as Bṛhadbaḍabānala etc.)
3. Svacchanda Bhairava Krama (detailed in Tantras such as ūrdhvāmnāya Tantra, Shaḍanvaya Mahāratna etc. followed by our lineage)

Our lineage, traced back to Bhagavatī Bimbāmbikā, only teaches Pūrṇa Krama consisting of 360 mantras and there is no Laghu (brief) krama taught. However, The Unmatta Bhairavīya Krama does teach a laghu-krama, which seems to have been co-opted by some in my our lineage as well. For example, Muktakeśānandanātha, who authored the manual Nīlakālī Saparyā (centered around the Krama procedures for Nīlasarasvatī and Ucchiṣṭa Mahāgaṇapati) discusses Laghu-krama for Srīvidyā. Another medieval work, Upāmnāya Ratnakośa, dealing mainly with the vidhi for Triṣakti Chāmuṇḍā also known as Chaṇḍī colloquially and as Ugracaṇḍā in Krama system, also discusses this Laghu-krama of Unmatta Bhairava school.

सर्वाम्नाय प्रभेदेन षड्धा विद्याक्रमः स्मृतः |

The system detailed below is mainly for Kādi Srīvidyā. There are similar systems for Kālī that include both Kādi (Dakṣiṇā) and Hādi (ādyā). And for Tārā that include both Hādi (Nīlasarasvatī) and Sādi (Ugratārā & Ekajaṭā).

पूर्वाम्नाये चोन्मनी च पूर्णेशी भुवनेश्वरी |
द्वीपशाम्भवकं दिव्यं लिङ्गमूले व्यवस्थितम् ||

The deities of Purvāmnāya meditated upon in Svādhiṣthāna Chakra are: Unmanī, Pūrṇeśvarī, Bhuvaneśvarī and Dvīpeśvara - Dvīpeśvarī.

There are certain differences in opinion regarding Mūlādhāra, Svādhiṣṭhāna and the order of contemplation for Adharāmnāya and Pūrvāmnāya. Some lineages worship Bauddha deities such as āryatārā and Vajraprastāriṇī in the nether āmnāya whereas those such as mine propitiate Ugratārā. In any case, Laghu Krama does not include this lower āmnāya. A detailed discussion on this topic is quite irrelevant here.

आद्या श्यामा दक्षिणा च दक्षिणाम्नायवर्त्मनि |
संवर्तशाम्भवं दिव्यं मणिपूरे व्यवस्थितम् ||

The deities of Dakṣiṇāmnāya meditated upon in Maṇipūraka Chakra are: ādyā kālī, Shyāmā kālī, Dakṣiṇā kālī and Samvarteśvara - Saṃvarteśvarī.

पश्चिमे कुब्जिका वज्रकुब्जिकाऽघोरकुब्जिका |
सर्वाधिकारविद्याख्यं शाम्भवं चतुरन्वयम् ||

The deities of Paścimāmnāya meditated upon in Svādhiṣthāna Chakra are: Samayakubjikā, Vakrakubjikā, Aghorakubjikā and Chaturanvaya-śāmbhava.

उपमार्गे महापूर्वा काली लक्ष्मी सरस्वती |
चामुण्डा च महाविद्येश्वराख्यं शाम्भवं हृदि ||

The deities of Upāmnāya meditated upon in Anāhata Chakra are: Mahākālī, Mahālakṣmī, Mahāsarasvatī and Mahāvidyeśvara mithuna.

उत्तरे सिद्धिलक्ष्मीश्च महासिद्धिकारालिका |
कामकला गुह्यकाली हंसशाम्भव कण्ठजम् ||

The deities of Uttarāmnāya meditated upon in Viśuddi Chakra are: Siddhilakṣmī, Mahāsiddhikarālī (which is a code name for a specific form of Guhyakālī), Kāmakalā Guhyakālī (not to be confused with aṣṭādaśākṣarī) and Haṃseśvara mithuna. There is a less popular version that involves Hiraṇyakaśipūpāsitā Guhyakālī which is rarely practiced on account of it being a Krodhavidyā or Pralayavidyā.

ऊर्ध्वे बाला पञ्चदशी षोडशी परशाम्भवम् |
आज्ञा चक्र स्थितं दिव्यं श्रीविद्या क्रमसंयुतम् ||

The deities of ūrdhvāmnāya meditated upon in ājñā Chakra are: Bālā, Shuddha Pañcadaśī, ṣoḍaśī and Pareśvara śāmbhava kūṭa.

Vishnu Raksha Kavacha Stotram

There are several Kavachas associated with Mahāviṣṇu that are seen in the various purāṇas. Of these, Nārāyaṇa Kavacha which occurs in the sixth skandha of Viṣṇu Bhāgavata Upapurāṇa is the most popular. This is especially true with those that scoff at rituals proclaiming their loyalty to either Jada Vedanta or to some kind of medieval Bhakti cult (to put it less correct politically, the Karma Bhrashtas).

However, the knowers of Mantra śāstra have traditionally recited the Viṣṇu Kavacha from Viṣṇudharmottara Purāṇa. This purāṇa deals extensively with solutions to afflictions by various kinda of Grahas and the Kavacha also occurs in this context. This Kavacha, much older than the Purāṇa, seems to have been inserted later into the Viṣṇudharmottara, on account of its massive popularity with both Smārta and Pāñcarātrika practitioners of Mantra śāstra. Again, many interesting details can be discussed regarding its origin, but we shall save that for a separate topic.

A relatively śuddha pāṭha of this Kavacha has been uploaded to our site. Please access the file here.

Sri Ramachandra

Nilataradhipataye Namah

उच्छिष्टगण उच्छिष्टगणेशो गणनायकः |

उच्छिष्टगण उत्कृष्टा गणाः शिष्टाश्च यस्य सः |
उच्छिष्टं नामरूपं चेत्यादृचः सप्तविंशतिः |
आथर्वणो यं वदन्ति स गणेशो न चापरः ||
मोदकं भक्षयन्देवो ध्येयो मन्त्रो नवाक्षरैः |
साधकेनेति वोच्छिष्टगणेश इति कथ्यसे ||

ucchiṣṭagaṇa ucchiṣṭagaṇeśo gaṇanāyakaḥ |

ucchiṣṭagaṇa utkṛṣṭā gaṇāḥ śiṣṭāśca yasya saḥ |
ucchiṣṭaṃ nāmarūpaṃ cetyādṛcaḥ saptaviṃśatiḥ |
ātharvaṇo yaṃ vadanti sa gaṇeśo na cāparaḥ ||
modakaṃ bhakṣayandevo dhyeyo mantro navākṣaraiḥ |
sādhakeneti vocchiṣṭagaṇeśa iti kathyase ||

Children's Carnatic Ensemble

Dushtagrahanashaka Unmatta Bhairava Namavali

ॐ उन्मत्ताय नमः
ॐ भैरवाय नमः
ॐ भीमरूपाय नमः
ॐ योगिनीपतये नमः
ॐ मातृकानाथाय नमः
ॐ निर्लज्जाय नमः
ॐ परमानन्दाय नमः
ॐ अष्टभैरवाय नमः
ॐ गणनाथाय नमः
ॐ डाकिनीहन्त्रे नमः
ॐ घोराय नमः
ॐ सात्त्विकाय नमः || १२ ||

|| इति श्रीउन्मत्तभैरवोपाख्याने गुरुरुद्रसंवादे उन्मत्तभैरव द्वादशनामानि ||

OM unmattāya namaḥ
OM bhairavāya namaḥ
OM bhīmarūpāya namaḥ
OM yoginīpataye namaḥ
OM mātṛkānāthāya namaḥ
OM nirlajjāya namaḥ
OM paramānandāya namaḥ
OM aṣṭabhairavāya namaḥ
OM gaṇanāthāya namaḥ
OM ḍākinīhantre namaḥ
OM ghorāya namaḥ
OM sāttvikāya namaḥ || 12 ||

|| iti śrīunmattabhairavopākhyāne gururudrasaṃvāde unmattabhairava dvādaśanāmāni ||

Jai Hanuman

Upasaka and Bhakta

suvarṇatanumekāmranāyakotsaṅgavāsinīm |
dhyāyāmi varadāṃ devīṃ sadānandasvarūpinīm ||

Dear friends,

I have not talked to you all for a while as travel and work are keeping me supremely busy. And some recent puraścaraṇa I have undertaken keeps me busy as well, and happy :)

I finally got a chance to catch up on my email. Glad to know most of my friends and dear students are safe in Chennai. My most sincere gratitude to the lotus feet of Parāmbā, Prāsādaśambhu and Nṛsiṃha.

One of the several emails I received was regarding a program involving the Pārāyaṇa of aṣṭottara śatanāma of Srī Shaṅkarācārya, described as a Yajña. While I appreciate the noble intent behind this task, what is its purpose? I write below the advice that I gave my mother some time ago.

I always like to distinguish between two categories of spiritual aspirants: Bhakta and Upāsaka. Bhakta is devoted to a deity, or several deities and his approach to worship is unstructured. He is possibly in the process of cultivating devotion and doing various activities perceived to be of spiritual nature. More often than not, he has no guidance of a teacher. For such aspirants, programs such as these are of benefit, to a certain extent, in cultivating devotion towards the Guru, also perhaps in developing some body-mind discipline. I am not very sure which version of aṣṭottara is going to be used here, but the one attributed to Vidyāraṇya is heavily based on the hagiographical account - Mādhavīya Shaṅkara Digvijaya. Yes, perhaps there are some inspirational names here worthy of contemplation, amidst the myths and glorification of ācārya’s accomplishments, some true, some others not. Apart from that, I do not see any practical benefit in indulging in such activities.

If one were to possibly seek the advice of ācārya himself, I am most certain he would rather advice folks to study Vedānta, to use his written works which cover the entire gamut of metaphysics, addressing the absolute beginner as well the advanced student. Or, one could spend time propitiating the several deities he invoked, be it in the spirit of devotion, or through his more systematic works such as Prapañcasāra and Saundaryalaharī (or the controversial Yatidaṇḍaiśvaryavidhi). That, in my opinion, would be a better way to appreciate the great Advaitācārya.

As for the Upāsaka, the instructions are clear:

cakrarājārcanaṃ devyā japo nāmnāṃ ca kīrtanam |
bhaktasya kṛtyametāvadanyadabhyudayaṃ viduḥ ||

An upāsaka of Srīvidyā expresses his Bhakti not by singing and dancing, or by reciting names of the Guru, or by pilgrimages etc. His Bhakti is expressed through the systematic worship of Srīcakra involving both antaryāga and bahiryāga, Japa of mahāmantras such as Bālā, Pañcadaśī and Shoḍaśī, and through the contemplative recitation of Lalitā Sahasranāma. There can be other expressions of his Bhakti but not at the cost of his primary responsibility towards his upāsanā.

When I was once a young student of my brilliant Guru, I asked him, “Gurunātha, can I recite Gurucaritra (popular in Mahārāṣṭra) after my daily practices? People say it’s very powerful” He replied, “Well, if you have so much time, then perhaps you are not doing enough Japa! One who does even half of the required Japa, has no free time to spend! And why are you not reciting the mantra of Dattātreya instead, or the Mahāmantra of Lalitā that is propitiated by Dattātreya himself? Would that not be better use of your time and energy than recite a devotional work which is not a revealed scripture or a śāstra?”

Life is precious, and so is time! One should be judicious in their time management and spend every possible minute in Japa and contemplation rather than indulge in other activities 'perceived' to be of spiritual nature. Upāsakas should clearly distinguish themselves from the lay devout and realize their clear responsibility towards sādhanā. I have nothing against my students reciting all kinds of stotras, śatanāmas, songs, chalisas etc., but every time you do that, please question yourself if you have done justice that day to your prescribed upāsanā.

Have a glorious year ahead!