Mantra Musings


On the Organic Origins of Sanskrit and Mantra By Terry Stainton

How does one, as an animal, albeit a spiritual animal benefit from vocalising a few syllables of ‘nonsense’? Many languages have words derived from ‘onomatopoeia’ which are words that closely represent the actual sound or action. The word ‘crash’ when spoken (or even thought !!) sounds like a crash, as we think of it in English. In this sense, word-sounds of language evolved from the subconscious of the primitive people who spawned them. Gabriel Axel: “Mantra is a Sanskrit word for “sound tool,” (a literal translation would be “instrument of thought”. ) and Om is one of myriad such mantras. Sanskrit and some other ancient languages such as Tibetan, prototypical Egyptian and ancient Hebrew evolved as complex systems of onomatopoeia, where the sounds evoke movements of energy.

This evocation is qualitative and subjective and is linked with interoception (inner body sensations) and emotional sense of self, both predominantly represented in the right hemisphere of the brain. Conversely, the narrative strand of sounds in which we give them meaning is done predominantly through the left hemisphere. What is fascinating about mantras is that from a physics standpoint, the sounds themselves, before they are assigned meaning, will resonate in different parts of the body and mind, creating actual interactions or events.” As we see everyday, people listen to music to relax. Possibly what they are accomplishing is distracting themselves from dwelling in past events or worrying about the future. It keeps them in the Here and Now. Some find classical music useful to meditate, as it calms the savage beast. Some may feel that some Rap music and Death Metal have lyrics and themes that are anti-social, leading us to believe perhaps that these listeners are sociopaths. But consider if these people are frustrated, not only with life, but more importantly with “monkey brain”. Wild thoughts may distract them from daily activities. This loud harsh stimulation actually keeps them focused in the way that caffeine and Adderall (clinical amphetamines) do. I believe that this is not a good example of Mantra, but a harsh maladaptation of sound stimulus as a treatment. While it is if course ad-hoc, it may actually be functional.

It is quite possible that Sanskrit is wholly onomatopoeic and that the sound of each word was chosen to resonate with the Central Nervous System (CNS) and invoke a ‘Spirit’ within, related to the perceived characteristics of the object being coded into Sanskrit . Most languages evolve from a base, savage and guttural proto-human beginning and then over time this language is evolved by it’s users. Latin was already dying, by evolving far beyond traditional Latin in the time of Jesus (CE). The Romance languages, (Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French and yes, even Romanian) were evolved from Vulgar Latin which were local adaptations of true Latin, not Imperial Roman Latin. Sanskrit on the other hand is a cleverly manufactured language. The Sanskrit verbal adjective sáṃskṛta- may be translated as “put together, constructed, well or completely formed; refined, adorned, highly elaborated”. It is derived from the root word saṃ-skar- “to put together, compose, arrange, prepare” The name Sanskrit means “refined”, “consecrated” and “sanctified”. It has always been regarded as the ‘high’ language and used mainly for religious and scientific discourse.

It may be hard to believe that Sanskrit is the ‘mother tongue’ of the Indo European Languages, from Indian, Iranian, Greek, Latin through Western Europe including English. Sanskrit is ‘natural’ and not evolved by the whim of it’s users, as most modern languages have. It is a shame that the mish-mash language we call English is the ‘lingua franca’ of most of the world.

Personal use of Mantra: For a Mantra to have an effect it must be experienced and “felt” within one’s consciousness. Many single word Mantras can create a stimulus response in the brain, where a certain area would be turned “on” roughly similar to Dr. Penfield triggering the sensation of burnt toast. (q.v.) this can become a focal point for introspection and Mindfulness. It clears the brain activity to a single point, no mean feat! The classic Om is phonetically “Aum” and is linked phonetically and possible functionally to the word “Amen”. The similarity to Yoga Mantras and Gregorian Chanting is clear. Mantras may have different effects from person to person. The differences are a result of the condition of the body and mind of the practitioner and thus, we can expect that the efficacy of a Mantra to change, as it changes us !!

Gabriel Axel: Mantras can be done vocally, sub-vocally (whispering) or silently in the mind. It is recommended to start aloud, and then proceed with the more silent variations. Silent repetition does have an effect; when the frequency of any sound is high enough, it extends beyond the human range of hearing and eventually achieves stillness, which is beyond sound itself Moreover, group chanting or recitation of mantra can synchronize the brainwaves between the participants, achieving yet another level of collective effect, as has been shown between musicians, which can help to understand the functional basis for group chanting in many of the world’s wisdom traditions. And so we see that Mantras have a subliminal effect on the body and mind. This effect changes over the course of Mantra chanting, as the Mantra changes the body and the mind. Yoga Mantras are based on Sanskrit, which itself was intentionally designed to be sonorous and cause a reflection of the thing being vocalized. Mantras may be performed ‘out loud’, quietly (whispering) or silently in the mind.

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