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Learning Sanskrit - Sacred Mantra-s 2
Sanskrit and Mantra-s
Hi, Gabriel Pradīpaka once again. What is Sanskrit? Sanskrit is a language which was originally spoken by noblemen and priests of India. Common people belonging to the two lowest castes were not permitted to speak in Sanskrit. Sanskrit was always a language of mystery, spirituality and the like. The word Sanskrit is written "Saṁskṛta" in original language. The term "Prākṛta" is used to designate any provincial or vernacular dialect derived from Sanskrit somehow. For example, Hindī (one of the official languages spoken in India).
Each of the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet was visually designed with great care. In turn, special attention was also given to the sound patterns. In fact, the very term "Saṁskṛta" means "polished", which clearly shows what I said before, i.e. that it was created carefully. For this reason, one must be also careful when writing it or uttering its letters so that he may attain the desired results. Specially the vowels contain formidable powers which are displayed if written and pronounced properly. The characters and their inherent sounds are real vehicles to arrive at specific states of consciousness indeed.
The Sanskrit alphabet generally contains 48 letters (15 vowels and 33 consonants). Sometimes, "ḹ" vowel is added. Thus, there would be 49 letters (16 vowels and 33 consonants). In the official alphabet of this website, I do not include "ḹ" vowel, because it is practically an "invented" character in order to maintain the order "short-long" (a, ā, i, ī, u, ū, ṛ, ṝ, ḷ...). As you can see, "ḷ" would be without its counterpart long and thus "ḹ" had to be added to the list for the sake of consistency. Sometimes, even the conjunct "kṣa" ("ka" plus "sa") is added to the alphabet as a mere consonant. "Ḹ" may or not be included. Therefore, the amount is now 49 letters (15 vowels and 34 consonants - ḹ is not included), or else, 50 letters (16 vowels and 34 consonants - ḹ is included). Among the 15 or 16 vowels, as you wish, there are 8 vowels which are very auspicious. By "auspicious" I mean "uplifting" or conducive to the attainment of the spiritual goal.
The main thing to be kept in mind when one deals with Sanskrit is "to write and pronounce it in an adequate manner", as I told you before. This is true respect to the sacred language, which brings about appropriate results. The word "respect" has other connotations or implications as well, of course: "To learn as much as one can at a given moment and to use this knowledge as a kind of step in the staircase of the entire learning". One does his best in order to overcome the inherent difficulties that come up when he learns writing and pronouncing this language. Since Sanskrit is the "storehouse" containing the divine states of consciousness all yogī-s and yoginī-s strive to attain, if one treats it with respect and care, it will give him all he wishes to attain. Sanskrit is a sacred language, it is the Supreme Self manifesting Himself in the form of signs and sounds. If one approaches it with this right attitude, he reaps plenty of spiritual fruits. In turn, if one approaches it merely as if it were another language to learn, he will not make the most of it at all.
Everything and everybody is the Supreme Self, but not all His aspects and manifestations reveal His true nature. Sanskrit, being a sacred language, is one of those aspects revealing His innermost essence. Thus, by gradually practicing Sanskrit pronunciation and writing, amazing mysteries will be revealed to you, till you attain that state which is so difficult to realize, i.e. spiritual enlightenment. Spiritual enlightenment is simply realization of one's own real nature. When one realizes who he is really, it is said that he has attained spiritual enlightenment. This realization emerges at first as a sudden flash of consciousness and usually lasts for a short time. Afterward, the flashes appear more frequently till they become a permanent experience, and this condition is known as permanent enlightenment accordingly.
Therefore, in order to achieve that enlightened state through the study of Sanskrit, let your pronunciation and writing improve gradually till they become polished and perfect. The process is slow and gradual, no doubt: 1) To learn writing and pronouncing the letters. 2) To learn pronouncing words in a fluent manner, firstly by reading transliterated text and then original Sanskrit. It takes some time to learn all that, but what is the hurry? Do not start thinking "Well, if I pronounce or write this letter one way or the other, it makes no difference". No, every letter must be written and pronounced properly to produce the desired effect.
Some people affirm that it is not important to pronounce Sanskrit perfectly when reciting or chanting sacred texts. Anyway, if someone who does not know the correct way to pronounce Sanskrit chants in this language, he cannot be blamed at all, as he ignores all about Sanskrit. Nevertheless, if somebody knows the importance of the correct pronunciation but does not strive to pronounce in an adequate way out of sheer laziness, he commits a grave error and can be doubtless blamed for that. All knowledge involves responsibility on the part of the one who obtains it.
As far as those people who does not know how to pronounce adequately are concerned, it would be better for them to chant in any other language than Sanskrit, e.g. English, at least until they learn how to do it well. An additional advantage of following this course of action is that they would know the meaning of what they are chanting. I have heard that many people of this kind adduce that when chanting they experience divine states. This might be true, no doubt. They are not surely lying... but the cause of those states is not their chanting in Sanskrit but love for their chosen deity, guru and so on. Even if they chanted in English, they would have experienced the same thing, be sure.
Again, when one pronounces Sanskrit perfectly in chanting, the effect is immediate and inexorable whether or not love for some deity, guru, etc. is there. The effect depends upon the type of chant one is chanting. There are chants stimulating knowledge in oneself, while others have to do with devotion, and so forth. For example, "u" letter is related to the increase of knowledge. Therefore, if a text has plenty of "u" letters, it is probably intended for developing knowledge in the one who recites or chants it. Got it? Sanskrit, when pronounced properly, produces a definite effect on people. In that case, there is no need of faith, love and the like.
If one is not willing to learn the right pronunciation from a proficient teacher, what is the point of chanting in Sanskrit? It would be better for him to chant in English. For instance, a fragment of the national hymn of Argentina, my country, reads:
"Oíd mortales el grito sagrado: ¡Libertad, Libertad, Libertad! Oíd el ruido de rotas cadenas, ved el trono..."
Imagine an English-speaking guy chanting this hymn even when he ignores all about Spanish language. Well, it would be a disaster! People here will split their sides with laughter. It would not be either Spanish or English or nothing, just noise. It would be better for him to get a translation of that hymn in English, at least till he learns pronouncing Spanish properly from a latin boy like me, hehe:
"Oh mortal ones, hear the sacred cry: Freedom, Freedom, Freedom! Hear the sound of chains being broken, see the throne..."
OK, this is not probably the best translation of the hymn. Joking apart, at least he would understand the meaning of what he is chanting. Likewise, when someone who does not know how to pronounce Sanskrit adequately recites or chants in this language... it is a real disaster! What else should I say?
The minimum requirement to recite or chant in Sanskrit is to know pronunciation and its inherent importance. If a person is not willing to learn how to pronounce in a decent way, his chant will be only a caw even though he thinks he is chanting like quite a Brāhmaṇa (a priest), hehe.
Śikṣā: Pronunciation science
Sanskrit is commonly written by using Devanāgarī characters. In general, while one does not know the original characters and consequently does not know how to write in Sanskrit, it is convenient to use transliteration. There are many types of transliteration (See Transliterating documents for more information). The most popular transliteration systems are: IAST, ITRANS and Harvard Kyoto. The first (i.e. IAST) uses diacritic marks, that is, a series of "extra" characters (e.g. dot, hyphen, etc.), and the remaining two make use of capitalization (uppercase and lowercase) and other "tricks". Why? Simple, in the Latin alphabet used by English, Spanish, French, etc., there are about 27 to 29 characters. Of course, it depends on the language using this alphabet. For example: English does not use "ñ", which is frequently used in Spanish language. Beyond these differences, the problem is that Sanskrit contains either 48 (the one used on this website) or 49 ("ḹ" vowel being also included) or 50 ("ḹ" vowel and "kṣa" conjunct being included). Thus, Devanāgarī contains about 20 more characters than Latin alphabet, and this difference is a problem to overcome.
The solution lies in inventing those additional characters somehow. For instance, in Sanskrit there are three "n" letters. The first "n" is nasal like the one in "ping", the second one is cerebral like the one in "turning" and the last one is dental like the one in "name". These three possible "n" letters are represented with an only "n" character in the Latin alphabet, but in Sanskrit each of them has its respective character. Yes, even the character "ñ" in Devanāgarī may be considered as a "n" before a palatal (e.g. Patañjali), but this is not relevant in my present explanation. Therefore, every transliteration system implemented a different solution to the problem of representing the three Sanskrit "n" consonants:
|TRANSLITERATION ALPHABET||GUTTURAL "N"||CEREBRAL "N"||DENTAL "N"|
In First Steps (4) and First Steps (5), I explained how each Sanskrit letter is associated with a definite tattva or category of manifestation. Therefore, if one pronounces Sanskrit properly, he will generate an appropriate sound pattern. In turn, this sound pattern will allow him to get connected with those tattva-s in a proper way. Obviously, one will generally want to be connected with superior tattva-s (tattva-s 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5). For example, in order that an antenna to receive a particular type of radio wave, the former should be vibrating in the same frequency as the latter or there will be no connection at all. Likewise, if a person is to be connected with a superior level of Reality, he should be vibrating in the same frequency as the level of Reality he wants to attain. It is simple. Anyway, if you just "caw", you will hear nothing on your radio.
Previously, the presence of 8 divine vowels in the Sanskrit alphabet was hinted at by me. Let us study them in detail now [also, consult First Steps (4) and First Steps (5) for more detailed information]:
Click on the thumbnails
- Every vowel has been transliterated by using IAST in this case (a, ā, etc.).
This vowel is the first letter of the Sanskrit alphabet and therefore the most important. It is symbolic of Śiva (tattva or category 1 in Trika), the Supreme Self who is filled with Cicchakti (Cit-śakti) or the Power of Consciousness. It is the Witness to all activities, and the static aspect of Divinity. Thus, when one repeats "a" with full awareness of its nature, he attains exactly that, i.e. Śiva.
This vowel is the counterpart of "a". It is the same "a" (Śiva) but now appearing as double. This protraction indicates an "expansion" of "a". In other words, "ā" is symbolic of Śakti (tattva or category 2 in Trika), the Supreme Power of Śiva who is filled with Ānandaśakti or the Power of Bliss. It is I-consciousness, and the dynamic aspect of Divinity. Thus, when one repeats "ā" with full awareness of its nature, he attains exactly that, i.e. Śakti.
This vowel is the first expression of "ā" or Śakti. The "i" vowel is symbolic of Sadāśiva (tattva or category 3 in Trika) who is filled with Icchāśakti or Power of Will. It is the abode of complete satisfaction in Oneself. Thus, when one repeats "i" with full awareness of its nature, he attains exactly that, i.e. Sadāśiva.
This vowel is also an expression of "ā" or Śakti. The "u" vowel is symbolic of Īśvara (tattva or category 4 in Trika) who is filled with Jñānaśakti or Power of Knowledge. It is the abode of Omniscience. Thus, when one repeats "u" with full awareness of its nature, he attains exactly that, i.e. Īśvara.
E, Ai, O, Au
These vowel are a mixture: "e" = "a" or "ā" + "i"; "ai" = "a" or "ā" + "e"; "o" = "a" or "ā" + "u"; "au" = "a" or "ā" + "o". They are symbolic of Sadvidyā (tattva or category 5 in Trika) who is filled with Kriyāśakti or Power of Action. They are the abode of Omnipotence. Thus, when one repeats "e", "ai", "o" and "au" with full awareness of their nature, he attains exactly that, i.e. Sadvidyā.
There are two kinds of Mantra-s:
- Jaḍa: Inert Mantra-s that are to be vivified or enlivened through their repetition. Thus, they are not vivified "by default", but you have to do that by repeating them for a long time. Consequently, their effect is not an immediate one.
- Caitanya: Vivified Mantra-s. These Mantra-s have already been enlivened by other people who repeated them for a long time. Consequently, their effect is immediate.
The former are generally given privately, i.e. they are personal Mantra-s that "only" you can use. In turn, the latter are popular, i.e. they are publicly known. However, it is said that they will only bear fruits when received from a true guru, and not when merely taken from books, other people, etc. Well, the problem here is how is one to know if someone is a genuine guru or not. Only a true disciple may recognize a true guru. But, as the vast majority of people are not true disciples, although they may think they are, the problem is really complex. I myself received the Pañcākṣarīmantra from someone who were "apparently" a genuine guru, but how to be sure if when I received it I was not a genuine disciple. In fact, I am not a true disciple even now.
Anyway, for me there are two guru-s, one is merely a doorway while the other is the real Guru. The former is a human being and he/she is called the physical guru, who is a mere shadow of the latter. The real Guru is not a human being and therefore he is with no body. This is the true Guru and dwells in you as Yourself. If someone can understand His inner messages and instructions, he does not need the physical guru at all. The problem is that most people cannot understand what the inner Guru is saying. So, the physical guru is necessary. Still, this type of guru is "human" and has an "ego". This ego should be divinely-oriented... but you can never be sure. According to my own experience, the better thing to do is to follow the instructions of a physical guru until you may clearly understand the messages from the inner Guru. Only the inner Guru is completely "reliable" when properly understood as he does not own any body and His nature is a divine one. Human beings... are human beings, you know. Obviously, if you want to retain your physical guru even though you can understand the inner Guru, you can... but it is not relevant anymore.
There is a secret for a Mantra to bear fruits quickly: You must try to feel that "You, the Mantra and the Mantra's Deity Himself are the same thing". If you repeat a Mantra, by feeling that you are different from the Mantra and its Deity, the Mantra will not bear adequate fruits. Also, if you only have a "double" awareness, i.e. "You and the Mantra are the same thing" or "You and the Deity are the same thing", the Mantra will not bear appropriate fruits. There should be a "triple" awareness, i.e. "You, the Mantra and its Deity are the same thing", to be successful in its repetition. This is the secret. Thus, when repeating the Pañcākṣarīmantra, "You, the Mantra and Śiva (its Deity) should be felt as the same thing". You can read more on Mantra-s in Meditation 3.
The Mantra "Om̐ namaḥ śivāya" is commonly known as "Pañcākṣarīmantra" or "Five-syllabled (pañca-akṣarī) Mantra (mantra)" as it is composed by five syllables (except Om̐, of course): na-maḥ-śi-vā-ya. Its literal meaning is: "Om̐, salutation (namaḥ) to Śiva (śivāya)". Śiva means here "God". The sacred Mantra "Om̐" may be written in various ways: Om (ओम्), Oṁ (ओं) or Om̐ (ॐ)
Although the third way to write it is the best by far, I generally prefer to transliterate it as "Om̐" because it is easier than Om̐. Of course, "Om" would be even easier than "Om̐", but "m" sound is an inferior one. It is related to the 12th tattva in Trika while "ṁ" (Anusvāra) is associated with the 4th tattva (See Tattva-s and Sanskrit for more information). Here you are a thumbnail of the Pañcākṣarīmantra. Click on it to see a larger image and download its sound:
To learn how to pronounce every syllable, go to Pronunciation 1. Remember that the Visarga ("ḥ" in "namaḥ") may be pronounced in two different ways according to its position in a sentence. When it is "at the end" of a sentence, Visarga is to be uttered by adding the same vowel preceding it but in a very short form. For example, if "namaḥ" were to be at the end of the Mantra (Om̐ śivāya namaḥ), it is to be pronounced "námaha" (pronounce "h" as normally in English), where the last "a" is much shorter that the second one. However, when Visarga is "in the middle" of a sentence, it is to be uttered without adding anything. For instance, "namaḥ" in "Om̐ namaḥ śivāya" is to pronounced "námah" (pronounce "h" as normally in English). Thus, when the Mantra is written in its original form as "Om̐ namaḥ śivāya", Visarga sounds like "h" (námah) and not like "ha" (námaha). Whether you have to use one way to utter Visarga or the other, it is "always" pronounced, i.e. it should never be omitted. Therefore, to pronounce only "náma" is not correct. Of course, most people pronounce "náma" and omit the Visarga sound. That is why I took the trouble to explain this topic in detail. There are no "mute" letters in Sanskrit. Understand this and stop pronouncing "náma" if you are doing so, please.
A last thing: This Mantra may be used while you carry out your daily tasks as well as in meditation. Repeat it at the same speed as a person speaks normally, neither too fast nor too slow. It is one of the most powerful Mantra-s and the effect it produces may be increased if you coordinate the Mantra with your breathing process: once while you breathe in, once while you breathe out. Obviously, this may be only practiced when you are meditating, as it is very difficult to accomplish when you are working, speaking and the like. Some people might experience that the Mantra is too long to be repeated once when breathing in and once when breathing out. Well, if you are one of them, just do not coordinate it with your breath. Sometimes, when this problem occurs, people may use shorter Mantra-s alternatively only for meditation. However, this topic will be dealt with on other occasion.
The main purpose of this document was giving the great Mantra "Om̐ namaḥ śivāya" to you. Anyway, this does not mean that it is "your" Mantra. In order to find out if it is for you, try it for a certain period of time and check its effects on you. This is a Caitanyamantra, i.e. it has been vivified by people who repeated it before you. It is a very ancient Mantra, and thus it has been pronounced for millenniums. It is full of Śakti or Divine Power, be sure. Well, nothing else for the time being. Repeat the Pañcākṣarīmantra and be immensely happy.
This document was conceived by Gabriel Pradīpaka, one of the two founders of this site, and spiritual guru conversant with Sanskrit language and Trika philosophy.
For further information about Sanskrit, Yoga and Indian Philosophy; or if you simply want to comment, ask a question or correct a mistake, feel free to contact us: This is our e-mail address.
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