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TranceNet: What's Your Mantra Mean?

Or When Is a Meaningless Sound Not Meangingless? When It's a Tantric Name of a Hindu God

Primary-source selections below give much more detail, but "Table 1" lists common TM mantras with their associated gods. (Please note that English orthography varies somewhat, but the Sanskrit is basically the same in all sources quoted. Also the termination consonant, either "m" or "ng," known as the Candra-bindu, are both the same nasal in Sanskrit and don't appear to change the meaning.)

What's Your Mantra Mean?
TM Mantra Garland Sastra Tantra Devata
ENG, EM, ENGA, EMA, AING, AIM, AINGA, AIMA (essentially the same bija mantra) AIM AIM AIM Saraswati, Devi of learning, music, speech, the fine arts
SHIRING, SHIRIM SHREEM S'RÍM S'RÍM Mahalakshmi or Lakshmi, Devi of wealth
HIRING, HIRIM HREEM HRÍM HRÍM Bhuvanesvari, Mahamaya
RAM, SHRIRAM (RAM plus SHRI, see below) RAM RAM RAM Agni, Deva of Fire

For a comprehensive discussion of how TM teachers picked your mantra, see Mike Doughney's MINET.ORG. (We know of some mantra lists that differ from MINET's in minimal ways.)

According to Tantric scholar Sir John Woodroffe's Garland of Letters, Indian scriptures such as the Tantra of the Great Nirvana, and commentaries on the Mantra Sastra, the TM mantras are hardly secret. They have been widely available throughout India for centuries. They are known as bija or seed mantras, used to worship various devatas or Hindu dieties.

The Maharishi himself, in a quote from the Beacon Light of the Himalyas, admits that the mantras he dispenses invoke householder gods: "For our practice, we select only the suitable mantras of personal Gods. Such mantras fetch to us the grace of personal Gods and make us happier in every walk of life." (Beacon Light of the Himalyas, Maharishi [Bala Brahmachari] Mahesh Yogi [Maharaj], 1955, p. 65

Where Did the Maharishi Learn the Mantras?

According to sources quoted in Paul Mason's The Maharishi and a current Shankracharya and co-disciple of the Maharishi's dead master, Guru Dev, the TM mantras do not come from the tradition of Shankara.

Where do they come from?

There is some indication that the Maharishi patterned his teachings about mantra-based meditation after Swami Sivananda. Sworn court documents from the Kropinski trial point out striking similarities. And Sivananda's career in Rishikesh, around the time Guru Dev (the Maharshi's master) died, clearly parallels the Maharishi's own.

About Mantra Selection Criteria

MINET.ORG details the age and sex criteria that TM used over the years to select mantras.

But there's more to the story.

On TranceNet editor John M. Knapp's TM Teacher Training Course (Leysin, Switzerland, 1978), one of the course participant's questioned the Maharishi closely about mantra selection. (From Knapp's personal transcriptions.)

The criteria you gave us say, 3 to 5 and 5 to 10 years. Which mantra do we use if they are 5?

"Three to five must mean until five. After that we use the next mantra."

What if it's the student's birthday?

"The age they are that day."

What if it's their birthday tomorrow or next week?

"The same. The age they are that day."

What if a "lady" lies about her age on the initiation form?

"That's not our concern," the Maharishi giggles. "The teacher is not responsible for a student's karma."

What if a TM teacher makes a mistake?

"It doesn't matter much," the Maharishi replied in apparent amused exasperation. "All the mantras are good for all the people."

So much for the TM movement's claims of unique mantras, scientifically selected according to ancient and secret formulas from the Shankaracharya tradition.

Advanced Techniques & What TM Teachers Knew

As TM teachers we were officially told repeatedly that "the mantras had no meaning for the meditators."

Like a lot of the language in the TM movement, this was fairly weasely. You'll notice that the statement doesn't read, "the mantras have no meaning." Most of us as insiders understood this to mean that they had no meaning for the meditators, because we didn't tell them the meaning.

We saw tapes of Maharishi where he repeatedly explained that the sounds of the mantras, especially as one approaches transcendence, had the effect of summoning very refined "impulses of creative intelligence." In other tapes, he explained that the "impulses of creative intelligence" or "laws of nature" were devas such as Indra, Agni, and so forth. He also explicitly said that in the proper state of consciousness, that repeating the name of "impulses of creative intelligence" in Sanskrit had the effect of creating or summoning the "form."

Nearly every TM teacher knew from reading "Beacon Light of the Himalyas," from other TM teachers, and so forth that the mantras are actually the names or invocations for Hindu devas. In the 70s, Time magazine and other publications printed lists of translated mantras. Nearly every teacher had read such articles and knew that the mantras had meaning.

Finally, every TM teacher had to memorize and pass innumerable tests on the word-by-word vocabulary in the puja. So every single TM teacher in the world is well aware that the word "shri" means "glorious or self-effulgent," and "namah" means "I bow down."

So any TM teacher who tells you that they don't know that the advanced techniques mean "I bow down to the glorious [deva]" is lying to you. For instance, the technique "SHRI AING NAMAH" translates as "I bow down to the glorious AING [Saraswati]."

For TM-EX's explanation of advanced techniques, see Mike Doughney's MINET.ORG [Note that there are other versions of the advanced techniques.]

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Creation has two sides: intelligence, which is the cause of everything, and the manifestations of intelligence, which are the physical and psychological features of the everyday world. Because Transcendental Meditation directly approaches intelligence, rather than the manifestations of intelligence, it solves problems by introducing harmony and well-being at the most basic level, and not by dealing with problems themselves. That's why it is so effective.

Consider this example: The gardener supplies water to the root of a tree. That water, that nourishment, then reaches all parts of the tree - leaves, branches, flowers, fruit - through the sap. We can think of the sap as analogous to intelligence and the green leaves or yellow flowers as analogous to the manifestations of the intelligence. The leaves and flowers are the intelligence of the sap, after it has been transformed. So intelligence - like the leaves and flowers of a tree - appears as the many different forms of manifest life. Those manifestations include every aspect of existence, from the material and physiological, through the psychological, intellectual, and spiritual. All of those features of life come from transformations of intelligence. In meditation, we directly meet this essential intelligence. Therefore, we have the possibility of nourishing all of its other levels, and thus all levels of manifestation, in a way that is harmoniously related to the whole universe.

How is Transcendental Meditation different from the various other forms of meditation?

Maharishi: The basic difference is that Transcendental Meditation, in addition to its simplicity, concerns itself only with the mind. Other systems often involve some additional aspects with which the mind is associated, such as breathing or physical exercises. They can be a little complicated because they deal with so many things. But with Transcendental Meditation there is no possibility of any interference. So we say this is the all-simple program, enabling the conscious mind to fathom the whole range of its existence.

Transcendental Meditation ranges from active mind - or performing mind - to quiet mind - or resting mind. In this resting mind, one has purity and simplicity, uninvolved with anything other than the mind, uninvolved with any other practice. In Transcendental Meditation, because we deal only with the mind, we nourish all expressions of intelligence.

The mind meditates, gains Transcendental Consciousness and brings about transformation in different fields of manifestation. All fields of life, which are the expression of intelligence, are nourished or transformed and made better through experiencing Transcendental Consciousness.

The mind, of course, is always concerned with other aspects, such as the physiology of the body, the environment, and the whole universe for that matter. But since Transcendental Meditation deals only with the performance of the mind, from its active states to its settled state, it remains unconcerned with those other aspects, though it deals with them all, because intelligence deals with them all. -- Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, unknown interview, copyright presumablyheld by Maharishi Vedic University, The Maharishi Foundation, or another group within the TM family.

Cults come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Categories of cults that are recruiting successfully today include:

Eastern meditation: characterized by belief in God-consciousness, becoming one with God. The leader usually distorts and Eastern-based philosophy or religion. Members sometimes learn to disregard worldly possessions and may take on an ascetic lifestyle. Techniques used: meditation, repeated mantras, altered states of consciousness, trance states.

Religious: marked by belief in salvation, afterlife, sometimes combined with an apocalyptic view. The leader reinterprets the Scriptures and often claims to be a prophet if not the messiah. Often the group is strict, sometimes using physical punishments such as paddling and birching, especially on children. Members are encouraged to spend a great deal of time proselytizing. (Note: included here are Bible-based neo-Christian and other religious cults, many considered syncretic since they combine beliefs and practices). Techniques used: speaking in tongues, chanting, praying, isolation, lengthy study sessions, many hours spent evangelizing, "struggle" (or criticism) and confession sessions.

Political, racist, terrorist: fueled by belief in changing society, revolution, overthrowing the "enemy" or getting rid of evil forces. The leader professes to be all-knowing and all-powerful. Often the group is armed and meets in secret with coded language, handshakes, and other ritualized practices. Members consider themselves an elite cadre ready to go to battle. Techniques used: paramilitary training, reporting on one another, guilt, fear, struggle sessions, instilled paranoia, long hours of indoctrination. -- Captive Hearts, Captive Minds, Lalich and Tobias, Hunter House, 1993.