Ancient Wisdoms’ Grounding Forces

Using the Yogic Paths During Times of Unsettlement:

Bhadti Mārga

Yogic scriptures define fear (bhaya) as a modification in the mind. These ancient teachings delineate two kinds of bhaya natural or rational fear, which serves us in threatening situations; and “unnatural or unusual” fear which is not based in any objective reality. When hearing the later I think of ‘phobias,’ as an example. Anxiety and worry are the effects of bhaya no matter the appearance. I chuckled a bit at this physical description in one text:

It (fear) is characterized by pallor of face, palpitation of heart, slowing of pulse or stoppage, tremor of limbs, perspiration, expressionless condition of the eyes, passing of urine and feces unaware, in extreme cases, choking of voice, inability to speak, etc. The body becomes like a log of wood. The mind gets stunned. The function of the senses is inhibited.[1]

From this description it is obvious the physiological effects of fear can be vast and very real on a somatic level. As I mentioned, in a previous post, a cultural hyper-awareness of the body feeds a bhaya mindset, usually stemming from avidyā (ignorance). “It (avidyā) manifests when one identifies with the body and forgets the immortal Ātman.”[2]For those unfamiliar with this aspect of Self, Ātman is the inner part of each individual affiliated with Divineness. Fear tends to separate one from knowing this Divine aspect of Self via negative egoic (ahaṁkāra) qualities. Yoga, in all its aspects, offers multiple ways/paths for stilling these patterns of consciousness.

Sūtra I.2

yogaś citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ

yogaḥ – process of attaining union and a harmonious state of mind

citta – consciousness, the repository of thoughts and feelings

vṛtti – turnings, thought constructs nirodhaḥ:  ni – completely, in every respect  rodha – discipling, not allowing to roam aimlessly

Engaging in a consistent sādhanā (practice) assists each of us in working with the mental modifications of ahaṁkāra. Sādhanā disciplines the turnings of the mind, leading the way toward integration of the heart and Ātman. Embracing the Yogic mārga of Bhakti involves a devotional surrender, a courageous embrace of understanding our mind and heart. Cor, the Latin root of courage, actually refers to heart. In the earliest of times to have courage was “to speak one’s mind by telling all of one’s heart.” Bhakti Yoga is a dialogue of one’s heart with God, or whatever the word is one uses to describe and embrace the Divine. Surrender as a Bhakta, a person on this Yogic path, brings the ahaṁkāra to a point where it asks inwardly for guidance through chanting, listening to stories of divine manifestation (līlā), bowing the ego, emptying the mind and filling it and the heart notions of the Divine.

On my first trip to India, just over twenty years ago, I went through a day long ritual, bestowing me with a mantra.* I recited that one mantra for nearly fifteen years. At first the mantra was a tool to soothe my bouncing mind as I sat to meditate. Eventually the words became the default sound of my brain, a sacred hum replacing the noises of doubt and unkindness trying to make their way in at various times. Over the last five years Bhaktisādhanā has been a continuous courageous embracing through an even deeper exploration into nāda, the Yoga of sound. Sanskrit, japa of other mantra-s, discovering sacred sound through voice, and instrument-based practices (tānpūra and harmonium) are also now part of my daily nāda sādhanā.

“By chanting, we strip away our outer appearances, our smaller selves, to let the Light of our true nature, shine forth.”  

– Rabbi Tirah Firestone

Mantra is “a living energy” traditionally handed down from teacher to student. A mantra is a sound that has, as the ancient sages say, “one foot in this world and one foot in a world that transcends ordinary sensory and psychological experience.”[3] The mystical mental practice of mantra provides a framework akin to the physical aspects of āsana. Neuroplasticity, within the brain, and mantra’s effect on the mind’s adaptive nature is being investigated by modern scientists. Their findings are validating what the ancients inherently knew, the vibrational quality of Sanskrit has a profound effect on the brain’s wiring. Swedish researchers are now able to demonstrate the health benefits of Sanskrit mantra, as a conduit for freeing [the] mind… and calming [the] nervous system[4]. A consistent devotional recitation or quiet focus on mantra is proving to insulate against sensory stimulation from the external world.

Auṁ is “described as the audible echo of inaudible sound.”[5] It is a profoundly basic opening to the power of mantra. Auṁ consists of four parts:

1.) ahhh, like stick out your tongue and say…

2.) u is pronounced oooo with the lips coming into a circle

3.) mmm, with the tip of the tongue resting just behind the front teeth

4.) silence

Each part of the sound is given equal time, including the silence before the repeated sounding of the whole mantra.

If you are new to Sanskrit and mantra please  know the goal is not to parrot the sound. Proper placement of the tongue (there are five positions) is the key. Aim to let your mind rest in the sound of the mantra and the cultivated inner silence that comes with time. Eventually with persistent practice and devotion, the sound will become a resting place for the mind. Mantra provides fortitude along the ever-winding meditative path.





*you may read more about this in my memoir, Inspired to Live: the Story of an Unlikely Rebel

[1] Swami Sivananda. Conquest of Fear. The Divine Life Society. Tehri-Garhwal, U.P., Himalayas, India: 1997.

[2] Swami Sivananda. Conquest of Fear. The Divine Life Society. Tehri-Garhwal, U.P., Himalayas, India: 1997.

[3] Sovik, Rolf. A Mantra for Your Mind. Yoga International, Summer, 2013.

[4] Moran, Susan. The Magic of Mantra. Yoga Journal, April, 2018.