The Heart of Mantra Meditation
Learn how to tame the mind through the Hare Krishna mantra.
BY: Chris Fici
One of my favorite passages in the Bhagavad-gītā is where Krishna, the personification of the Divine, tells his stricken warrior friend Arjuna that:
For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his mind will remain the greatest enemy. (Chapter 6, Verse 6)
Of all the pearls of wisdom we try to teach our students at our Gita Circle student club at New York University, this is one passage that really seems to stick out in a very visceral, practical way. The Gita is a book of everyday reasoning, a treatise of spiritual technology designed to help us take a step back from the world in order to engage with it further, as the great sages from the Himalayas to Walden Pond did for many ages before we tread upon this world.
Nowhere is this reasoning more intensely felt when we stop our everyday scheming and dreaming to ask some pertinent questions: What is my mind? How does it work? How does it exist? Why does it seem unable to focus when I need it to? Who is the “I” that is observing the mind? Our mind is more powerful, and with a much deeper memory than any visionary device from the labs at Apple or Google. It is considered the “sixth sense”, intimately linked to how the rest of our senses interact and respond, for better or for worse, to the physical reality that surrounds us.
As our students at NYU also experience, when we meditate together, we are instantly confronted with the fact that the mind prefers to be in an adversarial position. Even to just focus simply our breath for a few moments at a time in a tremendous endeavor.
Arjuna, in the Gita, agrees when he says:
The mind is restless, turbulent, obstinate and very strong, O Krsna, and to subdue it, I think, is more difficult than controlling the wind.
Krishna, while trying to present the true reality of our bodily and mental nature as clearly as possible in the Gita, is also trying to show us that we can transcend this nature into the actuality of our being as spirit, so he responds to Arjuna's plea by saying:
O mighty-armed son of Kuntī, it is undoubtedly very difficult to curb the restless mind, but it is possible by suitable practice and by detachment.
The wisdom texts of the Bhakti tradition have a specific and compassionate design to help us access this suitable practice and detachment, in the form of a specific style of meditation using mantra. Many of us are familiar with this word, but not as much as with its actual meaning. Contemporary Bhakti scholar Stephen Knapp explains:
Man means the mind, tra means deliverance. Therefore, a spiritual mantra is the pure sound vibration for delivering the mind from material to spiritual consciousness. This is the goal of any spiritual path.