It is well said that Ritual is the Art of Religion. As practiced by the Hindus, it is not rightly judged, because the religious and philosophical doctrines of which it is a practical expression and method are either unknown or misunderstood. If we add to incapacity, a temperament hostile to all Ritualism, the resultant criticism is "mummery," "idolatry," "gibberish," and so forth. It is true that Ritual is meaningless to those who do not know its meaning; just as a telegram sent in cipher is without sense to those who are ignorant of the code according to which it is written. It may, however, be admitted that in so far as, and to the extent that Ritual is carried out without understanding on the part of the worshipper, such criticisms may, to that extent, be justified. Despite shallow views, Ritual is a necessity for men as whole. Those who profess to reject it in religion are yet found to adhere to it, in some form or other, in social and political life. The necessity of Ritual is shown by well-known historical reactions. Degeneracy leads to "Protestant" abolitions. The jejune worship of the "reformer" lacks appeal and power and Ritual comes into its own again. This oscillation is well marked in Europe in the history of Catholicism and Protestantism. It is displayed again in the East in Buddhism, which, starting as a revolt from an excessive Vaidik Ritual, adopted in the end the elaborate rites to be found in the Hindu and Buddhist Tantras. The Brahmanic position is the middle and stable way, acknowledging the value of both the "Protestant" and "Catholic" attitude. Its view is that all men need Ritual, but in varying degree and various kinds, until they are Siddha, that is, until they have achieved the end which Ritual is designed to secure. When the end is gained there is no longer need for the means to it. Further, the need becomes less and less as approach is made to that end. The Ritual must be suitable to the spiritual attainments and disposition of the worshipper. For the simple and ignorant the Ritual is of a Sthula or gross kind. The word Sthula in Sanskrit does not necessarily imply any moral censure. It is here used as the opposite of Sukshma or subtle. Again, count is taken of human emotion and of its varieties. The dispositions or temperaments, or Bhava, of worshippers vary. One worshipper may place himself before the Lord in the relation of a servant towards his Master, another in the relation of a friend, and yet another in the relation of a lover. In the same way, Yoga, in the sense of a system of self-control and self-fulfillment, varies. For those who are predominantly intellectual there is the Yoga of Knowledge (Jñana); for those in whom emotion is strong there is the Yoga of Devotion (Bhakti); for such as belong to neither of these classes there is the great Yoga of Action (Karma). The end to which each medially or directly works is the same. There is, in fact, no religion more Catholic than Hinduism. For this reason, those who dislike and fear it, speak of its "rapacious maw". It has in fact, an enormous faculty of assimilation; for there is in it that which will satisfy all views and temperaments. In the West, we are too apt to quarrel with views and practices which we dislike. We will not, in such case, accept them, but that is not necessarily a reason why those who like them should not do so. Thus, to some, all Ritual is repellent, or some kinds of devotion, such as the use of erotic imagery. Let each take or reject what is suitable or unsuitable to him. Controversy is futile. Fitness or Adhikara is a fundamental principle of Hinduism. Some may be fit for one doctrine and practice, and others not. The wisdom of the universal man with a world-mind converts many an absolute judgment into a relative one. For the judgment, "This is bad," he will substitute, "This is not good for me". In this way he will both save own health and temper, and that of the other.
The term "Ritual," in its religious sense, is included in the Sanskrit term Sadhana, though the latter word has a wider content. It is derived from the root Sadh = to exert or strive for, and includes any exertion or striving for anything. Thus a man who goes through a special training for an athletic match is doing Sadhana with a view to win in that contest. The taking of lessons in a foreign language is Sadhana with a view to attain proficiency in that language. Orientalists frequently translate the term by the English word "evocation". There is, of course, Sadhana, to gain the fruits of magic. But this is only one form of Sadhana. The form of which I write, and that to which reference is generally made, is that effort and striving in the form of self-training, discipline, and worship which has as its end a 'spiritual' and not merely physical or mental result -- though such result necessarily involves a transformation of both mind and body. The end, then, is some form of Unity with God as the Universal Father, or Mother as the Shaktas say. The person who does Sadhana is called Sadhaka or, if a woman, Sadhika. The end sought by the process of Sadhana is Sadhya or Siddhi. Siddhi, or accomplishment, means any successful result, and the man who attains it, is in respect of such attainment, called Siddha. The highest Siddhi is Unity with Brahman, the All-pervader, either by merger in or expansion into It, as some say, or as others hold, by varying degrees of association with and proximity to the Lord. Dogmatic views on this or other points are necessarily, to some extent, reflected in the Ritual presented for their realization, but at the Sadhana stage there is less divergence of practice than might be supposed, because whatever be the doctrine held, a worshipper must practically be a dualist. For worship includes both a worshipper and that which is worshipped. There are persons who, in popular language, "worship themselves," but this is not a spiritual exercise. Whatever God may be in Himself, or Itself, the worship is of a Supreme Person (Purnaham). The world sometimes distracts the Mind from this, its supreme object. Nevertheless there is another universal tendency towards it. This last tendency is proof of man's divine origin. Springing from such a source, he must needs return to it. The striving to realize God, is part of man's nature. Sadhana is such striving in the forms which experience has shown to be fruitful. In the Orphic Mysteries it was said: "I am the child of the earth and starry sky, but know that my origin is divine. I am devoured by and perish with thirst. Give me without delay the fresh water which flows from the 'Lake of Memory'." And again: "Pure, and issued from what is pure, I come towards Thee."
So again St. Augustine said that the Mind was not at rest until it found itself in God. Brahmanic doctrine also states the same and gives the reasons for it. A profound saying by an Indian sage runs: "Identification with the imperfect (Apurnam manyata) -- that is, want of Wholeness, is Disease and the source of every misery." Whole = Hale = Health. Every form of want of wholeness, be it physical, psychical or spiritual, is disease and inflicts unhappiness. God is the whole and complete (Purna), which is without parts or section (Akhanda). Man is the reverse of this. But having sprung from the Whole, he seeks self-completion either by becoming or reflecting the Whole. The greatest of illnesses is that which the Hindu Scriptures call the Disease of Existence itself, in so far as such finite existence involves a hindrance to the realization of perfect infinite Being. For these reasons one of the Cakras or compartments of the great Shri Yantra, is called Rogahara Cakra, that is, the "Disease-destroying Cakra". What is meant by the saying is that man's identification of the self with its particular form, that is with imperfection, is Disease, just as the knowledge that he is one with the whole is Health lasting. To gain this it is necessary that man should worship his Lord in one or other of the many ways in which his fellows have done so. For that purpose he may invent a ritual. But the more effective forms for the mass are those which tradition accredits. Amongst the greatest of ritual systems is that of the Hindus. Hinduism (to use a popular term) cannot be understood without a knowledge of it.
But, it may be said, there are many Rituals. Which are to be adopted, and how can we know that they will give result? The answer is that the Ritual for any particular individual is that for which he is fit (Adhikari). The proof of its efficacy is given by experience. The Ayurveda, or the Veda which teaches the rules to secure a long life (Ayuh) says that that only is a medicine which cures the disease and which, at the same time, gives rise to no other. To those who put the question, the answer of the Teacher is -- "Try". If the seeker will not try he cannot complain that he has no success. The Teacher has himself or herself (for according to the Tantras a woman may be a Guru) been through the training, and warrants success to those who will faithfully adopt the means he has himself adopted.
What, then, are the basic principles of Sadhana, and how does it work? To understand this we must have correct ideas of what the Hindus understand by the terms Spirit, Mind, and Body. I have in my volume The World As Power explained these terms and will now very shortly summarize what is there said, so far as it touches the main principles governing the subject of this paper.
The ultimate object of the ritual -- that is, the realization of God -- is effected by the transformation of the worshipper into likeness with the worshipped. Let us assume that the Sadhaka is doctrinally an adherent of the Advaita Vedanta which is called Monism, but which is more accurately translated "Not two," or non-dual, because, whilst it can be affirmed that the ultimate Reality is not two, still as it is beyond number and all other predicates, it cannot be affirmed to be one. Let us, then, investigate some of the general principles on which the Ritual expressing this doctrine works.
Man is said to be Spirit -- to use an English term -- with two vehicles of Mind and Body. Spirit, or Brahman as it is in Itself (Svarupa), according to the Vedanta is, relative to us, pure infinite Being, Consciousness, Bliss (Sat, Cit, Ananda). That is Spirit viewed from our side and in relation to us. What Spirit is Itself only Spirit in Itself can say. This is only known in the experience of the perfect (Siddha) Yogi, who has completely transformed himself through the elimination of those elements of Mind and Body which constitute a finite individuality. "To know Brahman is to be Brahman." God, or the Lord (Ishvara) is pure, infinite Spirit, in its aspect relative to the world as its Creator, Maintainer, and Ruler. Man is, according to this school, that self-same Spirit or Consciousness which, in one aspect is immutable, and in another is finitized by Mind and Matter. Consciousness and Mind are, then, two different and, indeed, opposite things. Mind is not Consciousness, but is (considered in itself) an Unconscious force. Consciousness is infinite. Mind is a product of a finitizing principle or power inherent in Consciousness itself, which appears to limit consciousness. Mind per se is thus an unconscious force limiting Consciousness. This statement may seem strange in the West, but is coming to be acknowledged to some extent there, where it is now recognized that there is such a thing as unconscious mind. Vedanta says that mind in itself is always an unconscious force. The mind appears to be conscious, not because it is so in itself, but because it is associated with and is the vehicle of Spirit which alone is Consciousness in Itself. The function of Mind, on the contrary, is to cut into sections sectionless Consciousness. Let us suppose that Consciousness is represented by an unbroken light thrown on a blank screen. This unbroken light imperfectly represents -- (for images fail us in one respect or another) -- Consciousness. Let us suppose, then, another metal screen cut up into patterns imposed on the former and thus letting the light through in parts and in various shapes, and shutting it out in others. This last opaque screen represents Mind. Consciousness is self-revealing. Mind occludes it in varying ways, and is a subtle form of the power (Shakti) possessed by Spirit to appear in finite form. Matter or Body is another but grosser form of the same Power. And because Mind and Body have a common origin, the one as subject can know the other as object. Cognition is then recognition. The same Power which has the capacity to so veil itself can unveil itself. The first step towards such unveiling is taken by Sadhana in its form as self-purification, both as regards body and mind, self-discipline and worship in its various ritual forms. At a high point of advance this Sadhana enters what is generally known as Yoga.
How then does Sadhana work? It must be remembered that there is no such thing as mind or soul without some form of body, be it gross or subtle. The individual mind has always a body. It is only Spirit which is Mind-less, and therefore wholly bodiless. Mind and Body are each as real as the other. When there is subject or mind there is always object or matter. The proper discipline purifies and controls both. A pure body helps to the attainment of a pure mind, because they are each aspects of one Power-Substance. Whenever, then, there is mind, it has some object or content. It is never without content. That object may be good or bad. The first design of the Ritual, then is to secure that the mind shall always have a good object. The best of all objects is its Lord. What, then, is the result of meditation on the Lord?
What is the process of knowing? When the mind knows an object, that process consists in the projection from the Mind of a Mind-Ray, which goes out to the object, takes its form, and returns and models the mind itself into the form of the object. Thus, if attention is completely given, that is without any distraction, to an image or Deity, a jar or any other object, the mind so long as it holds that object is completely transformed into the shape of that object. Thus, with complete concentration on the Lord, the mind is shaped into the image of Him, with all His qualities. That image is formulated by what is called the Dhyana. The Ritual gives the Dhyana of each of the forms of God or Spirit.
Let it be assumed, then, that the mind is thus transformed; it is then necessary to keep it so. The mind is so unsteady, agile and variable that it has been compared both with mercury and the restless monkey. If this variability displayed itself in the choice of good thoughts only, it would not so much matter. But there are others which are not good. Moreover, both intensity and durability of transformation are desired. The endeavor then is to attain complete power of concentration and for periods of increasing length. The effect of this is to establish in the mind a tendency in the direction desired. All have experience of the psychological truth that the longer and more firmly an object is held in the mind, the less is the tendency towards distraction from it. A tendency is called Samskara. Such tendency may be physical or psychical. Thus, the tendency of an India-rubber band when stretched to return to its original condition before such stretching, is physical samskara of India-rubber. In the same way, there are psychical samskaras. Thus, a man of miserly disposition is influenced by some sufficient impulse to be, on a particular occasion, generous, but when that or other sufficient impulse lacks, his miserly disposition or samskara asserts itself. On the other hand, but little is required to call out generosity in a naturally charitable man, for the good tendency is there. Sadhana confirms good and eradicates bad samskaras. As tendencies are produced by past action, intellectual or bodily, present and future good actions will secure that good samskaras are kept and others eliminated. Man is both born with samskaras and acquires others. No Hindu holds that the mind at birth is tabula rasa. On the contrary, it is compounded of all the samskaras or tendencies which result from the actions of the previous lives of the individual in question. These are added to, varied, reversed or confirmed by actions taken in the present life. Many of such Samskaras are bad, and steps must be taken to substitute for them others. All are aware that bad acts and thoughts, if repeated, result in the establishment of a bad habit, that is a bad Samskara realized. The object of Sadhana is, then, firstly to substitute good objects for the mind in lieu of bad objects, and to overcome the tendency towards distraction and to revert to what is bad. This means the stabilizing of character in a good mold.
How is this to be effected? The Sadhana must avoid all distractions by keeping the mind occupied with what is good. We accordingly find the repetitions which may be, but by no means necessarily are, "vain". A common instance of this is Japa, or repetition of mantra. This is done by count on a rosary (Mala) or with the thumb on the twelve phalanxes of the fingers. There are also forms of repetition in varying ways. Thoughts are intensified and confirmed by appropriate bodily gestures Mudra. Again, real processes are imagined. Thus, in Nyasa, the worshipper with appropriate bodily actions places different parts of the body of the Divinity on the corresponding parts of his own body. Thus the Sadhaka imagines that he has acquired a new divine body. Again, in the more subtle rite called Bhutasuddhi, the worshipper imagines that each of the component elements of the body is absorbed in the next higher element until all are merged in the Supreme Power of whom man, as a compound of such elements, is a limited manifestation. Whilst this is merely imagined in Sadhana, it objectively and actually takes place in Kundalini Yoga. The mind is thus constantly occupied in one form or another with, and thus shaped into, that which is divine and becomes itself, by being kept in such shape, at length permanently divine. For as the Chandogya Upanishad says: "What a man thinks that he becomes." So also the Gandharva Tantra says: "By meditating on anything as oneself, man becomes that." Thinking always on the Lord, man is transformed, within limits, into an image of Him. The preparatory work of Sadhana is completed in Yoga.
I will next shortly note some of the principal forms of ritual employed in worship, viz., image and emblem, Yantra, Puja, Mantra, Mudra, Nyasa, Bhutashuddhi. These are in constant use, either daily or on special occasions. The ritual of the Sacraments, or Samskaras, are performed once, viz., on the date of that sacrament, such as naming ceremony, marriage and so forth.
The third Chapter (here summarized and explained) of the Sanskrit work called "Wave of Bliss, for worshippers of the Mother-Power (Shakti)," deals with the necessity for the use of images and other forms as representations of the formless All-Pervader (Brahman). The latter is, in Its own true nature, bodiless (ashariri) and pure Consciousness, or in Western language, Spirit. But Brahman, through Its power (shakti), assumes all the forms of the Universe, just as it is said an actor (natavat) assumes various roles. Thus Brahman has two aspects: the subtle, in which It is its own unmanifested Self; and the gross, in which It appears as the manifested universe. Or, if we reserve the word "subtle" for what, though it is not pure Spirit, is yet finer than gross matter -- that is, Mind, we may say that the Ultimate Reality has three aspects: (a) Supreme or transcendent, that is pure formless Spirit; (b) subtle, or the same Spirit as manifested in mind, (c) gross, or the same spirit as manifested in Matter. It is clear that one cannot meditate on that which is wholly formless as is the supreme Brahman, which is without body.
In meditation (Dhyana) there is duality, namely, the subject who meditates and the object of such meditation, though, in fact, the two are (according to the Advaita or non-dualism of the Shaktas), both differing aspects of the one Brahman through Its Power. As the mind cannot remain steady on what is formless (amurta), therefore, a form (murta) is necessary. Form is gross or subtle. Form is necessary both in Sadhana and Yoga -- in the latter for acquiring accomplishment in Trataka-Yoga, that is, steady gaze which leads to one-pointedness (Ekagrata), and this latter to Samadhi or ecstasy. The grossest form is that which is shown in the round, with hands, feet, and so forth -- that is, the image. Nothing is here left to the imagination. The particulars of the image, that is, how it should be shaped, its color. posture, and so forth, is given in what are called the meditations or Dhyanas, and the dimensions may be found in the Silpa Shastras. These describe the form, attitude, the position of the hands and legs, the articles such as weapons and the like carried, the vehicle or Vahana -- and the attendant Divinities (Avarana Devata). Less gross forms are pictures or representations in the flat, emblems such as the Shalagrama stone sacred to Vishnu, the Linga or sign of Shiva, and the inverted triangle which is the emblem of the Mother. Thus a linga set in the Yoni or triangle represents the union of Shiva and Shakti, of God and His Power, or in philosophical language, the union of the static and kinetic aspects of the one Ultimate Reality. A still more subtle form is the Yantra, which literally means "instrument," viz., the instrument by which worship is done. It is as shown on the flat, a diagram which varies with each of the Devatas or Divinities, and has been called "the body of Mantra". Whilst gross (sthula) meditation takes place on the gross image, emblem or Yantra, subtle (sukshma) meditation has as its object the Mantra. The Mantra and the Devata are one. A Mantra is Devata in that form, that is as sound. Hearing is considered the finest of the senses. What is called Supreme Meditation is nothing but ecstasy, or -- Consciousness, freed of both its subtle and gross vehicles, and therefore, limitations.As the Brahman is only directly known in the ecstasy of Yoga, It is imagined with form, or, as some translate this passage, It assumes form for the sake of the worshippers (upasakanam karyyartham). These forms are male or female, such as, in the first class, Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva and others, and in the second Tripurasundari, Lakshmi, Kali and others. The worship of a Eunuch (napumsaka) form does not bear fruit. What shall be the selected as patron Divinity, depends on the competency (adhikara) of the worshipper, that is, what is suitable or fit for him given his character and attainments. The Yamala says: "Men see Him in various ways, each according to his own inclinations. But an advaitist worshipper should at the same time remember that each is an aspect of one and the same Deity.
Varaha Purana says: "What Durga is, that is Vishnu, and that also is Shiva. The wise know that they are not different from one another. The fool, who in his partiality thinks otherwise, goes to the Raurava Hell." There is, however, from the nature of the case, some distinction in the case of the worship of those on the path of enjoyment, who should worship according to the mode in which they have been initiated. But the renouncer should discard in every way all notions of difference. The Wave of Bliss, citing Samaya Tantra, says: "By the worship of some Deva, liberation is with difficulty attained, and by the worship of others enjoyment is to be had, but in the case of the worshipper of the Mother, both enjoyment and liberation lie in the hollow of his hands." But, unless prayed to, the Mother or Devi does not give fruit, and naturally so. For the Devi is moved to action through the prayers of the worshipper. Essentially the worshipper is the Devi Herself, and unless She in Her form as the worshipper is moved, She in Her aspect as the Supreme Lord -- "Our Lady" -- does not move.
By "worshipper" is meant one who is proficient in Karma and Bhakti Yoga. The Jñanayogi's effort is directed towards the attainment of the formless Brahman. Worship implies duality, and so does Mantra-yoga of which worship is a part. From the Bija-mantra or seed mantra the Devata arises and this Devata is the Brahman. In the Kurma Purana it is said: "Those who think themselves to be different from the Supreme Lord will never see Him. All their labor is in vain." Therefore, the Shrikrama says: "Meditate upon yourself as the Supreme Mother -- the primordial Power -- by your mind, word, and body." All three take part in the ritual. The mind, which must from its nature have an object, is given a good object, that is, the image of its Lord. It holds to that. The worshipper utters the ritual words and with his body performs the ritual acts, such as the gestures (Mudra), the giving of offerings, and so forth. And the reason is, as the Gandharva Tantra says: "By meditating on anything as oneself, man becomes that." The mind assumes the form of its object -- that is, by good thoughts man is transformed into what is good. So the worshipper is enjoined constantly to think: "I am the Devi and none other". By meditating on Vishnu, man becomes Vishnu. By meditating on Devi, man becomes Devi,. He is freed from bodily ills and is liberated, for he attains spiritual knowledge. Such knowledge, in the Advaita sense (though there are also other schools) means "to be". To know Brahman is to be Brahman. Brahman in Itself is not an object, and is not known as such. Brahman is known by being Brahman, which man attains through ritual forms, and Yoga processes, of which worship is a necessary preliminary.
In the preceding paragraphs, I have, in very general outline, dealt with the meaning of Sadhana as ritual worship, both as to its object and the principles on which it is based. I have given at the same time some examples. I propose here to pass a few remarks on certain other particular forms of ritual. I have already referred to image worship upon which, however, I will add a word.
Western peoples speak of the image worshipped as being an "idol," just as some so-called "reformed" Hindus influenced by Western views call it a "doll". The Hindu term is Pratika and Pratima indicating that which is placed before one as the immediate and apparent object of worship, representative of the Invisible Supreme. The mind cannot seize pure Spirit any more than (to use the simile of an Indian author) a pair of tongs can seize the air. The mind must, however, necessarily have before it some definite object, and one of such objects is the image or emblem. At the same time, the Hindu image is something more than a mere aid to devotion such as is the case in general as regards images in the Catholic ritual. For, by the "life-giving" (prana-pratishtha) ceremony the life of the Devata or Divinity is invoked into the image. Deity is all-pervading and therefore cannot come or go. The image, like everything else, is already an appearance of Deity immanent in it, in the particular form or mold of earth, stone, metal, wood or whatever other the substance may be. Therefore, "invocation" (Avahana) and "dismissal" (Visarjana) in the Ritual by which the Deity is invoked "to be present" and bid "to depart" mean this -- that the immanence of Deity in the object of worship is recognized, kept present before, and ultimately released from the mind of the worshipper. In fact, the Deity is there, ritual or no ritual. By the ritual the Deity is not only there in fact, but is so, for the consciousness of the worshipper whose mind is transformed into a Divine mold. The Deity does not move, but the mind of the worshipper does so. It is the particular modification, a Vritti of the mind which comes and goes. Personally, I believe that "Idolatry" in its strictest literal sense is not to be found anywhere. The most ignorant individuals belonging to a primitive humanity are aware that they are, in one sense, in the presence of "stocks and stones," and that the worshipful character of the image is not because it is such stock and stone, for, in that case all stock and stone is worshipful, but for other reasons. It has been noted already that the ritual is graded in this matter, as in others, into gross and subtle. The subtle form is that in which the least is left to the imagination, namely, an image in the round. Less so, in the order given, is the picture on the fiat; the emblem which has no external likeness to Divinity (such as the Linga and Shalagrama stone), and then the Yantra or diagram of worship. This Yantra is made up of different combinations of lines and curves, and is described as the body of the Mantra. Besides these external objects, there are mental representations of them and of other things. Thus actual flowers may be offered physically, or mental "flowers" may be offered by the mind, or the "flowers" of the virtues may be laid before the Devata.
How often the word Mantra is used, and yet how few can say correctly what the term means? It is only possible here to lay down a few general lines of explanation of a subject with which I have endeavored to deal in my recent work, The Garland of Letters; for Garland and Rosary are names given to the alphabet of Sanskrit letters, which are each a manifestation of the Mother of the Universe.
The Universe is movement, of various kinds, of the ultimate substance. This movement is sensed in five ways. Whatever is heard is the sound made by some particular form of movement, and the hearing by mind and ear is again a form of movement. If there be no movement there is nothing to hear. When a letter is uttered in our hearing there is a particular movement which can be represented as a form for the eye, which form again involves color, for what is perfectly colorless is formless, and, therefore, invisible. The letters are temporarily manifested by the action of the vocal organs and the circumambient air, but are in themselves, that is, as attitudes of Power, eternal. As Postures of Power they are eternal, though as manifestations they appear with each universe and disappear with it. They are, like all else, a form of appearance of the Magna Mater, the one great Mother-Power, and are particular world-aspects of Her. The sound which is heard, and the mind and ear which hear it, are each such appearance. Each thing has a double aspect -- one as a produced thing, or effect; the other as the particular Causal Power which produces or more accurately manifests as that thing. That power again, relative to any of its particular productions, is an aspect of the general Mother-Power, and is, as such, a Devata. Thus, the sun is a glorious epiphany of the Brahman or All-Pervader which, in its character as the power inherent in that particular manifestation, is the Sun-Lord or Surya-Devata. Devata in its supreme (para) sense is the Lord of All, manifesting as the All. The Sun Devata is the same Lord in the character of a particular power of the All-Powerful manifesting in this form of the Sun. Whilst, therefore, in a sense, Mantra is the Sound-aspect of all that is, each Devata has His or Her own Mantra, and it is such mantras that the Scripture refers. The Mantra does not merely stand for or symbolize the Devata. Still less is it a mere conventional label for the Devata. It is the Devata. The Devata and Mantra are therefore one.
In each mantra, however, there two Shaktis or powers. The Devata who is the mantra is called the indicating power (Vacaka Shakti). The Devata who is indicated (Vacya Shakti) is the Ultimate Reality, or Supreme Brahman. The former leads to the latter. As each worshipper has his own Patron Deity or Ishtadevata, so each worshipper is initiated in and practices a particular mantra. The Patron Deity is a particular aspect of the One Supreme Reality which cannot be directly worshipped, but which is worshipped indirectly as an aspect of that Reality in a world of duality. What Mantra a worshipper should practice is determined by the Guru who initiates. He should settle what it shall be by reference to the physical, psychical and spiritual characteristics of the worshipper. This is the theory, but in practice a state of things often exists which has led to the criticism that Mantra is "jabber". Thus (to take but one example), I, though not a Hindu, was once asked by a Brahmin lady, through a pundit known to both of us, to tell her the meaning of her mantra, and this though she had passed fifty, she had never been told, nor could she find out even from the pundit. She was led to ask me and thus to reveal her mantra which should be kept secret, because she had heard that I had a manuscript Bija Kosha, or Dictionary, which gave the meanings of mantras. This incident is significant of the present state of things. Initiation has often and perhaps in most cases now-a-days little reality, being merely a "whispering in the ear". A true and high initiation is one in which not merely instruction is given, but there is also an actual transference of power by teacher to disciple which enables the disciple first to understand, and then transforms him by infusing him with the powers of his Guru.
Mantra-sadhana consists of the union of the Sadhana shakti or the power of the individual worshipper and the Mantra shakti or the power of the mantra itself. The worshipper exerts his own individual power to achieve through the mantra, and as he does this, the power of the mantra, which is as far greater than his own as the Devata is greater than he, aids his effort. On the theory this must be so, because as the worshipper more and more realizes the Devata in mantra form, and identifies himself with the Devata, he gains divine powers which supplement his human power as a worshipper. There are some Mantras which may be called prayers, such as the great Gayatri Mantra which prays for illumination of the understanding. A mantra, however, is not to be identified with prayer. which may be said in any form and in any language that the worshipper chooses. Prayer may be, of course, a great power, but it is nevertheless the power of the particular worshipper only whatever that may be.
Worship (Puja) is done with meditation, recital of mantras, obeisance, manual gestures, the making of offerings and the like. The gestures (Mudra) are part of a system which employs both body and mind, and makes the former express and emphasize the intentions of the latter. Similarly, an orator gives expression to his thought and emphasizes it by gesture. Thus, in the Matsya Mudra, the hands are put into the form of a fish to indicate that the worshipper is offering to the Deity not merely the little quantity of water which is used in the worship, but that his intention is to offer all the oceans with the fish and other marine animals therein. This is part of what has been called "mummery". Well -- it is "acting" but it is not necessarily more foolish than touching one's hat as a sign of respect. The charge of mummery as against all religions is largely due to the fact that there are many people who will pass judgments on matters which they do not understand. Ignorant and half-educated persons everywhere people the world with fools because they are themselves such.
Asana, or posture, belongs to Yoga, except that the general posture for worship is Padmasana, and worship is part of Mantra Yoga.
Japa is "recital" of Mantra. There is no exact English equivalent for it, for "recital" signifies ordinary utterance, whereas Japa is of three kinds, namely: (a) that in which the Mantra is audibly uttered; (b) where the lips are moved, but no sound is heard; and (c) mental or by the mind only. The count is done on a rosary (mala) or on the phalanxes of the fingers.
One of the great Mantras is the physical act of breathing. As this is done of itself so many times a day, now through the right, and then through the left nostril automatically, it is called the Ajapa Mantra -- that is, the mantra which is said without Japa or willed effort on man's part. The mantra which is thus automatically said is Hamsah. Breath goes out with Ham, and comes in with Sah. When outbreathing and inbreathing takes place, the throat and mouth are said to be in the position in which they are when pronouncing the letters H and S respectively. In other words, outbreathing is the same form of movement which is heard as the letter H.
An important rite much referred to in the Tantras is Nyasa, which means the "placing" of the hands of the worshipper on different parts of his body, imagining at the same time that thereby the corresponding parts of the body of his Ishtadevata are being there placed. It terminates with a movement, "spreading" the Divinity all over the body. "How absurd," someone may say, "you cannot spread Divinity like jam on bread." Quite so; but the Hindu knows well that the word Brahman means the All-spreading Immense and cannot therefore be spread. But what may be and is spread is the mind -- often circumscribed enough -- of the worshipper, who by his thought and act is taught to remember and realize that he is pervaded by Divinity, and to affirm this by his bodily gesture. The ritual is full of affirmations. Affirm again, affirm, and still affirm. This injunction one might expect from a system which regards man and all that exists as limited forms of unlimited Power (Shakti). Affirm in every way is a principle of the ritual, a principle, which ought to be as easily understood as a child's repetition in order to learn a lesson. A man who truly thinks himself to be becoming divine becomes, in fact, in varying degrees, so.
It is not possible in an account such as this to note more than a few of the leading rituals, and I conclude therefore with the very important Bhutasuddhi. This term does not mean, as an English orientalist thought, "the driving away of demons" but purification of the Elements (Bhuta) of which the body is composed. There are five of these with centers or Cakras in the spinal column. The grossest is at the base of the spine which is the seat of the power called Kundalini. In Yoga, this power is roused, and led up through the column, when it absorbs as it goes, each of the centers and the elements, and then the psychic center, finally merging with Spirit or Pure Consciousness in the upper brain which is the "seat" of the latter. In Yoga this actually takes place, but very few are Yogis: and not all Yogis possess this power. Therefore, in the case of ritual worship this ascent, purification of the body, and merging of Matter and Mind in Consciousness takes place in imagination only. The "man of sin" is burnt in mental fire, and a new body is created, refreshed with the nectar of divine joy arising from the union of the "Divine pair" (Shiva and Shakti) or Consciousness and its Power. This is done in the imagination of the worshipper, and not without result since as the Chandogya Upanishad says: "What a man thinks that he becomes." So also the Gandharva Tantra says: "By thinking of That, one becomes That."
In Kundalini Yoga or Laya Yoga, there is effected a progressive absorption of all limited and discrete forms of experience, that is fact-sections into the Primary Continuum which is Shiva and Shakti united together. Therefore, it is a merging or more properly expansion of the finite into the infinite, of the part into the whole, of the thinkable and measurable into the unthinkable and immeasurable. When we worship, this progress is imagined. There is in time a transformation of Mind and Body into a condition which renders them fit for the spiritual experience, which is the Samadhi of Yoga or the ecstasis or "standing out" of Spirit from its limiting vehicles. Consciousness is then the Purna or Whole.