Initiation of mantra comes through hearing alone. Hearing comes through space element. The elders say that the lowliest villager passing through space by the temple door who happens to hear a mantra is initiated by its rhythm and from then on is beholden to its meaning.
(When the elders become the eldest they sit at the temple door and listen to the songs of children and are themselves initiated anew.)
In any forest I am a lowly villager and I have been initiated many times by bird song through space; I walked by the temple door (ancient oak) and heard the holy chrr and winnawoo and have since been bound to their meanings – curiosity, melancholy, desire, hunger, awe – that I repeat with each soowee and tao-tao-tao. The songbird sings from the heart, literally. Her voicebox (syrinx) is at the base of her windpipe. Her fifth chakra (truth) is where my fourth (love) is. Her truth is blended with her love at the root of her bronchiole divide. If I sang from where she sings from I would die of a heart opened and exposed to honesty. This is my life task.
In other lineages I was initiated by the breath of my lover, purr of our cat, cries of madmen in the alley. Mantra slips behind language in laughter and sighs and sobs, like sunrise beneath a calendar, or the pulse beneath the wristwatch. Mantra seeps behind language like linseed oil into the grain of consciousness. Mantra slips behind language like a circular viral loop within lines of linear code, tripping up, spiraling downward the forward flow. Mantra is the pearl diver who knows the deepest dive is the brightest pearl. Mantra was a children’s song, call and response, the word game that taught me to cheat the purposive rigging of language.
For language is rigged for forward purpose: history, results, answers, abstraction, faith in progress, and waiting for personal fulfillment, waiting for God. As we commonly employ it, language cannot sink into the heart of a thing, but must pursue an ever-receding conclusion that vanishes as soon as it is spoken. The sentence is passed as we pass through it towards the mirage of what it wanted to contain.
The reason for this inexorable forward pursuit is common syntax. Everyone who craves presence is by nature subtly melancholic when they speak, for they feel the alien wind of syntactic pressure stealing away their breath within every common sentence. Meaning accrues through each parcel (subject, verb, object, building clause, supporting clause, concluding clause) towards its endpoint. In this very sentence, microcosmic to the essay at large, you are waiting and building expectation as you absorb the forward flow of text to see if the word at the end of this sentence will be meaningful. It is the end of the sentence that consummates meaning, even if the word at the end of the sentence happens to be meaningless. Language is the substrate of mind forever driving towards ultimacy, the end of its thought. If you want to be here, you have to ignore the rest of this sentence.
Thus: what about the middle of the thought? Can it only be emphasized through cheap visual trickery? Can the middle of the sentence only be dramatized through vocal weight? [If these sentences were musical notation, the italics and underlines would form a bold accenture of song.] Perhaps the middle can only be emphasized through a redundancy in the final part of the sentence… as when the final phrases are a repetition of data, a recurrence of what has come before. In the loquacious play of youth under the milkwood, we are ill-equipped to notice that the farther the sentence careens forward the more obscure its originary impulse, that the longer the thought, the more buried its birth, which might have contained some reference to chatty youth. The sentence never dies in its homeland, but as an exile. The sentence rises towards meaning like a kite on an ever-thinning string. The sentence itself must not look back, lest it turn to salt, the final dissolution in the sea.
Language is the child continually asking “where are we going?” and “when will we get there?” Mantra is the child who says “I love it here right now.”
The quest for destiny is embedded in the forward flow of thought: how words must collect speed and mass to deliver the joy of meaning. But this forward motion of thought leads us astray from the impulse that opened our mouths or engaged the pencil. Paradoxically, we will always be more interested in future than in presence and with death than with the birth of this very moment that inspired us to speak like a bird who choicelessly sings. To contemplate your birth disrupts the forward-ordering of language. And to regress a memory in language is to swim against the current of syntax – something that works only when the content of memory is richer than the forward flow is strong. And yet, if you speak long enough, the flow will always overcome the weight and ballast of memory, launching you back into future orientation as though from a bowstring pulled to maximum arc. This is what is commonly felt in talking therapies that involve the disinterment of memory: it works for the hour and then language and money throw you back into your syntactical life, life of sins and taxes, signs and tactics.
So what did I learn from the birds, in the forest, in space? That mantra is a technology for the invagination of common syntax so that time can reveal its nonlinear entasy. Mantra does not race to the end, but folds towards the middle, creating the thick and the soft, something the mouth can knead. In the Indian style, the beginning of any mantric utterance is loaded with all possible meaning – om – eternal sound, unstruck, sound of the exhale, comprising within its glottal opening, resonance, and nurturing mmmotherly closure the lifecycle of you, lifecycle of universe. Any mantra could end with this mmm, the closing consonance of its opening play. But to venture beyond the mmm is to hear the mantra fold towards a depth of meaning and then unravel the songline again to remember the surface.
In om namo bhagavate rameshvaraya it is the eighth syllable ram which is the honeyed hinge of sweetest meaning: name of a deity, name for the sun, dark and florid on the pallet and in the gut of the singer, and for me personally a broadening and strengthening of my family name. sri ram, rem ski. Eighth syllable, in the house of twilight, confusion, death, and shamanism. ram, rem. The eighth syllable, falling at the at the centre of the sentence, which means the mantra must not be a sentence. rem, ram. Strengthen my fire, my bones, my father, my love of justice, my father’s father. Ram is kingly, solar, invoking an orbit of syllables around its mass, circumambulating. The mantra is round, loading destiny in its central bulge. It does not accumulate linear meaning for a destined discharge, but rather spirals down into pith, and rises back out through syllables that are beautiful fillers, elegant holders of time, esh va ra ya, meaning lordly or divine, but adding no new data, nothing we haven’t seen before, no-big-deal, no-stunning-reveal, esh va ra ya, relaxing out of the swell of ram, gently pinning down the end of the sail so that meaning can balloon backwards into ram. Ram into backwards balloon can meaning that so sail the of end the down pinning gently.
The mantra is an involution of expectation; nothing needs be said after the om, no meaning needs to be added after ram. Nothing is expected because everything is given. If everything is given the mantra doesn’t need to be said in the way we normally are driven to say things. Mantra is language used against its commonest purpose. You say what needs not be said for the pleasure excised from linear meaning, bliss excised from syntax, love extracted from romance, life debrided of story, presence shorn of time. The transmission of the syntax engine has been disengaged, and the energy of human sound now fires freely, radiating heat and light instead of pressing forward into the anxious shadow of discontentment.
Mantra is initiated by hearing, but activated by repetition, a polishing and burnishing action, refrains of sound and image to shine the inner star. While the sentence makes its point through one iteration that discharges at its end, mantra gains resonance through repeated looping utterance, an engraving of the mind through eternal return. The syllables are kneaded and molded and juiced for their bottomless sap. No mathematics but repeated experience will reveal the meaning of om. The sound itself is the field of inquiry, and as long as the sound can be made, its meaning will never close or be concluded.
Like an ecosystem, the human mantra is not living until a certain quanta of breath has been poured through it. Twenty thousand repetitions is standard in the vedic system. A robin sings this many songs in a single week. The mantra practitioner is to become a robin. Mantra and robin. Robin and rat man. Art man and robin. Robin inborn. Tranam, traman, matarn. Tarnam, armnat, tar man. Art born in man, mantra inborn.