Purpose of Meditation
The purpose of meditation is to bring the mind back to the core. Most people are unaware of the true nature of the mind; in its usual state of daily activity, it is likened to an imprisoned mad animal that hops all over its cage and is unaware of the freedom that awaits it outside. The mind is transacting with the external world, responding to the environment and other stimuli, creating a world of its own which is not real. There is no difference between dream and waking state, of self centered reactions to the events of the world. Both states picture the relative reality without getting into the true nature of the mind. The mind is like a mirror; however, we see only the reflections in the mirror and usually do not examine the mirror itself. The changing scenes and the reflections engage our attention and in the process we miss the true nature of the mirror itself. Further, if the mirror is not clear, it will distort the images that we see. Similarly, if the mind is not clear, both our interactions with the world and our health will be compromised. It is truly said that the mind is the maker and it is also the destroyer. It could destroy happiness; on the contrary, if we know its nature, it could destroy our sorrows. The purpose of meditation is to know the nature of the mind itself.
Mantra is that which protects the mind from negative thoughts. Meditation using a mantra is practiced in all spiritual traditions of the world. Mantra protects the mind from its own negativity, its own self-centered vacillation and wandering. When we are emotionally upset or otherwise unsettled, when we want to restrain the mind, then mantra is effective.
Often a mantra is a simple syllable such as OM, HRIM etc, which has an esoteric meaning. Some mantras such as the Guru Mantra are direct supplication to Guru or God who confers us health, peace and wisdom. The mantra should be recited with full dedication and conviction. In other words, it should be chanted with complete focus and faith. This is very important - in other words, if we are chanting a mantra which we have not used before and which we do not feel 'attached' to, it will not be an effective mantra. The mantra should not be repeated mechanically.
A mantra could be repeated aloud, softly or mentally. Of these, the mental repetition is said to be most efficacious. Since mind and the breath are interlinked, it is good to chant the mantra with an awareness of the breath.
Repeating a mantra purifies the psychic atmosphere around us; it clarifies the mind and lets us reach stages of consciousness that are otherwise not discernable. Thus the mantra works at the outer, inner and spiritual level of a person.
Chanting a mantra in a group could be a powerful healing experience. Often, you can feel the penetration of the vibrations into several Chakras of the body. Do not concentrate on the effects it is producing; simply let the body settle into receiving whatever that comes its way. Remember any feeling state that one experiences in the body is still at the material level, so no importance should be attached to such experiences. The wandering mind reaches a state of quiescence, with mantra as the focal point. This is called Dhaarana in yogic texts. An animal is tied to a post to restrain it, going around for a while within the area of its reach and once it has wandered within that circle, it will calm down and rest in one place. Similar is the effect of quieting the mind with repetition of a mantra; first the mind wanders in the perimeter of the mantra and then, slowly moves to the center and settles down to quiet contemplation. Thus we move from Dhaarana to Dhyaana. The final step is Samaadhi. Here the mind becomes clear and we move from the relative to the absolute, from duality to reality. Samaadhi itself is not a single well defined state; there are layers upon layers of levels of consciousness that are penetrated, to reach the unnamed state of oneness with all that is around us.
A sound mind and a sound body are essential on the path to understanding our true nature. These are also necessary for a healthy life. Mantra, working at gross and subtle levels, helps us in rediscovering our primordial condition, a condition beyond duality. Mantra practice is a powerful tool in the overall uplifting of humanity, the human psyche and for protection, in this violent and chaotic age.