Listen to CNN or any news channel or read the newspapers and you will hear many mantras. Whether it’s “Socialism is bad!” from the tea-baggers, or “Yes we can!” from President Obama’s campaign, strong figures often use repeated phrases, either negative or positive, to get people motivated.
This use of the word mantra has arisen from the traditional custom of chanting sacred sounds or names, as done in many religious practices. Such repetition has also been put to music that transcends religious boundaries.
Sitting in a room filled with melodious voices, we were listening to the fabulous Deva Premal and Miten. They are masters at chanting and at getting the audience to participate. Spending a few hours singing a foreign language (many chants are in Sanskrit) may not sound like a lot of fun, but it has a remarkable effect. It really does uplift the spirit.
Sounding in this way is not only used to worship the sacred but also to create harmony by unifying voices into a synchronized whole. This is particularly effective if the sound does not require thought (such as being sung in an unknown language), as it is the sound that is important and not the meaning. The unity can easily be lost if the thinking mind intrudes.
Deepesh Faucheux, who was a Catholic monk, told us in our latest book (see below) about the effect of the Gregorian chanting in his monastery: “Gregorian frequency works on the brain in a particular way to elevate us to a spiritually altered state. It was always a collective chant–what is called ecclesia. A group of people with a single purpose of worship attuned together, their behavior, sensibilities, and moods all harmonized. The frequency of the sound deeply affected us, it smoothed out the rough edges, anger or fear. It was like Prozac. I would get very high, even transported. It made many of the petty things that happened seem totally unimportant and made life in the monastery bearable, even blissful. It was the only therapy the monastery needed! But when we stopped chanting in Latin and tried to do it in the local dialect, many of the monasteries and convents fell apart because the people started fighting with each other. They had lost that shared integrative quality.”
Next: Chanting as a healer