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The obtaining of God's Grace is the much-sought after goal of Bhakti (the path of Devotion). There are two views regarding the methodology for obtaining the Grace of God. One view, which is called the monkey theory says that the devotee has to make enough efforts by himself for God to descend to him, just as the baby monkey has to cling to its mother of its own for being carried along. On the other hand, the other viewpoint, which is called the cat theory, says that the devotee does not have to make any effort because God Himself will take care of him and do the needful. This is like the Presbyterian viewpoint in Christianity. The cat theory implies a total surrender. The weight of scriptural authority leans towards this theory. This is in fact a surrender wherein the devotee surrenders even his mind to the Lord. He has no mind of his own thereafter. One is reminded of a 19th century Christian hymn:

Oh Lord, take my will and make it thine;

It shall no longer be mine;

Take my heart, it is thine own;

It shall be thy royal throne.

This is the Bhakti Yoga of Hinduism.

A Mantra is a vedic hymn, sacrificial formula, a mystical verse or an incantation. In general, it connotes any sacred chant or formula having the power to secure the blessings of God, when lovingly and reverently repeated. One warning has however to be mentioned. One has to respect the rule that no Mantra would be efficacious unless it is learnt orally from a Guru. The word Mantra in Sanskrit means 'that which protects by being meditated upon'. This protection by the deity of the Mantra does not devolve on one until one has sufficiently identified oneself with the Mantra, heart and soul. Only a person who has so identified himself with the Mantra can be a Guru for that Mantra. The power of a Mantra could be enormous. The intonation of the syllables of the Mantra brings its own reward. It quiets the mind and brings the deity symbolized by the Mantra into action mainly for spiritual purposes, but, as a bye-product, also for mundane ends. By massive repetition of the same Mantra one obtains the power of the mantra to turn his mind inward towards the Light within. Even by ordinary considerations of psychology we know that one becomes like that which is in oneís mind. So the power of the Mantra is used to harmonize the constituents of the inner body, quiet the mind and stimulate the latent spiritual qualities. It is always used as an invocation to beseech God to indwell the image, picture or idol we want to worship. Whether it is a temple or the shade of a tree or a remote cave or oneís own worship room in the house the Mantra itself will sanctify the place. It sanctifies even ordinary acts like bathing, washing, eating, talking and congregating. In fact if there is one thing that is common to all the votaries of the religion, spread through its multifarious sects and schools, it is the value and significance that get attached to Mantras - though the Mantras themselves may differ from sect to sect and from school to school.

However, without the sanction of the Guru a Mantra is like a check written without a bank balance. Yes, in that sense, the Hindu Mantras are exclusive, no doubt. But that very fact connotes the sacredness of these Mantras. A nuclear power, for instance, cannot be in the hands of every one. It has to be in the hands of those who will use it only for peaceful purposes. To wish to use a Mantra force on the physical level is to assume the role of God and to satisfy unrestrained egos, positive or negative. One has to be equipped for it, by self-sacrifice, by personal undertaking of suffering for the sake of the good of the others, by a personal attitude of renunciation to the pleasures of the world and by a total feeling of dedication to the cause of the good, the noble and the Cosmic Ecology.

Having talked about Mantra we should talk a little about Tantra. The word is derived from the root tan to spread. The word was originally applied to all sacred literature pertaining to the worship of each of the six types of favourite deities listed earlier. The composition of their special texts probably dates back to the 6th century CE. The Tantric cults of the different deities has several features in common. There are Mantras or prayer formulae, the Bijas or mystic syllables peculiar and specific to each deity, Yantras or geometrical diagrams, Mudras or special artistic positions of fingers, and, finally, Nyasas, meaning, placing of the deity within one's self through the different parts of one's body with the help of finger tips. Each Tantra has to be learnt from a guru and there is a technical and formal process of initiation called Diksha. Tantras became very popular with every section of the population including the higher classes and the elite. By about the tenth century various influences mingled together to bring out a composite Tantra regimen coloured by Brahminic and Buddhist cultures. The tantra literature spread everywhere. Mainly there are two fashions in Tantra - the Right and the Left. The Left one is secretive, esoteric and involves questionable practices based on erotic mysticism. The Right one, which is based on Upanishadic concepts, got absorbed in the general procedure of Hindu rituals, so that Nyasas and Mudras became part of the daily ritual both of the individual and of temple worship and as of now is so much part of each Hindu religious performance that one may not recognise that it came from Tantra.

Coupled with the concept of the power of the Mantra is the concept of the holiness of a place. A holy place or a place of pilgrimage has two technical equivalents in Hindu usage, namely, tirtha and kshetra. A tirtha is a holy place where there is a pond, lake, river, or sea , a dip in which is considered to be holy. A kshetra is mostly a place where there is a holy temple. India is full of such tirthas and kshetras. The various bathing ghats on the holy rivers like Ganga, Kaveri, Yamuna and Godavari, are important tirthas. Kurukshetra and Gaya are very famous tirthas. One of the holiest such tirtha is the island of Ramesvaram at almost the southern tip of India. Almost every temple city is considered a kshetra. There are kshetras of very long standing like Kasi, Kanchi and Haridwar. which have the longest continuing life in the history of the human race. He who gives a gift, in a tirtha or a kshetra, say the scriptures, shakes off his poverty and he who accepts a gift in such places, purchases poverty for himself. But however holy a tirtha or kshetra may be, if the mind and intention are not pure, and if the attitude is not spiritually oriented towards God, no dips in tirthas or visits to kshetras can be of avail. This is also the refrain repeated by all scriptures pertaining to tirthas and kshetras. Thousands of watery creatures like fish, etc. are born in water and also die in water, even in the tirthas. Flocks of birds reside in temples. But as the required mental approach is lacking in them, none would suggest that these creatures acquire any religious merit or a place in heaven. The proper faith or a devotional approach is a necessary prerequisite. Scriptures declare that this is as much true in the matter of a tirtha or a kshetra as it is in the case of a doctor, a preceptor, an astrologer, a deity and a Mantra.

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Copyright. V. Krishnamurthy October 12, 2000