Mantra tends to be slightly overlooked in the practice of yoga. Mantras are sacred words, sounds or phrases that are used as tools to harness and focus the power of the mind. Many of us know a few of the more common mantras (Om, Om Mani Padme Hum, Om Shanti, So'ham), but the true power of mantras can often get lost within the popularity and prevalence of the asana practices of modern times. (Learn more in 5 Powerful Mantras and Their Sacred Meanings.)
We recently had the opportunity to sit down with mantra musician, Saul David Raye. Saul David Raye is a yoga teacher and practitioner of over 25 years. His knowledge extends to Hatha Yoga, Ayurveda, Bhatki, Tanta, Pranic Healing and Shamanism. He is also a musician of world mantra music.
We talked with Raye on how yoga has transformed his life and how mantra can be used to deepen our practices. We hope his insightful answers will inspire you to bring mantra into your own sadhana.
Q: Do you mind sharing a bit about the practices that have transformed you?
Well, when I was young, I thought for sure by the time I was 40, I’d be enlightened. When I was younger, everything was kind of in more of a linear timeline, and even the concept of enlightenment that I initially learned was more of a masculine or patriarchal idea that the enlightenment is somewhere in the future, that it's something that we attain. My own journey has been more about just understanding that we're all in this process of awakening, and there are many levels and layers to it. (Learn more in The Meaning of Moksha.)
And I do think that we all have moments of experiencing that awakening because that's our true nature, and whether it's when we sleep or when we fall into beauty or love or truth, we do experience that part of ourselves. But, usually the maya is so strong that it pulls us back.
For me, over the years, I would say that the main thing that yoga has given me is the capacity to trust my own heart and to come back to myself. We all go through the ups and downs of life. We go through the waves of life, the challenges, the high points, and to be able to, at some point, to come back around and to be present with whatever it is - to be in direct relationship with whatever our situation is - that's really the power of yoga. (Learn more in Escaping the Maya: 5 Tools to Reconnect With Your Inner Self.)
Q: Can you give a little bit of information on the different branches of yoga? Why are there so many?
I feel like from the original understanding of yoga, there was always an understanding of “truth is one, paths are many.” The thing is to allow people to find their own way home. And often in certain traditions there's only one way, there's only one doorway. So, if you grow into that tradition and you don't fit through that doorway, it creates a lot of difficulty internally.
So in yoga, there are many paths. Jnana yoga, for those who need to approach a path of yoga through the intellect, through discernment, through with cultivation of wisdom and understanding. Bhakti is the yoga of love, the path of devotion through the heart. Karma yoga is selfless action. Hatha yoga, which to me, I also understood as coming from the tantric tradition. And Raja yoga is the path of meditation and cultivation of wisdom.
We have different needs at different times, but we're also wired differently. So, they've made all these different pathways to the one yoga. And I would also say that in the end, there is only one yoga. The Bhakti Sutras says that “the highest expression of love is wisdom, and the highest wisdom is love”. So when we experience any of the others, if we really come into a relationship with them, we're actually experiencing the other yogas.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about tying in mantra and Bhakti practices?
I did Buddhist meditation for a long time, and it was beautiful, but there was a lot of struggling in it for me. When I first learned mantra meditation, something immediately just shifted very quickly for me. Mantra is like sound asanas. They are vehicles for us to climb into and to carry us across into that deeper experience of ourselves and to protect the mind from its own negativity and patterns.
Bhakti, like other systems of yoga, uses mantra as a main way of opening the heart and creating connection to these universal forces that are represented in the deities. Bhakti is very much about developing a personal relationship through the heart with the Divine or with the source of life. Every being has a name, this person's name, that person's name, and our name holds a vibration. As we focus on chanting or repeating these names, we're actually creating a link. Whatever it is we do over and over again, we become, in a sense, that. (Learn more in Bhakti Yoga: How the Path of Devotion Connects Us in a Disconnected Modern World.)
Q: Can you describe the practices of Bhakti that we can do in our daily life to help us?
For me the universal Bhakti, the Bhakti of one’s own soul, is to find our doorway to devotion. For some people, it could be their child. That's the first time in that moment they felt this just deep overflowing love and connection to Divine. And this is why they have different bhavas, in Bhakti yoga, that are different doorways to experience that divine mood.
I think one of the most important things we could every day would be some practice where we experience stillness. There's something that happens to our connection in stillness that doesn't really happen anywhere else. We're not trying to do something. We’re not trying to get somewhere. We just become open to the flow of things; of everything. Maybe I sit in my garden in the morning and just enjoy the sunlight. Maybe it's my cup of tea or coffee. Maybe it's holding my child. Maybe it's in the yoga class, in the meditation, or playing my music. This is something that we open in ourselves. (Learn more in Listening to Your Inner Voice.)
The practices are sadhana; the things that we do that help us to become more available to experience that state. To do our regular practice in which we some way find that connection in our life. So, for me meditation, prayer, chanting, pranayama — those are, for me, main practices.
Q: There's this wonderful whole tradition of particular mantras that can draw in qualities. Could you talk a little bit about the different aspects of these kind of invocation of particular qualities?
I’ve found that mantras are living energies. They come into our lives when we need them, and they help us to heal and awaken a certain part of ourselves. The true power of mantra is a sound vibration that has in it that deeper healing and connection to source.
When we do it, it begins to awaken this ultimate positivity within us, this focusing of the mind, and the heart, and the soul. Often, you could be in a state of worry, or anxiety, or just stress or not feeling good, and you start chanting, or you start meditating on a mantra, and immediately those more outer things that were affecting us begin to dissipate, and we start anchoring into that really deep flow of truth within us, and all of a sudden, we're feeling good again.
Mantra links us back to something deeper and focuses us so that we're not all over the place. The personification of these universal energies into forms that we can personally relate with is such a beautiful part of our process and developing a personal relationship with "the great mystery", with god, with goddess.
Just like there isn't one asana that is the best asana for everyone, there isn't one mantra that is the ultimate mantra. It just depends on context, need and, where we are in that moment. (Learn more in The Makings of a Japa Mantra and How to Add This Yogic Practice to Your Sadhana.)