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Mike Shreve was a teacher of yoga at four universities. (The portrait above was drawn by one of his students in 1970.) Then a spiritual rebirth brought him into a real relationship with God and drastically changed his heart, his life and his belief system.  Read his story here.

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Site Completed–10/15/01
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Mike Shreve.
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Mantras: are these repetitious phrases a valid tool in reaching God?

In the Kundalini Yoga classes I attended, I was taught that chanting mantras would aid in penetrating the supernatural and achieving oneness with God. Yogi Bhajan compared God to a great computer into which we could insert these ‘mystical formulas’ to obtain the desired results. Our primary goal was enlightenment. The mantra we chanted most often was "Ek Ong Kar, Sat Nam, Siri Wah Guru." In essence the meaning is, "There is one God, Truth is his name and the Great Spirit is our Teacher." The interpreted meaning of this mantra suggests concepts far different within the Far Eastern worldview than it does within the Christian worldview. In the latter, these are actually true statements, however, the meanings of the phrases are altered significantly, as the following comparisons reveal:

Ek Ong Kar—yes, there is "only one God," but there is "only one God" to the exclusion of all others. (See Question #1)

Sat Nam—yes, "truth" is one of the names or titles of the Lord, for Jesus claimed, "I am the way, the truth and the life," but it is not his primary, personal name. (John 14:6) Furthermore, the ‘truth’ proposed in Far Eastern religions is much different than the actual truth revealed in Christianity.

Siri Wah Guru—yes, the Holy Spirit is sent into our lives to "teach" us all things. (John 14:26) However, according to biblical doctrine, we do not truly experience the ongoing leadership and instruction of the Holy Spirit until we become "sons of God" through the born again experience. (John 1:12) Also, the Holy Spirit is the personal presence of God, not a mere impersonal, cosmic force.

Supposedly by repetitiously chanting these words, meditators can be supernaturally drawn into the reality of what the words represent. Yogi Bhajan even claimed that repeating this particular mantra creates "a special heat in which all the karmas get burned." Those participating in this process "become neutralized."1 So the highest purpose behind this practice is facilitating an earlier release from the cycle of rebirths.

A mantra usually relates to a certain deity or embodies a certain spiritual concept. Devotees of Mantra Yoga believe that if a mantra centers on the name of a deity, chanting that mantra draws the spirit of the meditator into intimate contact with that deity. Chanting a mantra that speaks of a spiritual concept causes the ‘represented idea’ to pass from the ‘conceptual’ into the ‘actual’ for the one meditating. Swami Prabhupada of ISKCON (Krishna Consciousness) warns that unless a seeker is "initiated by a bona fide spiritual master in the disciplic succession, the mantra… received is without any effect."2 This is a common belief among various swamis, gurus and Far Eastern religious belief systems. There is little agreement, though, concerning which gurus are actually ‘qualified’ to impart this knowledge.

Most advocates of this methodology believe the primal sound-vibration uttered by the Infinite Oversoul was ‘OM,’ that this sacred word accompanied the act of creation and continues to resound throughout the entire cosmos. By echoing this subliminal vibration meditators can, in a sense, ‘tune in’ to the origin of all things. An ancient Hindu text declares, "When a Yogin is absorbed in the syllable OM, he becomes eternal….He becomes one with Brahman….He wins absorption in Brahman, in the supreme ultimate Self." (Markandeya Purana 39.6.16) One source deepens the explanation, "OM is composed of the three sounds A-U-M… which represent several important triads: the three worlds of earth, atmosphere, and heaven; the three major Hindu gods, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva; and the three sacred Vedic Scriptures, Rg, Yajus, and Sama."3

In opposition to the theory that OM was the original syllable spawning creation, the Bible teaches this happened because of a number of easily understood commands given by God (See Genesis 1:1–26: "Let there be light," "Let the dry land appear," "Let the earth bring forth," etc.). The Bible never suggests that we should repetitiously chant those commands in order to achieve union with God. Actually Jesus taught the opposite: that we should never use such "vain repetitions" in prayer. (Matthew 6:7)

Every yoga teacher with whom I was associated insisted Jesus studied under Indian gurus during his hidden years in order to discover proper methods to awaken the Christ nature. If this were the case, why did he return from the Far East only to warn others that such methods were futile and should be rejected? Though he gave what has been called, "The Lord’s Prayer," as a basic outline of effective prayer, he never instructed those who subscribe to its use to sit for hours, repeating these words over and over in a monotone voice. He never trained his disciples in this kind of spiritual exercise and they never passed it on to future generations of the church. If it were so important, certainly the opposite would be the case.

Why are mantras an incorrect method of prayer? Primarily, because God is not a mere energy force, to be manipulated or controlled in a mechanical way by repeated word-formulas or incantations. We would never expect to make a request of a fellow human being using such a technique. To do so would be considered absurd. After monotonously repeating a request about a hundred times, we would certainly be asked to remove ourselves from the premises. Why should we think that God is responsive to such methodology? He is a personal God to be approached from the heart in a personal way.

The Most High gives the invitation, "Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know." (Jeremiah 33:3) In calling upon the Creator, it is not only important to use right methods, but to use the correct name. Quite often, mantras use names of gods who are not actual, existing entities, but the product of human imagination. This automatically nullifies the effectiveness of the practice and, worse than that, it opens the door to deeper, spiritual deception.

In closing, I must admit that I do respect and appreciate the Far Eastern perception of the power of words. Biblically this is an emphasis too. All human beings are urged to "confess" with their lips and "believe" in their hearts that God raised Christ from the dead in order to experience true salvation. From that point forward, believers are cautioned to hold the profession of their faith "without wavering." For "death and life are in the power of the tongue and those who love it will eat its fruit." (Romans 10:8–10, Hebrews 10:23, Proverbs 18:21)

Quoting the Word of God was the way Jesus defeated Satan during his wilderness temptation. Confessing the promises of God is a practice that believers are encouraged to prayerfully implement—and sometimes confessing promises can become somewhat repetitive. However, these practices are not the same as the Mantra Yoga method focused on reaching enlightenment. Quoting and confessing God’s Word (after the initial experience of salvation) is not a methodology aimed at becoming one with God. Rather, it is the rightful exercise of a believer’s authority resulting from that oneness with God he or she has already obtained as a gift.

The Bible promises that God will ‘inhabit the praise of His people.’ (See Psalm 22:3.) I admit that sometimes praise can be repetitive, with certain statements being uttered often (e.g., "I love you Lord," "I praise Your name," "I worship You, Father," etc.). Once again, though, these are not mechanically repeated formulas designed to bring a person into a state of enlightenment. These are the celebration of a relationship already established. Even Mahatma Ghandi, that great soul among Hindus, advised:

"Prayer…is a longing of the soul. It is a daily admission of one’s weakness…It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart."4

Most anyone would agree that almost always, mantras become "words without a heart."

1 Yogi Bhajan, The Teachings of Yogi Bhajan, The Power of the Spoken Word, p. 173, #682.

2 A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, The Science of Self Realization, p. 81.

3 "OM," Miriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions, p. 826.

4 The World’s Great Religions, p. 16, similar to a quote by John Bunyan.

"In Search of the True Light" ©2002 copyright by Mike Shreve.
All articles unless otherwise noted are copyright by Mike Shreve.
Personal Stories are the work of the individuals.
All Rights Reserved.

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