In the Kundalini Yoga classes I attended (back in 1969-1970), I was taught that chanting mantras would aid in penetrating the supernatural and achieving oneness with God (or more correctly, becoming consciously aware of the inherent oneness with God I supposedly already possessed). 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.” Those statements are actually true within the Christian worldview, but the interpreted meaning is much different than what is promoted in yogic teaching. If based on biblical doctrine these three phrases would mean:
Ek Ong Kar—yes, there is “only one God,” but there is “only one God” to the exclusion of all others, not the all-inclusive concept of an underlying cosmic life force that manifests in millions of individual deities.
Sat Nam—yes, “truth” is one of the 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 experience of being born again. (John 1:12) At that moment of salvation, the Holy Spirit enters into those who repent and receive Jesus as Lord of their lives. The Holy Spirit is not a dormant impersonal power that is present in all human beings that must be awakened. Rather, the Holy Spirit is the personal presence of God. So, the supernatural “power” contacted through chanting this and other mantras is a dark power, a counterfeit power, not the true, personal presence of the Holy Spirit.
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 belief that is also unbiblical).
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.
THE WORD “OM”
Most advocates of this methodology believe the primal sound-vibration uttered by the Infinite Oversoul was ‘OM,’ that this sacred word accompanied the manifestation of the universe, and it continues to resound subliminally throughout the entire cosmos. By echoing this supposedly ‘sacred’ vibration, meditators can ‘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 It is also in a very real sense an invocation to these deities to manifest in the hearts and lives of devotees.
THE BIBLICAL VIEW
In opposition to the theory that OM was the original syllable spawning the universe, 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 to achieve union with God. Actually, Jesus taught the polar opposite. In the Sermon on the Mount (his first primary message to his disciples) he unequivocally instructed:
“Use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that
they shall be heard for their much speaking. (Matthew 6:7 KJV)
Every yoga teacher with whom I was associated insisted Jesus studied under Indian gurus during his hidden years and learned proper methods to awaken the Christ nature. If this were the case (and I do not believe it is), 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 esoteric exercise, and they never passed it on to future generations of the church (though the Catholic Church erroneously advocates a similar kind of practice—often repeating this prayer a number of time in doing penance during the sacrament of confession in order to receive absolution for sins). If repeating the Lord’s Prayer thousands of times was necessary for enlightenment, or to properly qualify for forgiveness, Jesus certainly would have made that clear.
LEGITIMATE DESIRES OF THE HEART
Often mantras have wording that expresses a legitimate desire of the heart, like the well-known Pavaman Mantra in Hinduism. Translated into English, it is worded as follows:
From falsehood lead me to truth,
From darkness lead me to the light,
From death lead me to immortality.
Who would not want these three things: truth, light and immortality? Yet, repeating the request thousands of times is an incorrect method of prayer. Why? 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 dozen times, we would certainly be asked to remove ourselves from the premises. Why should we think that the God of the universe would be responsive to such methodology? He is a personal God to be approached from the heart in a personal way. To approach him using monotone mantras, I believe, is actually an insult to His intelligence.
THE JESUS PRAYER
Even the well-known “Jesus Prayer” is mantra-like in its execution. Advocates repeat the phrase over and over: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Supposedly it is beneficial to repeat this all during the day, hundreds of times, either audibly or silently in the mind. But once again, let’s evaluate this practice from God’s perspective. Prayer is supposed to be a personal, conversational interchange. To repeat a phrase like this numerous times is approaching God in a manipulative, mechanical way. Supposedly, the more you do it, the more effective it becomes. Wouldn’t you grow bored quite quickly if someone called you on the phone every day and repeated the same phrase hundreds of times? Would repetition like that persuade you to respond to that person or persuade you to hang up? Wouldn’t you even question that person’s sanity? If we human beings would not attempt to communicate with each other that way, why would anyone expect it to be an effective means of communicating with the Creator?
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) Also, Jesus taught that “true worshipers” must worship God “in spirit and in truth” and that includes worshiping him with true, inspired, biblically-based methods. (John 4:23) 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 and even demonic possession.
TWO FINAL THOUGHTS
In closing, I want to mention two things:
First, I deeply respect the spiritual passion shown by many Buddhists, Hindus, New Agers and people of other persuasions driving them to spend hundreds of hours, days, even many months and years of their lives in pursuing Ultimate Reality through the chanting of mantras. My heart goes out to them. How hungry they are for spiritual fulfillment! How thirsty they are for supernatural realities! How wonderful it would be if they met the Prince of peace (Jesus) and experienced the indescribable peace that only he can give!
Second, I 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 achieving 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 revered leader 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.”
Most anyone would agree that repetitive, monotone mantras are always “words without a heart.”
1. Yogi Bhajan, The Teachings of Yogi Bhajan, The Power of the Spoken Word (Arcline Publications: Pamona, CA, 1977) p. 173, #682
2. A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, The Science of Self-Realization (The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, Los Angeles, CA 1998) p. 81.
3. “OM,” Miriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions (Miriam-Webster Inc., Springfield, MA, 1999) p. 826.
4. The World’s Great Religions (Time Incorporated: New York, 1957) p. 16, similar to a quote by John Bunyan, author of Pilgrims Progress.
Copyright © 2020 Mike Shreve
Excerpt from In Search of the True Light (Copyright © 2003) with enhancements