It may seem like a strange question, with an obvious answer (I am!). But in order to understand how mantra meditation can be effective at controlling the mind, we need to make a distinction between the mind of the meditator and the meditator him-/herself. It is a subtle distinction, but a very important one, because it is the conscious self who actively meditates, by focusing the mind.
At first, it may be hard to recognize that our minds are different from ourselves because we are so accustomed to entertaining the whims of our minds. The distinction became clearer to me when I contemplated my personal struggle with my mind’s illness. When I was 16, I experienced what psychologists call a major depressive episode. For the next five years, I struggled to make sense of what was happening to me and how to change it. I felt like my mind had been hijacked and, significantly, I experienced an overwhelming sense of not being myself.
At the time, I had no knowledge about the nature of the mind, and that it was actually different from me. Since then I have learned a lot, and it has helped me to make sense of my experience with depression. The door to profound healing opened when I no longer identified myself with my mind and its disorder.
It’s interesting to notice that when we speak of the mind we say, “my mind.” We inherently understand that although our mind belongs to us, it is also somewhat separate from us. For someone who has suffered from a multitude of ‘mind dysfunctions’, this comes as a great relief. If I am not my mind, it means that I have the ability to consciously influence my mind.
Knowledge of the mind, body, and conscious self (often referred to as the spirit or soul) is thoroughly and clearly described in the classic Indian text, Bhagavad-gita. The Bhagavad-gita deals with spiritual science and it reveals a lot about the nature of our bodies, our minds, and our own conscious selves. About the mind, it says:
“For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his mind will remain the greatest enemy.” - Bhagavad-gita 6.6
This verse implies that the mind is naturally subservient to the individual to whom it belongs, just as a child is naturally subservient to its parent. But when the mind is constantly bombarded with distractions via the senses, it becomes like a spoiled child who refuses to follow the instructions of the parent. Meditation, which lies at the heart of any yogic practice, helps the practitioner to bring the restless mind under their control. Consider the following verse:
“From wherever the mind wanders due to its flickering and unsteady nature, one must certainly withdraw it and bring it back under the control of the self.” Bhagavad-gita 6.26
Here the mind is described as “flickering and unsteady.” It actually needs direction from the higher intelligence of the individual in order for it to function efficiently. One aspect of the effectiveness of mantra meditation lies in its innate ability to bring about awareness of the present moment in the mind of the practitioner. The technique is to simply hear each syllable of the mantra as you chant it. And when the mind wanders (as it most certainly will), to bring your attention always back to the sound.
The modern-day saint, AC Bhaktivedanta Swami, highlights the simplicity of this technique: “What is controlling the mind? You have to chant and hear. That’s all. You have to chant with your tongue and hear the sound. That’s all. What is the question of mind? ”
The mind will always suffer from discontent, just like the body will always suffer from colds and flu. Instead of giving the audience to my mind’s temper tantrums, I now simply try to observe them from a distance, and then gently redirect my mind to the sound of this powerful mantra I have at my disposal.
If the ideas in this blog stimulated your appetite, you can keep chewing on this topic with the following article on Huffpost.com: