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TitleUnderstanding Mantras.(Ed.H.alper)(Delhi,1991)(600dpi,Lossy)
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Page 270


governing mantric utterance are deceiving. To a great extent the use of
mantras is optional rather than mandatory, and all the more so in a
redemptive context. Hence, the majority of mantric utterances invari-
ably presuppose at least a certain number of individual judgments. Ap-
plying a rule, moreover, is never mechanical; application is interpreta-
tion. Even more significantly, in a Tantric setting, use of a mantra is
almost never "free lance"; it depends upon accepting the guidance of
one's spiritual master.

On this dependence upon the guru, SSü 2.6, with Ksemaräja's intro-
ductory phrase, could not be clearer: "in the matter of getting mantras to
work (manrtraviryasädane) 'it is the guru who is the path' (gurur vpäyah)"
(59). Ksemaräja's commentary on this sütra emphasizes at once the in-
dispensability of the guru in using mantras successfully and that it is the
guru's mantric utterance that accounts for his power:

The guru is he who proclaims (grnati) . . . the truly real (tättvikam
artham); he is the path in that he is the one who indicates how mantras

In his interpretation, Ksemaräja draws upon the widespread Hindu con-
viction that the guru is the supreme mediator between the ordinary and
the real and that, as such, his words count intrinsically as mantra. This
consensus—if it is that—is artfully expressed in the Guru Gitä, a Puränic
text popular today among the followers of Siddha Yoga, a new religious
movement inspired in part by the traditions of Kasmiri Saivism. Verse
174 of this text aptly characterizes the guru's role as psychopomp:

It is the guru who is the supreme passageway (tirtha), [in
comparison to him] any other passageway is of no use;

And it is the big toe of [the guru's] foot, Goddess, upon
which all [lesser] passageways depend.38

Verse 76 of this same text elaborates the guru's paradigmatic role:

The guru's form (mürti) is the source of trance (dhyäna), the
guru's foot is the source of ritual action (püjä);

The guru's utterance (väkya) is the source of mantra, the
guru's compassion (krpä) is the source of freedom (moksa).39

Thus, it is not surprising that Ksemaräja cites passages from several
authoritative texts to reinforce the point that the guru holds the key to
the efficacy of mantras because of the unique quality of his speech. He
quotes Siva himself as saying in the Mälinivijaya Tantra (MVT): "He who
illumines [i. e., manifests (prakäsaka)] the efficacy of mantras is said to be
a guru equal to me (matsamah)."40 So, too, he cites the SpK, where one is
told to do obeisance to the "eloquence of the guru" (gurubhärati), which
is a vehicle equipped to carry one across the bottomless ocean of

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doubt.41 Finally, he cites two passages, one attributed to the MVT, the
other to the Mantrisirobhairava, that assess a guru's utterance (guru-
vaktra). The guru's utterance, we are told, is the "wheel of power"
(§akticakra); the guru being the divine power that grants release.42 Ac-
cordingly, K$emaräja is able to conclude: "The power [of the guru]
which proceeds from his utterance is greater than the guru himself/ that
power, which provides a favorable opportunity [to attain freedom] is the

These quotations suffice to illustrate the social role of the spiritual
master in Mantrasästra, as understood in the SSuVirn. The guru, like the
mantra itself, is liminal. Both stand on the threshold between the public
and the private, the threshold between "inner" and "outer" experience.
As such, the guru and his intrisically mantric discourse, by his very
existence in the Hindu social world, helps make belief in the complex
efficacy of mantras plausible for a myriad of individuals who have, as a
practical\natter, little hope of using mantras successfully themselves, at
least in a redemptive context.

Further insight into the social character of mantric utterance, as

K§emaräja implicitly understands it, may be found in his commentaries
on Sütras 1.22 and 2.3, where both the efficacy of mantras (mantravirya)
and their "selection" (mantroddhära) are discussed. SSü 2.3 says: "The
secret of mantra is the body of wisdom (vidyäsarirasattä mantrarahasyam)"
(50). In explicating this sütra, K§emaräja quotes a long, complex, impor-
tant passage from the TSB (cf. Goudriaan & Gupta 1981, 39; Padoux
1963, fl2£f.). The secret ("rahasyam" is glossed "upanisad") of mantras is
unfolded, K$emaräja teils us, in the TSB:

All mantras consist of Transcendental Phonemes (varnas) and
[thus], my dear, they are really sakti

Sakti, however, should be known as the Mother [of the
cosmos] (Mätrkä) and she should be known as really Siva.44

Continuing, the passage, in effect, explains why mantric utterance
seems so obscure in comparison with other language-games:

[Those who have] abandoned action [in conformity with
dharma\, who have [only] mundane goals [and values], who
are satisfied with deceit and fraud

Don't even know that the guru is god and that this is in
agreement with the scriptures (sästra)

For just this reason, goddess, I have concealed (pragopitam)
the efficacy [of mantras]

Because of this concealment (guptena) they are hidden (gupta);

Page 539


taken as the very indication that by using the tool of mantra one begins
to reflect upon something, that content and meaning are integral to the
opening of the channels between men and the gods.

Austin, however, goes on to describe any number of conditions that
qualify the performative utterance and that most appropriately describe
the Rgvedic conception of mäntra: (1) that there be "an accepted conven-
tional procedure having a certain conventional effect, that procedure to
include the uttering of certain words by certain persons in certain cir-
cumstances"; (2) that "the particular persons and circumstances in a
given case must be appropriate for the invocation of the particular pro-
cedure invoked"; and (3) that "the procedure must be executed by all
participants both correctly and completely" (1965, 14-15). There is no
need to describe the details of the classical srauta system here, even as it
might have been known to the Rgveda; it will be sufficient to note that
the rules and conventions of this system, into which mantra fits most
clearly, amply support the conditions for correct procedure formulated
by Austin. The first condition describes the need to have the utterance
heard by someone and understood by him and others in the context
(Austin 1965, 22)—that the mantra must be pronounced {pad, vac, sams)
and that in almost all cases it is to be heard by the gods. (And, I pre-
sume, that following the later ritual, it must also be heard by the other
priests and the patron.) The second condition prescribes a certain per-
son be designated as the invoker of the utterance (Austin 1965, 34-35)—
that the mantra is peculiarly allied with the kavi. And, the third condi-
tion requires that the form of the utterance, particularly its grammar,
meet set requirements and be complete (Austin 1965, 67-93)—that the
mantra must be "ungarbled, well set, and elegant" (7.32.13ab) as well as
"perfect" (1.40.6b).

Following generalized rules such as those just listed, the power of
the word as a performative utterance becomes crystallized in the notion
of mantra. No other term for ritual speech in the Rgveda is seen to
express as clearly the agentive quality of speech as much as mantra,
where the priest's growing sensitivity to the pure power of pronounced
speech, as an instrument for the insight already deemed so central, is
finally put into concrete form. Although the Rgveda knows other agent
nouns for ritual speech—e.g., stoträ (song of praise) (nityastotra, pri-
yästotra, marütstotra) (Wackernagel 1954, 703)—it is in mantra where the
agent suffix comes to be so significant philosophically. Mantra is the
tool, the mechanism, for yoking the reflective powers of the seer into the
machinery of ritual (Tambiah 1968a, 175-76). Although, in later times,
the focus of mantra really becomes that of a key to meditation, a key to
the establishment and maintenance of divine accessibility, the earlier
formulation, at least as bound by the context of the Rgveda, focuses
primarily upon the qualities of its use by the religious functionary: the
power released upon pronunciation.

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The view of speech captured in the word mantra differs considerably
from the view of speech known to an earlier period. This suggestion is
based upon the rarity in the Rgvedic mantra system of a number of
things apparently central to the understanding of religious conscious-
ness, especially to the formation of religious language. For instance, we
have in the mantra system, especially in the designation mantra ka-
visastä, an indication that the word is preeminent, not the speaker. We
do not get, for instance, the senseless *kavi mantrasastä (the seer pro-
nounced, by/with a mantra39), nor do we get the more plausible *kavi
mantrasas (cf., ukthasas) (the seer pronouncing the mantra); in both of
which cases the speaker could be seen as preeminent over the word. We
do, however, get the hapax mantrakrt in a Soma hymn—"Rsi Kasyapa,
strengthening your songs (gir) through the praises (stoma) of the mantra-
makers'7 (9.114.2ab)—as well as the hapax mantrasrütya in an Indra
hymn—"We neglect nothing, O gods, we conceal nothing, we go forth
mindful of your counsel" (10.134.7ab)—but neither fits neatly into a
system supportive of the centrality of any single religious functionary.

Remembering the importance of the development of thought in the
Rgveda (Chattopadhyaya 1935, 35), and ever mindful of the need to
uncover the religious persuasions of the Rgvedic world (Thieme 1957a,
53-54), we must now turn back to a type of religiosity that, I argue, is
earlier than that of mantra and yet necessary to it; necessary not only
historically, as one thing naturally gives rise to another, but logically as
well, for the mantra system, as emergent in the late Rgveda, makes
much more sense when seen as dependent upon an older, more person-
alized and theistic type of religiosity. One way of getting at this develop-
mental process is to see not only what has changed in the view of speech
but, perhaps more significant here, what might have been left out as
mantra emerged.

In his discussions of brahman, Thieme makes a distinction between
the Formel and the Formulierung:

Die Formel ist ihrem Wesen nach überkommen, ihre Wirkung beruht
darauf, dass sie in bewährter Weise wiederholt wird. . . . Die For-
mulierung wirkt, wenn sie neu ist. . . . Die Formel ist anonym, die
Formulierung gehört dem Individuum. . . . Die Formel ist eine
anerkannte Grosse, aber die Formulierung kann misslingen, sie ist dem
Tadel ausgesetzt.

(The formula {Formel) is traditional in character, its effects depend on
the fact that it is repeated in a time-tested manner. . . . The formulation
(Formulierung) works when it is new. . . . The formula is anonymous,
the formulation belongs to the individual. . . . The formula is a known

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