[Advaita-l] chanting knowing the meaning whether necessary

Ramakrishnan Balasubramanian rama.balasubramanian at gmail.com
Fri May 30 20:36:21 CDT 2008

On Wed, May 28, 2008 at 10:05 AM, Dr. Yadu Moharir <ymoharir at yahoo.com> wrote:
> Namaste R.Krishnamoorthy-Ji:
>  It does not matter whether you agree with me or not you should take up the issue with Sage paata~njali or and our niruktakaara who provided understanding for various "dhaatu".  This subject has been discussed extensively by all grammarians.  There were more than 64 Grammarians before PaNini.
>  Let us see the definition of word "mantra" - matraaH mananaata.
>  Sage paata~njali gives his understanding of the term "japa" - "tatjjapastadrthabhaavanam || samaadhipaada1.28 ||"
>  Therefore japa is certainly not reciting something without knowing the meaning.  It needs to be understood first.
>  there is famous shloka that establishes the procedure for mantra japa:
>  mantraartha mantra caitanya yo na jaanaati saadhakaH |
>  shatalakhsa prajaptopi tasya mantro na sidhyati ||
>  Meaning - A mantra does not become siddha (comes to fruition) even after it's repetition for 10 Lacks of times.
>  Similar thoughts where expressed by Acharya Shankara as well -
>  arthasya nishcayo draShTo | vicaareNa hitotitaH ||
>  nasnaanena na daanena na praaNaayama shatena vaa
>  yasya naasti svaya.m pradnyaa shaas{}tra.m tasya karoti kim .
>  locanaabhyaa.m vihiinasya darpaNaH ki.m kariShyati .. caaNaakyaniitii ..
>  ChaNakyaa tell us if there is no understanding there cannot be pradnya just like what is the use of a mirror to a blind person.
>  Now tell me, how can any one perform "manana" without understanding ?
>  We have lost our culture because we do not understand it.  That is we, the Indians cannot adequately defend when Western scholars take poke at it through their narrow academic perspectives and try to apply psychoanalysis and then try to hide behind the "Academic Freedom" in the West.
>  I have come across many vedanti's who prove the statement by their actions "kalau vedaantino bhanti phallgune baalakaa iva"
>  Often vedaanti are compared to the ladle that stirs the "baasundi" (a sweet preparation from evaporated milk) where the ladle in incapable of enjoying the the flavor of the preparation.
>  adhiitya caturo vedaandharmashaastraaNyanekashaH ||
>  beahmatattvaM na jaanaati darvii paakarasaM yathaa ||
>  After all above thoughts if you still feel that one should do recitations without understanding then let that be your personal choice at least do not preach it to others.
>  Finally, If you do not know what you say then what you say has no meaning.

Dear Dr. Moharir,

You are  a valuable contributor to this list, but I am a little
puzzled by your attitude towards this. I can't spend a whole lot of
time right now on this. If you are seriously interested, I can dig up
the exact references that I am going to quote below.

Bhagavatpaada in his suutra-bhaaShya quotes the chAndogya upaniShad
where it is said that rituals done with knowledge of the meaning,
faith and concentration give *better* results. Bhagavatpaada astutely
points out that the word "better" indicates that rituals (for example
chanting vedas or mantras is a ritual - svaadhyaaya) done *without*
knowing the meaning will also give *some* results - it is just that
knowing the meaning, etc., gives *better* results. By results, we mean
either purity of mind or even material benefits if you will.
Bhagavatpaada repeats the *exact same thing in his chAndogya bhAShya*
on the same verse. So his view is crystal clear: recitation of mantras
and rituals has its benefits whether you know the meaning or not,
knowing the meaning is better.

The taittiriiya samhitaa recounts the the story of tvaShTA. He
performed a sacrfice to destroy indra. He recited the formula
indrashatru vardhasva. However he placed the udAtta on indra, instead
of shatru. The resultant compound became a bahuvriihi instead of
tatpuruSha. As the latter, it would have meant destroyer of indra,
however as the former it became "Indra the destroyer". Thus vR^itra
was defeated. The entire passage is very subtle and requires careful

1. In normal life, if I make a mistake in saying something, but if you
understand it, there is no harm. For example, say we are moving stuff
from one room to another. There is just a single table in the room,
but I say "Let's move the chair". You can easily understand that I
made a mistake and go right along to move the table. No harm done. But
not so in mantras. The samhitA says that agni bhagavAn actually rose
up and tried to grant tvaShTAs wish, after all agni knew what he
wanted because of tvaShTas power of faith and concentration, but he
fell back, unable to go against the ontological power of the
sacrificial formula. Bottom line: mantra has an objective existence
and power. It does not matter whether the person who utters it and the
recepient devata understand the intentions.

2. However, the chAndogya also points out that the effect of mantras
are to be got by *a* person, so the power of the mantra alone does not
play a role. The understanding, faith, etc., of the person using it
matters to channelize the results to a particular person. tvaShTas
faith and concentration almost worked but not quitre! However, since
the mantra has an objective existence, it still has some power whether
you understand it or not. The brahma sUtras themselves acknowledge
this fact.

Mantras are both within and outside a person.

It is also important understand the mImA.msA principle of Anarthakya.
No two valid statements, e.g., from shruti, can be discarded in favor
of another, a common ground has to be obtained. For example, sAyaNa
takes up the following problem in his upodghAta to the R^ig bhAShya.
In the various brahmaNa passages it is said that knowledge of the
ritual alone gives benefits, example in the nakShatreShTi - ya u caina
deva.m veda, etc. However Jaimini says in his sutras that mere
knowledge cannot give the benefit. sAyaNa points out that the jaimini
sUtras themselves provide the solution to this conundrum, in such
cases the variation in results is what is to be understood. That is,
doing with knowledge is more powerful than just knowledge, etc.

One more simple example: In India (at least when I was young) we used
to carry a load of books to school. It was required by the school, you
had to take it otherwise they would kick you out of the class.
Sometimes the parent of some student not doing well at school may say
"You are carrying your books like a donkey without studying, might as
well leave it at home". The point was to make the student take the
books *and* study. Not to say that if he was not interested to leave
the books at home! yAskas statement is similarly a pariplava for
knowledge, not an exhortation to stop memorizing vedas if the meaning
was not known!

Let me add something: If you think the vedas are like a physics
textbook, just conveying meaning, let's just agree to disagree and
leave it at that. Otherwise, let's look at it open-mindedly, and not
in a fashion to justify it to some Western scholars.


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