Suppose we were given a sacred formula, a powerful mantra for awakening consciousness. Say that this open sesame came from one who had the most profound understanding of the creative and evocative power of sound. Were we to use this inspired prescription, would it be effective?
Perhaps the answer is in the analogy of art. We may have the finest instrument, but unless we are able to access our creative powers, the instrument is of limited usefulness. In a meditative sense, we are the instruments and our ability to focus consciousness in a certain way is crucial. Therefore, soulless repetition—even of a great formulation–will have little meaning or power. Likewise, a great song sung without enthusiasm is stripped of most of its value. A great artist puts themselves into their work in a profound way, and they sing or speak from a higher space where true consciousness is behind voice. So also with sound and the art of meditation.
Each word or word combination, beyond its formal meaning, has also a sound value. We might think of this as its qualitative or musical value. In music we recognize how sound communicates directly. The finest music and the finest speech resonate to the soul of things and give direct access to a world of meaning. Though we may not always be aware of it, the sound value of words speaks to us on a nonverbal level, and this meaning suffuses the formal meaning we apprehend by memory and association.
We might think of the sound or musical value of words as cymatic, where the geometry and forms of sound that we see in Cymatics have also their psychological correspondences. Under the impress of sounds, patterns arise in consciousnesses that are revelatory. And it is not simply objective sounds, as when we read or speak aloud—it is also the subtle sounds of inner life, the quiet patterns that form in the depths of thought and feelings as we listen, read, or think.
We sense patterns in consciousness, derive meaning, and these take shape in words, pictures, and sound. Our speech gives a body to consciousness, and gives others access to our inner life. We can also say that the sound/consciousness relation works in both directions where sound arises from consciousness and consciousness arises from sound.
In the Eastern concept of “mantra” the usual idea is that there are special words or formulas that, when repeated, give a desired result. As is often the case, a subtler meaning is contained in the root of a word. The word “mantra” is from the Sanskrit word “man” meaning “to think” with the suffix “tra” referring to a tool or instrument. In essence, mantra means “instrument of thought.” We may say that—among other things–mantra evokes thought or consciousness and that right thought or consciousness produces spiritually meaningfully expression or “mantra.”
Image from: Cymatics, A Study of Wave Phenomena by: Hans Jenny