Mantra – Hearing the Divine in India and America

Mantra

Title: Mantra – Hearing the Divine in India and America
Authors: Harold G. Coward and David J. Goa
Publisher: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited Delhi
Email: mlbd@vsnl.com; website: http://www.mlbd.com
ISBN: 978-81-208-3261-9
Price: Rs. 195/-
(This review was originally published in Vedanta Kesari)

India’s spiritual traditions and customs have suffered rough handling in the past at the hands of overzealous Indophiles and biased scholars. Many books on India and her culture, authored by non-Indians run into serious controversy when they contradict native narratives.

But the book at hand is a refreshing exception to this trend. Coward & Goa have done their homework well and their clear understanding of the tradition of mantra chanting is reflected in every page of the book. For instance, consider this insight into the theory of Karma which the book provides as an introduction to the practice of Mantra:
“Every time you do an action or think a thought, a memory trace or karmic seed is laid down in the storehouse of your unconscious. There it sits waiting for circumstances conducive to it sprouting forth as an impulse, instinct, or predisposition to do the same action or think the same thought again. Notice that the karmic impulse from the unconscious does not cause anything; it is not mechanistic in nature. Rather it simply predisposes you to do an action or think a thought. Room is left for the function of free will. Through the use of your free choice you decide either to go along with the karmic impulse, in which case it is reinforced and strengthened, or to say ‘no’ and negate it, in which case its strength diminishes unit it is finally removed from the unconscious…” (p.8-9)

Now, how many Hindus understand the Karma theory with such clarity and a positive focus on freewill instead of the tendency towards fatalism? It is this clarity of ideas and concepts that makes this book special. Added to this is the non-judgmental discourse which adds great merit to the book. It is only a mature writer who can restrain his personal cultural background from interfering with the analysis of a foreign tradition.

The book is divided into three broad sections. Section 1 is an introduction to the mantra tradition in India and its manifold forms and applications in the daily life of spiritual seekers. Section 2 on ‘The Nature of Mantra’ deals with the various theories of mantra chanting from Mimamsa, Yoga Sutras and Tantra.

Section 3 on ‘Finding one’s Mantra’ gives a graphic description of the process of mantra initiation in the Vedic and tantric traditions. An important feature of this section is the comparative study of the mantra traditions in Vedic texts, classical Hindu traditions like Tantra, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras; sister religions like Buddhism, Sikhism and in the North American Sufi and Christian traditions.

This book will be a useful addition to any spiritual seeker’s personal library and can also be used as a teaching aid by educators involved in teaching spirituality to novices.

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