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    Mantra power from Sweden

    I was just remembering a scene from Ram Das’ Be Here Now. I don’t know if I’ve remembered it correctly since I haven’t read the book in over 20 years.

    I think most people who quote the title of that book as if it were a prescription for living haven’t read it… but that’s besides the point, which relates to my memory:

    In this scene, Ram Das has just come back from India where he had spent time with his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, and was fully engaged in his “japa” practice — repeating a mantra over and over and over and over. Mr. Das (or does he prefer the more hairdresserly Mr. Ram?) recounted (rather, I’m recounting him recounting) being in the car with his father and all that was happening is his mind was the mantra, over and over. All thoughts were subsumed by the mantra. He could barely hear his father through the mantra. And he was blissed out as he rode the waves that the mantra created in his mind.

    I was recalling this story because for the last few hours I’ve had the exact same experience!

    Every thought, feeling, sensation, experience has merely been taken over by, eaten by, swallowed whole by the musical sound resonating and reverberating through my mind.

    Vacuuming becomes the sound.

    Talking with people who came to buy my inversion table and gravity boots (thank you Craigslist) becomes the sound.

    Eating is like eating the sound.

    No thing happens in my mind that doesn’t feel equal to the sound… of ABBA’s Dancing Queen (thank you Meryl Streep in Mama Mia).

    I’m not dancing around the living room like Meryl on her Greek Isle, but the rapture is no less technicolor.

    Seriously, without the idea that “I have a song stuck in my head, especially a bubble-gum 70’s song that I wish would leave,” how is this any different than repeating some collection of Sanskrit syllables? (Can syllables actually be Sanskrit?)

    Quoting one of the advanced spiritual teachings from my Swedish guru group, “With a bit of rock music, everything is fine…”

    22 Responses to “Mantra power from Sweden”

    1. Chrys Says:

      I never did Transcendental Meditation, or any meditation really, so I don’t know anything about mantras, but I feel something wonderful when a song, one of 5000+ songs I happen to know, runs through me.
      I believe that my songs maybe ARE a mantra, and if by some chance, I can’t remember a line, I will focus for as long as I have to, (sing the song over and over and over), until it comes to me. And it always does!
      Something about words and melody together never ceases to delight my senses and bring a kind of calm to my soul.
      Bubble-gum or Bowie, Jazz or Jo Dee Messina, like you said, “everything is fine”.

      My trick is keeping it that way…

    2. ric Says:

      Seriously? How about intention, such as the difference between getting the hiccups and pretending to hiccup? (And if we consider Libet’s conclusions about free will, intention might indicate the ability to shut off the pattern.)

    3. sashen Says:


      How is what I’m describing, in any way, a deliberate act meant to represent another, non-deliberate act?

      And what I’m entertaining is, in a way, a question about process vs. goal. If two people arrive at the same goal, is the process by which they got there *really* an issue?

      I know 2 meditation teachers, one of whom worked for years until he became recognized as a teacher, the other was spotted 6 days after beginning to practice. They think of themselves and equally skilled and “attained.” Does it make a difference that one had to work for it and the other was a savant? Does savant-ness imply something better or worse about that teacher, compared to the worked-for-it one? Or vice versa?

      What if — and I know this may *sound* (pun intended) crazy, but let’s investigate — instead of trying to do the difficult task of getting the mind to stick on a random and meaningless sound, we CULTIVATED the phenomenon of earworm-iness, and deliberately set up the conditions where the mind would be spinning out a Top 40 “mantra” all day and all night? If we had a belief system that suggested doing so would be as valuable and meaningful as the Sanskrit mantra, would it really be different? Or might it even be better, since it seems to be so effortless and engaging?

      (This is really more of the kind of question I’m asking at, so I may copy this post to that site.)

      Regarding free will in this instance, there’s some interesting thinking and research about earworms and other indications that the brain sometimes gets “locked” into feedback loops (due to the kludgey evolutionary process where various subsystems developed “well enough” but don’t always play nicely together). To know if “intention” has anything to do with shutting off the inner radio would take some clever research, but I’d be shocked if it revealed anything different than the existing intention/decision studies, which show a non-conscious readiness potential between .5-7 seconds prior to the arising of a conscious “intention.”

    4. ellen Says:

      It galls me to admit, but after many years of meditation practice I don’t believe there is a difference between your mantra of sanskrit syllables or an earworm of ‘Dancing Queen.’
      Both serve the purpose of concentrating the available attention of the mind–focussing–and so guiding attention in a directed rather than random fashion.
      I suppose any difference comes with choosing to repeat a mantra in a disciplined fashion whereas buggy earworms seem to appear out of nowhere, unchosen and repeat on a loop until they drive you crazy.
      Assigned meaning, which is always purely subjective, can of course radically alter the feeling- tone of the mantra, making the sanskrit syllables sacred and ‘spiritual’ while ‘Dancing Queen’ is forever dismissed as disco doggerel.
      I suppose I have now deeply offended all the Abba worshippers out there–sorry folks.

      I do however think that there is considerable merit in learning to focus one’s attention, and that takes practice. The years of practice do show results that are not attainable purely on inborn talent.

    5. sashen Says:

      Hi Ellen,

      Your last line intrigued me (btw, since you mentioned DQ, I can’t stop singing it in my mind… I’m LOVING the unintentional japa practice!)

      I’ve been thinking a lot about, and reading many books lately, about inborn talent vs. practice, genetics vs. training, nature vs. nurture.

      I’m intrigued by the fact that when it comes to physical skills and talents, or even the very ability to develop strength and/or muscular size, people are usually quite ready to accept that there are genetic differences, some of which can be affected by training, and some of which cannot.

      For example, there are some people with a genetic variant that makes them 100% unable to build bigger muscles. No amount of training (with or without steroids) will overcome their genetics. Conversely, there are some who just look at a barbell and get bigger (we had a guy on our gymnastics team like that… he would practically just THINK about getting bigger and he would!).

      It’s a rare person that has a problem with this phenomenon.

      But when it comes to internal skills/states/etc. people tend to think that we’re all equal and that anyone, with enough work, effort, desire, etc., can reach the same level of achievement as anyone else.

      The entirety of the “enlightenment business” is built on this idea. “If the Buddha — just a guy — can be come enlightened, and he says I can too by following the steps he says he followed, then, by golly, I can!”

      I no longer believe this.

      Aside from the fact that naturals misrepresent what it took for them to achieve their results, and those who worked hard rarely believe that hard work is *not* required, I’m leaning more in the nature camp than the nurture camp, overall.

      While I think the states one can experience with the right technique applied the right way are probably beyond what most imagine (because I’ve seen it, over and over, with people doing the I AM techniques), I don’t think that we’re all equal or that we can all reach the same levels of “attainment” any more than we could all become Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan just by diligent effort.

      I think it’s a particular cognitive bias that we think we’re all on the same internal playing field and that on any given meditation day, anyone could win. (I hope someone gets the reference to “Any given Sunday.”)

    6. Dave Says:

      This has got me thnking. (By the way I love your blog-site here) I kind of move in the Advaita/non-dual orbit. Who is the one held up as the supreme example of the realized person? Ramana Maharshi, someone for whom realization came at the age of about 14 with no practice what so ever. There are millions of people who practise meditation and never reach anything like what the Maharshi was. Was he born with this? Past life work? (I have problems with this explanation). He certainly didn’t work for this.
      I have also read of others, David Carse, Suzanne Segall, who have had extemely powerful “enlightenment” without any real practice. I guess I have come to the conclusion that mantras, meditation, prayer etc can have a good temporal effect for some people, giving peace clarity and serenity. True, ego destroying “enlightenment” (I hate that word) comes from a totally different place. It cannot be attained by an individual it can only happen to one and prior practice is no indication of probabilty. The only thing that spiritual practice and “enlightenment” may have in common is that if “enlightenment” should occur, a spititual practice gives you a context to put this happening in.
      Sorry if this was off topic, but, like I said, it got me to thinking. Thanks Steven!

    7. sashen Says:

      Hi Dave,

      Welcome to the blog… and your post isn’t off-topic at all.

      Many people who hang out with “the naturals” (especially the ones who then teach you techniques they DIDN’T use to get to wherever they say they got) seem to overlook the differences between themselves and the person who they’re listening to.

      You might get a kick out of the post about when I brought up this topic with Ramesh Balsekar:

    8. ellen Says:

      I tend to avoid the ‘enlightenment business/question’ altogether. There are so many projections and expectations around that subject that I find no point in discussing it.
      We are all naturals at the unconditioned state–we were all there once, in this lifetime. Barring brain injury or disease we can all rediscover it and we don’t need meditation or mantras to do it.

      If you are like me, you make life difficult and blow it up into a huge, painful journey, others find it a much simpler and more straightforward recognition. I don’t regret my lengthy and painful journey or feel jealous that others find it easier, we are all different and as you say yourself, what does it matter how you get to the goal so long as you get there?

      I learned so much about so many different things on my painful journey that I came to see how valuable the ride was regardless of the goal–it was when the ‘enlightenment business’ faded in importance that things started to work effortlessly for me–but I could not have got to that point without the effort. Others can and do. I don’t see that this is something to be measured or compared, it’s personal and subjective and really doesn’t matter to anyone but me.
      I do have a residual wish to claim that the effort is important, but that has more to do with my personal conditioning in the work ethic than with a belief that the effort is necessary.

      Someone once said that if the human brain was simple enough to be fully understood by a human brain, the human brain would be too stupid to understand.
      It’s the last frontier, the mind is the last wilderness available to us, I think there is merit in exploring that and experimenting on ourselves.

      And there is no ‘attainment’ at all. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    9. ric Says:

      “How is what Iโ€™m describing, in any way, a deliberate act meant to represent another, non-deliberate act?”

      OK. I misread you due to a peculiarity in the way i receive and integrate information. See if this is right: paraphrasing your underlying assertion, “Forgetting for the moment how one arrived at it, both experiences are of a unitary nature.” Extending that thought one might wonder if the gradual learning process of intentional repetition might be shortened by taking another route, or shall we say another vehicle.

      The question that arises in my mind is, how do we make an unintentional, automatic process intentional?

      Heaven forbid that we should then make the intentional process automatic to the extent it can’t be consciously shut off, which is a qualm i have about “enlightenment” claims. That would induce stereotypical behavior and subvert the behavioral flexibility that our human brain has evolved to produce to aid in our survival. Would that be prudent? At least with the oneness achieved through concentration one can back out of it.

    10. ric Says:

      “Does it make a difference that one had to work for it and the other was a savant?”

      That depends on the context. It makes no difference if you are only looking at the result, if ‘it’ is indeed the same thing (about that i remain skeptical.) However, if i am to learn from what someone DID, they need to have done something. I can’t learn to BE a savant, there’s no information. Otherwise, talk is just talk and smiling is just smiling making the authentic and the fake appear the same as i experience it.
      So in my view process is critical and i believe in some measure definitive of the goal which in this discussion is another process. That makes a goal achieved by different means inherently different to some extent. I figure that the difference can be significant.

      The idea of cultivating earworminess sounds like pure NLP, where one models a mind state so it can be taught to others. Oddly enough, i think repeating a mantra or a similar practice does just that, cultivates earworminess, otherwise known as establishing mindfulness.
      I like the idea, but was it the earworm itself that induced the experience of unity or was it some other factor that was triggered by the appearance of the earworm? Earworms in my experience don’t induce absorption states, just distractions, sometimes happy, sometimes annoying.

      Re action potential….. What i was referring to was the lag time after the arrival of conscious intent of about 200 milliseconds before the action takes place where conscious veto of the action can occur. To quote Wiki on Libet, “While consciousness plays no part in the instigation of volitional acts, it retains a part to play in the form of suppressing or withholding from certain acts instigated by the unconscious.”
      I find this mind-blowing. It suggests that the role of consciousness, at least in part, is to say no, which is essential for controlling motor activities in unstable environments. Kind of a safety function.

    11. sashen Says:

      Hi Ric… let’s see, where to begin…

      “The question that arises in my mind is, how do we make an unintentional, automatic process intentional?”

      Good question… can we intentionally induce earworms or is part of their earworminess that they are out of our conscious control (more about what “conscious control” means in a moment)?

      On the one hand, we can’t make them happen at will, on the other hand, what it takes to get that ball rolling again is pretty small — almost any reminder about Dancing Queen starts the worm wiggling in my mind. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Your next question about whether it’s prudent to aim for, let alone achieve a non-changing mental state is also interesting… there are many reports, though, of people who have seemingly worked to attain states of formless absorption who are unable to exert the kind of control you describe. They get “stuck” in it for days or months at a time, they snap into it uncontrollably, etc.

      In your next post, when you say, “It makes no difference if you are only looking at the result…”

      That’s sort of my point. Which is the important part, the process or the result? I know of the head of one meditation lineage who achieved whatever was required to be granted that role in ONE MINUTE. That this teacher

      Clearly, to learn what someone did, they had to have done *something*… but whether what they did and what we are able to do have any relationship to each other, is a whole other question. That is, I can teach you everything I did on my way to becoming an All-America gymnast. But I guarantee that information will be useless and that you won’t develop the same skills (and probably won’t even come close if you don’t have a similar body, similar genetics, etc.)

      But let me toss this question to you: If YOU, personally, had 2 choices for attaining something, whether it was “spiritual” or “mundane,” and 1 choice involved years of hard work, and the other involved taking a pill and getting it now… which would you do?

      Onto a next point of yours… I think the only reason earworms don’t typically induce absorption states is an issue of framing. If we grew up thinking that earworms were something to be cultivated, dived into, and encouraged, rather than indication of a problem that needed to be fixed, I’ll bet we’d have a well stocked list of people who experience earworm induced absorptive states. Just a hunch.

      To your last point, the idea that the role of consciousness is one of exerting veto power over the already arising non-conscious decision making process is one that has been well argued. The other side of the equation, as you probably know, is that the “veto argument” has the problem of infinite regress. That is, if original decisions arise non-deliberatively, then the decision to veto could also be arising non-deliberatively, and the ENTIRE process is only reported to our awareness after the fact.

      As far as I know, nobody has measured the veto process and found it to be different than any other decision, with a readiness potential arising well before the awareness of the thing itself.

      Most reporting of this phenomenon leads to two statements: The first is how this raises the question of whether we have free will. The second is the assertion that the first statement is ludicrous since we so obviously experience having free will.

      Rarely does the writer recognize that the 2nd statement is a non-sequitur and that our interpretation of our experience has no bearing on the truth/falsity of the free will question.

      If you haven’t checked out some of Antonio Damasio’s writings, you might enjoy them. He explores these ideas and includes many shocking examples of people with impaired brain function who experiences highlight some of these topics. Suffice it to say, you walk away from his books thinking something like, “Oh, all of this thinking/awareness stuff that I give such great import to… much of it could vanish and nobody would be any the wiser.” ๐Ÿ˜‰

    12. ellen Says:

      ‘Your next question about whether itโ€™s prudent to aim for, let alone achieve a non-changing mental state is also interestingโ€ฆ there are many reports, though, of people who have seemingly worked to attain states of formless absorption who are unable to exert the kind of control you describe. They get โ€œstuckโ€ in it for days or months at a time, they snap into it uncontrollably, etc.’

      It’s an unfortunate truth that does not get too much publicity amongst the ‘spiritual’ crowd that messing around with your mind is fraught with potential problems, not least that all manner of psychic states, paranoia, psychosis, mystic visions, etc. can and do manifest.
      Getting stuck in any of these is a possibility. India is full of such holy fools that would be in locked wards in the West.

      I would definitely advise against aiming for any non-changing mental state–‘beneficial’ or otherwise.
      It is in the nature of the mind to be in a constant state of flux, one state seamlessly changing to another constantly. It is important to respect this.

      When people talk about an unchanging state they are speaking about becoming aware of an underlying reality that is never absent. This can be looked for, it cannot be aquired by force, mental trickery or any other quackery.
      “Ego destroying”, a concept poorly translated from Eastern traditions, is not a good aim and will lead to problems.

      I rather like my thinking/awareness, if it vanished permanently ‘I’ would be devastated.(and, more than likely, dead):-)

    13. sashen Says:

      I have a special dislike for the “destroy the ego” claptrap.

      Especially because of the massive contradiction that typically surrounds that concept.

      “I’m trying to accept everything as it is so I can be free of my ego.” Okay, well how ’bout you start by accepting this thing you call your ego, which is NOT what you think it to be. In fact, the more you discover what that “ego” thing is, rather than knee-jerkedly demonizing it, the easier it is to accept.

      And, here’s the real irony, once you do that, you might not feel the need for your spiritual practice since the thing you needed to fix, you find, was never broken to begin with.

      But, hey, maybe it’s just me…


    14. Stacy Clark Says:

      Nope, not just you.

      Which leads me to wonder how many people, having experienced IAM or QW or even one of these blogs, has dropped things like spiritual practices, and the endless search for books, workshops, counseling and such?

      Probably no way to count

    15. Dave Says:

      I’ve pretty much dropped all “practices” not because they weren’t working, but because I realised that there is nowhere to go, simple as that. Now, that being said, I still do enjoy non-dual books and I go to see “gurus” every now and then just because I like the atmosphere and people (mostly)not because I want something that I don’t have. If Steven came to my area to speak I’d probably go see him just because I like what I have read and I find his thinking interesting and challenging without being elitist. I even meditate every now and then because I feel like I need to, just like working out. I’ve just come to the realization that This is It, I am What Is, so what is there to attain or become? Am I “enlightened”? To me that is not even a real question, it’s irrelevant. Now, this may change if I encounter a person or teaching that really really affects me, anything can happen, but until then, Tao is as Tao does.

    16. sashen Says:

      Hi Dave,

      You hit the nail on the head… once you no longer have the idea that there IS a path, there’s no need for practices to “advance” on it!

      And it sounds like you’ve realized the ultimate mantra, the Popeye mantra “I am what I am and that’s all that I am.”


      BTW, I don’t know about “speaking” wherever you are (where are you), but I’m always up for chatting over a meal ๐Ÿ˜‰

    17. Dave Says:

      To be quick, I live near Milwaukee WI. About the “speaking”, I assumed that you do seminars or what not about Quantum Wealth and meditation. Maybe I need to read a bit more of your web site besides the anti guru blog. It would be great to have a meal with you if you are ever in this neck of the woods. Just give me a heads up.

    18. sashen Says:

      Hey Dave,

      Ah, yes. I do both seminars and “what not.” ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Never been to WI, let alone Milwaukee.

    19. Paul Maurice Martin Says:

      I’ve just been going from one blog like this to another – hadn’t even known they were out there. I think you’re funny but at risk of perpetuating the notion, or perhaps being under the misapprehension, that all “mysticism” (I really dislike the word) is wackiness. “Mysticism” does contains a lot of wackiness because that word covers a host of sins, so to speak. But it’s extremely far from being pure wackiness…

      Read Thich Nhat Hahn, the Dalai Lama or an oldie but goodie – and very rationally written classic: The VArieties of Religious Experience by William James. Also, the major faith traditions of the west have serious minded-people in their contemplative traditions: see Thomas Merton and Basil Pennington for relatively recent examples.

    20. sashen Says:

      Welcome to the fun, Paul.

      It’s not that I think “all mysticism is wackiness,” but that a large amount of what’s labeled mysticism is either under-examined or more simply explained.

      I’ve read most of what TNH and the Dalai Lama have written (even though most of their work was ghost-written) and while I’d agree there are some gems in there, there’s also quite a bit of magical thinking and mythology-presented-as-fact. And when you say something factual right next to something wacky, many people take the wackiness as equally factual.

      Of course, part of the problem is that everyone uses words like “spiritual” and “mystical” without knowing if we’re using the same definition of those words.

      You say “RAH-mana,” I say “ra-MAH-na,” you say “ma-HAR-shi”, I sa “ma-ha-RI-shi”… let’s call the whole thing off.

    21. ramarshi Says:

      When I was a kid, old people sat down, at the side of their coal stoves, endlessly repeating their rosery prayers, to kill time. The mind has to be kept busy.
      As J. Krishnamurti, ironically remarked: “Substitute the Om namah shivaja by Coca cola, and you will have the same wonderful, uplifting effect!”

    22. sashen Says:

      Hi Ramarshi,

      I think Krishnamurti was being less ironic than most people think.






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