This article has been taken from the new Yoga Life book, published late last year.  This is a collection of articles that come from the YOGALife magazine published by the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers from 1970 to 2012. Most of these articles are written by Swami Vishnudevananda or are transcipts from his talks. 

What is the oldest known method of meditation?

The oldest and most scientific method is Raja Yoga meditation. It is a steady discipline based on five principles: proper exercise, proper breathing, proper relaxation, proper diet and positive thinking and meditation.

Raja Yoga incorporates many techniques such as postural correction, breath control and sound. It is not just a simple exercise in relaxation, but a way to complete, lasting peace and fulfillment.

What is a Mantra?

A mantra is a mystical energy encased in a sound structure, which steadies the mind and leads it into the stillness of meditation, a state which is actually beyond the minds’s comprehension.

Where do mantras come from?

They are handed down by the ancient sages, who had Self-Realization for the first time using a particular mantra.

A mantra cannot be “Concocted” especially for the individual, as claimed, since mantras already existed in Vedic times, just as gravity existed before Newton discovered it.

How many mantras are there?

Although there are innumerable mantras, only a handfulare suitable for meditation.  They fall into six categories.  The first four, deity mantras, and the fifth, nirguna or abstract mantras, can all be chosen to suit particular personalities.

Finally there are bija mantras, which incorporate a one syllable “seed” sound, or “bija” and should only be used by students of advanced purification who abstain from meat, alcohol, drugs, tobacco, etc. There are also mantras for neutralizing poisons, snake bites, etc. and for exorcising spirits, but these are of a lower nature and are not considers for meditation.

Who can initiate mantra?

Only true spiritual masters of their chief disciples, who have served them throughout many years in intense Yogic practices.

Should a mantra be sold?

No. It is against all spiritual and psychic rules. If a mantra is sold it lacks the psychic benefits of true initiation and there will be negative karmic reaction for the teacher who initiates for profit.

Are there any secret mantras?

Not all mantras are known to all spiritual masters and can be found in ancietnt Vedic and Tantric texts and spiritual books, for instance Japa Yoga by Swami Sivananda.

No spiritual or scientific rule prevents you from discussing you mantra. Tests have conclusively shown that there is no charge in the pulse, heart and breathing rate of meditator after he has divulged his mantra. For your own convenience, however, you woul dbe wise to discuss it only with those who are spiritally inclined. IF you are told to keep your mantra secret, it may perhaps be to disguise its lack of authenticity or through fear of exposure.

What is real meditation?

True Raja Yoga meditation is not simply a relaxation exercise. Ultimately, it will help you to attain liberation from the clutches of the lower senses and mind and to reach absolute, unalloyed bliss.

By definition, meditation must be transcendental, the word being used not as an advertising slogan but in an attempt to convey the real beauty of meditation, in which all fears, desires, longings and negative emotions are transcended and the meditator reaches a transcendental or supra mental state in which he is able to identify with his all-blissful Self.  In the transcendental state, there is no awareness of body, mind or duality.  The knower becomes one with the knowledge and the known, and the experiencer one with the experience and the experienced.