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Mantra bodies

“Then, established in the body of the mantra, he should practice the supreme concentration. The supreme mantra body is manifested in the succession of letters.”
The Purification of the Body, Gavin Flood, Tantra in Practice, p517

As one might expect, occasionally in my practice I encounter things I don’t quite understand. I put them aside for later and, occasionally, understanding ‘bursts’ forth at a later point. I’ve been practicing various forms of Bhuta Suddhi for some years now, and from 2004 have been working from various versions of this practice, of which the main two are the chapter by Gavin Flood in Tantra in Practice; the second in The Lakshmi Tantra. But, until recently, I’ve failed to grasp the idea of the mantra-body. It wasn’t really until I read Loriliai Biernacki’s Rewnowned Goddess of Desire: Women, Sex, and Speech in Tantra (Oxford University Press, 2007) that understanding went from a trickle to a flood – the stream joining other streams, as it were.

A common etymology for the term mantra is the joining of the verbal root man – “to think” and the agentive suffix tra i.e. “an instrument of thought”. Needless to say, one should also consider mantra as “instrument of speech”. Mantras have, from the period of the Vedas onwards, been considered to be equivalent to ritual acts in themselves. Whoever utters them sets power in motion.

“speech, truly, is a fourth part of Brahman. It shines and glows with Agni as its light.”
Chandogya Upanisad (3.18.3)

“He who wants something may accomplish it by 1000 recitations of this. He who sprinkles Ganapati with this becomes eloquent. He who recites this on the 4th day becomes a knower of Vidya.”
Ganesa Upanisad

What is it to have a body ‘made’ of mantras? It’s common to think of mantras in terms of language, but they are much more – they are bodied and they are performative – they do “what it says on the tin”. Biernacki points to the Brhannila Tantra (“Great Blue Tantra”) in which mantras are born from the Blue Goddess of Speech and become goddesses – the Twelve Vidyas who are simultaneously bodied goddesses and mantras. Elsewhere in the Brhannila Tantra Biernacki notes, mantras are “nourished” by treating them as bodied. This is an idea that recurs throughout tantric texts; in some instances, mantras are likened to corpses until they are brought to life by the appropriate practices. It’s not unusual, for example, to find mantras preceded by Om – the ur-sound of cosmic creation which sprang forth from Prajapati/Purusa/Brahman and becomes the prelude (and sometimes, the closure) to the utterance of a mantra. The mantra is a homology of cosmogenesis – an echo/memory of that original birthing. Similarly, to speak the mantra of a goddess is to perform her – to bring her to ‘life’ in a sense. The mantric titles of the goddess Lalita found in the Lalitasahasramana are an example of this. Many of Lalita’s titles remind us that She is the source of speech; that She is speech; that to speak Her mantras is to speak Her and be spoken by her – to embody Her. The mantras of Lalita are Lalita Herself. The mantra is shakti – signifying, for me, that mantra is a modality, a vector for revelation (Vidya again). In the Vedic period again, it is clear that mantras reveal meaning – they are vehicles for triggering reflection and revelation. This kind of experience is sometimes referred to as pasyanti – “the seeing one” – the revealing of reality as expressed by the mantra.

To return to my question: What is it to have a body ‘made’ of mantras? It is to be a body of saktis – a body of goddesses – a multiplicity of affects; intensities (dipping a toe into the Deleuzoguattarian stream). It is to turn back to the source – the all-pulse – and simultaneously a reaching out; an acceptance – openness – to invitation from the world into myriad becomings:

I am Woman. I am Man. I am Sadashiva. I am Great Nature. I am the Supreme God. I am Nada. I am Bindu. I am Time. I am the Absolute as Sound. I am Kriya-yoga. I am Brahma. I am Vishnu. I am the Sun. I am a Brahmin. I am Vaishnava. I am Shiva. I am the various Shaktis. I am the Demons. I am the Gods. I am the in-breath and the out-breath. I am Vidya. I am Veda. I am the Essence of Knowledge. I am the Doer of Knowledge. I am Karma yoga. I am Dharma and Karma. I am Father. I am Mother. I am Son. I am Guru. I am Path. I am Agama. I am Ramayana. I am Maha Bhagavata. I am Maha Bharata. I am Shri Bhagavata. I am Oral Tradition & Written Tradition. I am Mantra. I am Essence of Mantra. I am Hymn. I am Armour. I am 1000 Names. I am Gayatri. I am Bija. I am Syllable. I am Triple Syllable. I am the Five-fold Matrika. I am the Five Elements. I am the Great Five Elements. I am Tattvas. I am Gross. I am Subtle. I am Kula & Akula. I am Kulachara. I am Knower and the 16 Parts (of Time).I am the Rishis. I am the Saints. I am Lakshmi. I am Womanhood. I am Shri. I am the Beloved One (Priya). I am the Womb. I am the Bhutas. I am the Kushmanda. I am the Pretas. I am the World-Protectors. I am the Planets. I am the Elephants of the Directions. I am the Ten Directions. l am Above. I am Below. I am the 14 Worlds. That I am. I am the Inmost Self of Tradition, Magick & the Ancestors. I am that which one should be.
Obeisance to The Absolute (transl. Lokanath from Azoth No.20)

Bhuta Suddhi – like many other “tantric” practices folds the body into its constituences – relations rather than organs – then unfolds the body as an assemblage of divine powers and potentialities. It is not that the body is inherently “impure” – rather that it has become “stained” with impurities resulting from the misidentification with atomised individuality. Bhuta Suddhi is an act of remembering that we are lines of flight within the body of the goddess.