A mantra is a sound that emerges from silence and merges back into silence. Every sound has its source in silence. Let us say you are chanting om namah sivaya in your mind. Before you chant the mantra, there is silence and when you finish chanting the mantra, again there is silence, and from that silence the chanting of that mantra again arises. Therefore, silence is the source of the mantra. And when you are chanting that mantra, the mantra sound is also a modification of that silence. Thus, paying attention to, the source means paying attention to the silence that obtains between the chanting of the mantra. Pay attention to the silence when the mantra is repeated by itself. If one becomes an observer when repeating the mantra, the mantra stops and he is no more a repeater of the mantra. However, due to constant practice, the mantra can go on by itself and one can become a witness or observer of the mantra. Then, one can witness the silence between the mantras. Therefore, recognize the silence or pay attention to the silence that obtains between mantras.
The silence, in fact, obtains between any two thoughts. Usually, however, we are not able to maintain distance with our thoughts, and therefore, we generally get swept away by our thoughts; we go for a ride on our thoughts. And therefore, the silence between thoughts is not evident to us. Therefore, we have a special chain of thought in the form of repeating a mantra; here, each thought is preceded and followed by the same thought. This provides the mind with an opportunity to stay on one thought; it doesn’t run away anywhere. If the thoughts change, the mind will run away with it. In repeatedly chanting a mantra such as am namah sivaya, the mind has nowhere to go and it remains in one place, and allows us to pay attention to the silence that obtains between the mantras. Where is this silence? Who are you? You are the witness of the silence. What kind of witness? You are the silent witness of the silence. Ultimately, you will discover that the silence is yourself. You are the source of the mantra, and that silence is nothing but consciousness, and thus, the consciousness is the source of mantra. Consciousness is yourself, and therefore, looking at or examining the, source of the mantra will bring you to yourself. Thus, it helps us in abiding in our own selves. It helps us discover that we are silence and then the mantra may even subside, leaving just the silence that ultimately enables us to be with ourselves, the silence.
The Kenopanisad [2-4] says, प्रतिबोधविदितम् मतम् pratibodhaviditam matam, brahman is known through every cognition. Bodham means a thought, a cognition. When brahman or the self is known, you are able to maintain the distance with the thought with reference to every thought that occurs in your mind. You can be objective with reference to any thought, that is, you do not get carried away by any thought. It can be any thought, not necessarily a mantra. As thoughts arise in the mind, you can contemplate as to what is common between the different thoughts. Each thought can be different from the other thought and the consciousness that illumines the thought is the common factor. It is like the light that illuminates the variety of objects in this hall. But we miss that light, since our attention is On what is illumined, the name and form. Similarly, in the case of our thoughts, it is the consciousness that illumines every thought but we are so pre-occupied with the thought itself that we miss the consciousness that illumines the thought. May you now become detached from the thought. This is detachment. It does not matter what the thought is.
Normally, the content of the thought is important to us. It is a good thought or a bad thought, this thought or that thought, and we react to it. A thought is a thought and if we can be equal with reference to all thoughts, with neither attachment nor aversion or reaction, we will have the poise to observe that all thoughts are illumined by consciousness. Thus, a thought becomes like a mirror. A mirror provides us an occasion to look at our own faces, and similarly every thought becomes an occasion to recognize the fact that it reflects consciousness, is illumined by consciousness. We thus shift our attention from the thought to the consciousness that illumines the thought or from the thought to the consciousness that obtains between the thoughts. This is what is suggested in the Kenopanisad. When brahman or the self is known with reference to every thought, it is truly known. The same thing happens here looking at the source of the mantra or looking into the source of the thought.
Ultimately, the source is nothing but the self Therefore, our attention is turned from the mantra or thought to the silence, and then to the self or consciousness. The self is the ultimate source of everything, and through this meditation, our attention gets. again focused on our own selves. This is the most exalted bhakti, devotion when the mind abides in its own self. Therefore it becomes the greatest tapas, penance or greatest bhakti, devotion.
Swami Viditatmananda Saraswati