A while ago I completed a 40 day practice of the mantra of Varaha, the avatar of Vishnu who fought the demon to rescue the Earth (see ‘Down on the Beach’).
I posted before about 40 days (‘Running the Numbers’) and despite continued research I have not found out why it’s 40. This timespan comes up in other spiritual traditions: 40 days of Lent, 40 days of rains that preceded the great flood. Maybe there are more examples.
It seems an unintuitive figure.
It has no obvious link to any cosmological or natural cycle. Why wouldn’t it be 30? One cycle of the moon? Just as I can find no reason, beyond the natty and pleasing presence of an endless series of 9’s, for the 108 beads on a mala and 108 recitations of a mantra, I can find no reason for the 40.
Opinion will have to do then.
In my experience, a mantra has really kicked in by about 30 days. The habit of chanting it is with you and its unique sonic structure has permeated you and become part of you. It is bringing the change you sought (though not always in the way you would have imagined) – it is in you to that depth. So, why not stop there?
When you want something enough to set out to achieve it – not just think about it – you have to spend a certain amount of energy attaining your goal. When you get there, it feels great. You’ve done it! You are proud, you are pleased, you are on a high. The energy that you’ve put into getting there is still flowing strong in you, though now it has no real function because the job is done. For a while, you are in a disproportionate state wherein your energy and requirements are out of synch. Until the energy naturally abates you are out of balance. I believe this is why traditional practice continues beyond simply feeling the effects of a mantra.
Those 40 days embed the changes the mantra brings into your life, like the root of a seedling bedding itself in to a certain depth in the Earth, from which the new, young plant above it can flourish and become part of its surroundings. Every new thing that comes or is brought into your life affects everything that is already there, to some extent and in some way or other. Maybe some things have to move to create space for the new. Maybe some things have to leave. I believe that chanting for 40 days gives time for your life to settle down a bit, making sure that the changes you have wrought through the mantra are taking their place in the actuality of your daily life. As I said above, change doesn’t always come the way you would have wished or expected.
Chanting a mantra 108 times every day for 40 days probably sounds pretty lightweight in the scheme of things and it is a thing undertaken by choice. However, mantras bring change and change takes energy. You might get a certain way in and decide to stop; I have, several times, when a mantra just didn’t feel right or was bringing change I didn’t welcome. Maybe I’ll try again another time, or maybe I didn’t need what I was chanting for.
Every mantra has its own quality and its effect is different for every individual, interacting with each one’s resonance in a unique way. Chanted, mantras are as alive as we are.
Om Tare Tuttare Ture Soha