A Comparative Study of Mantra and Dhikr

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Whenever we come across a word that is unfamiliar or obscure to our understanding , the first questions we tend to ask are: What is its meaning? How is it significant? How does it relate to the rest of the world I live in?. These questions, which are often taken for granted, are in fact elementary to the development of our selves and the knowledge of the world in which we experience those selves. They are imperative to the mechanism of the phenomenon by which we relate our selves to the world and to each other, namely that of language. In this paper I shall consider two particular instances where the word has become systematised and organised in ways that lie far beyond the scope of ordinary language. Sometimes so far that it becomes capable of abandoning that around which the whole of language revolves, the human selves, for the sake of the very source of the world and of the words through which we explain it.

Ordinary use of words in the form of language is characterised by ultimately pragmatic properties that are directed at expressing or signifying 'meaning' and the problem of defining the relationship between language and meaning might be understood as lying at the base of contemporary philosophical discourse. In trying to understand the ‘meaning’ of Mantra and Dhikr we are catapulted into the realm of meta-physics, in which the two most important questions might be understood to be : What things do exist? And how are these things composed? Contemporary philsophy has approached existence in an often quasi scientific manner in that it has recognises that if a thing ‘exists’ it has to exist not only ‘in’ something but also ‘of’ something. Science thus declares that the existence of the ‘whole’ requires the existence of smaller parts that are interdependent in their existence. A chair for instance is said to exist as a conglameration of Atoms. Although we can not see these atoms with the naked eye we have been thought that they exist and that they are moreover the very ‘stuff’ of the material world. The two objects of our enquiry Mantra and Dhikr both have their foundation in a similar understanding of the world where the smaller is that which makes up the whole, and it is through understanding the interdependence of the smaller and the greater that we may eventually get an idea of the whole.

The present paper represents an attempt toward the understanding of some of the underlying constituents of two phenomena, that although both solidly grounded in their own respective cultures, appear to share, at least on the surface, a number of characteristic attributes. Both of them of are, upon closer inspection, extremely complex, and the breadth of scope they encompass within the contexts of their own tradition is large enough as to render the isolation of any particular aspect at the expense of ignoring another into a sheer act of blasphemy. Nonetheless this is what has been done, not only due to limitations of space but in honesty, due to the ignorance of the author about the true nature or ‘meaning’ of either of the two subjects. This however should not be taken to mean that any of the material presented here has been deliberately modified or altered as to facilitate comparison. While mainly focusing on the theoretical nature of the terms, their very nature neccesitated a consideration of how the theory becomes actualised in the practice.

The first section deals with the previously well treated subject of Mantra, and it will be approached in a quasi-historical manner. I adopted this particular method here in order to identify some of the key aspects that have contributed to it is evolution beginning with the Vedic and culminating in the later, Hindu culture . This section is a basic introduction to some of the elementary aspects of term Mantra. The second section, that on Islamic Dhikr, has however, been constructed with a sensitivity to the material treated in the first section. The reasons...
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