Mantras are religious thoughts that empower the guru to use melody and resonance to serve human longings for truth, reality, light, immortality, peace, love, knowledge and action. Known by many names and forms, mantras enable clarity (the shamanistic practice of the altered state of consciousness) and solemnize actions - so that each action possesses one mantra that accompanies it (man-tra, 'think-act'). This is inherent in many D&D practices associated with the monk character class, the members of which make a given sound when employing the open hand, a different sound when turning aside a missile weapon, a different sound still that increases the damage done by weapons and so on.
For primitive peoples, mantraism is used to counteract the uncertainties and dilemmas of daily life. For example, a herder in search of a lost animal would repeat a learned mantra over and over until the animal was found, the sound of the mantra ensuring that the animal is found sooner than later. Mantraism is a superior form of shamanism in that it can be used by ordinary persons as well as gurus - so that mantraism is the most primitive religion that does not rely upon a specialist within the tribe to make use of its power.
JapaOf course, understanding how mantraism works is of very limited use to common believers, as it takes effort to employ japa, the practice of repeatedly uttering the same mantra for an auspicious number of times. The standard number of times in which a mantra is repeated is 5, 10, 28, 108 or 1008. To obtain the power enabled by japa, the speaker must repeat each mantra excellently, without stumbling with the tongue, losing count (or needing to think long about the number of repetitions) or allowing concentration to wander. On the whole, only gurus are able to practice japa to 108 or 1008 repetitions. Non-gurus of higher intelligence and focus can manage 28. Most others can manage 10 only in times of great crisis. 5 is doing well for an average believer.
Those able to sustain japa for longer periods are able to produce more pronounced magical effects. With the innovation of spells, japa (for eastern religions) corresponds to the cleric's daily meditation. It will take approximately 15 minutes to repeat a mantra 108 times, so that this fits rules regarding a spell's acquisition. Repeating a mantra 1008 times will take approximately 3 hours, much longer than any spell requires. Increased periods of japa, however, is necessary to follow the five paths of mantraism (ritual practices that channel divine energy): Accumulation, Joining, Seeing, Meditation and Consummation. Only gurus and clerics can hope to obtain complete consummation of mantraism.
The Five PathsUnlike shamanism, mantraism seeks to alter the self, not the environment. Through transforming the self and thus contemplating the worldly life from outside, the guru (or would-be bodhisattva) seeks to gain both enlightenment and through that path, magical invulnerability from reality (which ceases to infringe upon the guru once reality is truly understood to be empty). This takes an enormous amount of time, during which time japa enables persons on these paths to completely purify themselves.
Following the completion of each path, the individual gains a degree of exemption from everyday trials of existence, as described below.
The Path of AccumulationPersons on this path possess a strong desire to overcoming suffering, either their own or others, and a desire to renounce the worldly life. Effort is taken to accumulate merit, personal ability, experience and wealth, to explore the world and become conscious of what the world is and how it sustains itself. At this stage, the individual is not a guru, but an ordinary common person, with a person's foibles, sins, ambitions and ignorance. Throughout this period, the individual will practice the saying of mantras, increasing japa from 5 to 10, until they are able to repeat a mantra correctly 28 times. In game terms, this describes three stages of an individual's awareness, dependent upon mantraism's embracing of reincarnation.
Most intelligent creatures are considered to merely exist. They can speak a mantra, at best, 5 times. Some have made no efforts to accumulate the right sort of knowledge or prowess, even if they are rich and powerful. Others will have never obtained a level at all, or any appreciable skills. For whatever reason, lack of accumulation, lack of purpose or enlightenment, these individuals are in a state of lesser accumulation. They will not move to the next path of enlightenment, that of Joining, in any known lifetime. For them, no special benefits from mantraism have ever been gained.
There are some who have gained the right sort of knowledge or prowess, who have chosen to act in accordance with this right knowledge and move steadily towards the next path. They can speak a mantra 10 times. However, due to circumstances, they did not move far enough or fast enough before being cut down from life. These individuals are in a state of intermediate accumulation. And though again they will receive no special benefits from mantraism while they live, they will be sure to reach the path of Joining in their next life time.
Finally, there will be those who have achieved a level of accumulation: these characters are independent and capable . . . and they are ready to move on (and become a leveled person, having acquired enough experience). They can speak a mantra 28 times. These are individuals in the state of greater accumulation. Having reached this point, they will be able to set themselves on the next highest path.
The Path of JoiningHaving reached the path of joining, the individual in mantraism becomes a guru. Prior to becoming 1st level (regardless of class), the individual reaches the stage of warmth. The guru practices meditation to reach a japa of 108 repetitions. More sensitive to the nature of worldly life, the guru's natural armor class increases by 1 point - however, as the guru's focus is upon spiritual preservation of the body and not conscious avoidance, the dexterity bonus to the character's armor class is lost; this change in focus from dexterity for protection to consciousness for protection can result in a lower armor class in the short term, but a better armor class in the long term.
Upon succeeding in training and becoming 1st level, the guru enters the stage of summit. The act of becoming a leveled character demands that a choice be made. For gurus of lower tech levels, and for those without the sufficient ability stats, there can only be one choice: to become a guru. At higher tech levels, in more complex religions, the guru may become a cleric (and may continue to retain the title of guru). Alternately, if it is possible, the character may become a monk. If the latter, the character will improve their natural armor class by one point again and gain other monk attributes. Clerics will be empowered with spells and will lose their armor class benefit and move forward in their given religion. Gurus of mantraism retain the previous armor class bonus (+1 AC) and transcend this stage.
Obtaining 2nd level, the guru will reach the stage of acceptance. At this point, the guru fearlessly accepts the reality of emptiness as the nature of things. From this point forward, the guru cannot have a crisis of faith. The guru will become diligent and cannot fail a task due to laziness (such as falling asleep on watch), though the guru will not be exempt from physical limitations. The guru cannot be distracted, and is in fact immune to the cantrip. The guru is mindful and cannot be approached closer than four hexes by stealth. Finally, the guru will have a perfect memory for places that have been visited or persons that have been met.
Obtaining 3rd level, the highest level the guru can reach in a low tech culture, the guru reaches the stage of supreme attribute. Upon reaching this stage, the guru can never fall victim to what is called 'wrong view.' All choices that are made by the guru will be the best possible choices that can be made, whether or not an attempted action brings about the desired result. Gurus are blessed with the knowledge that whatever they have tried to do will have the best possible chance of success - all other options would have been less worthy to be taken.
The Guru ClassIn effect, I have been describing what could be viewed as a character class. However, the guru is merely a limited form of the cleric of higher religions. Because the guru is a follower of mantraism and not of a more complex religion like Hinduism or Buddhism, he or she cannot rise above the second path of Joining. The paths of Seeing, Meditation and Consummation will be discussed under the description of Buddhism.
Gurus will exist predominantly in regions with a tech level of 8 or less.