What is initiation of Mantra? Why is it required for it to be actually effective for the reciter? I've read that people without initiation of the mantra would recite it for the whole lifetime and still it won't be effective.
Most of mantras has majority Tantra inside it. In what frequency it should be said, in which direction it should be said, the sounds should be correct - only then it has effect and triggers certain Nadis in body.– Agamas TantrasDec 23, 2018 at 13:12
Why is it required for it to be actually effective for the reciter?
The reason is - "the scriptures say so". That Mantra Japa is fruitful only if the Mantra is Guru-given and otherwise it is not.
For example, Lord Shiva says:
PAramparyAgamAmnAyam mantra AchArAdikam priye |
Sarvam gurumukhAllabdham saphalam syAnna chAnyathA ||
Traditions, Agama, Amnaya, Mantras, conducts and other similar things, O Beloved one, are fruitful only if obtained from Guru's mouth and not otherwise.
KulArnava Tantram 11.46
I've read that people without initiation of the mantra would recite it for the whole lifetime and still it won't be effective.
Yes that's true. And, that's exactly what Lord Shiva says in the following verse:
UpAsanA shatenApi yAm vinA naiva sidhyati |
TAm dikshA mAsrayed yatnAt sriguror mantra siddhaye ||
Even hundreds of UpAsanAs fail to achieve success without which, that DikShA, should be obtained with due care from SriGuru for Mantra Siddhi.
KulArnava Tantram 14.88
That means if the Mantra we are chanting is not taken from the Guru, then how much effort we put into chanting it, that effort all goes to vain.
And, the following verse says that only a Mantra which is duly obtained from a Sampradaya Guru gives results.
DikshA purvam kuleshAni pAramparyakramAgatam |
NyAya lavdhashcham yo mantrah sa cha siddho na samshayaha ||
The Mantra, which is legally obtained through DikshA and handed down through a Tradition (ParamparA), O Goddess of the Kulas, is fit to be mastered without doubt.
KulArnava Tantram 15.15
And, moreover, taking Mantra from any sources other than the Guru (like books etc) and chanting them is also censured as a sin in the scriptures:
Pustake likhitAn mantrAn avalokya japettu yah |
Sa jivenneva chandAlo mritah syAno bhavishyati ||
One who does Japa by seeing Mantras from books becomes a Chandala (i.e an outcaste) in the current life and after death (in the next life) becomes a dog.
A SyAnkhyAyan Tantra verse quoted in Nityotsava's 3rd Chapter
Few other verses of a similar nature (that criticize Mantra Japa without initiation) are found in this answer.
Now, coming to the question in the title:
What is Mantra initiation?
In brief, it is the rite where the Guru gives the Mantra to the disciple, while they are present in front of each other. Along with, a few other allied rituals are also done and is overall quite an elaborate and lengthy procedure.
The simple transfer of the Mantra is called Upadesha where as the full process is called DikshA SamskAra.
In this answer I have given few verses which describe the process of this Mantra Upadesha.
Gurustu PrAngukhobhutva ShishyA Prachi Mukha Stithah |
TrivAram Dakshine Karne VAme chaiva TathA Sakrit ||
Viparitam Tato Geyam StreesudrAnancha VAmatah |
Guru should face the east and the disciple the west direction. Guru should then speak the mantra into the disciple's right ear 3 times and left ear 1 time. For Sudras and women the process will be reversed.
The above verses are from the Rudra YAmala Tantram. It is usually like that, Mantra initiation is performed. But the process may vary depending on the Mantra and also depending on the sects.
For example, for a particular Mantra I know, it is required that the Guru should speak it for 8 times ( and not just 3 times) for the initiation to be complete.
Now, when God speaks a Mantra and another being receives it and masters it by doing the necessary practice, he/she is called the Rishi of that particular Mantra. Every Mantra has such a Rishi.
So, the first transfer of any Mantra always takes place between two conscious beings (viz: God-Rishi). That's why whenever such a transfer shall take place in the future, it must always be between two conscious beings, to be considered as effective.
But when the source is a book this condition is not met.
Readers, please note this (very useful) answer is from the Kaula Tantra perspective. @Rickross Is this also true outside of tantra? Dec 2, 2019 at 14:54
No this is a generally valid answer and it has no specific connection with Kaula Tantra despite the fact that the verses from Kularnava. Other people might answer from other scriptures and it won't go against my answer. See when someone asks about initiation, Guru etc, then we have to quote from Tantras. Initiation outside of Tantras means only the Vedic initiation or the Upanayana. Other than that all initiations are Tantric/Agamic in nature. @RubelliteYakṣī– RickrossDec 3, 2019 at 5:54
Please explain the difference between Vedic Initiation, Upanayana, and Tantric initiation Dec 3, 2019 at 10:53
2Vedic initiation and Upanayana are the same. Rest all are Tantrik ways of Diksha (initiation). For e.g. if someone goes to the ISCKON they will initiate them as per Tantras. Majority of the initiations that happen today are Tantrik leaving aside Upanayana. Upanayana has caste and gender related prohibitions but Tantrik initiations are open to all.This particular Q has to be answered from Tantras.@RubelliteYakṣī– RickrossDec 4, 2019 at 6:26
I see. I don't know anything about this topic. I've just been thinking lately that no one on this site notes when their answers are from a certain perspective, like "according to ___" and I think it has contributed to some of the problems here. IOW, we don't feel NPOV, we feel sectarian. This was the first answer I addressed it on, but I see that it wasn't perhaps relevant here? Dec 4, 2019 at 16:10