What Are Mantras?

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Mantra: Sanskrit word meaning “man”= to think/mind, “tra” = tool/instrument; literally means instrument of thought.

The dictionary defines a mantra as a Hindu or Buddhist practice of repeating a word or sound to aid in improving concentration during meditation. Cambridge Dictionary provides two different definitions. The first refers to Hinduism and Buddhism: a word or sound that is believed to have a special spiritual power. The second definition is more general: a word or phrase that is often repeated and expresses a particularly strong belief. For instance, a football team can choose individual words as their own “mantra”. Wikipedia defines a mantra as a sacred utterance, a numinous sound, a syllable, word, phoneme, or group of words in Sanskrit believed by practitioners to have psychological and spiritual powers. Mantra meditations have been proven to help induce an altered state of consciousness.

The first and simplest mantra is Aum or Om, the sound of life, the divine, or the universe, and is considered the first sound. The earliest mantras were recorded over 3000 years ago (1000 – 500 BC) and were composed in Vedic Sanskrit by Hindus in India. Since then mantras have become a practice of various schools of Hinduism, Buddhism, Janism, and Sikhism. Over time these practices were adopted by Japanese Shingon, Zoroastrianism, and Taoism. Even later, in Christianity, hymns, chants, and prayers were developed using the same purpose.

The use structure, function, importance, and type of mantra depends completely on the school and philosophy putting them to use. They are considered a sacred formula and a deeply personal ritual. Their formula is typically melodic, mathematically structured, and believed to be resonant with numinous qualities. This means they can be like a song with melody, rhythm, and rhyme. They really were the first human development of written song.

The Transcendental Meditation technique or TM is a form of silent mantra meditation, developed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. TM is the most widely practiced and researched meditation techniques. The TM technique consists of silently repeating a mantra with “gentle effortlessness” while sitting comfortably with eyes closed and without assuming any special yoga position. The meditation practice involves the use of a mantra, silently repeated, and is practiced for 15–20 minutes twice per day while sitting with one’s eyes closed.

Beginning in 1965, the Transcendental Meditation technique has been incorporated into schools, universities, corporations, and prison programs in the USA, Latin America, Europe, and India. In 1977, a U.S. district court ruled that a curriculum in TM and the Science of Creative Intelligence (SCI) being taught in some New Jersey schools was religious in nature and in violation of the First Amendment. However, the technique has since been included in a number of educational and social programs around the world.

Benefits of Chanting

Chanting is the practice of rhythmically repeating a sound, word, phrase, mantra or prayer for a certain amount of time or number of repetitions. Chanting provides for continued focus in meditation and can provide deep healing to the mind. Five key elements of chanting that make it such a powerful and universally appealing practice:

  • Association (or triggering), in which one’s experiential memories, built up over time, invest a piece of music with ever-deeper levels of meaning.
  • Entrainment, in which the body-mind is induced to align (or vibrate) with a melody or rhythm to which it is exposed.
  • Breath, the salutary effect on the chanter’s respiration as it slows from the normal 12 to 15 breaths per minute to between five and eight breaths per minute
  • Sonic effects, namely the pleasurable sensations and healing effects of extended vowel sounds typical of sacred chants.
  • Intent, which reflects our desire to be close to the divine.

Leslie Howard opens and closes all her classes at Piedmont Yoga with chants, both because of her own affinity for singing and because the clientele enjoys it. “Students say they love that we’re exposing them to other aspects of yoga besides the physical,” she says. “Sound, to me, is the most primitive form of life. It touches the deepest part of you.”

Historic Mantras

Shreem: evokes the presence of the goddess Lakshmi, an aspect of the Divine Feminine who represents the power of auspiciousness, harmony and abundance. She is said to bring both material and spiritual wealth and prosperity.

Aim: If you desire to expand your knowledge and tap into your inner muse, you’ll want to meditate on the mantra associated with the goddess Saraswati. She’s the goddess of creativity and represents the pursuit of art, philosophy, music and higher learning.

Om Mani Padme Hum: a reference to both compassion and wisdom, which are both necessary for attaining enlightenment. If you want to become a more calm, wise and compassionate human begin, meditate with this mantra, and get in touch with your inner Buddha nature. The star of Buddhist mantras is perfect for cultivating more compassion – for yourself and for others.

Om, or Aum: the vibration of the Universe. It’s been called the sound vibration for God and all of creation.

Saat Nam: Truth is my name. *Sat is extended eight times longer than Nam. If you really want the mantra to radiate from the base of your spine to the center of your head, make the Sat 35 times longer than the Nam.

Neti-Neti: Not this, not this. The phrase is a way to rebut something—be it harsh words or a situation in your life you would like to change.

Om Namah Shivaya: I bow to Shiva, the supreme deity of transformation who represents the truest, highest self.

Ra Ma Da Sa Sa Say So Hung: Sun, Moon, Earth, Infinity, All that is in infinity, I am Thee.

Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu: May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all

Om Gum Ganapatayei Namah: I bow to the elephant-faced deity [Ganesh] who is capable of removing all obstacles. I pray for blessings and protection.

Oong namo, Gurudav namo: I bow to the creative energy of the infinite. I bow to the Divine channel of wisdom.

Oṁ Bhūrbhuvaswaha Tatsaviturvarenyam, bhargo devasya dhīmahi dhiyo yo naḥa prachodayāt: Let us meditate on that excellent glory of the divine Light (Vivifier, Sun). May he stimulate our understandings (knowledge, intellectual illumination)

Asato mā sad gamaya, tamaso mā jyotir gamaya, mṛtyor māmṛtaṃ gamaya: from the unreal lead me to the real, from the dark lead me to the light, from death lead me to immortality

Oṁ Sahanā vavatu sahanau bhunaktu Sahavīryam karavāvahai, Tejasvi nāvadhītamastu Mā vidviṣāvahai, Oṁ Shāntiḥ, Shāntiḥ, ShāntiḥOm! Let the Studies that we together undertake be effulgent; Let there be no Animosity amongst us; Om! Peace, Peace, Peace. – Taittiriya Upanishad 2.2.2

Om Saha Naavavatu, Saha Nau Bhunaktu, Saha Veeryam Karavaavahai, Tejasvi Aavadheetamastu Maa Vidvishaavahai Om: May the Divine protect and bless us. May she nourish us, giving us strength to work together for the good of humanity. May our learning be brilliant and purposeful. May we never turn against one another.

Om bhur bhuvah svah , tat savitur varenyam, bhargo devasya dhimahi, dhiyo yo nah prachodayatEarth, Heaven, the Whole Between. The excellent divine power of the Sun. May we contemplate the radiance of that god, May this inspire our understanding.

Om gam ganapataye namah, vakra-tunda maha-kaya surya-koti-sama-prabha, nirvighnam kuru me deva sarva-karyeshu sarva-da: O Ganesha, god with a curved trunk, of great stature, Whose brilliance is equal to ten million suns. Grant me freedom from obstacles, In all things, at all times.

Yogena chittasya padena vacham malam sharirasya cha vaidyakena, Yo ’pakarottam pravaram muninam patanjalim pranjalir anato ’smi: With palms folded together, I bow respectfully to Patanjali, the best of sages, Who dispels the impurities of the mind with Yoga, Of speech through Grammar, and of the body by means of Medicine.

Svasti prajabhyah paripalayantam nyayena margena mahim mahishah Gobrahmanebhyah shubham astu nityam lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu: May the rulers of the earth protect the well-being of the people, With justice, by means of the right path. May there always be good fortune for all living beings. May all the inhabitants of the world be full of happiness.

Asato ma sad gamaya, Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya, Mrityor ma amritam gamaya: From the unreal to the Real, lead me. From darkness to Light, lead me. From death to Immortality, lead me.

Purnam adah purnam idam purnat purnam udachyate, Purnasya purnam adaya purnam evavashishyate: That is Whole. This is Whole. The Whole arises from the Whole. Having taken the Whole from the Whole, Only the Whole remains.



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