If you have an active, chattering mind, then mantra and or japa yoga are very useful tools for learning to control the meandering thoughts that keep you out of the present moment. Mantra has often helped me when my mind is racing out of control, thinking about something in the past or future. It has come to the point that when needed a mantra comes up in the back of my consciousness and I can choose to tune into it rather than the thoughts in my head. The mantra pulls me back into the present where peace always Is.
Remember, all paths of yoga contain many tools and methods to help bring the mind into a state of focus and concentration in order to deeply enhance contemplation.. They must be practiced with awareness and intent, or they will simply be mechanical exercises and the effects will be limited to the external. The practice of mantra or japa can be done anywhere, at anytime.
The idea is to concentrate your energy so entirely on the mantra that eventually every pore of your being begins to resonate with the sound, and the inherent truth of the mantra wakes up inside. The whole system becomes charged with the powerful vibration of the mantra and this in turn can heal and transform all levels of being. Mantra yoga uses sound vibrations to concentrate the mind and the breath together. This helps bring a person to a state of inner peace and enables them to unite with realms of deeper consciousness within. Swami Radha, a woman who was a disciple of Swami Sivananda, and became a great teacher herself, writes; “The chanting or reciting of mantras activates and accelerates the creative spiritual force, promoting harmony in all parts of the human being.” Mantra practice trains and disciplines the mind, bringing about a state of calm relaxation and eventually the Presence of the Divine becomes constant.
Mantras are consciousness itself in the form of sound. Mother Meera, considered a living saint by many, writes in her book ‘Answers’, “Any object we think about respectively generates its own vibration. Recitation of a Divine Name is not simple words – each Divine Name is full of Divine vibrations. These surround us and protect us, and penetrate both our bodies and our whole being.”
Harish Johari in Tools for Tantra states that “Mantra yoga is the esoteric discipline employing sound as a means of spiritual transformation and transcendence.” The most popular definition of ‘mantra’ is; ‘man’ meaning to think, and ‘tra’ which comes from ‘trai’ meaning “to protect or free from the bondage of samskara or phenomenal world.” i
Mantra is sound, which can affect the body, mind, and total being. It has also been said that the word Mantra comes from the Sanskrit word mantrana, which means advice or suggestion.ii Baba Hari Dass translates mantra as “sacred syllable or words, sound vibration.” Because the mantras were produced in states of higher consciousness, they are able to transport a person into the same ’space’ from which the mantra originated. They also can have the same effect on a person listening to someone else chanting them. “The yogis heard sound frequencies in an organized form and when they chanted them they came to be called mantras and were compiled into the Vedas.”iii
How to practice Mantra
The yogis developed four ways of mastering mantra yoga.
Vaikari japa which means out loud, recited out loud. This engages the mind and voice on a gross level. It is the easiest and beginning form of mantra practice.
Upamsu japa, whispering or humming
Manaskika Japa or mental japa, it is done silently within the mind.
Likhita japa, writing it down.
You can practice any or all of the above methods. Choose what is most helpful in the moment. For thousands of years a string of beads has been used to keep count of the mantra or japa repetitions. The mala or rosary as it is called in the Christian faith each have 108 beads plus the center bead or guru bead. A smaller version of the mala worn on the wrist is also very useful. The mala is used to help concentrate the mind on the sadhana or practice. The mind will wander when doing mantra and the action of the fingers moving along the mala helps to keep the mind focused. Learn to notice when the thoughts have gone elsewhere and gently without judgment, bring the focus back to the mantra or japa. By using a mala the spiritual energy or vibration of the mantra is heightened. This can help a person awaken the mantra within the body, mind and heart. If you choose to practice mantra with the writing method it is suggested that you have a special little book just for that purpose.
Where to get a mantra?
Traditionally, mantras were handed down from guru to disciple in a sacred ceremony. It is believed that each person has a particular sound vibration with which their spiritual body will resonate. The guru was able to tap into that sound. This can still done if you are blessed with such a teacher, but it is not always possible to find a teacher who does this.
There are many mantras that are not secret. Some are made up of one-syllable words – simple, yet powerful sounds. Others could be a few words or sounds strung together that have a particular meaning unto themselves. Various names of God are also thought to be mantras for example; Lord Jesus Christ, Allah, Ram and Mother Mary, Amma. It is believed that mantras contain power that can be discovered or released through practice, provided there is concentration, right aim, faith and devotion on the part of the practitioner.
The inherent power of the sacred sounds of the Sanskrit language and thousands of yogis sitting in their caves chanting has made certain mantras very powerful. Sanskrit is considered the oldest language in the world. The most simple and most powerful of all mantras is said to be OM or AUM. However each individual must pick the one that has the most meaning for them. Whether the sound is an ancient Indian Sanskrit mantra or a Christian prayer in English, the power is waiting to be released and embodied within you.
A powerful healing mantra for a sick person or one who is in the dying process is the Maha Mrithunjaya Mantra. This helps the chanter as well as the person who is in need.
OM TRYUMBUKAM YAJA MAHE
SUGANDHIM PUSHTI VARDHANAM
URVA RUKA MEEVA BHANDHANAM
MURITYOR MUKSHIYA MAMRITAT
“We worship Thee, O sweet lord of transcendental vision, giver of strength, who liberates from death. May we be free from the bonds of death, like a ripe fruit falling from a tree.”
(Sound excerpt from Mantra for Healing, Mahamrityunjaya Mantra, Ancient Chant for Healing & Peace by the Sacred Sound Choir)
In India Om or Aum is considered the primordial sound of the universe. The Rishis (yogis) discovered that origin of sound is OM or more correctly AUM. Om is the root of all mantras and is actually made up of 4 parts: A-U-M and Silence. It is said to be the root of all sounds and the gross manifestation of the eternal state or energy of the indescribable.
“Sound originates from silence,
speech originates from sound.
When speech is controlled,
It brings inner silence.
The great Spirit is identified within
By silencing the mind,
Not merely by silencing the speech.”
-Baba Hari Dass
The great poet Rabindranath Tagore said that the sacred syllable Om is the “symbolic word for the perfect, the infinite, the eternal. The sound is already perfect in itself and represents the wholeness of all creation. “iv
“Just as a spider climbs up its thread and gains freedom, so the yogis climbed toward liberation by the syllable Om.”
“Beyond time, space and causation
That silence is Brahman, the Absolute.
In silence, sound starts
By the movement of energies,
And it creates forms.
That primordial sound, which is Om.
Is the mother of creation.”
-Baba Hari Dass
We can talk or write forever about mantras etc… but power of mantra must be experienced for yourself. Otherwise it is all more mental gymnastics leading to nothing. Try 3 rounds of a mala or rosary and let It happen.
i Swami Radha, pg. 3, Words of Power.
ii Harish Johari, pg.23, Tools for Tantra.
iii Ibid. pg. 24
iv Ibid. pg.35