What are Mantras
A Mantra can be a simple sound or a combination of words in the form of a hymn, prayer, or poem that are considered to have spiritual meaning and significance.
Mantras are considered to resonate with collective energy in and around an individual. They can be used anywhere and by anyone for both material and existential goals and are considered to be one of the most effective tools for focusing the mind in meditation and spirituality.
A mantra is often described as a distillation of a spiritual practise, the pared down essence that one contemplates while perfecting one’s focus. It is a simple practise that helps anchor on to a positive emotion, while also motivating you. It builds a system of belief, regardless of what religion you follow or choose not to follow. The practise of meditation and mantra recitation or chanting has long been proved to have massive benefits on the mind and body, leading human beings towards a happier path in life and a more fulfilling journey.
A Story without a Book…or an author…or a story
Unlike the Orthodox and Non-Mystical versions of Abrahamic religions, Vedic and Buddhist spirituality does not explicitly rely on a single text to pass moral lessons through time. Rather, Vedic and Buddhist spirituality relies more on story-telling, parables, and word of mouth to convey ideas and messages. This creates several philosophical nuances as Vedic and Buddhist Spirituality becomes inherently tied to the perspectives, biases, and influences of the story-teller and audience alike. Thus belief and interpretation are fluid from person to person. While this system offers flexibility to explore the nuances of expression, the ultimate meaning inferred is going to be open to the interpreter and is hence likely to vary from person to person.
How does this relate to Mantras? Well, since most mantras are sacred utterances or phrases it is instinctual on our part to seek an explicit meaning–e.g. Point A maps to point B which leads to point C. In reality however, the true meaning of any given mantra is difficult to pinpoint. While there are common themes for various Mantras in terms of energies or deities evoked, it is up to the user to instill meaning in the words. In this sense, a mantra is quite symbiotic as the audience, rather than the author, gives meaning to the story.
Types of Mantras
Mantras can take on various forms and serve a multitude of purposes across Vedic and Buddhist spirituality.
One of the simplest Mantras in existence is the Vedic Syllable Aum
This syllable is a simple sound that is considered sacred due to its positive vibratory effect when chanted–in effect a sort of cosmic sound.
Mantras can also be simple devotional messages designed to invoke a particular Vedic or Buddhist deity or force.
Aum Namo Narayana is a simple mantra for instance that invokes the energy of Narayana, a form of the altruistic and omnipresent form of Vishnu, who in simple terms is considered to be a representation of sustainability, preservation, and wisdom.
At this point, a critical question that arises for a non-Vedic practitioner is the idea of religion: does this mantra mean something religious? The simple answer is No. Vedic philosophy was created as a means to explain the world and higher consciousness to the human mind. Often, these lessons were passed through in the form of myths, legends, and stories in order to withstand interpretation and time. This recitation of such a mantra is purely personal. While it can evoke the conventional image of God, the mantra also serves as a point of focus for your mind. By reciting such a mantra to preserving energy, the mind is better equipped to focus on such themes and energy.
Take for instance, another simple yet evocative mantra to Saraswati:
Om Aim Hrim Kleem Maha Saraswati Devaya Namaha.
In the Vedas, the power of knowledge and education is personified by the deity Saraswati. Symbolically, Saraswati means “one with water”, or she “who possesses water.” The imagery of water intends to focus the mind on clarity. Considering that the pursuit of knowledge can often be a difficult concept to focus, Saraswati provides us with an opportunity to channel our focus on a fixed point. In a sense, she allows the mind to fixate on a tangible form of knowledge while giving us enough flexibility to explore the more intangible forms of spirituality without deviating significantly from our goal, which in this case the yearning for mental clarity and the search for knowledge. By reciting a mantra explicitly in her name, we allow the mind an opportunity to focus ardently on a particular goal (education in this case).
Mantras can also be more complex and poetic in nature.
Take for instance the powerful Mritsanjeevani mantra, a healing mantra used to ward of terminal illnesses:
om hauṁ jūṁ saḥ om bhu bhuvaḥ svāhā om tatsa
Vitūrvareṇyaṁ tryaṁbakaṁ yajāmahe bhargo devasya
dhīmahi sugandhim puṣṭivardhanam dhiyo yonaḥ
pracodayāt urvārukamiva bandhanānmṛtyo-mokshya
māmṛitāt om saḥ jūṁ hauṁ om
The Mritsanjeevani invokes Shiva (tryaṁbakaṁ – the one with three eyes). Descriptors such as sugandhim (fragrant), puṣṭivardhanam (nourisher/grower) refer to Shiva’s aura as an all-knowing divine energy. The mantra uses symbolic imagery of a farmer picking ripened fruit (urvārukamiva) as an archetype of liberation from its material vines (bandhanan). Using such imagery, the mantra goes on to request Shiva to liberate (mokshya) the practitioner from death (mrityor) for immortality (māmṛitāt) in a similar fashion.
The Mritsanjeevani combines two particularly powerful and widely-cited mantras: the Gayatri Mantra and the Mrityunjay. At its simplest level, the Gayatri Mantra is generally believed to be the ultimate amalgamation of all mantras–in short, a particularly potent recitation intended to invoke supreme consciousness. The Mrityunjaya Mantra invokes the destructive yet healing power of Shiva to alleviate negative Karma of past, present, and future. In short, this mantra is widely considered to remove all negative forms of Karma on all plains of material and existential being.
Note, for simplicity, we have described the deity of Shiva in this case with his typical descriptors of destruction, power, and wisdom. In literal terms however, it is difficult to define in exact terms who or what Shiva actually is. A deeper and more scholarly read may or may not reveal that these labels are personifications for the complex intricacies of the mind. The point is the interpretation is fluid and depends on the level of detail and understanding the reader would like to apply. These mantras offer us an outlet to focus on specific cases and explore the nuances of belief and meaning.
Mantras can also be astrological in nature and invoke or neutralize the energy of astrological bodies. These mantras can be even more complex and abstract in nature without literal translations. But then again, literal translation was never the goal.
Buddhist spirituality also offers similar insight to the soul and consciousness through a series of slightly different deities. There are different mantras for different purposes, like the Buddhist
Green Tara mantra “Om Tare Tuttare Ture Soha”, that asks the bodhisattva Green Tara, ‘the mother of liberation’, to remove all obstacles from relationships.
How do you use Mantras?
Mantras are quite easy to use. You can recite and chant them repeatedly or listen to someone chant them for you. The Mantra itself is not the be all and end all in spirituality; rather it is a tool that is meant to aid you in mental focus and relief. The repeated repetition of mantras is considered to vibrate positively in and around.
Generally, seasoned and advanced practitioners recommend repeating a given mantra 108 times. In the Vedic belief system, 108 is generally considered auspicious of a variety of symbolic and astrological reasons. For instance, the numbers 1, 0, and 8 are considered to be representations of everything (1), nothing (0), and infinity (8). Astrologically, the diameter of the Sun is 108 times the diameter of the Earth and the distance from the Sun to the Earth is 108 times the diameter of the Sun. The average distance of the Moon from the Earth is 108 times the diameter of the Moon. In Ayurvedic practices, there are 108 “Marma” points that are considered vital for life.
It is important, however, not to get too hung up on relational patterns and special numbers. In practice, even as few as five or eleven repetitions is considered sufficient to create positive well-being. The most important thing to remember in regards to Vedic and Buddhist Mantras however is the meaning and belief you, as the user, impart.
Long “Story” Short
Mantras are simple practises that help anchor onto positive and motivational emotions. They are infinite in use cases and build a system of belief, regardless of what religion you follow or choose not to follow. The practise of meditation has long been proved to have massive benefits on the mind and body, leading human beings towards a happier path in life and a more fulfilling journey. Mantras are simply tools to aid on this internal journey of awareness.