What is a Mantra and Why Use one to meditate?
Mantra is a Sanskrit word combined into “Man” and “Tra”. Man means Mind and Tra means Travel. In other words, Mantra is a tool or vehicle that helps mind travel BEYOND the level of thoughts. Meaning, we are simply using the mantra to travel beyond the mind!
I thought about putting a list together with all the good reasons for using mantra in our meditation practice. This time I would like to share a small part of Vedic wisdom.
Modern Yoga emphasizes yoga poses which are putting the body into specific poses and experiencing stillness. Dr.David Frawley suggests in his book on Mantra Yoga and Primal Sound that Mantra is a kind of asana for the mind. There are many different types of Mantras used to meditate, to chant , to invoke and energize the ceremonies. Even in today’s modern times, we hear someone say an affirmation in their spoken language which they like to refer to as Mantra. Yet, for the purpose of this blog, let’s focus on Sanskrit mantras.
There are 50 letters in Sanskrit alphabet which makes 108 seed Mantras. Seed mantras are single -syllable mantras that are easier to pronounce. They are the basis of all the mantras and are referred to as Cosmic Sounds. Why Cosmic? Because these seed mantras have the ability to reflect the creativity of the universe through which everything is structured including our physical bodies. Many modern day yoga practices emphasize use of mantras. For example, OM has become the main “ sound” of Yoga. Even yogic greeting - NAMASTE is a kind of mantra.
One important point to note here is that Primal sounds of Single -Syllable mantras are not ordinary words with specific meaning that we can find in a dictionary. These mantras are powerful with their vibrational quality. So when we use them in our meditation, and repeat it, we are not attached to the meaning of any kind. Instead, we let the mantra’s vibration raise our consciousness by repeating it silently with complete attention on it. This repetition of Mantra practice is where we are able to make the choice between an “upcoming thought” and “ repetition of mantra” , which ultimately brings us or our minds to stillness and silence.
So, to summarize, Mantra is a wonderful tool in practicing meditation. It is not that we are trying to stop the thoughts from coming and taking refuge in Mantra…. It is more that we are embracing the thought that is here as soon as we close our eyes when we sit down to meditate. By accepting the thought without resisting it or to stop it from coming, you discover the open field of choices. Every time you become aware of “having thoughts” , You discover the choice. When you choose to silently repeat Mantra over accepting to think that repetitive thought during meditation, you are getting closer and closer to that deeper stillness and silence.
This is why introducing Mantra based meditation techniques to a person who is new to meditation becomes foremost. You are giving mind an option that still feels concrete yet there is no meaning to make a story upon it and form thought clouds. Although, in the beginning you find yourself accepting to think the thoughts more than repeating mantras. However, it’s a matter of practice just like developing any other skill. More you run into making a choice between thought and mantra, the easier it gets to take a step necessary in making that choice.
Mantras are powerful tools to redirect the energy of mind inward which is often important in breaking the repetitive and negative thought patterns and even conditioning and deeply rooted mental and emotional patterns. Scientifically speaking, a Systemic review published in European Journal of Integrative medicine* lean towards beneficial effects of Mantra Meditation on Mental Health in general population. Below is what Pandit Vamadeva Shastri wrote so graciously in his book about using Mantras.
“ Unless we learn to use mantra in our Yoga practice, we may succeed in putting our body into wonderful asanas, but our mind may remain rigid, agitated or distracted. As asana is the key to the flexibility of the body, the right use of mantra is the key to the flexibility of the mind!”