Sanskrit, the most ancient of human languages, is also known as Devanagari, which literally translated means language of the gods'. It is made up of root sounds, which are the actual vibrations arising from the object or action for which it is used. For example, in all languages 'ma', or some variation of this sound, means 'mother'; this is the sound with which the child naturally calls its mother. Since the Sanskrit words are the actual sound manifestations, we use them when chanting. Mantras can be translated, but their translations do not have the same power.
Sound, made up of vibrations, is energy. A Sanskrit mantra is a mystical energy encased in a sound structure. To release the energy from the sound, we learn to repeat it as a certain rhythm. When you start repeating a mantra, it creates a specific thought pattern. The energy literally manifests itself. Name and form are like the two sides of a coin; you cannot have one without the other. When you repeat a name, the form comes to mind. Although you may not consciously know the form connected with a certain mantra, it still creates a specific thought pattern in the mind. The thought patterns created by mantras are positive, beneficial, calming ones.
There are different levels of sound, spoken and unspoken - the more powerful being the unspoken.
No one ever sat down and wrote a mantra, as people write songs. Mantras are energies which always existed in the universe, and can neither be created nor destroyed. They were discovered by certain realized saints, who handed them down to us through the centuries. The science of mantra is an exact one, and it is important that you pronounce them correctly. This is why you should be initiated into your mantra by a true spiritual teacher, preferably one whom you consider to be your guru. He has spent much time in study and repetition of the mantra and has gained a certain mastery over it. Upon initiation, he transmits a bit of this energy to the student. It is as though he has handed you a candle, and now, through constant practice of repetition of the mantra (japa) you can use it to build yourself a warm spiritual fire. Japa will help the mind to steady itself. The mantra will in this way lead you to true meditation, to a state of oneness with God, to a state of non-duality.
On the physical level also, many benefits are derived from japa. Deep rest and relaxation are given to all the cells and organs of the body. Toxins are removed from the body and the nervous system is relaxed. The lower emotions of lust, anger, greed, hatred and jealousy are destroyed and replaced with sattvic (pure) qualities.
1. Deity mantras (saguna mantra) - one that invokes the particular deity that you choose. You relate to the Infinite using a specific name or form.
2. Vedantic mantras - more abstract - few people are ready for this type of mantra.
3. Pranava mantra - OM.
4. Bija mantra - one syllable. Not to be recited except by students who have attained great purity, and on instruction by the teacher.
methods of choosing a mantra
1. Devotional attraction to a specific deity.
2. Attraction to the sound vibration of a mantra.
3. Temperament or identification with the personality of the deity (Ishta Devata).
4. Abstract mantra.
saguna (with form) mantras
For most people it is easier to relate to a deity mantra. The deities symbolise the different aspects of God. The pure Self, the Soul or Atman, is nameless and formless. But since we are mortal, finite, and have limited attention spans, it is usually too difficult for us to meditate on an abstraction. We therefore choose an aspect which appeals to us and one that we can relate to through meditation.
OM SRI MAHA GANAPATAYE NAMAH Prostrations to the great Lord Ganesha
OM is the original, most powerful mantra sound. It is a part of almost all mantras, and serves to invoke pure supreme vibrations. Sri is the title of reverent respect. Maha means great. Ganapati is another name for Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, representing strength and fortitude. He is the remover of obstacles and bestower of success.
OM NAMAH SIVAYA Prostrations to Lord Siva
Siva is the Lord of Auspiciousness. As the third member of the Hindu Trinity, He represents the universal power of destruction in which all existence ends and from which it arises again. Siva is the lord of ascetics and recluses, He is usually pictured in a meditative posture, holding a trident, and wreathed by snakes. The snakes represent the fact that Siva welcomes all, even the lowliest, as His devotees. Siva, the Cosmic Dancer, presides over the destructive energies which break up the universe at the end of each age. This is the process of the old making way for the new. In a more personal sense, it is Siva's energy by which one's lower nature is destroyed, making way for positive growth. This mantra is usually given to people with a withdrawn nature, drawn to meditation in solitude.
OM NAMO NARAYANAYA Prostrations to Lord Vishnu (also called Narayana)
Vishnu is the preserver of the universe. After creation, it is the energy of Vishnu which maintains order in the universe. He embodies the qualities of mercy, goodness, and the all-pervading power which preserves and maintains the universe and the cosmic order. Vishnu regularly takes on a human form, incarnating on earth for the benefit of humanity. This mantra is given to people who are concerned with bettering the state of worldly affairs and maintaining the harmony of life, have a protective nature, and who want responsibility.
OM SRI RAMAYA NAMAH Prostrations to Lord Rama
Rama is the seventh incarnation of Vishnu, whose purpose was to establish righteousness in the world. Sri Rama is always pictured holding his bow (with which he protects the good and slays the evil demons). He is often standing next to his wife Sita (Nature) and his devotee, Hanuman (the monkey god, representing the mind which is most easily controlled by total devotion to Lord Rama and constant repetition of His name). Lord Rama teaches, by example, how to live an ideal life in the world. He is the perfect man in all aspects -as ruler, husband, son, father, and friend. The great epic Ramayana, written by the great sage Valmiki, is the story of Rama's incarnation. Rama and Sita epitomised the devotional relationship between husband and wife. They are the model for people with family duties.
OM NAMO BHAGAVATAIVASUDEVAYA Prostrations to Lord Krishna (also known as Vasudeva)
Bhagavan literally means 'Lord' and refers to Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Vishnu. His purpose on Earth was to establish order, which he did by setting down the code for right conduct in the Bhagavad Gita. His life is a shining example of the Gita in action. Vasudeva, meaning 'He Who abides in all things and in Whom all things abide', is a name of Krishna. Krishna is one of the most beloved of all deities. He is considered to be a world teacher, as He is the source of the Bhagavad Gita. People are drawn to Krishna because of his playfulness and joyful nature. People of a more emotional/devotional nature usually take this mantra.
HARI OM OM Vishnu
Hari is another name for Vishnu. It is that aspect which forgives the past actions of those who take refuge in Him and destroys their negative deeds. Thus Hari is a redeemer and a guide to personal salvation as well as the World Preserver.
OM SRI DURGAYAI NAMAH Prostrations to the Mother Durga
Pictured riding on a tiger, Durga represents strength; She protects her children. Durga is the force, or shakti, through which Divinity manifests, the chaitanya, or pure consciousness of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva united. She is the consort of Siva. Even Rama invoked the Divine Mother's blessings before battle. She is commonly pictured as having eight arms with which she carries weapons and gives blessings.
OM SRI MAHA LAKSHMYAI NAMAH Prostrations to the great Mother Lakshmi
As Goddess of fortune, beauty, and wealth, Lakshmi is the mother who nurtures and gives everything to Her children. Lakshmi is the bountiful provider. As Vishnu's consort, She aids in the preservation of the three worlds by bestowing wealth and abundance of a material and spiritual nature. She is usually pictured as a beautiful woman in a red sari standing on a lotus blossom with her arms open and giving.
OM AIM SARASWATYAI NAMAH Prostrations to Goddess Saraswati
Goddess of music, eloquence, wisdom, learning, knowledge and the arts, Saraswati is pictured wearing a white sari, looking very cool and serene. People with artistic temperament usually choose this mantra, as Saraswati is the mother of poetry, inspirer of all music, and consort of Brahma (the Creator). Aim is the bija of Saraswati. She is involved in the creation of new ideas and things. She is responsible for bestowing wisdom and knowledge.
nirguna (without form) mantras
Nirguna mantras are without form. One uses the abstract mantras and vedantic formulas to assert identification with all of creation. Because people are of many different temperaments, not all spiritual aspirants are drawn to a personal deity. For this type of temperament, the abstract mantra creates a vibration in which the meditator identifies with the whole of the cosmos.
OM is the original mantra. In the Bible it says "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God". From the point of view of yoga, the 'Word' was OM, the first vibration and the sound from which all others emerge.
There is no literal translation of OM. Its three letters: A, U and M, signify the three periods of time, the three states of consciousness and all of existence. 'A' is the waking state, 'U' is the dream state, and (M' is deep sleep. OM contains nada and bindu. Nada is the prolonged vowel sound and bindu is the humming sound, made with closed lips, with which the mantra ends.
Correctly pronounced, the sound starts from the navel, with a deep, harmonious vibration, and gradually manifests itself at the upper part of the nostrils. 'A' is the first sound the vocal apparatus can utter. As 'U' is pronounced, the sound rolls from the root of the tongue to the end of the sounding board of the mouth. 'M', the last sound, is produced by closing the lips. OM has a powerful positive effect upon the nervous system and transforms the physical body, setting up new vibrations and awakening dormant physical and mental powers.
All mantras are hidden in OM, the abstract, highest mantra. The universe has come from OM, rests in OM and dissolves in it. OM covers the human threefold experience: 'A' represents the physical plane, 'U' represents the mental and astral plane, and 'M' represents deep sleep state and everything beyond reach of the intellect. The transcendental sound of OM is not heard by the ordinary ear.
Because of its universality, OM can be used as a mantra by all who are unable to find a guru. However, its very universality and lack of particular form make it very difficult for a beginner to grasp. The mind must be very strong to be able to concentrate on formless and abstract mantras such as OM.
The literal meaning is: 'I am that I am' -meaning that I am not merely this body, nor this mind. I am Immortal Atman. This mantra asserts the non-dualistic reality of the Self. The meditator experiences Absolute Existence, without form, without quality, without past present or future. No bonds or limitations can restrict the aspirant who has SOHAM mantra firmly fixed in his mind.
preparation for initiation
Take a bath or shower immediately before; wear clean clothes (preferably white). It is traditional for the aspirant to offer fruit, flowers, and a monetary donation to the spiritual teacher at the time of initiation.
practice of japa (repetition of mantra)
Usually japa is done using a japa mala; this is much like a rosary, and has 108 beads. One bead among these will be slightly larger than the rest. This is called the meru; it is the guiding bead to indicate that you have done your mantra 108 times. In using your mala, you should not cross the meru; when you come to it, turn your fingers back so that you are turning around and starting again in the opposite direction.
When doing japa with a mala, the index finger (the finger next to the thumb), symbolic of the ego, should never be used. The thumb and middle finger should roll the beads. Try to be regular in your japa. Choose a fixed time and try to do it then every day; dawn and dusk are the best times.
A comfortable, steady pose helps the mind to steady itself. Sit erect, legs crossed, back straight, eyes closed. Repeat the mantra clearly and exactly, just as your teacher gave it to you. Repeat the mantra either out loud, under your breath, or mentally. Mental japa has the most power, but it is good to vary it occasionally.
Be regular and be diligent in your japa. Hari Om Tat Sat.
1. When are we ready for mantra initiation?
2. How can mantra initiation help for meditation?
3. How should one choose a mantra?
4. What are the preparations necessary for mantra initiation and their meaning?