Mantra Yoga: Mantra practice is a central aspect of traditional Yoga. Following are 13 practical tips on how to use a mantra or sacred word. These suggestions are general in nature and should apply to most any use of mantra.
13 Tips on Mantra in Yoga Meditation, Vedanta, and Tantra
(More YouTube videos by Swami J)
Opposites can both be useful: Mantra japa (repeating or remembering mantra) can seem a bit complex when we ask what one should or should not do, or what is right versus wrong to do. Actually, two seemingly opposite practices can both be useful, with one simply being subtler than the other, or having a greater tendency to lead attention inward. One method may be a starting place that naturally evolves into the other.
Two ends of a spectrum: All of the descriptions below contrast one pole of a spectrum with the other (external-internal or gross-subtle). In this way, the practices can easily be compared, while seeing the relative value of one versus the other. One form of practice might be useful at one stage, and the other more useful later on.
Contents of this web page:
Parrot-like repetition and repetition with feeling
Chanting mantra aloud or internally
With willpower or repeating itself
Repeating fast or at its own speed
Counting mantras or not counting
With mala or counting beads, or without
Mantra as word, feeling, awareness, or silence
As a name of God
Whether or not to allow mantra to lead to silence
Speaking/reciting or listening/remembering
Pushing away thoughts or allowing them to flow
Japa as reciting or listening
Ajapa japa as automatic reciting or awareness
See also these web pages:
Japa and Ajapa-Japa with mantra
Mantra, brain, and word
OM and 7 methods of practice
Universal seed mantras: The foundational, primary sounds are called seed or bija vibrations in Sanskrit. Such universal sounds can also be called basal, prime, primordial, essential or basic sound vibrations, as well as other descriptive names.
• Om is such a sound, especially when focusing on the Mmmmm… sound vibration, which is somewhat like mentally remembering the sound of a buzzing bee. Both inhalation and exhalation might be done smoothly and slowly, while remembering that Mmmm… sound mentally. Om Mantra can be used as a seed vibration alone, or along with deeper meanings.
• Soham is a universal mantra vibration, with Sooo… being remembered with inhalation and Hummm… being remembered with exhalation.
• Ahhh… can be remembered with inhalation and Ummmm… remembered with exhalation.
• Many other such sound vibrations can also be used, whether or not coordinated with breath. For example, any of the single-syllable vowel sounds can be used, with or without an Mmmm… sound at the end.
It is the practice itself that will convince one of the viability of such universal sound vibrations as means of relieving the autonomic nervous system, while calming and focusing the mind. Mantra practice like this will prepare the mind for deeper meditation beyond the syllables of the mantras.
Longer mantras: There are many longer mantras in many languages. Some are like positive affirmations and some are for specific, desired benefits. Some are related to religions, and some are not. The principles of using mantra that are listed below are universal, applying to all of the many types of mantras.
Compact prayer: Some mantras can be described is as short, compact prayers. One can easily think of examples where a particular sentence or phrase from a longer prayer or writing forms a compact prayer or mantra. Once again, the principles below are universal, applying to any of these types of mantra.
repetition with feeling
Repetition with feeling
One can recite a mantra solely as a mental process, somewhat like training a parrot in rote repetition. While this may help train the mind to be one-pointed, it is not nearly as beneficial as reciting the mantra with feeling. Recitation along with feeling is a deeper process that brings greater benefits.
In either case, it is important to note that the use of mantra merely to repress emotions is not the intent. With emotional challenges, mantra can have a stabilizing effect while a person deals with those challenges in other healthy ways as well.
chanting mantra aloud
chanting mantra internally
Chanting mantra aloud can be a very enjoyable and useful process, whether alone or done with a group of people.
After some time that process turns inward, and the chanting is done in the inner silence.
repeating mantra with conscious willpower
allowing mantra to arise and repeat itself
One might initially use willpower to remember the mantra. This training the mind has a centering or balancing effect. (However, it is not a good idea to use mantra to repress, avoid, or escape from other thoughts and emotions.)
Another approach is to sit silently, with attention inward, and allow the mantra to arise and repeat itself. It might take some patience, but this is a subtler practice.
Notice that repeating with willpower is a form of expression, while allowing mantra to arise and repeat itself requires attention. (Expression and attention relate to the indriyas.)
The process of attention is more internal than the process of expression. Also, attention leads to concentration; in turn, concentration leads to meditation; and then, meditation leads to samadhi.
intentionally repeating mantra fast
allowing mantra to come at its own speed
At its own speed
Some practitioners and teachers of mantra recitation intentionally see how fast they can recite the mantra. This can definitely create a groove in the mind for remembering the mantra.
A more advanced or internal practice is to allow the mantra to come at it’s own speed. Over time, the mantra will naturally shift in speed, sometimes moving very fast, faster than the mind might normally be able to recite. At other times, it will naturally move very slowly.
not counting mantras
Counting or not counting
Counting practices can help to focus the mind and create deep impressions that have a stabilizing effect.
A practice where a specific number of mantras is done over an extended period of time (called a purascharna) can be a very beneficial practice in clearing or purifying the mind. For example, one might do 125,000 repetitions over a few months. A larger and longer practice is called a maha-purascharna.
Yet, when counting mantras, awareness might tend to stay more on the surface level due to the external aspect of the counting.
When the counting is set aside, the mantra can more purely shift to a deeper form of meditation, where attention is naturally drawn to the mantra as a single object of focus.
Both practices, counting and not counting, are useful and have their place in sadhana (spiritual practices).
with mala or counting beads
without mala or counting beads
With or without mala
In the beginning of using mantra, it can be beneficial to use mala or counting beads when remembering mantra (mala usually has 108 beads). By getting the physical body involved through the motion of the fingers, it can be much easier for the mind to stay focused.
However, setting aside the mala, disengaging the use of the motion of the body (the karmendriyas) allows the attention to more purely go inward, past body and sensory awareness, following the mantra as it leads you inward.
Both types of practice, with or without mala, are useful and have their place in sadhana (spiritual practices).
as word and meaning
as a feeling
as a constant awareness
as soundless sound / silence
Mantra will naturally move inward through stages, if allowed. It is important to remember this, so as to not unintentionally keep meditation shallow when it is trying to move into deeper peace.
For example, the word shanti means peace or tranquility. The feeling that gradually emerges is more internal and peaceful than is the repetition of the syllables alone. When the syllables drift away, one might then meditate on the feeling of peace itself, which is more subtle. Initially, this feeling might fade quickly, and be resurrected by again remembering the syllables of the mantra.
Gradually, that feeling has fewer breaks or distractions, and becomes a somewhat constant, pervasive awareness.
This eventually leads inward to a deep awareness that is the root of the sound. It somewhat defies description, but as a root of the sound, it is like a soundless sound of the mantra that is resting in silence.
external repetition of the name or mantra
internal remembering of the name or mantra
silent longing for what is behind the name
Mantra as a name of God
Some practitioners use as their mantra a name of God from within their religion, or as given by a teacher.
At first the mantra or name might be used externally through repetition, chanting, or in song.
Or, the name or mantra might be recited or remembered internally.
Then, the name or mantra itself might drift away, as the grosser sound is replaced by a deeper longing or communion for what is behind the name or mantra.
not allowing mantra to “lead” you to silence
allowing mantra to “lead” you to silence
Mantra will lead
Sometimes the mantra is naturally trying to lead attention into silence, and the practitioner thinks that mantra is being forgotten. There may be extra effort to then continue to recite, or internally speak the mantra.
Deeper than this is to allow the mantra to naturally lead attention to its deeper, subtler aspect that rests in the silence.
This leading process can be tricky in practice, as one might just be falling asleep. It requires a bit of practice and attention to notice the difference between drifting off into sleep and going into a deeper, quieter, more clear state of mantra meditation.
This leading quality is one of the most important aspects of mantra practice.
internally “speaking” or “reciting” the mantra
internally “listening to” or “remembering” the mantra
Speaking vs. listening
A good way to understand this dimension is to think of songs you may have heard. Once those sounds are in your mind, they automatically arise, without any effort.
Initially one may internally speak or recite the mantra.
Later, the practice is more like listening to or remembering the mantra, than actively speaking.
One may or may not literally hear an inner sound. It is the mental stance of listening or remembering that is being practiced here. It is somewhat like remembering a person whom you love. The name of the person may come and go in your mind field, but the memory of the person is not dependent on the presence of the name.
(To further understand the significance of the difference between speaking and hearing, see the paper on the indriyas.)
pushing away thoughts with mantra
allowing thoughts to flow through the mind before remembering mantra
Dealing with thoughts
Mantra can unwisely be used to repress ones thinking process. Mantra should not be used to avoid life and dealing with mental and emotional issues. At meditation time, one can easily get into an inner fight between the mantra and the stream of thoughts. This is not the best thing to do.
Better than fighting, is to allow a period of time for inner reflection or internal dialogue to explore and deal with those thoughts and emotions. Then, it is much easier to remember the mantra as it naturally arises in the stream of the mind.
approach that “japa” means reciting mantra
approach that “japa” means listening to mantra
Japa and listening
Some translate the Sanskrit word Japa as reciting or repeating, while others translate Japa as listening or remembering. One is an active process of expressing, while the other is a passive process of paying attention.
These are two different approaches to the use of mantra (mantra japa). The process of actively reciting or repeating is more externally focused, while the process of listening or paying attention is more internally focused.
The active process is easier to practice in the beginning, while the attention process is more internal and advanced.
approach that “ajapa japa” means automatic repetition of mantra
approach that “ajapa japa” means constant awareness of mantra
For the approach whereby mantra japa means actively repeating (noted above), this process might become automatic over time (like spontaneously singing a song you have heard many times). This automatic repetition is one form of the term ajapa japa.
For the approach whereby mantra japa means listening or paying attention, that awareness might gradually become a constant awareness of the underlying feeling associated with the mantra. This is another, subtler form of the term ajapa japa.
Where mantra japa means repetition, then putting a- in front of it means without repetition. Hence, ajapa japa is repetition without repetition (it is automatic).
Where mantra japa means listening or remembering, then ajapa japa means constant remembering without the effort of reciting to cause that awareness.
MAKING YOUR WHOLE BEING AN EAR FOR MANTRA
From: The Art of Joyful Living
My way of using the mantra is different from yours, because I do not want to fool around with the process. I sit down, and I observe my whole being listening to the mantra. I do not remember the mantra or repeat the mantra mentally, because then the mind repeats many things.
Instead I make my whole being an ear to hear the mantra, and the mantra is coming from everywhere. This will not happen to you immediately in meditation, but when you have attained or accomplished something, then this will happen to you. Then, even if you do not want to do your mantra, it is not possible to avoid it. Even if you decide that you do not want to remember the mantra, it will not be possible.
Finally, even the mantra does not exist; only the purpose for which you repeat the mantra is there; you are There. The mantra might still be there, but it exists as an experience that overwhelms your whole being, and is not separate from you.