Importance of Mantra and OMThis is a featured page

Mantra is the repetition of sacred sounds in the form of words, phrases, syllables, or prayers. When we repeat mantra we send our vibrations from our body into the universe, creating harmony between us and the world. Mantra yoga can be seen as “the science of sound” where we access the inner sound, the “nada” through the outer sound, the “mantra”. Some of the sacred Sanskrit words Patanjali talks of the use of mantra when he says,

“Siddhis are born of practices performed in previous births, or by herbs, mantra repetition, asceticism, or by samadhi.”


(“The
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” with translation and commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda, chapter 4, v 1, p307)

How can we use mantras?


There are various ways of reciting mantra, (or practising japa), such as chanting or speaking aloud (vacika), whispering (upamshu), writing, or silently (manasa). The most powerful method is silent repetition, also called Manasika Japa. This is because the thought is the internal seed, from which both word and action follow.


What is the effect of mantra repetition?


The sounds that we create can have a healing effect, whilst opening the heart, and stilling the mind. We know that sound can affect matter as we know that at a certain high pitch someone singing can shatter glass. This is why sound has been used in all the spiritual traditions of the world.


What is the definition of mantra?


The word mantra is derived from the root, “man”, meaning, “to think”, and “tra”, meaning “instrumental”. So “mantra” can be seen as being an “instrument of thought,” This suggests that higher state of consciousness can be accessed through the repetition of mantra. We go from the conscious state to the superconscious state, and we can realise that the basic particle or unit of energy is the same in all things. “Tra” can also mean “to cross over”. According to Eknath Easwaran,


“the mantram, repeated regularly for a long time, enables us to cross the sea of the mind.”

(Meditation, by Eknath Easwaran, p59)

What is the language of mantra?


Sanskrit is a sacred language as each letter in the alphabet (called “matrikas” or “little mothers”) is thought to express the Divine in the form of sound. The “sabda” or Supreme Sound is the “soundless sound” that exists in everything in the universe. The letters of the Sanskrit alphabet are actually depicted in yantras, mandalas, and diagrams drawn in the petals of the chakras, suggesting the ability of these letters to invoke the Divine within the Self and liberate it.


How many mantras are there?


There are said to be as many as 70,000 mantras, however this number should be taken as an indication of the fact that there are numerous mantras, and not literally. Mantras can be male (solar) or without gender. Female (lunar) mantras are called “vidyas”.


Are there different types of mantra?


There are two categories of mantras.


1. Niguna, or without form.

2. Saguna, or with form.

Niguna mantras are more abstract and have one syllable such as the bija mantras (seed sounds/syllables). These are said to represent the essence of the chakra they are associated with.


The bija mantras are:


1. "Lam", for muladhara, the root chakra

2. “Vam” for svadhisthana, the sacral chakra
3. “Ram” for manipura, the solar plexus chakra
4. “Yam” for anahata, the heart, or hridaya chakra
5. “Ham” for visuddha, the throat chakra
6. “Om” for ajna chakra, the third eye chakra

So “Om” is also a niguna mantra. There is no bija mantra for the sahasrara chakra , the crown chakra, but “Om” is sometimes used. Niguna mantras are the purest sounds and are the most powerful.


Saguna mantras are a set of words, phrases, or sounds. Examples are the “
Gayatri Mantra”, which is a prayer to the sun God, “Lord Gayatri”, or “Savitri”. By chanting this, one is said to gain wisdom and to overcome obstacles. Here is the Sanskrit, with a translation that follows.

“Om, Bhur Bhuvah, Svah Tat Savitur Varenyam, Bhargo Devasya Dhimahi Dhiyo Yo nah, Prachodayat.”


This means “Oh, Lord – Embodiment of vital spiritual energy, remover of suffering – you are effulgent like the sun. May you enlighten my intellect. May you give me wisdom”.


Examples of others are “Om Namah Shivayah”, “Om Mane Padme Hum”, which is Buddhist, and “Om tat sat”, “OM”, meaning the primordial sound, “tat” meaning “truth”, and “sat”, referring to “higher consciousness”.


How are the repetitions of the mantra counted?


Malas (rosaries) are often used to keep count of the number of repetitions made.


What is the significance of the number 108?


The number of beads on the malas is the auspicious 108. The “1” represents God, the universe, or the Supreme Energy, the “0” represents the circle of creation, or completeness, and the “8” represents infinity, or eternity.




What is the significance of OM?


It is believed in Indian philosophy that the primordial Sanskrit sound, OM caused the beginning of creation. It is from the words that all other words originate. This is why the sound, OM has a mystical power, and is called “the sound of all sounds.” This sound was discovered by the rishis in very ancient times, around 2000 years ago. Om is also sometimes called “Omkara” and can be chanted at the start of a ceremony to make it an auspicious occasion, (similar to the use of “Amen” or before the chanting of a mantra, for example).


What do the four syllables of the mantra OM (AUM) represent?


The four sounds (A, U, M, and the after sound), in the monosyllabic word “Om” are said to represent the journey of birth, life, death, and rebirth. Chanting “Om” creates a shift in the consciousness, with the vibrations having the power to activate the seven chakras.


Georg Feuerstein quotes yogis as having said they “can hear the sound om vibrating through the entire cosmos” during deep
meditation. (The Yoga Tradition, p. 130)

What is the significance of OM in the Upanishads?


In the Mandukya Upanishad, we find, “AUM stands for the Supreme Reality. It is a symbol for what was, what is, and what shall be. AUM represents also what lies beyond past, present and future.” So we learn that it is all encompassing. In fact, “Om” also represents Brahman, which is equated with the Self as we learn “Brahman is all, and the Self is Brahman. This Self has four states of consciousness.” In the same Upanishad, we find an explanation of these four states, as the four components of “om”. The first sound is “a”, and is called “Vaishvanara” (where one is focused on the external), and the second is “u”, is called “Taijasa”, (the dreaming state where one is focused internal). The third is “m”, called “Prajna”, (the all-knowing state of deep sleep, “in which one neither
dreams nor desires”) and the fourth is called “Turiya”, (the superconscious state which is “neither inward nor outward”). This final state also represents the first three syllables, “A, U, and M”. “Om” is found in several places in the Upanishads. For example, in the Amritabindu Upanishad, it reads, “keep repeating the ancient mantra Om until it reverberates in your heart.”
(The Upanishads, by Eknath Easwaran, Mandukya Upanishad p.60, v. 1-8; Amritabindu Upanishad p. 243 v. 7)


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