By Andre Haralyi, M.A., C-IAYT
Mantras are energy-based sounds. According to the science of sound, known as mantra-vidyā, sound is a form of vibration (energy) and the entire universe is in a state of vibration. Sound, particularly repetitive sound, was recognized early on as one way to alter consciousness and later became a sophisticated means of religious expression and spiritual transformation.
The first subtle manifestation in creation is sound.Swami Niranjanananda Sarasvati
The Sanskrit word “mantra” derived from the verbal root √man, meaning to think or to intent, and the suffix –tra which suggests instrumentality. In this sense, “mantra” is an instrument to be used to empower the mind. It is a vehicle of meditative transformation. Mantras are forms of sound prescribed for continuous repetition (japa) aiming for Self-transcendence and can become an auspicious force in the process of the transformation of one’s consciousness. Mantras are tools through which one is able to free one’s mind.
Mantras may consist of a single monosyllabic sound, called “seed” (bīja), or a whole string of sounds and can be used in a variety of ways: for spiritual uplifting, to connect the lower mind with the higher mind, or to fulfill our desires. Mantra-Yoga is recognized as the easiest path to attain Self-realization, suitable for any type of aspirant.
Mantra practices convey much more than the meaning of the words and affect the body-mind in four different ways:
- Intentionality of the practice.
- Requires a careful regulation of breathing to ensure the necessary accuracy of each mantra (the origin of Prāṇāyāma).
- Empowers the mind by improving concentration.
- Promotes vibrations which help to unblock physical and psychological tensions.
There are three ways to practice mantra japa:
- Verbalized or chanted aloud (Vācika): considered to be inferior to the other two styles.
- Whispered (Upānshu): only the lips move but there is no audible sound.
- Recited mentally (Mānasa): attention is fixed exclusively on the internal repetition.
In the mantra practice one can use a japamālā* to count the number of times a mantra is recited or set a specific among of time for the mantra to be sustained (5, 10, 15 or 30 minutes).
In the beginning the repetitions happens mechanically increasing the attention span. When the practitioner can sustain the mantra for 30 minutes, he is able to experience the internal effects of the practice, identify the subtle vibrations and go deeper in the meditative state. Over time something called ajapa-japa or “unrecited recitation” happens, a stage when the practitioner is able to experience the inner mantra (mantra recites itself spontaneously).
In order to succeed in Mantra-Yoga, the practitioner should observe 3 important principals:
- Large number of repetitions
Ultimately, our practice of any mantra is intended to refine our awareness to the point where we experience that pulsation going on within us all the time. When we can do that, we forget about the mantra itself because we are now aware, instead, of the dynamic event going on within and around us. In the process we transform ourselves.Swami Chetananda
Bīja Mantras (seed mantras)
According to the Mantra-Yoga-Saṃhitā, there are eight primary bīja-mantras:
- Aim – guru-bīja (seed syllable of the teacher)
- Hrīm – shakti-bīja (seed syllable of energy)
- Klīm – kāma-bīja (seed syllable of desire)
- Krīm – Yoga-bīja (seed syllable of union)
- Shrīm – rama-bīja (seed syllable of delight and fortune)
- Trīm – teja-bīja (seed syllable of fire)
- Strīm – shānti-bīja (seed syllable of peace)
- Hlīm – rakshā-bīja (seed syllable of protection)
The bīja-mantras associated with the major 7 cakras are:
- Lam – Mūlādhāra-cakra
- Vam – Svādhiṣṭhāna-cakra
- Ram – Maṇipūra-cakra
- Yam – Anāhata-cakra
- Ham – Viśuddha-cakra
- Oṁ – Ājñā-cakra
- Silence – Sahasrāra-cakra
- *Japamālā is a rosary that most commonly have 108 beats or divisors of this number (54, 27, 18, 9)
Shukla-Yajur-Veda 1.1 / Chāndogya Upaniṣad 1.1 / Māndūkya-Upaniṣad 9.12