When a mantra is repeated mentally it’s called japa, which translates from the Sanskrit as “muttering.” Practicing mantra meditation can awaken within you a deeper spiritual awareness and allow you to make that awareness a part of your daily life.
There are many types of meditation and within each type there are individual interpretations. For some, it’s following the breath and for others it’s quiet reflection or self-awareness. A mantra, which is the repetition of a sound or prayer, is a primary part of the meditative tradition of yoga. The mantra works as an ‘instrument’ of the mind, focusing it, creating in it a space or stillness, which becomes the source of well-being, peace and unconditioned joy.
As you begin exploring the practice of mantra meditation you may, at first, find it to be a bit mechanical or repetitious, but as your practice evolves you will discover your meditations to be anything but boring or tedious.
Over time your mantra will become a part of you, it will flow naturally and continuously. You will begin to notice it changes as you practice, it may grow louder or softer, faster or slower, the rhythm may change and follow the breath or instead it may follow a pattern of its own. The pronunciation may become unclear and it can even begin to sound as if you are hearing it instead of repeating it.
When you reach this effortless repetition, you have reached a level known to the adept yogis as ajapa japa. Reaching this stage of effortless effort, your practice becomes filled with true joy and you begin to experience the field of quiet expanded awareness.
To reach this state requires practice and arises only after some considerable experience with a mantra. How do you get to a place of ‘effortless effort?’
As you develop a regular mantra meditation practice you will begin to develop a deeper understanding of self, you will begin to peel back the layers of your mind as awareness of your desires, fears, hopes, aspirations; all of your submerged thoughts float to the surface. And with each meditation you witness your life as it unfolds and as it does a deeper spiritual awareness grows.
The mantra provides the mind with ‘something to do’ and keeps it from becoming distracted; it acts as a centering device creating a space for the everyday mind to rest in. One of my favorite analogies is music. In the same way that a beautiful piece of music can so engage the mind that you become part of the music, the mantra can so engage your mind that you slip in to pure awareness.
There are meditative practices, such as Primordial Sound Meditation and Transcendental Meditation, where a teacher will give you a personal mantra.
Many practitioners choose mantras from one of the great wisdom traditions. For example, from the Buddhist tradition, Om mani padme hum (“May the blessed union of practice and wisdom awaken”) or from the Christian tradition, Kyrie eleison (“Lord have mercy”). One of the most popular mantras from the Vedic tradition is the Gayatri mantra (“May my mind be guided by divine light”). One of my personal favorites is the very simple so hum mantra; a mantra that has no meaning attached to it. One of the advantages of using a mantra that has no meaning is there is less likely hood of the mind getting distracted and keep our attention at the level of the mind.
The Phases of Progress
There are usually three phases that you can progress through when developing a mantra practice. The first is linking the sound to the breath (which is one of the reasons I like the so hum mantra, because it’s very natural to repeat ‘so’ on the in breath and ‘hum’ on the out breath). The connection of the breath and the mantra deepens your concentration which helps keep the mind from wandering.
In the second phase your begin to let go of the attachment to the breath and begin to concentrate on the sound alone. Once this begins to happen you will notice that the rhythm of the mantra will flow at its own pace. Your breath will continue to be even but your awareness will be on the mantra. This is a more subtle form of the mantra process, you have let go of the support of the breath and begin to rest wholly within yourself.
In the final stage, as the mantra becomes a part of you, it will begin to naturally flow faster and the articulation of the syllables may become distorted and unrecognizable, yet, you remain fully aware and present to it. Eventually it will be as if you are listening to it, not mentally repeating and it will fade into silence, the only thing left is you as pure awareness.
The, especially, the ego mind, can be very persistent and is a master of distraction. There are other tools we can use to help further our efforts in placating the mind. One is to use a mala, a string of a 108 beads used to count repetitions of your mantra (see video below). Another way to deepen your concentration is to connect the sound of one mantra to the next, eliminating the gaps between the sounds. This will leave little opining for the thoughts to slip in.
As with all form of meditation, there will be ‘puppy training’ phase where you will need to continually keep returning to the mantra as the ‘puppy’ mind wanders off. This would be extremely tiresome if it wasn’t for the fact, that even in the earliest stages of the practice, the results are genuine feelings of peace.
The good news is that with regular practice the pace of the mantra will increase and you will notice a deepening of your concentration and best of all the process will be effortless. Over time, you will also notice that your mantra will arise within you at unexpectedly. By this time your mantra will be an old friend, someone you will feel at peace with when they are around.
Mantra meditation is not a means to instant enlightenment. However, you will experience the benefits of this meditation right from the start. In the end, your mantra will become more than a practice, it will awaken you to your true nature, the real you, which is whole, loving, peaceful, creative and filled with joy and purpose.