The science of mantra is very ancient and was once widely practised in all parts of the world. Reference to mantra is found in the oldest Vedic scriptures, which are claimed to be more than 5,000 years old.
Literally, the word mantra means ‘revealed sound’. According to the ancient texts, mantra means a sound or a combination or sequences of sounds which develop spontaneously. These sounds were revealed to rishis and other pure beings in psychic states or in very deep meditation, when all consciousness of the self was lost and when nothing but inner light shone in front of them.
Mantra do not have any specific meaning. Their power is not in the words themselves, but in the sound vibrations created when the mantra is uttered verbally or when it takes form in the mind and is not expressed in the voice.
Mantra brings about state of resonance between the individual and the depths of his inner being. They allow the individual to unleash inner cosmic powers, forces and knowledge. The sound patterns of the mantra stimulate a certain effect on the mental and psychic nature of an individual. Each mantra will create, or draw out, a specific symbol within one’s psyche.
There are two important points regarding mantras that should be taken into account. Firstly, mantra should never be misunderstood to be the name of a particular god of a particular religion. There should be no conflict between your religion and mantra. Many people think they cannot repeat Om Namah Shivaya because they would be reciting the name of a Hindu god when they are Christian or Muslim.
Secondly, a mantra cannot be translated. Translation alters the sound. Even though mantras are found in Hinduism, in Buddhism, Catholicism, in Islam and among the Parsis and other religions and sects, they are never translated. If you change the succession and order of the sounds, the mantra ceases to be a mantra. If you translate the words you may have a very beautiful prayer, but not a mantra.
There are thousands of mantras, stemming from a variety of cultures, languages and religions. Some common ones are: Om, Shreem, Hreem, Kreem, Aim, Dum, Hum, Om Namah Shivaya and Om Mani Padme Hum to name just a few. Everyone has a mantra of his own, and just as your personality is the represents your outer self, similarly the mantra represents your inner personality. It is through mantra that we realize our own psychic personality and it is this personality which we really are.
In tantra there are all kinds of mantras; some are personal mantras for use in japa and other meditation practices, and some serve a specific purpose. So, before seeking a mantra it is important to know what you are seeking it for. If you are undergoing some problem in life, then the mantra you employ to get rid of it will be a temporary one, not your personal mantra. When the problem subsides, the mantra will be of no further use to you. On the other hand, if you are trying to awaken the kundalini or psychic powers, then you must have the correct personal mantra.
It is said that a child should receive his first mantra when he is eight years old. He should not practice mantra as we older people do it, but he should repeat his mantra at sunrise and sunset along with breath awareness – five minutes in the morning and five minutes in the evening. This mantra will create a reorientation in his disturbed subconscious contributed by his parents. He should receive his second mantra at marriage or when a great change in his life or a transition in his personality is taking place. This mantra should be an introduction to spiritual life, and also to responsibility and steady mindedness. When he becomes spiritual he should receive his third mantra. It will help him on the spiritual path and enable him to withdraw his mind and to switch of his consciousness from the external world to within. Hindus are given a fourth mantra at the time of death or just before. When a man’s pranas and consciousness are being withdrawn, and all the lights are being extinguished, when his consciousness is functioning only a fraction, this is the ideal time to put the fourth mantra into his ears. This mantra leads his soul to the next birth.
According to tradition, initiation into mantra is given by the guru, one’s mother or revelation. A mantra received in a deep dream or through intuition, which you constantly feel a strong attraction for, may also be taken as your mantra. A mantra can never be bought or sold. When a guru gives a mantra it is never based on a monetary transaction. A mantra obtained in such a way will never have any power.
Once you have a mantra do not change it, it is not something to play with. You can change your home, your religion, your husband or your wife, but you should not change your mantra or your guru. Both mantra and guru are symbols of your consciousness and to change them will create confusion in your psychic body. Once created, that confusion can never be corrected. Sometimes people hear about another mantra and believe it to be more powerful than their own and so they want to change. The mind can so easily influence one into rejecting his own mantra and adopting another.
The following are the only valid reasons for changing your mantra:
Your guru gives you another mantra.
For therapeutic purposes or for some specific problem you temporarily accept another mantra that has the power to help you over the obstacle. In this case the guru should give the mantra, as correct pronounciation is essential and this cannot be revealed in any book.
You realize another mantra which is so overwhelming and compelling that you know it is definitely your mantra.
When one takes a mantra, it must be accepted with absolute faith and with final decision. The mind should be fully impressed by the mantra. A mantra is absolutely personal and must be kept secret. When you keep the mantra secret, it becomes more powerful. This is true with everything. A seed will grow in the earth if it is covered, in secret, but it will never grow into a tree if it is left uncovered and exposed for all to see.
Mantras for spiritual evolution must be practiced for a set amount of time every day. If the mantra is repeated too much, it will affect the whole system, and those who are very psychic, sensitive, unstable, or subject to hallucinations, may not be prepared for that at all. If you regularly repeat the mantra for ten minutes daily, within a few days you will know if you are oversensitive and whether the mantra is impressing your mind to a larger of lesser extent.
Mantra repetition should not create tension in the mind. The mind becomes tense if there are conflicts present due to various mental obstructions. To avoid mental tension, do not try to concentrate while practicing mantra. Simply repeat the mantra as you would spontaneously carry on a conversation. If you talk and try to concentrate on how you are talking and what you are saying, tension will be created. When the mind is very distracted you should never try to concentrate. Concentration (dharana) can only come when sense withdrawal (pratyahara) has been achieved. The purpose of mantra repetition is not to develop concentration but to withdraw the senses and still the mind.
The mantra can be utilized in different ways: it can be practiced in conjunction with the breath, the psychic pathways, concentration on the eyebrow centre and so on. Mantra is a very powerful method of healing.
There are specific mantras for a wide range of ailments and complaints, but these must be given by someone well versed in the therapeutic use of sound and mantras. As well as these, there are bija mantras which anyone can self-prescribe for healing purposes. Each chakra (psychic centre in the body) has a bija mantra and if you have a physical complaint which is located in the region of one of the chakras, you can use its mantra to strengthen and heal. For example, Ram is the mantra for manipura chakra (navel centre) and if it is chanted in kirtan or repeated in japa, it will stimulate the abdominal area benefiting complaints such as peptic ulcer, constipation, diarrhoea and other digestive disorders.
The bija mantras of the main chakras are given in the following table:
Mantras Chakra Location
Lam Mooladhara Perineium
Vam Swadhisthana Base of the spine
Ram Manipura Navel centre
Yam Anahata Heartcentre
Ham Vishudhi Throat
Om Ajna Eyebrow centre
It is the strength of the sound, the colour of the sound, the frequency, the velocity and the ‘temperature’ of the sound which are responsible for the revitalization that mantra brings. The effect of the Ram mantra on the mind is very soothing and tranquilizing; the Shiva mantra usually develops a sense of detachment, a feeling of ectasy and absolute indifference.
Every mantra has a colour, an element, a devata or a divine form and also a method of recitation. In determining an appropriate mantra, astrology is taken into account, with reference made to the science of elements, colour and the predominant guna (tamas, rajas, sattwa). According to the birth sign the major element decides the mantra.
Some mantras are for the earth element, others for water, fire, air and ether elements. Om belongs to the ether element; Ram to the fire element; Gam to the earth element; Klim to the water element and Ham to the air element. Each mantra possess two divisions – sound and form. For instance, Klim is the sound, a bija mantra, and it has an image which is revealed by a simple mantra. Klim is the bija mantra and Krishna is the mantra which exposes the form. Om is the symbolic sound of the cosmic being; Haum – Shiva, Dum - Durga; Kreem – Kali; Hreem – Mahamaya; Shreem – Lakshmi; Aim – Saraswati; Gam and Glaum – Ganesha. Om is the universal mantra and it can be used by everyone at any time without restriction as can its equivalents – Amin and Amen.
Once you have a personal mantra which has been charged by the guru, it will immediately start to change the course of your life. Naturally, this will only happen if you accept your mantra with your heart and mind and utilize it regularly. The mantra is so powerful that it will start to immediately explore the Karmas from the unconscious mind. These karmas could manifest in your moods and feelings or in your dreams which may be pleasant, or even terrifying. Whatever changes you experience will only be positive, anything unpleasant is probably only part of the temporary purification.
Source: The Sure ways for Self-Realisation by Swamy Satyananada Saraswati of Bihar School of Yoga.