Mantra meditation, or japa, is an ancient practice that remains popular with modern practitioners from many different traditions. Maybe you’ve considered trying it yourself, but have hesitated because you don’t quite know where to begin. After all, there are virtually countless mantras to choose from, running the gamut from simple sounds to long, complicated phrases in Sanskrit or other esoteric languages.
But finding a mantra that works for you really isn’t that difficult. Let’s take a look at some of the things it’s helpful to know as you begin your mantra search.
What is a Mantra?
The term “mantra” comes from two ancient Sanskrit words: man, meaning “mind” or “thought,” and tra, which translates as “instrument.” So a mantra, or “instrument of thought,” is a word, sound, or phrase that is repeated to aid your concentration while meditating.
Mantras, therefore can take many forms. Here are a few of the most common types:
– Unique sounds, like Om or the bija sounds associated with the chakras (ram, lam, vam, etc.)
– Traditional phrases, such as the Buddhist “Jewel in the Lotus” prayer, Om Mani Padme Hum.
– Verses from holy texts of any tradition.
– These can be helpful in combating the unflattering (and untrue) stories your mind may be sub-consciously telling you about yourself.
– Any virtue you want to cultivate in yourself—generosity, compassion, honesty…you name it.
Qualities of an Effective Mantra
Defining the “right” mantra is sort of like asking which religion is the best–it all depends on who you ask! Some traditions, like Transcendental Meditation (TM), require that practitioners receive their mantras from qualified teachers. TM mantras are supposed to be “meaningless,” because the belief is that meditating on the meaning of the word is a distraction that inhibits transcendence.
On the other hand, working with a specific virtue as your mantra is very much the opposite of the TM approach. It’s a personal choice, and the meaning of the word is critical to cultivating the desired state of mind.
So, when it comes to finding a mantra that works for you, consider which qualities are most important to you. Any of the following are possibilities:
– The mantra has personal meaning or relevance—this can come from the words themselves, or from the fact that the mantra comes from a specific teacher whom you respect and honor.
– The mantra creates the physical sensations, emotions, or state of being that you want.
– The mantra is easy to remember and easy to automate—once you begin, the repetition becomes effortless.
And Keep in Mind…
You aren’t limited to a single mantra (unless you want to be), so be open to the many options you have. If something feels right, go with it. While it’s nice to have a “primary” mantra that holds special significance for you, your practice will be enriched by venturing beyond what is safe and familiar.
Once you have an idea of the type of mantra that interests you, there are plenty of resources to draw from. Yoga and meditation teachers are an obvious choice. If you’re part of a meditation group, other members will probably be happy to offer advice. Read books and listen to music—sometimes a mantra becomes more appealing when you hear it set to music, and lots of artists record Kirtan and mantra-based songs. For example, Deva Premal and Miten have a whole series of mantra-related releases, including Mantras for Life.
Do you meditate with a mantra? Where did you get yours? Please share your stories in the comments section below.