mantras and chants for spiritual purposes

mantras and chants for spiritual purposes

by May 23, 2012

Our previous meditation article concluded with the” OM” meditation practice. Although this mantra is potent, some practitioners might prefer a longer chant to better assist in sustaining mental concentration and one-pointed focus. In this week’s discussion, a list of other popular and powerful mantras practiced by Buddhist monks and nuns throughout the world, as well as yogis living in Asia, India and North America, will be included. Through practice, you will discover the mantra that is most relevant to you.

Mantras and Chants for Spiritual Purposes

Although all chants are sung, and many mantras chanted, many practitioners silently repeat mantras mentally, as well as continuously write them as a technique of spiritual exercise. Moreover, when an aspirant is initiated into a mantra by a guru, the guru often demands that the student vow never to speak the mantra aloud.

The guru creates a mantra intended only for his or her students, and therefore, no one other than the disciples may ever harness the potency of this special mantra. It is used exclusively for mentally connecting the guru with the disciple.

Sri Swami Sivananda explains that the word “mantra” derives from “man […] meaning ‘to think’ and ‘tra’ from ‘trai’ meaning ‘to protect or free from the bondage of the phenomenal world,” (Sri Vishnu-Devananda 47), whereas  the word “guru” translates to ‘one who leads others from darkness to the light’ or ’from ignorance to truth.’

So while the student may only repeat the guru’s mantra internally, many other chants and mantras are sung continuously by monks and yogis all over the world. A common chant among Tibetan Buddhist monks is “OM Mani Padme OM(om-maa-ni-ped-may-om), which is a prayer of compassion for all worldly beings.  Another recognizable Eastern mantra practiced in the United States is “OM Namah Sivaya” (om-nah-mah-shee-vai-ya) that honors Lord Siva, whose divine energy demolishes “one’s lower nature […] making way for positive growth” (Sri Vishnu-Devananda 64).

Some yogic ashrams and Buddhist temples devote all spiritual energy to a specific deity by constantly chanting the deity’s special mantra or song of devotion. For instance, a temple in Calcutta named the Kalighat Kali is dedicated to goddess Kali, whose chief duty it is to destroy the obstacles of maya (illusion) along a yogi’s path to spiritual liberation. Thousands of believers flock to her temple daily, describing their personal difficulties to the goddess, as well as praying to her for resolutions to their many problems.  The chant of devotion to Kali is “OM Kreem Kalikaye Namah” (om-kreem-ka-li-kay-na-mah).

A popular chant practiced prior to a Kundalini Yoga session is the “Tuning into Your Higher Self” mantra. The chant is “Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo” (long “o”–ong-nah-mo-gu-ru-dev-nah-mo).  An experienced meditator suggests that while chanting this offering, bring the hands to prayer position at the heart, and as you chant, apply pressure from the thumbs’ knuckles to the center of the anahata chakra [a]. This action stimulates the energy of the heart chakra, as well as brings your attention to the pulsations created in the heart area by the chanting. It is a most powerful chant offered by the student to the Guru.

Please practice a chant or mantra by sacredly acknowledging the deity to whom the chant is devoted, and if the chant is not devoted to a special deity, offer it to your Guru or to Whomever you send your prayers.


Next week we’ll spend time on using both japa meditation and chanting simultaneously in your practice to subtly begin opening your third eye chakra, the ajna chakra, or the mind’s spiritual eye. In the meantime, practice a chant or mantra highlighted in this article, and you will gradually become aware of the spiritual efficacy of the “mystical energy encased in a sound structure” (Swami Vishnu-Devananda 47).

[a] “Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo.”   Viewed on May 15, 2012
Swami Vishnu-Devananda. Meditation and Mantras New York: Om Lotus Publishing, 2000.
[1] I work psychologically with Hindu goddesses, honoring them as sacred sources of self-empowerment. My current work focuses on Kali, in her ability to shatter the illusions of perceived material reality and to heighten the consciousness of spiritual reality and eternal truth.
[2] We chanted this mantra in a Yoga class, and a few of us heard the chant echoing in the room at a volume much higher than the class was chanting it.
[3] photo credit
copyright © Eileen M. Sembrot – All rights reserved