Many spiritual traditions utilise mantras to help busy, active minds settle at a deeper level. But what exactly are mantras? And how do they help meditation?
Qualities of a Mantra
A mantra is a word or phrase that the meditator repeats throughout their practice. In most cases, including here at the School of Meditation, the mantra is repeated inwardly and silently.
A mantra is effortless to say, easy to remember and does not require any attempts at complex pronunciations.
To be effective, it is often recommended that a mantra should be a word or phrase that has no obvious meaning associated with it for the meditator. If it did, it could trigger a stream of thoughts that would interrupt the smooth repetition of the word and the meditative experience. For this reason, mantras are often in languages other than the meditator’s mother tongue.
In the Christian meditation tradition, the Aramaic phrase ‘Maranatha’ is often used. At the School of Meditation, we use Sanskrit. But rather than being a word or phrase is the traditional sense, a mantra is a sound vibration. Rather than ‘saying the mantra’ one ‘sounds the mantra.’
While most of our vocabulary helps us to think about the world around us, a mantra is not a thought, rather it is a sound or vibration that, repeated enough, helps the meditator connect with deeper, more harmonious levels of themselves that lie beyond thought.
What it Does
Repeating a mantra allows the busy mind to settle at a deeper level than habitually experienced. As the mind is dynamic, it is not inclined to stop just because we want it to. The mantra provides something for the mind to focus on during meditation, allowing it to let go of its attachments to past and future and rest in the present moment.
The repetition of a mantra helps the mind to rest, a break from its usual busy schedule. It steadies the mind, and after meditation the quality of thoughts can be experienced as calmer, clearer and more focused.
A mantra takes seconds to learn, but can be a lifetime friend. It serves as a daily reminder of a space within all people that is naturally graceful and peaceful.
How to Learn a Mantra
At the School of Meditation, the mantra is passed on orally at a welcome ceremony for new members. The new meditator then has opportunities to check that they have got the sound right and to be guided by an experienced School member if they need to make any minor changes in emphasis in the sound.
Learning a mantra is a short, easy process. It is the key to unlock a simple and effortless yet profoundly effective meditation practice.
If the mind does not stop during meditation, this is perfectly normal. Meditators are encouraged to notice that the mind has wandered and to gently reintroduce it to the mantra. The mind tends to wander again and again, but this is not a problem. Mantras work on a deep level, meaning that even when the meditator judges that they have not ‘succeeded’ in their meditation, the mind is still experiencing deep rest.
When the monkey mind interrupts the mantra, this is no sign of ‘failure’ but a reminder to, gently and easily, re-centre, letting go of judgments and agitation by bringing back the sound of the mantra.
*Image: Street art of the Om symbol. 'Om' is a popular sound often used as a mantra.