‘Speech is the essence of humanity’- so say the Vedas, an ancient Sanskrit know-how on metaphysics. Ideas remain unactualised until they are created through the power of speech. In the New Testament, the Gospel of St. John starts with ‘In the beginning was The Word. And the Word was with God and the Word was God’.
We wait with bated breath for our babies to say their first word – we know it as a huge milestone in their development. Have you not been enchanted with poetry and the elegance of how the words are put together – and then listened to it being spoken aloud? Our own George Lamming has a beautiful reading voice and to hear him speak his word is a thoroughly delightful experience.
Generically, mantra refers to sacred words or syllables used repeatedly in religious and ceremonial rituals.
When that word has a special meaning, as in Buddhist and classical Hinduism, it is known as a Mantra. These religions view mantras as necessary for spiritual advancement.
However, mantras are also common in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In Catholicism there are the prayers as the Our Father and Hail Mary, especially when prayed as the Rosary. And Protestantism embodies the Our Father. The Old Testament refers to Yahweh which was considered so powerful a word that in ancient times only the High Priests would be able to articulate the word, and only on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the most sacred Jewish religious event. (Often Adonai and Elohim were substituted for Yahweh).
But what exactly is a mantra? The word “mantra” is derived from two Sanskrit words. (Sanskrit is an ancient language with very precise meanings to its words). The first is ‘Manas’ or ‘mind’. The second syllable comes from the word ‘trai’ meaning ‘to protect’ or ‘to free from’. Therefore, in its most literal sense, the word Mantra means to free from the mind. Mantras are thought to be charged with vibrational power and be able to help the practitioner achieve an altered state of consciousness. In such a state it is believed possible to perceive the true nature of the mind.
Some schools stress methodology in the use of mantras. For instance, the correct pronunciation and intonement is considered extremely important. Mantras can be used in three ways: silent, semi-verbal or verbal.
The verbal way is called chanting and is a marvelous opportunity to experience the effects of the mantra.
1. Mantras are energy-based sounds. Saying any word produces an actual physical vibration.
2. Mantras create thought-energy waves. Human consciousness is really a collection of states of consciousness which exist through the physical and subtle bodies. Over time, the mantra produces a state where the organism vibrates at a rate completely in tune with the energy and spiritual state represented by and contained in the mantra. At this point, a change also occurs in the organism.
3. Mantras are tools of power and tools for power. Using a mantra is a means to freedom from the random wanderings of the mind. Chanting a mantra allows the mind to deepen.
Try this chanting practice
Find a quiet place to sit and relax. Keep your mala handy. Use a traditional chant such as Om Shanti (I am a peaceful soul) or put yourself into the frame of mind you wish the mantra to achieve – let’s say Abundance. Think about the abundance in Nature, the almost-careless disregard for waste, the bounty of seeds that a tree produces, and then think about that shower around you. Start to say your mantra, using your mala (which will allow you to focus on the sound and words of your chant, rather than the counting). After you have finished the beads, or achieved the desired time you set out to chant, allow a moment of silence and notice the feelings in your body and your heightened senses.
Researched and written by Verity Dawson