Working Indian mantras

All about mantras: the magic word

Mantras have been around as long as people suspect that words and sounds have powerful effects on our mind and soul. A rich and profound knowledge of the science of mantras has been accumulated in India for about 3,500 years. On the vast subcontinent, the mantras developed within the different traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism. When the two belief systems finally spread throughout Asia and took on many special forms, a correspondingly large variety of mantra forms and melodies emerged so that everyone could find the mantras that particularly appealed to them on their spiritual path. In India several mantra paths unfolded in parallel, of which we will present the two most important ones: the Hindu path of mantra yoga and the Buddhist path of mantrayana.

In yoga as in Buddhist practice, the mantras have the function of gathering the mind, opening the heart of the practitioner and promoting inner balance. These are effects that we would also like to have in the West today. That is why mantras are becoming increasingly popular in yoga courses and Buddhist retreats.

The mantras are integrated into their spiritual and cultural context to this day. Some mantras are only common in one tradition, others can be found in both Hinduism and Buddhism, for example the mantra OM. Over the centuries the spelling and pronunciation have developed differently, with some mantras even the content has changed. However, all of them can only really be understood within their respective traditions, and only with the appropriate understanding can we apply them in a meaningful way. Otherwise they quickly become “spiritual hits” that we trill to us without experiencing their healing effects. That is why we present the Hindu and Buddhist mantras to you separately and in their own ancient, long-standing tradition. We will give you suggestions on how you can use them in your life here and today.

Mantras: tools for the mind

The term mantra is made up of manas ("spirit, understanding") and tra ("tool for"). A mantra is therefore a “tool for the mind”, which is to say: It is a practical method to collect, stabilize and calm the mind. The fact that sound - especially when it is constantly repeated - affects our mind in this way and helps it to dry up its eternal inner chatter is a very old experience and is a theme that runs through almost all spiritual paths of knowledge. Yet another thought in Indian culture is important to fully understand the meaning of the word mantra. Already in the earliest texts of India it is pointed out that only that which we can denote with a term gets meaning for us humans. The Indians say that it is through nama, the naming, that we create our world in the first place - that means that every designation and therefore every word is an expression of a certain idea and worldview. So with our words we represent the whole world of our experiences, but also the way in which we deal with our experiences.

In these concepts the idea is based that there is a great power (shakti) in every word. If we know how to use the words consciously and appropriately, by means of their meaning, but also by means of their vibration, we can create exactly the world in which we feel comfortable and which allows us to develop and to become part of a larger whole understand.


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Mantras as a bridge to the gods

A practice with mantras is already described in the oldest yoga texts, the Vedas and the Upanishads. In the Vedas, the mantras are ascribed the power to come into contact with the vibration of the gods - for example with Surya, the god of the sun and light. In the early days of yoga about 3,000 years ago, the mantras still served as a bridge between the world of the gods and the world of humans. In order for the “connection to work”, it was considered extremely important that the practitioners were precisely initiated into the use of a mantra. It was assumed that only the right pronunciation and the right melody made contact with the divine possible, so that the god could reveal himself to man.

In the Upanishads (from around 800 BC) the use of mantras became more of an internal matter. Mantras, especially OM, should help people to internalize themselves completely. At that time, mantras were mainly used to calm the mind and to initiate and establish certain states of consciousness through the nature of the sound.

One of the most famous mantras of the Upanishadic times is "so ham". The mantra is connected with the breath and constantly reminds the practitioner of one of the core sentences of Indian knowledge: “You are the (one). You were and are never separate from the big picture! "

The mantra Om

The repeatedly appearing hint that one should meditate on the OM makes it clear that it is not about sounding the OM all the time. It is only used to quiet the mind first and then free it. “Just as a spider rises on its thread and gets into free space, the meditator with the syllable OM rises and attains perfect freedom,” says the Maitri Upanishad (VI, 22), because “through the word becomes the silence revealed. That word is OM. Through this word (the meditator) rises and finds rest in silence. "

"When I sound the OM, then God is with me"

The sage Patanjali also refers primarily to the mantra OM in his important textbook, the Yoga Sutra (about the birth of Christ). For him, this mantra is the primordial sound (pranava), which allows us to come into direct contact with the divine (similar to our Christian amen). It is said in the Yoga Sutra that the mantra OM best reflects the qualities of God because it is the expression of the source of pure being. Patanjali puts this sounding in a special context, namely that he says that through the constant repetition of OM we establish a relationship with the divine, which can become a reliable home for us and a source of our trust. Or in short: "When I sound the OM, then God is with me!"

In Buddhism, on the other hand, one does not know an external god - here the OM stands for the original perfection of all living things, especially for the energy of this potential within us.

In Hatha Yoga (from the 6th century AD) a very special science of sound is developed, which is called "listening to the inner sound" (nada anusandana or nada yoga). The aim is to listen inward more and more precisely and finer, whereby the mind can become so stable and calm that it eventually becomes still and empty. So it is the sound (nada) that is supposed to lead us into perfect silence, because “this nada is the iron spike that is able to control the drunken elephant that the mind (usually) resembles when it is free the garden of sense objects wanders ”(Hatha-Yoga-Pradipika, IV, 91).


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Kirtan: Spiritual chants in yoga

Nowadays, in almost all Indian yoga schools, mantras are sung together (kirtan), usually in the form of longer alternating chants in which the teacher sings a line of a mantra or yoga text and the group sings it afterwards. Kirtan is used to collect the mind, calm it and direct it towards healing, uplifting and spiritual messages. The melodies are often very simple, so that they easily - like a catchy tune - get stuck in the mind. This invites you to go through everyday life more and more with the messages of the mantras.

Develop the inner Buddha-nature in the ritual

In Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, mantras are used along with text recitations and visualizations. They have an important place in rituals and connect us with the wisdom and compassion of the Buddhas. A Buddha represents inner perfection, is an expression of one's own Buddha-nature and the Buddha-nature of everything. Mantras are a means of developing this potential.

Tibetan Buddhists practice special rituals in which many believers recite one or more mantras representing a Buddha over a period of days or weeks, creating a mandala in the process. They believe that the power of recitation is gathered in the form of vibrations in a sacred nectar that is kept in a mandala house during the ceremony and later distributed to the spiritual community.

In Tibetan Buddhism, there are also large, barrel-shaped prayer wheels with wooden handles that hold thousands of mantras written on scrolls of paper. Everyone who turns the prayer wheel receives the blessings emanating from the mantras, as do all sentient beings. This serves the development of wisdom and compassion in the individual and in the world. This also applies to small hand prayer wheels on a stick that can be turned like a top.

How repeating and tinking mantras works

In Buddhism and Hinduism, mantras are recited individually or in a community in multiple repetitions, with a million repetitions being not uncommon. This serves to purify and purify the mind. Frequent repetition of the mantra sweeps everyday madness out of consciousness, expands it and opens the heart. The effect is healing and inner strengthening.

You can combine your mantra recitation with wishes or with a request for help that you formulate beforehand or during the process. At the end of the meditative recitation you will experience inner calm, quiet happiness and peace of mind. If you fall asleep with a mantra and wake up again in the morning, you will learn how inner knots are loosened and new perspectives on problems arise.

The mantra also opens the perception for the beautiful things. Recite a mantra once during a walk, staying fully awake and present. Maybe you will experience nature or the familiar in a new way. This also applies to everyday activities such as driving to work. In times of need, the mantra can serve as an aid by bringing its energy to the scene as a source of strength. Things then develop differently. You are protected. Your mind becomes calm and you act appropriately.

What does brain research say?

The effects of mantras have been scientifically well researched in recent years. Various neuroscientists found that when mantras are sounded, the activity in the brain calms down. The rhythm and repetition of the mantras have the effect that the usual restless and irregular brain wave patterns become more even and no longer swing as strongly. When we chant or chant mantras for long (15 minutes or more), the brain swings in to the rhythm and the sound and produces very similar activity patterns as in "flow", that is, when we are very enthusiastic about something and we are perfect experience in harmony with ourselves.

If we relax our voice in sounding or singing, our entire body can become a sound body. The vibration of the sound then directly reaches our vegetative nervous system, brings it into balance and lets us experience a wakeful calm. After sounding or singing, we often perceive our mind to be awake and clear, because our brain was able to relieve unnecessary tension during the sound and regenerate itself in the waking rest. This is one reason why it makes sense to use mantras specifically in everyday life, especially when you are mentally challenged.

Traditionally, the sound of mantras and the visualization of the force invoked with them belong together. For example, in the Gayatri mantra, the outer light of the sun and its reflection in our inner light are visualized. Modern brain research confirms what the ancient spiritual teachers already knew: Inner images have a great influence on our mental and emotional state and thus also on our physical well-being. There are images that make the mind wide, free and calm, and others that make it rather narrow and burden it. Every inner image, every imagination connects in the depths of the brain (in the limbic system to be precise) with certain memories and these in turn with a very specific mixture of feelings that determine our actions. Mantras try to “step on the foot” in order to enable us to replace the stored impressions with positive connections.

Buddhist meditation with all the senses

In tantric Buddhism in Tibet, mantras are mostly a tonal expression of different Buddhas, each of which can be peaceful or angry, or of the core content of the teaching. Mantras and the images of the Buddhas embody particular aspects of the pure, all-underlying Buddha-nature. The mantra “Om mani padme hum”, for example, conveys the vibration of Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of compassion. Those who recite it experience warmth and love in their own heart and thus experience the enlightened quality of the Buddha in themselves. This is possible because the Buddha-nature is inherent not only in the Buddhas but in all sentient beings.

The mantra recitation as well as the visualization of the associated Buddha move subtle energies in us. In tantric Buddhism it has been found that this works particularly well when we combine several sensory experiences, for example the sense of hearing and sight. Two things come together: the inner images and the mantra recitation - both are forms of expression of the called Buddha. If we take another mala (Tibetan rosary) in hand for the mantra recitation, the pearls of which slide through our fingers, we support the meditation with the experience of touch. We integrate the sense of smell by lighting fragrant incense.

In this way we coordinate movement, thoughts, sight, hearing and smell and experience a flow of healing consciousness experiences. The energy of the Buddha becomes a personal experience. That is pure joy.

Find the heart mantra

When you have found one or more mantras that inspire you, just try out which feelings are activated in you when you practice with these mantras. Perhaps your heart will open with a mantra and it will become your personal source of power, which accompanies you everywhere and is there for you at all times. You should stick to this mantra for a while, practice with it and combine it with visualizations in formal sessions. Take it with you into your everyday life as Japa (silent murmur). Depending on the initial situation, mood and personal development, the same mantra can have different effects. Get involved in these experiences.

Take, for example, the mantra of Buddha Padmasambhava. Formulate questions and wishes for Padmasambhava, recite his mantra and experience its effect. Tantric Buddhism assumes that a Buddha whom we show unconditional love will guide us in life and in death. He will help us to overcome obstacles that pile up and to find peace of mind and protection - even in great emergencies.

Transform fears and negativity with mantras

There are special mantras for special needs. If you want to ask for the success of a project, turn to the energy of Ganesha. If you want to disempower your inner demons, choose the Durga mantra. Perhaps you have an inner purification (Vajrasattva) or the fulfillment of a heart's desire (Ratnasambhava) in mind. If you want to ask for a long life, call the Buddha Amitayus, Amoghasiddhi promotes energy, the Medicine Buddha helps to cure illnesses, and the Taras helps with great fears. Pick a mantra that suits you and practice with it. In any case, the mantras serve to transform the mind. They help to transform unwholesome energies into wholesome. Try it!

Anna Trökes is one of the most prominent yoga teachers and authors in German-speaking countries. She has been teaching since 1974 and has the successful prana yoga school in Berlin-Charlottenburg. In the past ten years she has published 30 books, CDs and one DVD on yoga. At YogaEasy, Anna Trökes is the author and yoga program director and ensures that our videos are of high quality.