Mantra (or Mantram)
In Hindu mysticism, a mantra is a form of psychoactive
speech having a direct effect on the physical body and a
claimed effect on the emotions, the mind, and even on physical
processes in nature. The term is derived from the root man (to
think), and tra from trai, (to protect or to free from bondage).
Thus, a mantra is an instrument of thought.
According to Hindu tradition, the material universe is said
to be formed from divine vibration, a concept echoed in the
Judeo-Christian concepts of divine utterance preceding creation—‘‘And
God said, let there be light’’ (Gen. 13) and ‘‘In
the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and
the Word was God’’ (John 11). The use of mantras can also be
found in Buddhist tantrism, known as Vairayana.
The verses of the Hindu sacred scriptures, the Vedas (veda
means knowledge), are regarded as mantras, because they have
been transmitted from a divine source, rather like the Christian
concept of the Bible as having power as the Word of God. Hindus,
however, also believe that words and phrases have special
powers as expressions of the hidden forces of nature. The vibrations
of molecules which create the particular sounds of the
mantras are thought to resonate with Shabda or Vach (primal essence
of creation.)
Divine creation becomes manifest in form throughout nature,
and the latent reality behind form may be affected by correctly
uttering the sounds that represent the ideal reality.
These mantras were discovered by ancient sages skilled in the
knowledge of the Mantra Shastra scripture and taught to initiates.
The universe is called Jagat (that which moves), because everything
exists by a combination of forces and movement, and
every movement generates vibration and has its own sound.
These subtle sounds have correspondences in the baser sounds
of speech and music, and so everything in the universe has an
exact relationship. Everything has its natural name, the sound
produced by the action of the moving forces from which it is
constructed. Thus, anyone who is able to utter the natural name
of anything with creative force can bring into being the thing
which has that name.
The most well-known mantra is the trisyllable A-U-M, which
precedes and concludes reading from the Vedas and is chanted
as an individual mantra or magical prayer. Hindu tradition says
it is the origin of all sound, and initially came to those sages
who reached the highest state of spiritual development. The
three syllables are associated with the processes of creation,
preservation, and dissolution and with the three states of consciousness
(dreaming, deep sleep, and waking).
Manson, Charles M. Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
The scripture Mandukya Upanishad describes how AUM,
or ‘‘OM,’’ is the basis of all the other letters in the Sanskrit language
and is associated with the universe and the human microcosm
(analgous concepts exist in such kabalistic works as
the Sepher Yesirah). A mantra may also be associated with a
yantra, or mystical diagram.
Mantras are frequently uttered in rhythmic repetition
known as japa, often with the aid of a mala, a set of beads resembling
the Catholic rosary. In japa yoga, the power of a mantra
is enhanced by the accumulation of repetitions. Although mantras
have an automatic action, that action is enhanced by proper
concentration and attitude of mind. The spoken mantra is
also an aid to the mental mantra, which contains the inner
meaning and power.
Special mantras called bija (seed) mantras are linked with
the basic states of matter in connection with the chakras, or
subtle energy centers, of the human body. These seeds are said
to hold the potential to release the powers of the chakras.
Most yogic traditions use some form of mantra initiation,
which transmits a particular mantra from guru to student. Spiritual
mantras common in India include variants of the ‘‘Hari
Rama, Hari Krishna’’ formula, made popular in the West by
members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness,
and the Gayatri Mantra, normally recited by Brahmins
during meditation on the sun. Transcendental meditators also
reportedly use mantras in their practices. ‘‘Hari Om’’ is a common
healing mantra performed regularly by the Sivananda
Ashram in Rishikesh, India, which invokes Vishnu (Hindu God)
to take away illnesses and offenses. Shiva Hara Shankara, as
chanted by Indira Devi’s Ashram in Poona, India, asks the Lord
Shiva to free us from the bondage of life. The Shiva Mantra implores
‘‘Homage, homage, all homage and glory to you, O
Lord Shiva.’’ Similarly, the Lakshmi Mantra calls upon the
Goddess Lakshmi, ‘‘We pray to you in benign solemnity to bestow
your blessings and shower your wealth upon us.’’
The development of compact discs and digital recordings
has made mantra recordings more available in music stores
and New Age shops. As this technology has fueled western acceptance
of yoga, mantras will gain popularity and perhaps
take on a new meaning as more and more westerners practice
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Easwaran, Eknath. The Mantram Handbook. London Routledge
& Kegan Paul, 1978.
Godwin, Joscelyn. Music and the Occult. Rochester, N.Y.
University of Rochester Press, 1995.
Gopalacharlu, S. E. An Introduction to the Mantra Sastra.
Adyar, Madras, India Theosophical Publishing House, 1934.
Kalisch, Isidor, trans. Sepher Yezirah A Book on Creation. New
York, 1877.
Lakshmi Montra. ‘‘Mantra on Net.’’ http February 26, 2000.
Narayana, Har, trans. The Vedic Philosophy; or, An Exposition
of the Sacred and Mysterious Monosyllable AUM; The Mandukya
Upanishad. Bombay, 1895.
Radha, Swami Sivananda. Mantras Words of Power. Spokane,
Wash. Timeless Books, 1994.
Shiva Montra from Mantra on Net. http February 26, 2000.
Woodroffe, Sir John. The Garland of Letters (Varnamala)
Studies in the Mantra-Shastra. Madras, India Ganesh, 1951