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  1. What is a mantra?
  2. The techniques for using mantras. 

What is a mantra? It is a word, phrase, or sound which is repeated for various purposes:

  1. To provide a focus for our attention. In virtually every type of meditation, we use an object, e.g., our thoughts, our environment (as in mindfulness), a visually perceived object (as in concentration meditation), etc. In mantra meditation, the "object" is sound.
  2. To experience a particular state of consciousness. For example, we might want to experience bliss, or samadhi, or mental alertness. Each mantra has a unique effect; one mantra might be stimulating, while another mantra is relaxing. With this discernment, we can select a mantra which is appropriate for our current needs; however, many people feel comfortable using the same mantra whenever they chant.

The techniques for using mantras.

  1. Archetypal field-work.
    • Self-talk. In self-talk, the affirmations have virtually the same function as "mantras." Indeed, some mantras (like affirmations) are literal statements, e.g., "Spirit is love."
    • Directed imagination. We can visualize the mantra's written words (in English or another language, such as Sanskrit). Or we might visualize a symbol or other image which is associated with the mantra.
    • Energy toning. We can derive more benefit if we say a mantra with an energy tone, e.g., peacefulness, or joy, or devotion.
    • The "as if" principle. If we are repeating a mantra to gain a particular effect (e.g., alertness), we can use the "as if" principle to reinforce that effect through our behaviors.
  2. We can experiment with various mantras. We can acquire mantras from the following sources:
    • A name. The mantra could be the name of a deity (e.g., Allah), a saint, our spiritual teacher, or another religious figure.
    • A brief statement. This statement can be a quote from a religious text. Or it can be our own expression or affirmation, e.g., "Peace fills my mind."
    • A traditional mantra from a religion. For example:
      • The Buddhist "Om Mani Padme Hum."
      • The Hindu "Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krisha, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare."
      • The Sikh "Hu" (pronounced like "Hugh").
      • The Islamic "Allah ahkba" ("God is great," pronounced "ah-lah ahk-bah").
    • A mantra from a personal teacher. Many teachers give mantras to their students, particularly during an initiation, e.g., the initiation which is granted in Transcendental Meditation.
    • A Sanskrit letter. According to the Saiva Upanishads, the Sanskrit language was developed such that each letter is associated with a particular state; thus, every letter can be used as a mantra. (The same claim has been made for the ancient Tibetan language).
    • The spelling of a word. Some people chant a word's individual letters, e.g., l-o-v-e.
    • A mantra which we hear internally. During meditation, we might hear a sound or a word which seems appropriate to be used as a mantra. If we repeat the mantra at a later time, we are likely to return to the state in which we heard it.
  3. We can experiment with variations in the mantras.
    • The pitch.
      • A deep pitch resonates in the lower part of the abdomen. The body is both stimulated and calmed by the physical vibration of this audial "massage."
      • A high pitch resonates in the head. It might help to stimulate and clear the mind.
      • A variable pitch changes its resonance. For example, we can start low and then gradually raise the pitch; or we can spontaneously raise or lower the pitch, to create a pleasing melody.
    • The volume.
      • A loud volume can be invigorating and dynamic, but it might distract us from the subtleties of the mantra.
      • A quieter volume allows us to notice those subtleties. The mantra can be just a background sound as we explore the feelings and thoughts of the state to which we become attuned.
      • A silent mantra. Instead of saying the mantra at any volume, we can silently think it (as in Transcendental Meditation). However, this might be considered meditation, not chanting.
      • A diminishing volume. While chanting at a comfortable volume, we notice the resonance and the state which the mantra is creating. Then we slowly decrease the volume, while switching our attention from the sound to the resonance and the state. Eventually, we stop chanting, and we try to maintain the state and its vibration.
    • The tone. Our mantra will have a different effect depending upon the quality of our vocal audial tone; for example, the tone could be sweet, or gravelly, or ethereal.
    • The speed. Generally, we chant a mantra slowly on an extended exhalation; this slow pace is relaxing, and it allows us some time to study the state which we are experiencing. However, we can experiment with faster speeds.
    • The placement. We can intentionally cause the voice to resonate in the lungs, throat, nasal area, or other places in the body.
  4. We can synchronize the mantra with other activities.
    • Synchronization with physical movements. For example, in "walking meditation," we can repeat a mantra in the rhythm of our footsteps.
    • Synchronization with other rhythms. For example, we can chant to the rhythm of music, drumbeats, hand-clapping, or other people who are chanting.
    • Synchronization with our breathing. Usually, we inhale deeply and then we chant the mantra once during the exhalation. But we can use variations:
      • We can chant the mantra several times during each exhalation.
      • We can chant one word on each exhalation. (Some mantras contain more than one word.)
      • We can say the mantra aloud during the exhalation, and then we can say it silently during the inhalation.

  5. We can practice mindfulness. We are aware of each repetition's uniqueness of tone, pitch, feeling, etc.
  6. We can use a device to assist in counting. If we want to commit a particular number of repetitions, we can count them with a rosary, or prayer beads, or a "mala" (which is a string of 108 beads). With each repetition, we move one bead through our fingers.

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