Mantra Yoga: A Full Guide to Mantra Chanting and Japa Yoga
“Mantras are tools which connect us with universal consciousness. They act as a doorway to all that which lies beyond our limited awareness.”
Mantra yoga is the yoga of sound. It is based on the continuous repetition of different sound combinations called mantras. Sound has a deep impact on the heart, mind and nervous system. Mantra yoga shows us how we can substantially modify the direction and state of our lives by making use of sound. Mantra chanting is considered one of the easiest methods by which one can progress on the spiritual path.
Mantras are tools which connect us with universal consciousness. They act as a doorway to all that which lies beyond our limited awareness. In the yogic sense, mantras relate to the primal energy beyond the universe, which directs all the forces of nature, life and mind.
It is said, certain mantras have the potential to awaken the dormant centres within the brain, causing vast changes in the nervous system’s energy flow. Mantras are a fundamental tool, for expanding our consciousness and attuning our energy to the movement of nature.
Mantra chanting is not confined to any one tradition. In fact, chanting mantras with a rosary exists in many religions, including Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. The practice of mantra is particularly suitable to those who have a restless mind, filled with thoughts.
Mantras are the basis of all Yogic Paths
Mantras are at the core of all the major yogic paths. They are used in Hatha Yoga to deepen the practices and prepare the mind for meditation. The mantras ‘Soham’ and ‘Hamso’ are used extensively in the practice of Pranayama. Mantra also plays an important role in Raja yoga’s Niyamas – Mainly svadhyaya, tapas and Isvara Pranidhana – all of which can be practiced by employing mantra. Jnana yoga uses the mantra “I am That” and those who practice Bhakti yoga are often heard chanting devotional mantras such as “Aum Namo Shivaya” or the Maha mantra. Karma yogis will frequently chant mantras whilst performing their duties and Kundalini yogis immerse themselves in pranic mantras to arouse Kundalini.
Why mantras must be given
It is said mantras were never composed or created. But they were revealed to rishis and sages of ancient times in the state of Nirvana, the deepest level of meditation where the mind ceases to exist. The mantras, which are master keys, would guide them to the next meditative state – the state of illumination. These sages thus became the seers of the mantras, which they then recorded and passed on to suitable yogis from generation to generation.
This is one of the reasons a mantra is given by a master who has awakened the mantra within his or her own consciousness. The other reason is the existence of the mantra Kilaka, which is like a key which unlocks the door to the consciousness hidden within the mantra. The Kilaka can only be passed by word of mouth. This is why repeating a mantra over and over from a book will very rarely render any results, since it remains locked.
Initiation into mantra – also known as mantra diksha– is one of the most meaningful moments in spiritual life. Receiving a mantra from a master who is able to give the mantra with its kilaka, is like being given a key and a map to divine consciousness. Diksha is like a seeding, which eventually results into the fruit of self-realisation.
The mechanics of Sound
Sounds are vibrations, which give rise to definite forms. Every sound produces a certain shape, and different combination of sounds create complex shapes. These shapes are called yantras, and are considered the form of the divinity or higher consciousness hidden within each of the mantras. When a specific mantra is appropriately chanted, the vibrations create a manifestation of the divinity associated to the mantra within the mind. With time, this form becomes the centre of individual consciousness, which is what realization of the mantra refers to. This is why it is often said, the mantra and the divinity are one and the same.
Bija mantras are seed mantras, which contain highly energized potential. They directly affect the unconscious mind, and their workings are not easily recognised. They are never to be used without appropriate guidance, as their effects could completely change life, due to the great changes they bring to our thought patterns and karmic structure. Reciting them from a book without guidance could produce great effects or devastating consequences.
When an appropriate bija mantra given by an appropriate master is recited continuously, the potential energy is awakened. The individual consciousness then takes on the form of the mantra.
Mantra yoga is a daily ritual
The given mantra is to be repeated daily with will power and awareness. This level of awareness, results in the mantra being chanted effortlessly and automatically with time. Just like breathing and digestion are involuntary actions governed by the subconscious, the chanting of the mantra is to become a subconscious action, which can only happen by consciously repeating the practice over and over. This is the only way mantras can have a profound enough effect on our consciousness, to be able to change the course of our lives.
Awakening the mantra
The divinity connected to each mantra is awakened by constant repetition of the mantra. In time, there comes a day when the mantra spontaneously manifests itself, revealing the consciousness it carries and integrating into the mind for good. Mantra yoga is a very powerful way of reaching deep meditative states. In this way, the aspirant’s individual consciousness expands to include a higher consciousness – that of the divinity. Thus, mantras are a tool which take the mind from normal, individual states of consciousness, to the state of Turiya, the super-conscious state.
Mantra and Karma
Mantra is considered one of the only tools we have with which we can enhance our Karma, therefore altering our destiny. It is said, through the appropriate use of mantra, we can call forth the beneficent karmas that we seek to experience and eradicate the lower karmas which afflict our lives. Mantras can restructure the karmic patterns within our system, helping us align ourselves with greater and more noble causes.
A subconscious explosion
Reciting mantras give rise to repressed emotions, memories, fears and desires hidden within the subconscious, which will manifest in the form of thoughts. These thoughts must be observed like a detached witness, remaining unaffected by them, without losing track of the mantra. A suitable master is able to perceive the repressions in each person, and will provide a fitting mantra capable of bringing such repressions to the conscious mind.
The six parts of a mantra
All mantras have six components, which are: Rishi, metre, divinity, bija, Shakti and kilaka.
Seer (Rishi): The seer of the mantra is the sage who realised himself upon hearing the mantra in the state of Nirvana, and who then passed on the mantra to others.
Metre: Each mantra has a meter which oversees its enunciation.
Divinity: Each mantra has a particular form of consciousness associated to it.
Seed (Bija): Each mantra has a seed, which gives the mantra a specific potency.
Energy (Shakti): Each and every mantra has a Shakti or energy form, which is responsible for connecting the individual consciousness to the mantra’s divine consciousness.
Key (Kilaka): Each mantra has a Kilaka or key, which opens the door to the divinity of the Mantra. Without the key, it is almost impossible to realize the mantra.
The Four Levels of Speech
In Yogic philosophy, there are four levels of speech: Audible speech, pranic speech, illumined speech and transcendent speech.
Audible Speech (Baikhari), is created in the throat’s vocal cords, mainly during the waking state. This is the level of speech which is concerned with the external world and physical reality.
Pranic Speech (Madhyama), is created in the heart centre mainly during the dream state. This is the state in which we ponder and think about things. How we feel about experiences. Artistic thinking generally comes from this level of speech. To affect this level of speech, the mantras must be repeated along with the breath.
Illumined Speech (Pashyanti), is created in the navel centre mainly during deep sleep. This is perceptive speech, which reveals the hidden truth in all things. This level can only be reached in the waking state in very deep levels of meditation.
Transcendent Speech (Para), is created in the root centre mainly during Turiya, the super-conscious state. This is a level of pure silence, where the experience is so complete, it is beyond sound.
The four methods of chanting
Audible Chanting (Baikhari): Chanting the mantra out loud is the most suitable form of japa for beginners and those who have a restless mind. It immediately calms states of depression and anxiety. It is a very powerful practice, especially when chanted in a group. Long sessions of audible mantra chanting create a suggestive state of mind, with which mantra can be used therapeutically for ourselves as well as for others. It can be practiced with the eyes open.
Whispering the mantra (Upanshu): in this form of chanting the lips move, but create no audible sound. The mantra can only be heard by the person chanting it. This is the best form of mantra chanting for people who wish to chant for hours at a time. The practice of upanshu japa can be practiced with the eyes half closed.
Mental chanting (Manasik): This form of mantra chanting is completely mental. The lips are not moved, nor is the tongue. No sound is made. This is the subtlest form of mantra chanting and is best suited to those of a steady mind. The scriptures say, that the steady and devoted practice of mental mantra chanting is enough to lead us to enlightenment. Mental chanting should always be practiced with the eyes closed.
Written mantra (Likhit): It involves writing the mantra thousands of times on a piece of paper, with great care for proportion and beauty. This form of mantra helps the mind focus. The mantra should also be repeated mentally each time it is written.
Using a mala for chanting
A mala (prayer beads) is used to help keep the awareness on the chanting. During mantra practice it is easy to become distracted by one’s thoughts and forget that one is chanting. But once a round of mala rotation is finished, the attention is brought straight back to the practice. It also helps count repetitions.
The mala (which has 108 beads) should be held with the right hand, between the tip of the thumb and the ring finger. The middle finger moves the beads after each repetition. The other two fingers never come in contact with the mala during the practice. Once the Sumeru (the last bead), which must never be crossed, is reached, the mala is turned around with the fingers and another round is started.
The mala can be held on the right knee, letting it rest on the floor or even in front of the heart. The left hand is usually kept on the left knee, facing upwards, though it can be used to prevent the mala from moving too much when practicing at heart level.
Rules for Practice
A mantra must never be revealed to anyone.
It is best to maintain regular timings each day for the practice of mantra.
Though it is best to practice mantra with a mala, in a meditative posture, it can be practiced with or without a mala, in any position.
There is no need to concentrate when chanting a mantra, this can create mental tension. It is best to stay mentally relaxed.
The mantra should be repeated quickly when the mind is disturbed and slowly when the mind is relaxed.
When sleepy, it is best to repeat the mantra out loud.
It is best to keep the mala in a small bag on its own when it’s not being used.
Powerful Mantras and their meanings
The Pranava mantra: Aum
Aum is the universal mantra, the mantra from which all other mantras emanate. This is why it is called the pranava mantra which means ‘the primal sound’. The sounds within the mantra “AUM” have appeared time and again in most of the world’s faiths: Amen in Christianity, Amin in Islam and Amon in Ancient Egypt.
The Gayatri Mantra
The Gayatri mantra is recited to illumine the brilliance of the inner sun, our very own consciousness. It is said the mantra Om is too powerful for many to repeat, which is why the Gayatri mantra was created. Gayatri is the developed state of the mantra Om, it represents the totality of Universal Prana.
“Om bhur bhuvah suvah
Bhargo devasya dheemahi dhiyo yo nah prachodayaat.”
The Mahamrityunjaya mantra is together with the Gayatri mantra one of the most revered and well-known chants. It is known as the mantra of liberation. It is chanted for longevity, freedom from disease, recovery from illness and protection from calamities.
Om Trayambakam Yajaamahae
Sugandhim Pushti Vardhanam
Mrityor Muksheeya Maamritaat
The 32 Names of Durga
Chanting the 32 names of Durga is a chant which increases strength and happiness. It is capable of solving many of life’s most difficult problems. The 32 names of Durga represent the transformation of consciousness from the lowest form to the divine form. It represents the journey through the many stages of consciousness. This chant should be repeated three times every day audibly. It must never be chanted mentally or whisperingly.
The Hanuman Chalisa
The Hanuman Chalisa is amongst the most well-known chants worldwide. It was composed by Tulsidas, a poet and saint from the fifteenth century who also wrote the Ramcharitmanas – The story of Rama. It is said the daily chanting of the Hanuman Chalisa changes the very state of our subconscious mind, helping rid ourselves of many of our repressed fears, worries and doubts. It fills the heart with courage and joy.
The Mantra Purusha
The physical body receives energy from Pranamaya Kosha (the energy body). The quality and quantity of this energy flow depends on the state of the energy body, which can be energized with mantra. The purpose of the Mantra Purusha (which translates to the “The Universal Being made of Mantra”) is to heal, energize and purify the energy body by the use of specific mantras for each region of the human body. The practice of Yoga Nidra was inspired in part by the Mantra Purusha.
The Mantra Soham and Hamsah
The mantras Soham and Hamsah are considered the natural sound of the breath. They are used mainly in Pranayama and Ajapa Japa meditation. Their purpose is to balance the solar and lunar energies in the body, which refer to the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
Mantras of the Chakras
The chakras have individual bija mantras, which are like master keys which help to awaken them.
Root chakra (Mooladhara) – “Lam”. (Pronounced like “lum” in the word ‘lump’)
Sacral chakra (Svadhisthana) – “Vam”. (Rhymes with “Lam”)
Navel chakra (Manipura) – “Ram”. (Pronounced like Rum)
Heart chakra (Anahata) – “Yam”. (Rhymes with “Lam”)
Throat chakra (Vishuddhi) – “Ham”. (Rhymes with “Lam”)
Third-eye chakra (Ajna) – “Om”
Crown chakra (Sahasrara) – “Om”
Om Namah Shivaya
The mantra which is translated as a reverence to Shiva is actually a mantra which awakens the chakras and purifies the internal elements. It contains the primal sounds of the elements. Na (Earth), Ma (Water), Shi (Fire), Va(Air) and Ya(Ether).
Om Gam Ganapatayai Namah
“Salutations to the remover of obstacles.” This is the primary Ganesha mantra for removing obstacles in life and can be used for any endeavour. It intensifies our perception allowing us to recognise obstacles in our own life and develops our intellect with which we are able to find ways to move past them.
Om Ekadantaaya Namah
“Salutations to the one with one tusk.” A mantra to develop a one-pointed and focused state of mind with which we can achieve any of our objectives in life. “One tusk” in this sense signifies absolute focus, a one-pointed mind.
Om Shreem Mahaa Lakshmyai Namah
“Salutations to the heart centred and great Lakshmi.” This mantra is used to increase the energy of creative abundance within our lives. It helps increase all forms of internal and external prosperity.
Om Shree Hanumate Namah
“Salutations to hanuman, the embodiment of awakened prana.”
A mantra for invoking strength, vitality and vigour.
Om Shri Durgayaai Namah
This is the primary mantra of Durga, the remover of difficulties. The mantra is chanted to help remove internal as well as external difficulties from our lives.
Om Aim Hreem Kleem Chamundaayai Vicche
A mantra created to dissolve the illusions of the mind and personality. It is chanted for purification, dissolution of internalised negativity and great transformation of consciousness.
Om Aim Saraswatyai Namah
“Salutations to Saraswati, the one who leads to the essence of self-knowledge.”
A mantra used for developing creativity in the world of arts, speech and music.
The Prime Energy Mantras
Aum: Pranic energy
Aum is the first Bija mantra. It refers to the whole of creation. It helps prepare the mind for meditation, which is why it is commonly used in many mantras. It promotes inner awakening and draws our energies upwards. Aum is also the bija mantra of the third-eye and crown chakras.
Aim: The energy of sound
Aim is the second most common bija mantra, and is considered the creative aspect of Aum. Whereas Aum helps to clear the mind, Aim helps to concentrate and direct it. Aim supports learning, art, expression and is a great mantra for education.
Hrim: Solar energy
The mantra Hrim (which is pronounced ‘hreem’) is a mantra of joy and ecstasy, which purifies the consciousness. It energizes the heart and is used to support the cardiovascular and nervous systems. It is a heating mantra.
Srim: Lunar energy
Srim is one of the most beneficent sounds, which draws all that is good towards us. It promotes growth and abundance in all aspects. It is the mantra of faith and devotion. It is a mantra which increases feelings of Love.
Hlim: The energy of stillness
The mantra Hlim (pronounced Hleem) is a stabilizing and holding mantra. It is a mantra of ecstasy and joy. It is often used to restrain negative speech patterns. The mantra helps control the body and mind, which it brings to stillness, making it an important yoga mantra.
Krim: Electrical energy
The mantra Krim (pronounced Kreem) relates to the power of action. It is the mantra of time and space, and therefore the mantra which can help change karmas. It is known as the Yoga bija.
Klim: Magnetic energy
The mantra Klim (pronounced Kleem) is the creative aspect of Krim. It carries a magnetic quality which is able to attract. It is a mantra of love and beauty. It is one of the most benevolent and widely used mantras.
Hum: Energy of Fire
Hum (pronounced Hoom) is the main mantra of fire. It is used to empower all the fires of life: digestive, mental, pranic, etc. It is known to be a mantra which destroys negativity.
Strim: The energy of stability
Strim (pronounced Streem) is known as the mantra of peace. It is a mantra of nourishing and protecting. It is very similar to Srim, but with more stabilising qualities.
Trim: The power to transcend
Trim (pronounced Treem) is very similar to Strim, however it is of a fierier nature. Its qualities are associated with courage and fearlessness. It is used to help overcome difficulties which need greater awareness.
Ram: The energy of compassion
Ram is a mantra of compassion, happiness and joy. It relieves fear and anxiety and is particularly suitable for children.
Ma: The motherly energy
The mantra Ma, helps relieve aggression and anger. It draws in grace, abundance and love. It calms the mind and helps open the heart centre.