Mantras are an important part of the Buddhist tradition. They help connect Buddhist practitioners with the core teachings. They’re used in various meditations and daily practices and help pave the path for Enlightenment.
But just what is a Buddhist mantra? How do they work? And what can you learn from Buddhist mantras if you’re not a practicing Buddhist?
What Are Mantras and What Is Mantra Meditation?
A mantra is a sacred word or sound usually in Sanskrit that is believed to produce spiritual, psychological, or physical benefits to the person who utters it.
In this way, they are comparable to spells, incantations and prayer formulas, though there are important differences. Mantras are more than 3000 years old.
Over the years they have been used in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, and today they are also used in self-improvement where they are commonly called affirmations. To put it simply, mantras are commonplace the world over.
How do Buddhist mantras work?
Why do Buddhists use mantras? Well, it helps to think of mantras as a form of prayer. Meditation is an important part of Buddhist practice.
Mantras are used in Buddhist meditation as a way of encouraging attunement between the interior and exterior worlds.
There has been a lot of scientific research into the benefits of meditation. And that research has proven that meditation is indeed very beneficial.
But conversely, there has been very little research into mudras (hand gestures). So where do mantras stand?
Most masters agree that the most important part of mantras is the specific sound that they produce. Amarjit Singh is a truly inspirational yoga teacher.
Writing for DoYouYoga, he states, “The vibrations from mantras have the power to rearrange your molecular structure. Each sound has a distinct vibration, and as a result, each mantra has a different effect. All sound affects your molecular structure.”
What is your mantra?
A personal mantra is a phrase or a sound that you find calms you. You should choose a mantra that has calming effects on your soul and body and that helps you focus on positive things in life, as well as your life goals.
How Do You Chant a Mantra?
The first thing that you need before chanting mantras, of course, is having a mantra. Mantra often has the name of a certain deity in it, but as we previously mentioned, it can be anything that moves, calms, and inspires you.
Since just a simple repeating of words won’t bring you anything (it won’t cause bad things to happen, but it will not have healing powers either), you should believe in the words you are saying.
Of course, in order to believe in the words, you have to understand them. So, before you start and pick a mantra as your own, you should learn its meaning.
Once you‘ve understood the meaning and accepted it as something that you believe in, you can go onto the next step.
And the next step is the actual chanting.
Chant and give yourself into the melody your words create. You can chant alone or with others, but you should give yourself to the sound.
Another advisable thing is to chant the first thing in the morning. Don’t have any other activities. When you chant before you start your daily tasks, you have better focus, you are calmer, and you can give yourself to the meditation more easily.
Do not insist on immediate results. If you do, know that you are not ready yet. Because, when you insist on immediate results, you pay more attention to concentrating on those very results you would like to get, than on the chanting and calming yourself in the first place.
When you chant for the sake of chanting, all the rest will follow.
Most powerful Buddhist mantras practiced today around the world.
1. The Shakyamuni mantra
“Om Muni Muni Mahamuni Shakyamuniye Svaha.”
“I invoke the Universal sound, Buddha-nature and the wise one, wise one of the Shakyans, hail to thee!”
This mantra pays respect to the Buddha himself, Siddhartha Gautama. Siddhartha was the pure embodiment of Buddha-nature, the recognition that Enlightenment is attainable. By using the Shakyamuni Mantra, Buddhists seek to encourage the development of their own Buddha-nature.
2. The Medicine Buddha mantra
“Tayata Om Bekanze Bekanze Maha Bekanze Radza Samudgate Soha.”
“I now invoke the Universal sound to release the pain of illness, release the pain and darkness of delusion, and to achieve supreme spiritual heights. I offer this prayer to the Medicine Buddha.”
This Buddhist mantra helps alleviate physical pains, encourage personal growth, and facilitate Enlightenment.
3. The Avalokitesvara mantra
“Om Mani Padme Hum.”
“I now invoke the Universal sound, the jewel, the goal of Enlightenment, love, and compassion, Lotus wisdom, and a pure indivisible unity of wisdom with practice.”
This mantra is often used in Tibetan Buddhism and is chanted to ask for the blessings of Chenrezig. Chenrezig is a famous Buddhist bodhisattva revered for his compassionate nature. This mantra seeks to cultivate and spread compassion.
4. The Green Tara mantra
“Om Tare Tuttare Ture Soha.”
“I invoke the Universal sound and the Green Tara to bring deliverance from suffering and delusion, paving the way for compassion and Enlightenment. I offer this prayer to Green Tara.”
Buddhists use this mantra to overcome roadblocks in relationships. The bodhisattva Green Tara, “the mother of liberation,” is called on to help and offer assistance in times of need.
5. White Tara Mantra
“Oṃ Tāre Tuttāre Ture Mama Ayuḥ Punya Jñānā Puṣtiṃ Kuru Svāhā”
White Tara is associated with longevity. This mantra is usually chanted with a specific person in mind.
6. Manjushri Mantra
“Om A Ra Pa Ca Na Dhih”
This is a wisdom mantra that improves memory, writing, debating and similar tasks.
7. Vajrapani mantra
“Om Vajrapani Hum”
This mantra is used to stop hatred.
As you can see from the meanings of Buddhist mantras, in the Buddhist tradition mantras are used mostly to develop positive mental traits and to connect with Buddha.
Some of the meanings of Buddhist mantras are similar to the meanings of Hindu mantras (for instance, both faiths have mantras about love, compassion, oneness, and connecting to the divine).
Where Buddhist and Hindu mantras differ is that there are far more Hindu mantras, and Hindus also use mantras for many more reasons than Buddhists do.
In Hinduism, you will find mantras effective to almost all personal and health problems, where Buddhists have fewer mantras and they are used for only a select number of reasons.
Mantra Meditation Instructions
Find the mantra you would like to recite and make sure you understand it fully. You should know what it is used for, which deity it represents, and if there is a certain rhythm or musical meter that you should use. Naturally, you should also make sure that you know how to pronounce the mantra accurately.
- For some mantras and particularly Hindu mantras, there might be a specific ritual to perform before or during the mantra. Make sure to check this.
- Meditate for a short while to clear your mind ready for the mantra.
- Begin to recite the mantra with the right musical tone and rhythm.
- For some mantras and especially Buddhist mantras, you will also use visualization techniques.
- Continue for a full round of mantra repetition. For many mantras, this is 108 repetitions.
- As you progress you should move through the four koshas (you can read about the four koshas above)
- This is the end of the basic mantra practice. However, the specific mantra you are using may have additional instructions.
- Sit still for five to ten minutes to relax.
- Express thanks for the mantra and the deity, if there is one.
- You can take this further by doing Bhakti with your mantra.