What is mantra meditation?
Mantra meditation is a catch-all term for those meditations that involve the use of a mantra in some form.
Even so, there is a very clear distinction between the use of mantras that have a specific meaning – which is the vast majority – and mantras used in the Vedic method, which are meaningless sounds that have a more holistic resonance.
This is a very important point, as both scientifically, and anecdotally, the difference in impact, physiologically, neurologically, and spiritually, is hugely significant.
Many of the most popular mantras originate from India. But the very nature of mantra meditation means that you could make a mantra meditation in any language. However, it is fair to say that the Sanskrit language does tend to be more effective at getting results, and so many of the most favoured ones are in this language, or its near cousin, Pali.
Some of the most common mantras in popular use are:
“Aum” – pronounced ‘ah-oooh-mmmm’. Widely known as the universal mantra, it is not actually meant to be used as a mantra; it is the sound of the layer in consciousness (the aum kara) from where all primordial sounds issue. It’s good to begin or end a yoga class with, or the chanting of an ancient sloka, but in fact, we don’t recommend using it as a japa mantra (i.e. one which involves continued repetition).
“Om Mani Padme Hum” – this is probably the most popular Buddhist mantra, which originates from Tibet and loosely translates to, ‘Hail the Jewel in the Lotus.’
“Namo Amitabha” – a less acclaimed mantra from the Buddhist repertoire which means something akin to, ‘Homage to the Buddha of boundless light.’
“So hum” – this is very popular within yoga circles. It means, ‘I am that’.
“Loka samasta sukhino bhavantu” – this is a cool one to chant out loud as a group and means something along the lines of, ‘may it be so that all beings in every place are centred in the joy, happiness and freedom from suffering that comes from being stationed in unified experience.’
“Om Gum Ganapatayei Namah” – A popular one in India and fodder for some great kirtan music! It means, ‘I bow to the elephant-faced deity who is capable of removing all obstacles. May you bestow your blessings on me.’
“Aum Namah Shivaya” – a contender for most popular mantra in India. To a follower of Shiva, it means, ‘I bow to Shiva, the supreme deity of transformation who represents the truest, highest self.’
“May I be happy. May I be well. May I be safe. May I be peaceful and at ease. May you be happy. May you be well. May you be safe. May you be peaceful and at ease.” – This is a Loving Kindness mantra which has some very worthy sentiments to it.
“Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare / Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare” – The ‘maha-mantra‘ of the Hare Krishnas. The Krishnas practise this as part of their Bhakti yoga, which means ‘union through devotion.’ They are incredibly devotional to Krishna, and it is considered favourable to try and invoke Krishna’s benevolence and consciousness by chanting his name (and his forebear Rama’s name also) in order to achieve this outcome. Usually accompanied by mala beads or tambourines!
I loved, loved, LOVED Will's beginners meditation course! I came away super motivated to practise twice a day, every day without fail, and so far it has worked brilliantly :) I had been practicing mantra meditation for about a year using a brain entrainment programme called Lifeflow meditation. It consisted of listening to audio tracks designed to affect our brain wave patterns. Over the weekend that I learned Vedic meditation I realised that I had been missing out certain essential things from my meditation practice and it was also obvious that this new mantra was way more effective than the one I got online.
Beccy, Estate Agent, Brighton
How is it practised?
Mantra meditation is usually chanted, either out loud, or under the breath while using rosary beads or malas. Sometimes it will be done silently within the mind. The idea is to repeat it for anything from one to 108 times.
Some mantras are recommended to do alongside your breath – for example with ‘so hum’, you do the ‘so’ on the inhale, and the ‘hum’ on the exhale.
The repetition is almost always in the form of japa – which means to repeat continuously. The idea is to stay with the mantra the whole way through your meditation.
Mantra meditation can be done solo, or as a group activity – it’s fair to say that chanting in a group is considerably more gratifying.
How does Vedic meditation compare with mantra meditations?
The key difference is that the mantras we use in Vedic meditation are meaningless. They are not designed to instil a particular quality into you, but to actually take you into a state of transcendence.
The more regular mantras are there to be used as affirmational tools, or as ways of invoking something. Interestingly, they are way more powerful when the consciousness of the person saying them is advanced. And one of the best ways to advance your state of consciousness is to do a daily practice of Vedic meditation.
This is because the mantras are customised to the individual, and take that person into a state of turiya, or transcendence, so that your state of consciousness becomes more integrated into a more expanded state.
They are also used in a different, more artful way, and this is something that is best taught personally. Having a teacher on hand to guide you makes a massive difference to how much you get out of it.
In terms of efficacy, whenever any comparative studies have been carried out, Vedic meditation has been shown to be approximately four times more effective at reducing symptoms of psychological conditions and four times as powerful at delivering present moment awareness.
Do it anywhere
Vedic meditation happens to be much more discrete to practise. You gently repeat the Vedic mantras within the mind and so you can do it on the train, tube, bus, plane and in all sorts of places without anyone realising you’re in a very serene and expansive place. It makes it much more practical to practise regularly when you can do it anywhere.
Vedic meditation transcends all religion and therefore may be relevant to a broader base of people. Many mantra meditations as per the above (‘aum’ and ‘loving kindness’ aside) feel like they are associated with a set of religious beliefs that may not feel relevant to you.
There is also an interesting and important caveat that some are only meant to be practised by monks – the repeated practise of these leads to feelings of detachment, which is not very healthy for people engaged in everyday life.
Please be careful when choosing and using mantras in a DIY fashion. Some mantras are very powerful and may not always be the right fit for you and your lifestyle.