Table of contents
What is a mantra?
A mantram or mantra is a Sanskrit or Tibetan word or phrase that is used as a focal point in japa meditation or other yogic chanting practices. The word mantra can be broken down into two parts “man” meaning “mind” or “to think” and “tra” meaning “instrument” or “vehicle.” Thus a mantra can be defined as a “vehicle of the mind,” “thought instrument” or “that which when reflected upon brings liberation.” Mantras are considered to have special powers to transform your mind, body, and spirit.
It is important to note that a mantra is not an affirmation such as “I am love” or “Today I choose joy.” You can chant affirmations like these similarly to how you would practice japa meditation, but mantras are considered to be more powerful and effective than affirmations. If mantra meditation feels too foreign or unnatural then you might want to start with an English affirmation meditation practice using your mala beads before choosing a traditional Sanskrit or Tibetan mantra.
History of mantras
Mantras originated from the teachings and practices found in the ancient Vedas of India and are thought to be older than 1000 BCE. Mantras are unique spiritual formulas of sacred syllables, which were originally revealed to the Rishis (seers or sages) in the deepest states of meditation and were also drawn from the thousands of verses in the Rig-Veda. Mantras were one of the earliest components of yoga and are quite possibly the first type of meditation that was developed and practiced.
In ancient times, all of these mantras were kept top secret. They were only handed down to a student from the teacher once the yogi had proven his or her worthiness and commitment. Over the thousands of years that mantras have been used for chanting and meditation, many mantras have been opened up to the general public for use. While Hundreds of mantras still remain top secret and can only be obtained by a guru or teacher there are plenty of powerful mantras you can choose from.
Types of mantras
There are three main types of mantras, Bija (seed), Saguna (with form), and Nirguna (without form). The Bija mantras are usually one syllable like “Om” and “Ram.” These can be used individually, but are most often incorporated into Saguna mantras to empower them with their special “seed” energy. The Saguna mantras invoke the forms of the individual deities like “Om Namah Shivaya” and “Om Kali Ma.” The Nirguna mantras originate from the Vedic texts and are thus the oldest type of mantras. These mantras do not reference any deities and their words are very difficult to interpret so they are considered to not have a specific form. Examples of Nirguna mantras are “Aham Brahma Asmi,” “So Hum,” and “Aham Prema.”
Choosing based on the type of mantra
One factor to consider when choosing a mantra is how much of a secular or spiritual approach to you want to take with your meditation practice. If you wish to use meditation as a secular tool to bring you better health, mental wellness, relaxation or personal growth then choose a Nirguna mantra. If you are choosing mantra meditation for its spiritual effects but are not comfortable with Eastern spiritual traditions then use a Bija or Nirguna mantra. If you are comfortable chanting the names of the Hindu and Buddhist deities then you can use Saguna mantras for both spiritual and secular goals, depending on the specific mantra used and your intention with chanting it.
6 Tips on choosing a mantra
Many yogis are fortunate enough to be gifted a secret mantra from a teacher or guru. The mantra initiation by a teacher is a practice rooted in the teacher’s deep understanding of where the student is in their life and spiritual practice. Thus, if you have a guru or teacher you have been studying with it is recommended to ask them for a mantra. If not, use the following tips to choose a mantra by yourself.
1. Match Your Intention
The most important tip to help you choose a mantra is getting crystal clear on what is your inner motivations for practicing japa meditation. This is especially important if you’d like to use a Saguna mantra that carries a specific meaning an power. Take ample time to contemplate and reflect on your spiritual and materialistic goals and ambitions are and what you would like to create, shift or let go of in your life. Once you are clear on your intention you can from there look to choose a mantra to support the shift or change you wish to create. For example, if you want more compassion and peace in your life you could use the Buddhist mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum” or if you desire more abundance you could use the Sanskrit mantra “Om Sri Maha Lakshmyai Namah.”
2. Consider your emotions and thought patterns
If you have been dwelling or stuck in a negative emotional or mental state for a while, you may want to see if a mantra can help shift you out of this mode. You will need to be clear on exactly what this is and see if you can find the source. Using this info, you can find a mantra to use as a countermeasure for this negative state. For example, if you are feeling depressed you could chant “Om Sri Ramaya Namah” or if you have been having judgments and negative thoughts towards others chanting “Om Tare Tuttare Ture Swaha” will be helpful to purify your thoughts, words, and actions.
Once your mantra practice has shifted your thoughts or emotions, it is recommended to continue chanting the mantra for a while to make sure these positive grooves have been set deep.
3. Honor Your Intuition
When it comes to choosing a mantra, you can certainly be guided by your intuition. As you read through our list of mantras, notice if anything pops out or triggers a mental, emotional or energetic response. Pay attention to any mantras that invoke a devotional or befriending quality in you.
4. Choose a Mala Mantra
All of the mala beads on JapaMalaBeads have 2-3 recommended mantras listed in their description. While these pairings are only suggestions, it might be easier for you can choose one of our malas first and then choose one of the recommended mantras listed for that specific mala.
5. Try It Out
Once you have found a mantra that speaks to you, Give it a brief trial period. Allow yourself some time to get to know your mantra by saying your mantra out loud as you genuinely listen and feel. Say it slowly, then try it faster. Try it out loud, then at a whisper and eventually internally.
Qualities of an Effective Mantra
When selecting a mantra that will work best for you, make sure that it will be both powerful and useful to meditate with. Ask yourself the following questions to make sure the mantra you are using is effective and a good fit for you.
- Is your mantra is easy to remember and is the repetition of the mantra easy or effortless?
- Does the mantra focuses your mind and brings your attention inwards to experience how the mantra is directly affecting me?
- Does chanting the mantra create the physical sensations, emotions, or state of being that you want?
- Does your mind feel clear and calm after chanting the mantra?
- Do you feel energized and awake after chanting your mantra?
If you don’t like the sound of a mantra or it feels difficult for you to pronounce, then feel free to experiment and try out another one.
6. Stick To It
After you have tested out a mantra and confirmed that it feels useful to you, then commit to sticking with it for a set period of time. You can experience beautiful and powerful mental, emotional and physical states while chanting mantras and meditating but you can also experience challenges, plateaus, setbacks, and boredom. It is important to not stop in the path of these obstacles and to stay with your commitment and stick with your mantra to reap the full benefits of mantra meditation.
To experience and receive the maximum benefits of japa meditation we recommend committing to a continuous 40-day practice. This will help make your mantra meditation practice a regular habit and will also cement your intentions or goals. It is said that after you complete a 40-day mantra practice the mala and the mantra used become empowered.
Mantras for mala beads
We recommend pairing the energetic properties of your mantra and intentions with the energetic qualities of the gemstone, wood or seed beads used in a mala. This will create a synergetic effect and will make your mediation more effective and easeful. We have paired mantras with our mala beads on our site, but these are only suggestions. You can use any mantra with any mala that you’d like.
Using more than one mantra?
While you can chant more that one mantra at a time we do not recommend that you chant them in the same meditation session and that you use separate mala beads for each mantra. If you want to use a new mantra on a mala that you’ve used before, we recommend you do a physical and energetic cleansing of the beads before using the new mantra.