How is mantra meditation used?

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Mantras may be used on their own or as part of a visualization practice. In a typical visualization practice there is a communication from the “deity” to the practitioner (in the form of blessings, or rays of light, or even speech), and there is a communication from the practitioner to the deity, in the form of mantra.

Mantras can also be used as “mind protectors” while walking, doing the dishes, or even in sitting meditation. I often chant a mantra (internally) while I’m in an airplane taking off or landing, and I find this to be helpful in combating anxiety.

Often, Buddhists will count the mantras they are chanting by telling beads on a “mala.” The physical action of counting round the mala helps to keep the mind focused. A mala usually has 108 beads, this number having a mystical significance in ancient India.

The mala can be worn round the neck so that it can be accessed when needed. Some malas have 21 beads and are worn round the wrist. But the use of a mala is not essential.

To use mantras in formal meditation, chanted out loud or internally, first of all make yourself comfortable and upright, and spend a few minutes following your breathing and letting your mind settle.

You may want to slow your breathing, directing it into the belly, and deepen it. This will help to still your mind, although you don’t need to have an absolutely quiet mind before you start the mantra.

If you’re saying the mantra out loud, then let the sound resonate in your chest.

It will help if you take a deep breath into your belly before each mantra. Generally, mantras sound better if you can do each mantra with a single exhalation. But if you can’t manage that, then that’s okay.

Let the last note of each mantra linger before starting the next mantra. You’ll find that the mantra naturally falls into rhythm with your breathing. Make sure that the mantra follows your breathing and not the other way round, otherwise you may become breathless.

Don’t actively think about the meaning of the mantra (if it even has one!). If you know what some of the words mean, then they will have associations for you. These associations will have an effect on your mind, and will deepen in significance over time as you explore them outside of meditation.

Let go of any concerns that may arise about whether you are doing the mantra properly. It doesn’t matter if your pronunciation is a little off — it’s the spirit that counts.

To bring the mantra to a close, gradually let your chanting decrease in volume until it fades away as an external sound and can only be heard internally. Then let the internal sound fade away into silence.

At the conclusion of the practice, sit in the resonant silence, letting the vibrant quietness have a refreshing effect on your mind and emotions.

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35 Comments. Leave new

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Mbeleck Mandenge
July 12, 2007 10:03 am

I wish I have learnt a mantra: I’m not sure of the pronunciation of the words. Can you guide me on the pronunciations.And also on the associated Boddhisaatva. The mantra I chant telling the beads on a mala is OM MANI PADME HUM

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Hi Mbeleck,

If you click on the link on the left that says “Buddhist Mantras” you’ll find lots of information about that mantra and about Avalokiteshvara, whose mantra that is. Alternatively, just click here

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i use a variety of mantras, depending on the time of year or my needs. i go to sleep with a mantra, use it when i’m anxious or worried to redirect my mind, and, beautifully effective, hang onto it in the dentist’s chair to release stress.

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For a while I became rather nervous during take-offs and landings (probably because of one rather hairy landing during a storm in Montana). I found that chanting mantras completely took away the anxiety. I don’t know whether this would have happened anyway, but after a while I just stopped feeling nervous while flying.

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I chanted the Guru Padmasambhava Mantra, “Om Ah Hung Benza Guru Pema Siddhi Hung” whenever I pray or offer to Him and whenever my emotions took over my conscious and objective mind. I hung on to the meaning of each syllable and visualized Guru Rinpoche being enlarged and towering over me. His dorje splitting my emotions into thousands of pieces like a powdering effect. Just moving the focus all over his features/objects as I chanted the mantra. Amazingly, it is like Katrina being stabilized instantaneously. It is powerful for mind-clearance. The next level will be doing full prostrations for me. Cheers in your endeavours!

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Wahab Abayomi Omiwole
January 8, 2008 9:57 am

It is amazing to know that one can engage in mantra meditation even “while walking, doing the dishes, or even in sitting meditation…” but could you please expatiate on how one can do this?

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In formal sitting each day I silently chant “Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate bodhi satva” for abour a half hour. Otherwise throughout the day whenever it comes to mind I chant the mantra silently to myself for as long as I remember to do it. Later (a minute, 5-minutes, or hours later) when I remember it again I pick up the practice and so on through the day. I silently chant to mantra as I fall asleep at night and when I wake up.

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Hi there;

does anyone know how to choose the most adequate mantra? By personal ‘good sound’ or something else? Thanks :-)

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Hi Borut,

You can just pick one you like. Or if you have a connection with a particular Buddha or Bodhisattva you can chant that mantra.

All the best,
Bodhipaksa

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Thanks for ansewer. I’ll try to choose one. But my mind is very wild (wildmind, really…!) and often says ‘oh, let’s try another one, now this one is not so interesting like before!’ I must ignore that begging…..:-)

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TenaciousTyler
May 20, 2010 11:03 pm

Hello,

Is there any mantra in particular I should chant? All are different and have different meanings that could be used for various things. I just need some suggestions. Thanks!

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Hi Tyler,

Seriously, pick one you like. Pick one you like the sound of, that that you feel good hearing/chanting, or that’s associated with a figure you resonate with. It’s like finding a date — you have to “meet” the mantra to know whether you think it’ll click with you.

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TenaciousTyler
May 20, 2010 11:29 pm

Haha, Thanks. I Just Started Getting Into Buddhism about 2 months ago. I’ve been doing a lot of reading on it. but I’m still a bit confused with some things. I don’t have the time to go to a center where they offer classes so I found this.

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Glassbear84
July 5, 2010 3:22 pm

I found your site after finding the Mantra Om Shanti it has been so very helpful for my panic attacks. I am a Gnostic but study Buddhism. I look at all religions and take from them what feels right. Thank you for this very wonderful website. I see people all over the world that need hope, peace, and Love!!

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Hello I listen to you every moning and is truely inspired by your words. Just wanted to say I enjoy listening to your program

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Thanks!

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Where Shikantanza is bench pressing Mantras are pushups « Zen@330
December 26, 2011 8:17 pm

[…] For a full definition of Mantra Meditation check out http://www.wildmind.org/mantras/definition, if you want. If you care about how mantra meditation works check out http://www.wildmind.org/mantras/method,again if you want. If you want to know how is mantra meditation used check out http://www.wildmind.org/mantras/how_used […]

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I’ve heard Hindus who practice mantra meditation talk about “mantra siddhi,” which I understand to be the attainment of the power of the mantra. They say that you attain that power after repeating it a certain number of times, and I’ve heard that number often calculated as a 100,000 times the syllables of the mantra. I’m wondering whether there this belief has any analogue in Buddhism. Do Mahayani and Varajayani believe that a certain number of repetitions of a mantra will give the meditator its power?

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Yes, there is a similar belief in Tibetan Buddhism. I’m not sure whether there are supposed to be special powers attained by this, but Tibetan practitioners like to aim for 100,000 repetitions.

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Can a mantra still be a mantra if all it is, is chanting or thinking I will be kind ?

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That’s a fine practice, but it’s an affirmation or statement of intent, rather than a mantra.

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Dear Bodhipaksa,

May i asked is it o.k to chant a numerous mantra daily.

At the moment i am chanting Om Mani Padmae Hung, Om Gabapateh Yeh Soha and Om Zambala Zalenraya Soha. I chant numerous 108 times of each mantra daily.

Sometimes i feel when i chant more, it doesn’t clear the obstacles in my daily life and at time the problems in life seem to intensify. I don’t know whether it is my own inner thought feeling or is it my previous karma or maybe i think too negatively.

I highly appreciate you can help me on this matter.

Thank you.
Henry

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Hi, Henry.

Sure, you can chant as many different mantras as you want.

Do you only do mantra meditation? I’d suggest balancing this with mindfulness and lovingkindness practice. Sometimes motivation we have, or the kind of effort we put into our practice is unhelpful — for example if we’re grasping after results, or ar too willful, or are meditating in an egotistical way. Other forms of practice can help us fine-tune our motivation and effort.

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This site is wonderful, so is the inspiring comments from Bodhipaksa and others.Thank you.
I didn’t know about the wonders of manthra chanting,nor did I understand its effects on our minds.Bu since my childhood, as a tradition, though out of fear of my mother not giving night food, I was chanting Asma ul Husna, the 99 names of Allah,a sufi meditation, repeating 33 times of each at every trusandhya ( just after sunset). It was a horrible act for me then. I didn’t feel any effect on those. When I got matured I left all this bullshit and turned a communist. Thanks to this site and Bodhipaksa, I chant now with mindfulness and breaths. I remember my mother chanting some dhikr (manthra) everytime and she was happy, had no anxiety even in the midst of poverty.She was very happy inside all the time. But not my father who fought all his life for attaining physicals in life.
Azeez( India) from Canada

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hi Henry, when I say a mantra a lot of times everyday; big changes happen very quickly and appear to be negative. I think what is happening is negative karma is being cleared out and speed it up. it appears its not a smooth transition moving up into a higher consciousness. its negative affects happen only say mantra for 10 times a day and then gradually increase it daily. this is what I had to do to prevent negative effects. I hope this helps, Ginger

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Natalie Simon
March 5, 2014 8:31 pm

I have a question about chanting mantras. I want to do one for 40 days. I have decided to start a Shiva Mantra in the morning and a Lakshmi mantra in the evening. What to do before chanting mantras because I have read that you need to be clean first before chanting. Can you help me so that I won’t make mistakes.

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You’re talking about doing Hindu mantras, and as a Buddhist I’m afraid I don’t know anything about Hindu rituals or practices.

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Excuse me, Bodhipaksa,

But may I please ask you a few pointers? Do you close your eyes while you repeat the mantra internally? Do breath through your nose while you repeat the mantra internally?

It seems to me repeating a mantra internally with eyes open would teach someone to be distracted from daily life. Some people who teach Zazen say to not worry about the mind wandering but this would seem to me to be pushing the mind to wander, albeit in a single direction.

I would be very grateful for your advice. I don’t see a lot of good information on the exact techniques on the web and I’m sure you have years of experience over me. Thank you very much for your time.

John

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Hi, John.

Thanks for your kind comments. And apologies for the very late reply, but I’ve had an intensely busy summer and the comments on the blog got rather out of hand.

Do I close my eyes when reciting the mantra internally? That depends! If I’m repeating a mantra during my daily activities — walking, driving, etc. — then naturally I have the eyes open. If I’m seated in meditation then they’re closed.

Having the eyes open and reciting a mantra while doing daily activities doesn’t really distract from those activities. Without the mantra, the mind is wandering from around 50% to 80% of the time, so you’re distracted anyway. With the mantra, the mind is no longer wandering, and so there’s little or no distraction. Repeating a mantra is not pushing the mind to wander. By definition the mind is “wandering” when it’s moving from thought to thought in an uncontrolled way. That’s precisely what the mantra is preventing.

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Hello Bodhipaksa,

Thank you very much for your reply. I appreciate that you answer every one of these comments if they ask for your assistance. You are very kindhearted to do that. I hope that your winter was a bit calmer than your busy summer. Some people enjoy staying busy, and if that is the case with you, then I hope your winter was busy instead of calm like I earlier said.

I too apologize for my late reply. It has been a long time since you replied. I have worked to change a lot of things in my life since last August. I am still terrible at mantra meditation though. I continue to practice it, but it scares me. I am afraid I will do it incorrectly. I have made up some mantras that were very depressing to recite. I think, “May all beings in the universe be awestruck,” was one. The feelings and thoughts that churned up were like I was about to die and I was grateful to know everyone that I had known and for all of the experiences that I had over my life. It made me sad the days I did that mantra. I am unique in my emotional stability and I know that others will more than likely have a different experience with that mantra, so if others are reading this, do not be afraid to try it.

I have spent many, and I am not exaggerating, many hours scouring the the corners of the web for authoritative sources of how various traditions practice mantras. I feel like you are the only authoritative source that I can ask. I emailed an Aikido teacher here in town that is very knowledgeable about these things but I never heard a reply.

Please, and I am begging you for this, please help me lay out in clear terms how to do this. Do you recite your mantras internally with eyes closed? Or do you recite them out loud with your eyes closed? Do you ever open your eyes for either internal or external recitation of mantras? Have you noticed any negative effects such as reduced awareness from any method?

A recent example of negative effects from a mantra I did was yesterday when I was driving to meet some friends at a restaurant. I was reciting out loud as I drove, “John, may you be awestruck.” It was distracting to the point I missed several turns. I eventually made it there but it took maybe five or ten minutes more than it would have.

Third-person mantras directed at oneself out loud with eyes open are strange, by the way. I have had them tremendously increase visual awareness when I did them enough. I do not understand the brain.

Thank you very much for reading this, Bodhipaksa. I appreciate the time, effort, and care you put into answering comments. You are a very kind person. I hope that you are well. Most of all, though, I hope that you are happy.

John

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Hi, John.

Thanks for your kind words.

First, I should say that mantra is not a major part of my meditation practice. I mostly rely on mindfulness of breathing, lovingkindness meditation (and the other brahma-viharas), and various approaches to insight practice. I suggest to all my students that they establish a firm basis of

But to address your questions:

“Please, and I am begging you for this, please help me lay out in clear terms how to do this. Do you recite your mantras internally with eyes closed? Or do you recite them out loud with your eyes closed? Do you ever open your eyes for either internal or external recitation of mantras? ”

It depends on the circumstances. If I’m repeating a mantra while doing some other activity, such as sitting on a train or walking, I’ll have my eyes open and be chanting internally. If I’m doing collective chanting practice then I’ll chant out loud, and I may have my eyes opened or closed, depending on how I feel.

“Have you noticed any negative effects such as reduced awareness from any method?”

No, I haven’t, but as I said I’m taking account of the circumstances I’m in, and that extends to whether I’d even be chanting a mantra. If I was driving, I’d almost certainly not be chanting a mantra but using the act of driving as a mindfulness practice. Likewise for being in a conversation or any other activity that requires a certain kind of attention.

If you find that chanting a mantra is taking you away from functioning mindfully in the world, then simply use the activity you’re engaged in as a form of mindfulness practice.

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Hello Bodhipaksa,

Thank you for responding so quickly and for responding at all. You are very kind to answer me. I grew up Catholic, but in high school when I went an Aikido class that was full of Buddhists, serious Buddhists, and I had a feeling that I had not felt in any church that I was forced to go to. I wanted to be like them. They were amazing people. They were so compassionate, to the core. I have dreamed of being able to go back there. To be able to talk to one of those people in person again would be redeeming for me. You talking to me fulfills that.

I have been trying to do loving-kindness meditation. I used the wrong word when I said, “mantra.” The correct term would probably be chant. I forget that the two terms are not synonymous. A mantra, from what I understand, has a figure tied to it. I have been toying with compassion chants for a long time.

In fact, I have been changing up the wording. Some chants I have been through were, “May all beings in the universe be happy,” or, “May all beings in the universe feel loved,” or, “May all beings in the universe be loved,” or, “May all of you beings in the universe be loved, feel loved, be happy,” etcetera, I think you get the point. I was confused about whether aiming the compassion chants, such as, “May all of you,” versus, “May all,” would make a difference. Technically, the, “May all of you,” aims it towards all outside sources while the, “May all,” technically includes yourself.

I had a third-person compassion mantra help me be compassionate towards others. I think it was, “John, may you be well. John, may you be happy. John, may you be free from suffering.” I cannot remember if I tried the triple version or just the, “John, may you be happy.” I just remember that after several days of doing it, I got up from one session and saw my dad, who is much older than me, struggling with something. I felt a huge surge of compassion. It was incredible.

The reason I suck at mantra mediation is that I ruminate on whether I will have bad effects because I am reciting the chant internally with eyes open or because I am using a mantra that is directed at others using the, “May all of you,” or, “May you all,” and that is not the way to do it, etcetra. Which causes bad effects, also known as the nocebo effect. Zod, darn it. When I do that, I switch chants. All the time. To the point I cannot go a day without changing them. I never see any results that way. It is frustrating beyond belief and stressful to the point it takes away most of the enjoyment.

I want to be like you. I want to be like those people in Aikido. I just struggle so hard at it.

Thank you very much for your time, Bodhipaksa. I appreciate your help.

John

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I apologize for misunderstanding. Somewhere between reading your comment and replying to it I lost sight of what you’d actually said. Some of what I wrote still applies, though. You’re principally using thinking as a tool, and it can certainly be a good tool. But there are going to be many times that thinking is going to be a distraction from being mindful at a sensory level (as when you’re driving). To give a related example, I sometimes listen to podcasts in the car. But when the traffic is particularly heavy or I’m having to watch out for street signs in an area I’m not familiar with, I simply can’t pay attention to the podcast and the act of driving at the same time. I can’t even have the podcast on in the background, so I switch it off.

And there are times, even when the traffic is light and the driving easy, that it’s best just to be mindful of driving, and not to listen to anything.

The application of this to your situation is that you need to be sensitive to when it’s appropriate to use “mantras” and when it isn’t, and when it’s not you need to use your direct experience as your main tool.

It’s great that you’re noticing the appropriateness of certain phrases, such as “May you all…” as opposed “May we…” or “May all beings…” Obviously you want a form of words that includes yourself. Nothing dreadful is going to happen if you don’t include yourself, but something will be missing. You’ll probably still end up much more positive, even excluding yourself, but you’ll benefit more if you’re including yourself.

I think you’ve set up a polarized way of looking at things: One way is good and beneficial, so the other way must be bad and harmful. But what if it’s a question of “less beneficial” and “more beneficial” or “good” and “better”? If you change that polarized way of thinking you probably won’t have to struggle so much :)

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Can you do mantras laying down and is a mala always necessary, and is silent chanting just as effective

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Hi Graham.

You can do mantras lying down, but the problem with recumbent meditation is always that you’ll tend to fall asleep. Sitting, standing, or walking are better.

You don’t need to use a mala. Using one is an extra aid, but it’s dispensable.

The choice between silent and vocalized chanting is usually one of appropriateness. You can chant a mantra internally while shopping in a supermarket or sitting on a plane, but chanting out loud would attract attention! There’s more to pay attention to when you chant out loud. As well as the sound, there are also the movements of the various parts of the mouth, the breathing (which is closely tied to the chanting), and the vibrations in the body. So if you can, chant out loud. If you can’t, make do with an internal chant.

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