Definition of Mantra Meditation

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The word mantra is said to come from a root meaning “that which protects the mind.” In Buddhist meditation, many things can be used as objects of concentration — as “mind protectors.”

The breath is used in anapanasati, or mindfulness of breathing meditation. The sensations of walking are used in walking meditation. The emotions are used as a focus in metta bhavana (development of lovingkindness). And visual images are used in visualization. Mantras are sounds — words or phrases — that are used as an object of concentration.

The sounds may be chanted out loud, or may be heard internally. When the mantra is chanted internally, it is the “inner sound” of the thought that is used as an object of focus in meditation.

Mantras can be associated with particular historical or archetypal figures, or may have no such associations. For example, there are mantras associated with the historical Buddha (Om muni muni maha muni Shakyamuni svaha), and the mythical figure Avalokiteshvara (Om mani padme hum).

And so, when mantras are chanted, the figure associated with the mantra may be visualized, or simply borne in mind. Some of these visualization practices are very complex and detailed.

When the mantra is chanted out loud, the sound of the mantra is a focus for attention, although we may also focus on the vibrations in the body, and the movements of the body — the breathing, the lips, tongue, etc.

Mantra chanting can be a solitary or group activity. It may be done as a formal meditation practice, where we sit specifically to recite the mantra, or it may be combined with our daily activities, and be chanted while we’re walking, or driving, or cooking dinner.

Not all mantras are associated with specific figures. The Prajnaparamita mantra (Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha) is associated not with an enlightened figure, but with a body of texts known as the Perfection of Wisdom (Prajnaparamita) sutras.

The mantra Om shanti shanti shanti (Om peace peace peace) is not, as far as I’m aware, associated with any figure, and the Pali phrase Sabbe Satta Sukhi Hontu (May All Beings Be Happy) is chanted as a mantra, again without being associated with any deity.

28 Comments. Leave new

  • […] I told myself this as many times as I could remember until I got my daughter back . I looked in the mirror and said it out loud to my reflection. I said it when I cried with hopelessness. I 100% believe that creating this sense of HOPE and self-affirming this mantra to my mind, helped me to focus on what was important and also it helped me mentally. I won’t go into the science or spirituality part of creating positive thoughts and beliefs but I can say it helped me when I had lost everything. I still use mantras today and I do feel the benefits.  If you do want to understand more about mantras  check out MANTRAS IN- DEPTH […]

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  • […] with the overall goal of greater happiness and fulfillment in self, relationships, work, and life. Wildmind has a whole section on mantra meditation and defines a mantra as, among other things, “that which protects the mind”, an […]

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  • […] is one additional reference for you. The Wildmind Buddhist Meditation site has some great resources for mantra meditation. I urge you to check it […]

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  • am struggling to understand mantras true meaning. I have always used it in a Christian context of a repeated meditation(like the Lords Prayer) to bring a Christian in closer spiritual relationship as with te Holy Spirit, but I get the feeling from definitions that it is primarily used in Budist or Hindu meditation. Am I using it incorrectly?

    Reply
    • I don’t think I can give any advice on the orthodoxy or otherwise of Christian practices, I’m afraid, Rodes.

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  • Why do you ask, Peggy? If your meditation practice is effective, is there a need to change anything?

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  • i was given a mantra about twenty years ago. although i dont practice meditation daily only arises when things get tuff in my life. my question is do i need to change my tm mantra.

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  • […] a full definition of Mantra Meditation check out https://www.wildmind.org/mantras/definition, if you want. If you care about how mantra meditation works check […]

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  • Tracy Moorhead
    July 20, 2011 7:04 pm

    I read somewhere that you have to do like 250,000 mantras on a Mala, over 40 days, to charge the Mala up for this Mantra. Is there any truth to this?
    Is there anywhere I can find which wood or stone Malas that go with the Mantras that I’m using!?

    Reply
    • Hi Tracy.

      The idea of “charging up” a mala in a mystical way that somehow alters the mala is nonsense. You can certainly feel a sense of connection with a mala, and practicing with it will help you achieve that. But you can do that over months or years. (A parallel is with the idea of crystals containing energy — do a double-blind trial and you find people can’t distinguish the energy of a “healing crystal” from, say, rat poison.)

      I’m not aware of any guide to matching malas and deities. Generally you’d consider the color of the mala compared to the deity, and also the material. Any natural color will go with any Buddha or Bodhisattva, but you could choose a white mala for White Tara or Avalokiteshvara, for example, or a green mala for Green Tara. But as I said, a natural-colored (wooden) mala will do for any deity. With materials, you wouldn’t want to use bone with a peaceful deity. There’s nothing mystical about this — it’s just a question of the mind having associations between certain colors and materials, and whether those associations are appropriate for the kind of qualities you’re aiming to cultivate.

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  • I have looked everywhere for the meaning of the mantra Ayinga. Is it the same as Aing? It was given in 1972 by a TM instructor. Is it a good and safe mantra to use? I would like to know the meaning. Thank you.

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    • I’m afraid I don’t know anything about the TM mantras. I doubt that they’re in any way unsafe, but why not pick a mantra that you understand and feel some connection with?

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  • Hi Bodhipaksa. In Franny And Zooey(sp) there is mention of a special book: THE WAY OF THE PILGRIM. In it the story is about a Russian young man who goes looking for a Special Mantra although this is not what it is called. It is called The Jesus Prayer, but it is utilized as we would a mantra. This ‘Pilgrim’ uses it and trying to find a special wise man to explain it begins a walk from his initial location to Kiev. There an Eastern Orthodox priest says he has to go to a distant place in eastern siberia to find the right priest. Repeating the prayer/mantra he miraculously makes his way to Irkust where he is informed by yet another priest to return to Kiev. So repeating the mantra off he goes and makes his way back to Kiev…walking. There he meets up with a priest who explains that he has been doing The Jesus Prayer and has been receiving the rewards but the key is initially or finally finding a priest who is as we would consider ‘a Master’. This priest ‘turns him on’ to the esoteric text of this Eastern Orthodox form of Christianity and sends him off to a special monastery where all the priests/monks practice what we again would call the mantra. I hope this helps about special mantras. Apparently the idea is to come up with your own personally meaningful little prayer to Jesus. It could be anything short and simple like: Jesus please help me to find your way, or Heavenly Father please guide my soul, or any heart felt direct request.
    Again Bodhipaksa, AKSHOBYA. Stillness is vajra, yet vajra as in diamond…a diamond is just a piece of rock so seemingly still yet radiant with light…so stillness with illumination: the union of Samantabhadra and Samantabhadri. I really want to see you elaborate more fully on the Akshobya Mantra. It’s important.

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  • Ricky Buchanan
    July 4, 2010 6:12 am

    I read that research and I agree that untrue affirmations are unhelpful.

    The type I use are “in progress” type affirmations – eg “I am working on accepting myself” rather than “I accept myself” which is untrue and unhelpful, and also … things which are true and which I intellectually agree with but don’t emotionally believe yet, like “I’m allowed to make mistakes”. That’s a hard one!

    I meant your thoughts on non-traditional mantras though, actually. Not ones which are affirmations, just on the power of coming up with one’s own mantra and on the way it’s different to using a traditional one.

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    • Ah, well I’ll give that some thought, although I don’t have much time for writing at the moment. By the way, I think the following research is of relevance to affirmations: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-willpower-paradox. It points out that people who asked a question before undertaking a task (“Will I do this?”) performed much better than people who made a statement (“I will do this”). Possibly the questioning mind is more open and therefore more creative than the one that is narrow and focused.

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  • Ricky Buchanan
    July 3, 2010 9:59 pm

    Well, I know plenty about affirmations in general but I have never read anything about using them to chant while meditating – they do something odd inside my head and eventually seem to turn into meaningless syllables even though I’m still going over the same set of syllables I was when I started, if that makes sense? Like the meaning disappears after a lot of repetitions…

    And I don’t always use words which would count as affirmations in the traditional sense, for example “Sending love and light to all beings” for a lovingkindness meditation works for me but isn’t an affirmation in the way I’m used to.

    Would love to read your thoughts on the matter!

    r

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    • Well, I’m not big on affirmations, especially when they involve repeating things that aren’t true (all that “everybody loves me” stuff). But I have sometimes kept a phrase in mind for an extended period of time, and found that to be helpful. For example, I’ve often said “all beings are, from the very beginning, Buddhas” as a reminder to relate to people’s potential rather than to their current limitations. But I haven’t kept the phrase in mind constantly, like I do with a mantra. I’ve just dropped the phrase into the mind from time to time. Mostly I’ve used phrases that help me to cultivate a certain attitude.

      Incidentally, I recently read some research into affirmations showing that many people felt worse after repeating an affirmation that they knew not to be true. I think that’s a healthy response to untruthfulness, actually.

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  • Ricky Buchanan
    July 3, 2010 9:46 pm

    Thanks for the clarification, Bodhipaksa. I suspected that was the case – after all, it seems to work for me – but I haven’t ever read anything about modern mantras so I wasn’t sure if I was doing something extremely unusual!

    Also, I haven’t found a section of your site about non-traditional mantras yet – could you point me in the right direction if it’s available?

    Thanks for all your patient help, it’s very much appreciated :)
    Ricky

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    • Hi Ricky,

      Now you come to mention it, I don’t think I have anything. What you’re talking about is really “affirmations” rather than mantras, and I don’t seem to have written anything on that topic. Maybe I should.

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  • Hi Ricky,

    Sure, in essence you can repeat anything that’s meaningful and that leads to the development of positive emotions. This section of our site just happens to be about traditional mantras.

    all the best,
    Bodhipaksa

    Reply
  • Ricky Buchanan
    July 2, 2010 8:40 pm

    I know this is an old post but I was reading the beginners meditation tutorial series and it popped up!

    I was wondering if mantras always have to be in a non-English language for us English speakers? If I already have a series of words which is very meaningful for me, or perhaps an affirmation, could that be used as a meditation focus?

    It seems to me that it would work fine, but your article only refers to others and doesn’t say so I’m asking :)

    Thanks for all your great material!

    Reply
  • Actually, I thank you for the opportunity to research this. It was a most interesting experience. The prayer isn’t Buddhist, but is in fact a prayer to the planet/god Jupiter.

    Deva-naam cha Rishi Naam cha Gurum kaanchana sannibham,
    Buddhi Bhootam Trilokesham Tam Namaami Brihaspatim

    My salutations to Jupiter,
    Who is teacher of devas and sages,
    Who is equal in shine to gold,
    Whose soul is intellect,
    And who is the lord of all three worlds.

    It’s an extract from the Nava Graha Stotram (Hymn of Praise to the Nine Planets). This translation comes from the Vedanta Spiritual Library, and you can hear an absolutely beautiful arrangement of the stotra at another site.

    There are unaccompanied audio chants of the individual hymns here.

    The word “Buddhi” which may have made your father think this was a Buddhist prayer, actually means “intelligence.”

    Reply
  • thank you brother Bodhipaksa,

    I really appreciate the effort you did to help me, i hope this won’t be much of a bother if i ask you again for another definition of a prayer, i’ve searched for it but can’t find the meaning. my father gave me this prayer he said it was a Buddhist prayer.

    deva mancha rishi nansha gurum canchana
    sanivam bohdibotam trilokesham tamnamame brihas patem.

    thank you again for your effort, i understand if you are busy and can’t reply, i just hope you can help me to find the definition of this prayer.

    more power,
    aldrin

    Reply
  • Hi Aldrin,

    At the risk of seeming ungracious, I wonder why you didn’t just search for this mantra on Google? If you had, you’d have found the same results I did, and would have discovered that this is a corrupted version of:

    Om Trayambakam Yajamahe
    Sugandhim Pushtivardhanam
    Urvarukamiva Bandhanat
    Mrityormukshiya Mamritat Om

    and which has a translation here.

    So it’s a Hindu mantra and not a Buddhist one.

    All the best,
    Bodhipaksa

    Reply
  • om triambakam yaja maje shugandem poste vardanam orobar rokome babandanam reteor rokshe yamamrotar om shanti shanti shanti

    what does this mantra means. thank you

    Reply
  • excellent

    Reply

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