What Is a Mantra? Exploring Sacred Chants

Woman Meditating and Chanting
Image: Thomas Nordwest.

What is a mantra? A mantra is a sound, word, group of words, or chant that you can make to change or enhance how you think and feel, your state of consciousness, and the vibrational frequencies in your energy field. There are many different types or mantras. And there are numerous benefits to uttering mantras, from the spiritual to the physical and mental. In this article, we’ll take a look at all aspects of mantras, from their origins and benefits to some examples you can use in your daily life. 

What does the term mantra mean? 

Derived from the Sanskrit language, the term mantra originates from the words man, which means “mind,” and tra, which means instrument. So, a mantra is like using your mind as a musical instrument.  

How are mantras used? 

With origins in Hinduism, mantras are primarily used in spiritual practice and meditation. They are also commonly used in Buddhism. However, they can be used in any religious practice or even for purely psychological and physiological benefits. 

Here are some ways that you can use mantras for your benefit:

  • Focusing your thoughts during meditation or prayer
  • Calming the mind and body to reduce stress, promote healing, and generate more physical energy
  • Balancing energy and producing a feeling of serenity and well-being
  • Invoking the presence of positive energy and divine forces
  • Summoning spiritual protection

Origins of Mantras

The origins of mantras can be traced back to the Vedic period in India, which was around 1500 BCE. 

Hinduism’s ancient Vedic texts, which are called Vedas, contain mantras for rituals and ceremonies. Originally chanted in Sanskrit, the sounds were believed to produce vibrations that had a positive effect on the mind and body and elevated one’s level of consciousness. 

Over time, mantras spread to other spiritual traditions, such as Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, and other spiritual and religious beliefs.

Mantras in Hinduism

In Hinduism, mantras are considered to be divine sounds that have the power to purify the mind and awaken the inner self. They are used in various rituals and ceremonies, including pujas, yajnas, and homes

One of the most well-known Hindu mantras is the Gayatri Mantra. Considered the essence of the Vedas, it’s a prayer to the Sun God, Savitr, asking for enlightenment and wisdom.1

You can listen to Gayatri Mantra in this video:

Another important Hindu mantra is the Mahamrityunjaya Mantra, which is a prayer to Lord Shiva for protection from death and suffering. 

You can hear Mahamrityunjaya Mantra in this video:

Another example is the Hare Krishna Mantra, also known as the Maha Mantra. It’s a 16-word mantra that followers of the Hare Krishna movement chant. It’s believed to bring about a state of pure love and devotion to Krishna.

Mantras in Buddhism

In Buddhism, mantras are used in meditation and in spiritual practice to invoke the presence of bodhisattvas. 

One of the  most well-known Buddhist mantras is Om Mani Padme Hum. This mantra is associated with the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, who is the embodiment of compassion. He is known as Guanyin in Chinese culture. 

Each of the six syllables in Om Mani Padme Hum has spiritual significance and benevolent power.

Om Mani Padme Hum Meaning

Om: Considered the primordial sound of the Universe, “Om” symbolizes the practitioner’s impure body, speech, and mind – and its potential for purity. It also represents the pure exalted body, speech, and mind of Buddha. The syllable is a sound of blessing. It affirms the practitioner’s connection to the Universe and all living beings.

Mani: Meaning “jewel,” these two syllables suggest the intention to become a compassionate, loving being. The “jewel” is a symbol of the altruistic intention to become enlightened, compassionate, and loving. It’s also like a gem that can fulfill wishes and is a metaphor for the methods of Buddhism.

Padme: Translating to “lotus,” this syllable represents wisdom. The lotus flower is a beautiful symbol in Buddhism, signifying purity and enlightenment, as it grows from the mud yet blooms immaculately on the surface. It implies the wisdom of understanding that can arise from the mud of ordinary life.

Hum: This syllable indicates indivisibility and is often thought to represent the process of the practitioner’s impure body, speech, and mind becoming purified. It signifies the inseparability of wisdom (the lotus flower) and the method (the jewel). This means it’s essential that these two elements unite for the practitioner to achieve enlightenment.2

You can listened to Om Mani Padme Hum in this video:

Another Buddhist mantra is the Shakyamuni Buddha Mantra. This is a prayer to Buddha for enlightenment and liberation from suffering. 

Another is the Green Tara Mantra, which is a prayer to the female bodhisattva Tara for protection from fear and obstacles. 

The Medicine Buddha Mantra is chanted for healing and to alleviate suffering.

As mentioned above, people of other spiritual faiths use mantras. For example:

  • Jainists use mantras in daily prayers and in rituals to honor the Tirthankara, who was the Jainsit savior. 
  • Sikhs use mantras as sacred hymns to honor their gurus.

Christian Mantras

Chiristians might also use mantras, such as by repeating prayers or passages of the Bible out loud. Here are some examples:

  • “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)3
  • “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)4
  • “Come Holy Spirit”5
  •    “The Lord’s presence is with me always.”6

Types of Mantras

There are many different types of mantras, each with its unique sound, rhythm, and purpose. Some mantras are chanted aloud, while others are repeated silently in the mind. Some mantras are specific to honor certain deities or spiritual beliefs, while others can be more agnostic.  

Common types of mantras include:

  • Bija Mantras are single-syllable seed sounds that have a powerful vibrational effect. Each Bija Mantra has a specific sound and vibration corresponding to a particular aspect of our consciousness. For example, the Bija Mantra Lam is associated with the root chakra, representing our connection to the earth and sense of grounding and stability. Chanting the Lam mantra can help balance the root chakra and promote security and stability.
  • Mala Mantras are longer mantras that are repeated 108 times using a mala (a tool) or strands of 108 prayer beads that represent the 108 stages on the path to enlightenment. 
  • Japa Mantras are repeated continuously in a meditative state. This helps to focus the mind and cultivate a state of inner peace and tranquility. Japa can be practiced with any mantra, but some of the most commonly used Japa Mantras include the Gayatri Mantra, the Mahamrityunjaya Mantra, and the Hare Krishna Mantra.

In addition, a mantra can be a positive affirmation that you say over and over to yourself.

Benefits of Mantras

Mantras have been used for thousands of years for their spiritual, psychological, and physical benefits. 

As alluded to earlier, the specific sounds and vibrations of mantras are believed to:

  • Help quiet the mind
  • Balance your body’s energy centers
  • Promote a state of harmony and well-being
  • Reduce stress
  • Improve concentration
  • Increase self-awareness
  • Enhance spiritual growth

Here’s a little more detail on some of these benefits:

Stress Reduction

The repetition of mantras can help to calm breathing and focus the mind. Instead of reacting to stressful thoughts that go through your head, saying the mantra can help you to observe the thoughts dispassionately, from a point of calm and control. This can lead to deeper relaxation, which can then help your mind and body to better deal with the stress and achieve positive outcomes. 

In fact, research has shown that saying mantras in combination with meditation can reduce stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, and even boost the immune system7

Improved Concentration

The practice of mantra meditation can also improve your concentration and focus. The repetition of mantras can help to train the mind to stay focused. This can be particularly beneficial for those with attention deficit disorders, as it can help to improve attention span and reduce impulsivity and hyperactivity.

Research has shown that mantra meditation can improve cognitive function, enhance memory, and increase mental clarity. It can also improve performance in tasks that require sustained attention, making it a useful tool for students, professionals, or anyone else who need sustained concentration.8

Increased Self-Awareness

Chanting mantras can also help to increase self-awareness and promote a deeper understanding of the way your mind works and of yourself. 

Many people go through life simply reacting to outside stimuli and the countless thoughts in their heads. Essentially, they are not even conscious of the way they think, what triggers them, or what they can do about it. Mantras help to calm the mind and to bring a greater sense of how your own mind is working and how you can make adjustments to have a healthier mental state.

Enhanced Spiritual Growth

Mantra meditations can also enhance your spiritual growth and promote a deeper connection with the divine, or Source Energy.

Everything in the Universe is energy and vibrations, including us. Chanting mantras is a way to tune your mind, body, and spirit into the positive and loving rhythms of the Universe. This can bring you into greater harmony and unity with sacred, divine energy. 

Ultimately, you can benefit from greater peace, joy, fulfillment, and a deeper understanding of your soul’s purpose.

Closing Thoughts 

Mantras are a powerful and easy tool for promoting happiness, serenity, and greater spiritual alignment. Whether you are a well-practiced meditator or a beginner, and whatever resonates with you in terms of your spiritual faith, chanting mantras promise to bring extra benefits to your mind, body, and spirit. 

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Kristen M. Stanton

Hello. Thanks for visiting UniGuide. My name is Kristen and I started UniGuide as a tribute to nature, animals, and spiritual exploration. I hope you enjoy your experience here!