Mantras - An Introduction
Note: To listen to the audio chanting of some of the mantras mentioned herein, please read my blog Mantras and Vedic Hymns - Listen to the Audio
In Hinduism, a mantra is not like any other word; it is special. Its association with God makes it sacred and spiritually beneficial. By chanting a mantra repeatedly with love, devotion and concentration a person can become spiritually enlightened.
Spiritual aspirants want to receive mantras from saints or holy men. Such mantras are considered far more effective than mantras picked up from books. The reason being that suitability of a particular mantra depends on stage of spiritual evolution of a soul. Not all mantras are suited for everyone. The Holy man / saint, has developed a power to understand the state of spiritual evolution of an aspirant. He is like a "specialist doctor" who can diagnose the exact medicine for the patient. This is why, the concept of getting a mantra from a "guru" (the holy man) has been given so much emphasis in Hinduism. A mantra picked by a student from a holy book will undoubtedly help, but not nearly as effectively as a mantra obtained from an illumined Guru.
A mantra which has already helped someone to have God/Self - realization acquires great potency. Such a mantra is called a sidhdha-mantra. A sidhdha-mantra, if given by a Guru, is more effective than others.
A mantra is composed of certain letters arranged in definite sequence of sounds of which the letters are the representative signs. To produce the designed effect mantra must be intoned in the proper way, according to svara (rhythm), and varna (sound). Their textual source is to be found in Veda, Purana, and Tantra.
A mantra may, or may not, convey on its face its meaning. Vija (seed) mantra, such as Aing, Kling, Hring, have no meaning, according to the ordinary use of language. The initiate, however, knows that their meaning is the own form (swarupa) of the particular deity, whose mantra they are, and that they are the sound (dhwani) which makes all letters sound and which exists in all which we say or hear.
There are many mantras in the Holy Hindu scriptures. Here are a few examples.
The sacred OM
The monosyllabic word OM (also spelled as AUM) is the most ancient and the most important. This syllable has been frequently mentioned in the Vedas and other Hindu scriptures. It is also called "Pranava". Much has been already discussed about OM elsewhere already.
The word "vija" means seed. The Tantrik mantras called vija (seed) are so named because they are the seed of the fruit, which is siddhi (enlightenment), and because they are the very quintessence of mantra. They are short, monosyllables, such as Hring, Shring, Kring, Hung, Aing, Phat, etc. Each deity has His or Her vija mantra.
The utterance of a mantra without knowledge of its meaning or of the mantra method is a mere movement of the lips and nothing more. The mantra sleeps. There are various processes preliminary to, and involved in, its right utterance, such as, purification of the mouth (mukha-shodhana), purification of the tongue (jihva-shodhana), and purification of the mantra (ashaucha-bhanga), kulluka, nirvvana, setu, awakening of mantra (nidra-bhanga), giving life or vitality to the mantra (mantra-chaitanya), forming of mental image of the Divinity (Mantrarthabhavana). There are also ten sangskara of the mantra.
The Tantra system claims that a mantra accompanied by a vija has great spiritual potency.
The Gayatri Mantra
This mantra is also known as the "Savitri Mantra". It is one of the most important mantras in the Hindu scriptures, found in the Rig-Veda.
Bhuh Bhuvah Svah
Tat Savitur Varenyam
Bhargo Devasya Dheemahi
Dhiyo Yo nah Prachodayat
"Aum, we meditate on the effulgence of that Adorable Divine Being, who is the source and projector of the three worlds - the earthly plane (Bhurloka), the subtle ethereal plane (Buvarloka), and the heavenly plane (Svarloka). May that Supreme Divine Being stimulate our intelligence in order that we may realize the Supreme Truth."
The Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra
Mahamrityunjaya Mantra is a verse of the Yajurveda addressed to Tryambakam "the three-eyed", identified with the Hindu deity Shiva. It's literal translation is the Great Death-Conquering mantra. It is said to be quite beneficial for mental, emotional, and physical health.
Om Tryambakam Yajamahe
Mrityor Mukshiya Maamritat
"We worship the three-eyed One (Lord Siva) Who is fragrant and Who nourishes well all beings; may He liberate us from death for the sake of immortality even as the cucumber is severed from its bondage (to the creeper)."
Meditation On Lord Shiva
Shaantam padmaasanastham shashadharamakutam
Shoolam vajram cha khadgam parashumabhayadam
Naagam paasham cha ghantaam damaruka sahitam
Naanaalankaara deeptam sphatika maninibham
"I prostrate myself before the five-faced Lord of Parvati, who is adorned with various ornaments, who shines like the crystal jewel, who is seated peacefully in the lotus pose, with moon-crested crown, with three eyes, wearing trident, thunderbolt, sword and axe on the right side, who holds the serpent, noose, bell, damaru and spear on the left side, and who gives protection from all fear to His devotees."