We often hear the word mantra meditation, and it has become quite a buzzword in western society nowadays. But have you ever wondered why it holds so much significance?
Mantra, when used in the context of spiritual practices, is a Sanskrit word that refers to a sound, syllable, word, or phrase that is believed to be sacred.
Nowadays, we see people casually throwing around the word ‘mantra’ in all areas of life. Big organizations make use of mantras in order to train their employees to perform better.
For example, I used to hear people from the sales division of the last company I worked for, repeating mantras like “the customer is always right”, “we never say ‘No’”, etc.
The basic idea of repeating a mantra over and over again is to program your subconscious mind in such a way that you remember to do the right thing even in the worst of situations. Can this concept be applied to our minds as well? Can it be used to achieve deep states in meditation? Let’s find out.
The idea behind chanting a mantra is to eliminate the noise in the mind and allow it to transcend to subtler regions of quite and calm. Transcendental Meditation, also known as TM, is a classic example of mantra meditation.
In Transcendental Meditation, we silently repeat a mantra over and over again in our mind. After some time, the mind settles down and experiences a state of restful calm. In this state, one experiences the ultimate joy and bliss.
The very good analogy that is often used to explain this process is that of the ocean. Our mind is like an ocean that is turbulent at the surface, in the form of violent waves hitting each other, but at the bottom, that very ocean is extremely calm.
As we keep chanting the mantra, the frequency of thoughts starts to reduce, as the mind starts transcending into subtler and subtler regions. Finally, a stage is reached where there’s no thought and the ultimate bliss is experienced.
The very word ‘transcend’ in TM refers to the ability of the mind to achieve a state of complete restfulness, which is the storehouse of unlimited potential and the center of creative intelligence.
Scientific Perspective On Mantra Chanting
In one of scientific studies (1), effects of meditation was studied in experienced meditators (with a period of chanting ‘OM’), and the results showed that there was an increased mental awareness and significant reduction in the heart rate, meaning thereby that the subjects were in a more relaxed state as compared to the state before starting meditation.
In another study (2), fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging – a device that measures brain activity by detecting changes in the blood flow) was used to study how the vagus nerve (a nerve that connects the brain to the body) simulated during the audible chanting of ‘OM’.
Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is a technique that is used in the treatment of patients suffering from depression and epilepsy. The results of the above experiments indicated that ‘OM’ chanting somehow contributes to limbic deactivation (decreased blood flow to the limbic regions of brain – happens during restful and non stressful situations (3)).
In addition to the above, it has also been shown how meditation effects the brainwaves. Thanks to advancements in science, today we have the capability and affordability to a piece of technology that a common person can use to measure the effectiveness of their meditation practice. If you want to know more about this technology, checkout this article.
Some of the interesting reads for you.
- How mindfulness calms the overactive mind.
- Mindfulness tips to reduce stress and anxiety.
- Ultimate Meditation Guide (eBook Preview).
For complete information on Meditation, benefits, breathing exercises, how-to’s, and more, check out – The Ultimate Meditation Guide eBook.
Spiritual Essence of Chanting Mantras
The mantra I personally chant is ‘Ek Onkar Satnam’. Which is a Gurmukhi phrase that appears in the holy book of Sikhs called the Guru Granth Sahib and is a part of the mool mantra.
This mantra is divided into two parts: ‘Ek Onkar’ which means ‘God is One and One is God’ and ‘Satnam’, which further can be divided into two parts: ‘Sat’ meaning truth and ‘nam’ meaning name.
This mantra perfectly aligns with my belief that there is ‘one universal consciousness that pervades all’. That the pure consciousness is all there is and the objects of experience arise and disappear in it.
The essence of this belief lies in a very powerful Hindu philosophy known as Advaita Vedanta. Vedanta believes in the absolute, known as the Brahman, and says that Brahman is all there is and allows us to experience the gross (physical) reality by illumining the objects of experience.
Advaita Vedanta is a very deep subject and is outside the scope of this article. But maybe I’ll cover it in another article. Just know that the Brahman is what I refer to as the pure consciousness here.
When I repeat the mantra, Ek Onkar Satnam, what I’m basically I’m telling my mind is that ‘the pure consciousness is the absolute truth’. It allows my mind to disconnect from the impressions of objects I experience in the waking reality (material world).
Since my workplace very close of my house (approx. half mile), I choose to walk down, and that gives me a perfect opportunity to chant mantra everyday. Now, that has almost become a routine activity.
Chanting mantra clears away that incessant chatter of my mind and makes me feel more aware and active. It also improves my ability to focus on my work for a longer time.
Please note that the chanting of mantra has nothing to do with following a particular religion. You don’t have to adopt or study a particular religion or join a sect, in order to practice chanting mantra. You are absolutely free to follow your own religion, practice your own beliefs, and chant mantras of your preference.
Mantras are quite similar to affirmations. It is believed that they have powerful sound vibrations that help awaken the vital energy of the body.
For example, ‘OM’ or ‘AUM’ is believed to be one of most powerful mantras, according to Hindu mythology. It is quite similar to the mantra ‘Ek Onkar Satnam’ of Sikhism.
This mantra has been practiced by Indian sages and yogis since ancient times, and it also finds mention in the ancient sacred Hindu text called ‘Mandukya Upanishad’ which says that ‘Om’ is the source of all creation.
It is all that is perceived by the sense organs. Not only that, but it also includes all time – the past, present, and future.
A Word of Caution About Mantra Chanting and Meditation
My personal view on chanting is that it is a great tool to calm the mind to increase awareness. But I have seen a lot of spiritual gurus and meditation practitioners abuse it to indoctrinate and brainwash people.
I don’t believe in group chanting because each one of us is different. We have different preferences when it comes to choosing mantras or affirmations.
Chanting mantras should be a personal and private affair. I have seen a few organizations manipulate unsuspecting people by emphasizing the seating posture, speed, rhythm, loudness, and last but not the least – reverence to the guru.
They reprimand and shame people who don’t follow the practice consistently or in a manner deemed fit to them. They resort to psychological manipulations and induce magical thinking to further their personal ambitions.
Some of these spiritual organizations force people to recite mantras of their choice and the way they desire. They extort money by scaring people of drastic consequences when they fail in their practices. Don’t fall prey to such organizations.
You can practice in the comfort of your home or any place of your choice. The way you sit and recite mantras and the time duration of practice should also be your personal choice. There should be no compulsion to sit for long hours in a complicated posture.
Accessories used in the mantra chanting practices are there to help you focus the mind. Don’t attach any type of supernatural significance to them. Otherwise, you risk falling into the dark pit of blind faith and superstition.
Lastly, mantras are not get-rich-quick schemes, nor are they a shortcut to curing chronic illnesses. There may be a few indirect worldly benefits, but that should not be the reason for practicing chanting or meditation.
Hoping to achieve worldly material gains by chanting mantras will only bring misery in your life. Also, don’t fret about the performance or progress.
Chanting is not about achieving a worldly goal. It is simply about clearing your mind to experience inner peace. This process might be slow for some, so don’t compare yourself with anyone.
Benefits of Chanting Mantra
Now that you have a good idea about mantra chanting. Let’s quickly explore some of the benefits it offers to our mind and body.
The reason why we are always stressed is that we keep thinking either about the past or worry thinking about the future.
Mantra meditation helps in bringing our awareness back to the present moment (the ‘now’). This present moment is full of joy and bliss, so it’s natural for the mind to be calm and relaxed.
Relaxes the Mind and Body
As I’ve mentioned above, this has been studied scientifically. Chanting a mantra relaxes the nervous system by stimulation of the vagus nerve. Limbic deactivation causes us to feel relaxed and well-rested.
In fact, my own experience says that if you do it correctly, you will feel absolutely refreshed, almost the same way as you feel after having a nap for one hour.
Calms the Overactive Mind
Most of us today live a very stressful life that is full of uncertainties, and as a result, we are always on the run, constantly preparing ourselves for higher challenges. In this process, our mind becomes overexcited and starts jumping from one thought to another.
This activity of the mind gives rise to a host of problems such as insomnia, poor eating habits, depression, anxiety, and much more. Chanting mantra helps us to de-focus our mind from such thoughts and keep us de-stressed and relaxed.
This is a no brainer. With a relaxed body and mind, you are better able to concentrate on your work. With regular practice over time, you attain unwavering focus in your work.
You feel more energized because the mind is completely refreshed. Do a small experiment and test it out for yourself? Before a critical piece of work, chant for about 15 minutes and notice how you perform after that.
Chanting is not merely a repetition of the words. It has a rhythm attached to the words. The vibrations produced by reciting the mantra in a particular rhythm has a profound effect on our body and mind.
This is one of the reason why many people seek guidance of an expert master. The master initiates you and explains you the correct way to practice mantra.
However, in my personal opinion, this is not absolutely necessary. You can very effectively get started from the comfort of your home itself.
Chanting mantra is one of the best ways to relax the mind. For maximum benefit, it should be practiced on a daily basis. Just 10 – 15 minutes of daily practice can make a significant difference in your life. You can practice it while walking, commuting, waiting in the queue, and much more.
I hope you found this article interesting. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask me in the comments section. And if you really enjoyed this article, please share it with others.
Take care and have a nice day.