Universal seed mantras: The foundational, primary sounds are called
seed or bija vibrations in Sanskrit. Such universal sounds can also
be called basal, prime, primordial, essential or basic sound
vibrations, as well as other descriptive names.
Om is such a sound, especially when focusing on the Mmmmm...
sound vibration, which is somewhat like mentally remembering the sound
of a buzzing bee. Both inhalation and exhalation might be done
smoothly and slowly, while remembering that Mmmm... sound mentally. Om
Mantra can be used as a seed vibration alone, or along with deeper
Soham is a universal mantra vibration, with Sooo... being
remembered with inhalation and Hummm... being remembered with
Ahhh... can be remembered with inhalation and Ummmm...
remembered with exhalation.
Many other such sound vibrations can also be used, whether or
not coordinated with breath. For example, any of the single-syllable
vowel sounds can be used, with or without an Mmmm... sound at the end.
It is the practice itself that will convince one of the viability of
such universal sound vibrations as means of relieving the autonomic
nervous system, while calming and focusing the mind. Mantra practice
like this will prepare the mind for deeper meditation beyond the
syllables of the mantras.
Longer mantras: There are many longer mantras in many languages. Some
are like positive affirmations and some are for specific, desired
benefits. Some are related to religions, and some are not. The
principles of using mantra that are listed below are universal,
applying to all of the many types of mantras.
Compact prayer: Some mantras can be described is as short, compact
prayers. One can easily think of examples where a particular sentence
or phrase from a longer prayer or writing forms a compact prayer or
mantra. Once again, the principles below are universal, applying to
any of these types of mantra.
MAKING YOUR WHOLE BEING AN EAR FOR MANTRA
My way of using the mantra is different from yours, because I do not want to fool around with the process. I sit down, and I observe my whole being listening to the mantra. I do not remember the mantra or repeat the mantra mentally, because then the mind repeats many things.
Instead I make my whole being an ear to hear the mantra, and the mantra is coming from everywhere. This will not happen to you immediately in meditation, but when you have attained or accomplished something, then this will happen to you. Then, even if you do not want to do your mantra, it is not possible to avoid it. Even if you decide that you do not want to remember the mantra, it will not be possible.
Finally, even the mantra does not exist; only the purpose for which you repeat the mantra is there; you are There. The mantra might still be there, but it exists as an experience that overwhelms your whole being, and is not separate from you.
Mantra will naturally move inward through stages, if allowed. It is important to remember this, so as to not unintentionally keep meditation shallow when it is trying to move into deeper peace.
For example, the word shanti means peace or tranquility. The feeling that gradually emerges is more internal and peaceful than is the repetition of the syllables alone. When the syllables drift away, one might then meditate on the feeling of peace itself, which is more subtle. Initially, this feeling might fade quickly, and be resurrected by again remembering the syllables of the mantra.
Gradually, that feeling has fewer breaks or distractions, and becomes a somewhat constant, pervasive awareness.
This eventually leads inward to a deep awareness that is the root of the sound. It somewhat defies description, but as a root of the sound, it is like a soundless sound of the mantra that is resting in silence.
Mantra as a name of God
Some practitioners use as their mantra a name of God from within their religion, or as given by a teacher.
At first the mantra or name might be used externally through repetition, chanting, or in song.
Or, the name or mantra might be recited or remembered internally.
Then, the name or mantra itself might drift away, as the grosser sound is replaced by a deeper longing or communion for what is behind the name or mantra.
Mantra will lead
Sometimes the mantra is naturally trying to lead attention into silence, and the practitioner thinks that mantra is being forgotten. There may be extra effort to then continue to recite, or internally speak the mantra.
Deeper than this is to allow the mantra to naturally lead attention to its deeper, subtler aspect that rests in the silence.
This leading process can be tricky in practice, as one might just be falling asleep. It requires a bit of practice and attention to notice the difference between drifting off into sleep and going into a deeper, quieter, more clear state of mantra meditation.
This leading quality is one of the most important aspects of mantra practice.
Speaking vs. listening
A good way to understand this dimension is to think of songs you may have heard. Once those sounds are in your mind, they automatically arise, without any effort.
Initially one may internally speak or recite the mantra.
Later, the practice is more like listening to or remembering the mantra, than actively speaking.
One may or may not literally hear an inner sound. It is the mental stance of listening or remembering that is being practiced here. It is somewhat like remembering a person whom you love. The name of the person may come and go in your mind field, but the memory of the person is not dependent on the presence of the name.
(To further understand the significance of the difference between speaking and hearing, see the paper on the
Dealing with thoughts
Mantra can unwisely be used to repress ones thinking process. Mantra should not be used to avoid life and dealing with mental and emotional issues. At meditation time, one can easily get into an inner fight between the mantra and the stream of thoughts. This is not the best thing to do.
Better than fighting, is to allow a period of time for inner reflection or internal dialogue to explore and deal with those thoughts and emotions. Then, it is much easier to remember the mantra as it naturally arises in the stream of the mind.
Japa and listening
Some translate the Sanskrit word Japa as reciting or repeating, while others translate Japa as listening or remembering. One is an active process of expressing, while the other is a passive process of paying attention.
These are two different approaches to the use of mantra (mantra japa). The process of actively reciting or repeating is more externally focused, while the process of listening or paying attention is more internally focused.The active process is easier to practice in the beginning, while the attention process is more internal and advanced
For the approach whereby mantra japa means actively repeating (noted above), this process might become automatic over time (like spontaneously singing a song you have heard many times). This automatic repetition is one form of the term ajapa japa.
For the approach whereby mantra japa means listening or paying attention, that awareness might gradually become a constant awareness of the underlying feeling associated with the mantra. This is another, subtler form of the term ajapa japa.
Where mantra japa means repetition, then putting a- in front of it means without repetition. Hence, ajapa japa is repetition without repetition (it is automatic).
Where mantra japa means listening or remembering, then ajapa japa means constant remembering without the effort of reciting to cause that awareness.