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Mantras have influenced thinking about meditation for a long time.  That's not surprising:
these spiritual 'code words' are a time tested tool, helping people grow spiritually for
thousands of years.  

But given the broad ignorance in the West about mantras and the wide variety of ways they
are approached by meditation teachers, novice meditators (and some veterans, too!) will
confront a confusing mix of information about how to use them in their own meditation
practice.  

There are three main ways to think about mantras, and how they work:

1)
Energetic - in this view, the actual sound of the mantra resonates in some way with the
spiritual energy of the universe and our subtle bodies.  The effect of such resonance is
largely independent of the meditator's understanding of the mantra, or their mental
involvement in reciting it.  In this model, mantra are delivered to humanity through
revelation.  They can't just be made up.

2)
Religious - in this view,the mantra initiates some level of contact with spiritual beings or
the Absolute.  In this view, Mantra may be revelatory (as with the first) or they can be drawn
from spiritual tradition.  In either case, the meditator needs to be mentally engaged in the
effort to reach for the supramundane.  

3)
Mechanical/psychological - in this view, there is no preternatural context within which
mantra reside. The impact of any repeated word or sound is simply to promote a particular
psycholgical effect; usually, this effect is one of relaxation.  The Relaxation Response is a
good example of this mechanistic view.
Home > Articles > Are There Special Mantras for Meditation?
Are There Special Mantra for Meditation?
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Endless Knot with cross
So the answer to the question, "are there special mantra for meditation?" very much
depends on which model you subscribe to.  If you are in the mechanistic camp (the third
model listed), the answer is a clear "no".  Any sound may be used as a point of focus, and
will produce the calm state of mind which has so many positive effects.

From the first perspective, the answer is similarly clear, though directly opposing: there are
very specific, non-arbitrary, sounds which have an effect on the world through their own
power.  If you want to try this angle, you need to learn these specific sounds from some
qualified source; you may even need to be initiated into the use of your particular mantra.  
(See
Thomas Ashley-Farand's book Healing Mantras for more detailed information on this
mind set).

The second view of using mantras for meditation work is the tricky one.  The mantras are
not necessarily energetically active, but users typically ascribe a high level of holiness to
them; these mantras often include the name of religious figures.  A Buddhist example of this
could be the well known "Om Mani Padme Hum" - this mantra consists of a 'nick name' for
Avalokitashvara (Mani Padme = Jewel Lotus) sandwiched between the symbols 'Om' and
'Hum'.  In this instance, there is some sense that the six syllables have a particular power,
but more importantly, the mantra invokes the presence and blessing of Avalokiteshvara.  
There is a holiness in it, more than a magical spell.

Similarly, Orthodox Christians have been using the Jesus Prayer for centuries:   "Lord Jesus
Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."  There is no inherent magic in the mere
sounds of the prayer, but there is an obvious reverence toward Jesus' name and the short
phrase is clearly intent on asking for help rather than promoting a magical effect through
simple intonation.

While most meditation instructors will tell you how to think about mantra, I would suggest a
simple path to finding your own answer: try them out.  If you are inclined to follow the
energetic model, learn the mantras for meditation which purportedly create an effect you are
looking for in your own life.  Make it something easily and objectively discernible: more
money, more health, more love - whatever it is, make your goal clear and then work with that
mantra.  And then see; did your life change the way you had hoped?   

Do the same with the other two models.  Can you discern an expanded openess to spiritual
realities when relying on religious mantras for meditation?  Or, do you simply feel more
relaxed after repeating some random word for twenty minutes.  

This exploration, if you want to use mantras for meditation, is extremely important.  Without a
good answer derived from your OWN experience, you will never have the certainty that you
are taking full advantage of this technology.  Eventually, you'll drop it.  And that would be a
shame, because using mantras as part of your meditation practice can be enormously
beneficial.

Vigilate,

Chris Boozell
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