Mantras are sacred utterance, a numinous sound, a syllable, word or phonemes, or group of words, composed in Vedic Sanskrit thousands of years ago by rishis or ancient Hindu scientists. Mantra is two words: Man and tra. Man means mind. Tra means the heat of life. Ra means sun. The divine energy of sound is embedded in Mantras. Mantras have psychological and spiritual powers and help to induce an altered state of consciousness. Mantras uses sound to evoke movement of physical and emotional energy through stimulation of the nervous system. It may or may not have literal meaning.
A practice of repetitively uttering the same mantra for an auspicious number of times is called Japa. The most popular number for japa is 108 and is done with the help of malas (bead necklaces). If one word is chanted in a stepwise fashion, tunefully and with proper rhythm in poetic meter ceaselessly, a cyclic movement is created. By chanting of mantras (Japa), both in the inner psyche of the devotee and in the external cosmos an extraordinary energy stream commences flowing.
Mantras can be done vocally, sub-vocally (whispering) or silently in the mind. Group chanting or recitation of mantra can synchronize the brainwaves between the participants, achieving yet another level of collective effect, as has been shown between musicians. In chanting of mantras, half energy goes outside and the remaining half roams about within the body. Half the energy of words uttered radiates in the external world and the other half commences a powerful process within the body.
Mantra Yoga is a scientific method devised by the Rishis to activate the extrasensory energy centers within to facilitate the sublime flow of vital spiritual currents in this majestic living system. It improves health, peace, prosperity and spiritual progress. Our ability of focusing becomes better.
Shloka from holy Hindu texts like the Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Sutra, even the Mahabharata, Ramayana, Durga saptashati or Chandi is a mantra.
Om is one of myriad such mantras. Gāyatri mantra derived from Rig Veda verse 3.62.10, and the Purușasūkta mantra from Rig Veda verse 10.90 are most auspicious mantras for japa at sunrise and sunset; it is claimed to purify the mind and spirit.
One of the schools of Hindu philosophy i.e. Purva or karma Mimamsa deals with ritualistic part (karma kanda) of vedas to satisfy the urges of Dharma, Artha (wealth), Kama (sensual pleasure). It is believed that all-pervading consciousness manifests itself in different stages, each of which has a different form (deity) and sound vibration (mantra). Wherever a particular ritual is performed with the proper utilization of mantras, the deity related to those mantras is present because when the vibration is concentrated, the materialized form of the deity appears. Both deities and mantras operate on a principle similar to the conversion of energy into matter and matter into energy in physics.
So, mantra is a powerful combination of words which, if recited, takes the vibratory effect of each of our molecules into the Infinity of the Cosmos.
Mantras exist in various schools of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Similar hymns, chants, compositions, and concepts are found in Zoroastrianism, Taoism, ancient Hebrew, Tibetan, Christianity, and elsewhere. In Japanese, mantras are called Shingon.
The use, structure, function, importance, and types of mantras vary according to the school and philosophy of Hinduism and Buddhism. Mantras serve a central role in tantra. In this school, mantras are considered to be a sacred formula and a deeply personal ritual, effective only after initiation. In other schools of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism or Sikhism, initiation is not a requirement.
The various aspects of Mantras viz. what is Mantra, Reciting of Mantras, Impacts of Chanting of Mantras, Science behind Mantras and Hindu Philosophy of Mantras, are mentioned below.
What is Mantra
1. Mantras come in many forms, including ṛc (verses from the Rigveda for example) and sāman (musical chants from the Sāmaveda for example).
2. They are typically melodic, metered, harmonised to mathematical precision, and believed to be resonant with numinous qualities. At its simplest, the word ॐ (Aum, Om) serves as mantra.
3. They do set a tone and ambiance in the ritual as they are recited.
4. They included ṛc (verses from Rigveda for example), sāman (musical chants from the Sāmaveda for example), yajus (a muttered formula from the yajurveda for example), and nigada (a loudly spoken yajus).
Reciting of Mantras
1. Japa (repetition of mantras) is assisted by malas (bead necklaces) containing 108 beads and a head bead (sometimes referred to as the 'meru', or 'guru' bead). It is believed that 108 number impacts combination of 12 rashis (zodiac signs) & 9 planets.
2. The devotee using his/her fingers to count each bead as he/she repeats the chosen mantra. Having reached 108 repetitions, if he/she wishes to continue another cycle of mantras, the devotee turns the mala around without crossing the head bead and repeats the cycle.
Impacts of Chanting of Mantras –
a. On Health
7. Mantras are believed to cope with the uncertainties and dilemmas of daily life, to escape from the cycle of life and rebirth, forgiveness for bad karma, and experiencing a spiritual connection with the god.
Science behind Mantras
4. The act of the tongue pressing against the palate of the mouth stimulates the hypothalamus, thalamus, and pituitary. When we recite a mantra, we hit the palate with your tongue. In the palate, there are 84 meridian points: 64 in the hard palate and 20 in the soft palate. This vibration emanating from the hypothalamus directs the actions of the pituitary gland and governs the endocrine systems. It is also in charge of releasing chemicals and hormones throughout the body and to the brain. This vibration releases chemical hormones that balance the body and have healing effects.
Hindu Philosophy of Mantras
One of the six Hindu philosophy schools, Purva or karma Mimamsa (i.e. prior inquiry) deals with ritualistic part (karma kanda) of vedas to satisfy the urges of Dharma, Artha (wealth), Kama (sensual pleasure). According to the karma-mimamsa system, the universal controllers who wield cosmic power and maintain the universal order are to be scientifically comprehended through the sound of mantras.
Karma-mimamsa identifies two purposes of ritual: to attain and expand one's own inner potential and unite it with the cosmic force, and to pay respect and show gratitude to the cosmic forces that are constantly supplying light and life to all sentient beings.
Functions of Mantra:
Maharshi Jaimini in Purva Mimansa has explained that Mantras possess 4 types of energies:
If certain words are repeated pause less in one tone and in one rhythm sound waves that emerge do not remain straight and become extraordinary. Since it is moved around rotationally it creates a wondrous energy flow in the inner psyche and in the external cosmos. Thus the results witnessed from this can justifiably termed miracles of Mantra chanting.
Formation of Mantra
Mantra has five parts viz. Rishi, Poetic meter or Cchand, Devta, Beej or seed and Tattva or element. All the 5 parts of Mantra Viniyog (Rishi, Cchand, Devta, Beej and Tatva) show us the manner in which this 5 basis can be manifested, illumined and used optimally. Hence while executing spiritual practice of any given Mantra its Viniyog portion must be understood and imbibed deeply.