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Do I have to say it out loud?
Repeating a mantra with full sound affects the physical, whispering affects the subtle, and silently affects the causal. Understanding this, you can consciously direct the mantra to affect all three planes of manifestation.
Can mantras be misused?
A powerful mantra for wealth will have an effect, whether the person using it has good
intentions or not. Ultimately, it’s all karma, so it’s important to be sincere and dedicate the fruits of your practice to the benefit of all beings. I do not teach mantras to people who want to use them only for personal aggrandizement. However, I’m thrilled to share mantras with those who want to better themselves so they are more fit to serve.
I have a hard time with Sanskrit. Why not just use an English “mantra”?
Many spiritual teachers encourage using English “mantras,” (Such as, “I am loved,” or one of my personal favorite ideas, “The Universe is constantly conspiring for my perfect happiness.”) While these thoughts are definitely more beneficial than your usual laundry list of idle or negative thoughts, they lack the esoteric power of Sanskrit. Since Sanskrit is an angelic language, it invokes layers of our experience and understanding that the English language cannot convey.
Conventional developmental psychology states that most of us don’t have memories of our childhood before we could speak. There is a neurological correlation between words and memory, and it’s my theory that by using the Sanskrit words, our neural pathways are activated and we actually remember levels of our being that transcend this earthly incarnation. In my experience, as I gain greater facility with Sanskrit, the my identity as a Soul vs. a body has gotten more and more expansive. Ultimately, it’s up to you, but I’d highly recommend you try the Sanskrit!
Why 108 repetitions?
There are 108 major energy channels emerging from the Hrit Padma, the sacred heart chakra. The 108 channels are like ventricles in the physical heart, which direct energy into the thousands of energy channels (nadis). Repeating a mantra 108 times ensures that every facet of your being is incorporated into the vibration of the mantra.
Why 40 Days?
A 40-Day discipline is considered by many traditions the minimum time invested to change a habit or begin a new one. See Tips for a 40-Day Mantra Practice.
Can I share my mantra with others?
Some traditions discourage telling anyone your personal mantra. Others cringe at the idea of witholding such a sacred opportunity. It’s a matter of personal taste, however, it is powerful to keep the energy within yourself. Personally, I only talk about my mantra practice with people I know will deeply respect and support it (not skeptics).
What if I am not pronouncing the mantra correctly?
For beginners, I say wholeheartedly, “Don’t worry about it!” Just learn from as reputable a source as you can find, get into the habit of a mantra practice, and your pronunciation will improve on its own. The magic of the mantra is not lost due to imperfect pronunciation, if attempted wholeheartedly. Most of the initial benefit, if you’ve never successfully meditated before, comes from the mental focus that the repetition cultivates.
If you’re planning to practice thousands of repetitions of the mantra, however, you’ll naturally want to learn the proper pronunciation. For this, it’s necessary to have at least a basic understanding of the 5 tongue placements in the Sanskrit language. There are deep correlations between the letters and specific nerve centers as well as metaphysical channels in the subtle body; therefore, do learn your mantra properly before doing any extended discipline.
Does the 40-day challenge include doing just one mantra, or can I alternate between several during that 40 days?
It would normally be a 40-day focus on one mantra (or a collection of mantras “stacked” for multifaceted effects). See more on 40-Day mantra meditation disciplines.
Is it enough to just concentrate on the sounds we are making, or should some kind of ‘contemplation’ also be involved. I.e., if we are doing the Ganesha mantra, thinking about the clearing of obstacles while chanting the mantra?
You’ll probably find the mind wandering into all sorts of territories during the mantra practice. It’s probably enough to start out with feeling the sounds inside, forming the letters with your mouth and tongue, and directing your breath. If you’re going to contemplate anything during the mantra practice, contemplate the Source of the sound, a feeling of gratitude and devotion, and the Grace of the particular quality of Divine Energy (the Deity) you’re chanting. Focusing on something material (i.e. a particular goal) while practicing the mantra might not have the ultimate effect of liberation you’re dedicated to. There are also many advanced practices which include visualizations (of diety forms and yantras) simultaneous to recitation of mantras, which you may want to explore later on.
Any tips for exactly how to be breathing during the chanting? My throat definitely gets tired.
Mantra chanting is also a pranayama practice, isn’t it? Breathe deeply, but don’t force it. Your capacity will eventually expand to chant the whole mantra in one breath, and you will gain more subtle control of the breath which will benefit you immensely in all areas of your life.
If you need to slip in a breath, do it between words or at a line break (Om Gam -breath- Ganapataye Namaha, not Om Gam Gana -breath- pataye Namaha)
Mantra chanting also affects your awareness of how you use your throat chakra. You’ll probably find it increasingly uncomfortable to tell white lies and use your voice in anger, gossip, and manipulation. Your voice will become clearer and more beautiful the more you chant. Eventually… your words, because you always speak the truth, will come true. Therefore, you may find yourself speaking less, and more purposefully when you do.
Is any particular chanting speed recommended?
Chant at the speed that allows you to concentrate on the mantra with the least distraction. Too fast, and you’ll lose the subtle nuances. Too slow, and your mind may wander.
Why do I burst into tears sobbing sometimes while chanting?
The outburst of tears is beautiful gift… many mantras will open your heart (especially ones with a lot of long aaahh sounds), and they all work to clear your nervous system beautifully. Lots of old baggage you didn’t even know was there will start dissipating, and you won’t necessarily need to know what it’s about it as it goes. Just stay with it, and let your heart open to God for healing.
Aren’t you only supposed to get mantras from a spiritual Guru?
Certain mantras are reserved for this transmission. However, many traditional mantras are public knowledge and can be practiced by all, to much benefit. The benefit of receiving it from a true enlightened guru is that it comes with their “sankalpa,” or intention/blessing. Such gurus are extremely rare, and you needn’t wait to be in one’s physical presence to begin mantra meditation.
I hear so many different pronunciations and intonations of the mantras. Which is correct?
Let’s not think in terms of correct/incorrect, let’s think in terms of discriminating what’s what:
Most of what you hear today is layperson chanting. It might be Sanskrit, it might be Americanized Sanskrit-like words, set to a sing-songy, easy to remember tune. It also may be Hindi-ized versions of the Sanskrit. For example, Om Shreem Maha Lakshmiyei Namah (Hindi pronunciation – ei as in “hey you”) vs. Om Shreem Maahaa Lakshmiyai Namah (Sanskrit pronunciation – ai as in “I am”)
Many Indian spiritual teachers have a favorite way of singing their favorite mantras, which is an expression of their devotion and creativity. These “guru’s favorite” melodies get passed down through the generations of disciples. These melodies carry the feeling and memory of the guru along with the mantra vibration. Many “guru’s favorite” melodies are not the traditional Vedic prescription.
The most precise of chanting methods, Vedic chanting uses not only Sanskrit pronunciation of the letters, but precise duration and a particular pitch for each syllable.
If Sanskrit mantra chanting is an ancient technology, Vedic chanting is that technology perfected. The science of mantra on the human energy system can be explored through Vedic chanting, since the letters and pitches have specific, subtle changes in airflow in the palate, which stimulate different nerve centers, which stimulate different esoteric chakra points… These subtleties in the esoteric science are lost when the tune and meter of the mantra is changed, as well as when the pronunciation of the mantra is reduced to 26 Roman letters instead of the 50 Sanskrit letters.
One way to recognize Vedic chanting by ear, is if it has only three musical pitches. (For musicians: the three pitches are the tonic note, one full step lower, and one half step higher.)
That said, even most of the priests in modern India do not chant accurately. Most of them go too fast to fully enunciate the letter forms, and do not distinguish between the short and long vowel sounds. (They often get paid by the puja, not by the hour!)
Remember: just because it sounds Indian, doesn’t mean it’s accurate Sanskrit!
Usually kirtan is either a traditional Sanskrit mantra, a verse from a Sanskrit text, or Hindi (or some other Indian language) poetry set to music. Often, because of the demands of fitting the chosen melody into a rhythm, the precision of the mantra is lost, but the beauty of the music can be worth the tradeoff. If you enjoy the music, kirtan can be a great way of
Which one is best?
They all have their time and place. Lay chanting and kirtan are great for singing in the car, or while washing dishes, etc. to get into a devotional mood and passively replace your ordinary thoughts with nice mantras. For meditation, either “guru’s favorite” if you have a connection to that guru, or Vedic mantra chanting is recommended.
On the topic of regional differences in Sanskrit pronunciation…
The production of the sounds DO differ somewhat from region to region, however, that is based on inflection from a person’s native language, not Sanskrit.
For instance, a Bengali will produce a “v” sound more like a “b” because that’s how they do it in Bengali.
A South Indian who speaks a Dravidian tongue is likely to produce a “Sh” (2nd position) as a “sss.”
Another extremely common example is the Hindi pronunciation of all of the feminine-ending mantras… “Lakshmiyei namaha” (as Namadeva teaches), vs. the Sanskrit “Lakshmiyai namah.” **Just because an Indian person is chanting a mantra, it doesn’t mean they’re chanting it in Sanskrit!*** This “yei” vs. “yai” difference is subtle, but important… the “yai” sound is, in the esoteric technology of the vowels, a more “empowered” vowel. I won’t get into it here, but there is most definitely a difference.
There are no major discrepancies in the 5 Sanskrit tongue placements. For instance, the 3rd tongue placement N in Ganesha is what it is, and it’s distinctly different from the English default tongue placement of the N in that word.
If I’m serious about mantra, should I learn Devanagari or not?
It’s not necessary to learn Devanagari script in order to pronounce the words correctly, but it’s easy enough to learn in conjunction with getting a feel for the 5 tongue placements. (and really fun to be able to read the texts!) My teacher insisted we learn the script, so as to disassociate from the Roman transliterations and our default pronunciation associations with those letters. It was a bit of an adjustment, but wonderful to learn! (It took one weekend workshop for me to learn.)
Why does a short or long vowel sound make a difference?
Just like there’s a difference between the English words “bit” and “beat,” the duration of the vowel can greatly change the meaning and effect of a Sanskrit word. It often makes the difference in the grammar.
How do I know if I’m getting pronunciation right?
Pronunciation is an internal thing, based on the precise sparsha, or contact points in the mouth. The sound produced may differ slightly with voice to voice, the anatomy of a person, some regional accents, etc. The “right” way is constantly refining, with practice. However, there’s no framework for refinement if you’re not working from the internal references of the basic Sanskrit alphabet.
More about Mantras:
If you would like to start exploring mantra, consider developing a personal mantra program.
Anandra George is a life coach who teaches mantras and yoga, to empower
clients to affect profound and lasting transformation. Practical, penetrating, and
often more than a little bit goofy, she teaches on Kauai and takes private clients by
phone. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: http://www.
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