We often hear about choosing a mantra. Here we’ll see how you can choose your mantra, the different kinds of mantras, and why choosing the right mantra is so important.
Watch my video on this topic here.
Patanjali writes in Yoga Sutra 1.28: “Practice mantra meditation (japa) with this syllable OM, focusing your attention on the meaning of it.”
Japa is Sanskrit for mantra meditation. Mantra meditation is to hold your focus on softly chanting a mantra. As in any meditation, the goal is to cease other thoughts or, at the very least, ignore other thoughts, bringing your attention to the object of meditation, which in this case is the sound of the mantra.
Japa is usually performed with meditation beads, which further help focus your mind.
Japa is the most traditional form of meditation. It’s what I have been practicing since the mid-nineties and what I recommend to all my students. Japa is explicitly mentioned in both the Yoga Sutras and in the Bhagavad-gita, where Krishna says that it’s the topmost form of yajna, an offering to and means of connecting with the divine.
The mantra used in japa should be carefully considered. Here Patanjali advocates the use of the simplest of all mantras, the syllable om, as a means of meditating on the Lord.
Use your critical intelligence in choosing a mantra. If your goal is to achieve loving union with the Lord, which is the goal of yoga, then you should use a mantra that contains the Lord’s holy names or the syllable om, not the names of nature gods or other lesser deities. Then you should endeavor to understand to what aspect of God that name refers; that will direct your connection to God and determine the mood of your spirituality. Ganesha and Shiva are not the same. Shiva and Krishna are not the same being. Narayana and Krishna are not the same form of God. Each name refers to either a different being altogether or a different form of God. Don’t accept mantras blindly. Find out more, study, and understand what you’re doing. Patanjali here says, “Focus your attention on the meaning” of the mantra. Mantras are not all the same, and even different forms and names of God are not the same. There are important subtleties to be learned to fine-tune your spiritual practice and goals.
You won’t be working your nature as an eternal soul if you choose mantras that have no transcendental element, such as mantras from Buddhist traditions that do not subscribe to the concept of a spiritual reality, the eternal soul, or God. You may pacify your mind, help your body, and become a better person – but you won’t be advancing in yoga as presented in the Yoga Sutras or the Bhagavad-gita.
And you’ll make no spiritual progress at all with the modern notion of chanting positive affirmations or power words, such as “I am strong” or “I am beautiful,” and calling them a mantra. I’m not claiming that such phrases cannot be positive or useful or that they must be avoided, just that they will not bring about the same results as chanting mantras that directly connect you to God. If you want to use this technique to help you change your mindset, I would recommend that you also set aside time for a deeply spiritual japa practice. Solving a problem is good, but eradicating the root of all problems is best.
The mantra I use and recommend is the Hare Krishna mantra:
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare
Hare Rama, Hare Rama
Rama Rama, Hare Hare
This is also known as the maha-mantra, which means the “great” mantra. It is widely recognized as the most powerful of all mantras in the yoga tradition. The first word, Hare, is an invocation to Radha, the feminine aspect of God. Krishna is a name of God meaning “the all-attractive.” And Rama, another holy name, means “the source of bliss.” These are the three sacred sounds of the maha-mantra. Bhakti-yoga masters explain that the maha-mantra is a powerful means to establish a connection with God in the mood of attaining loving service and divine protection. This mantra connects you with the sweetness and intimacy of God as Krishna, the speaker of the Bhagavad-gita and the master of all masters of yoga.
My book, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras REVOLUTION: How Timeless Yoga Wisdom Can Revolutionize Our Lives Today is now available here.