Using mantras or chants as meditation tools
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Sound has an important role in many forms of meditation and spiritual practice generally. A mantra can be a sound, collection of sounds, that may or may not be words. Their use is designed to supported an altered state of consciousness or develop particular forms of concentration. Mantras may or may not have a coherent grammatical or syntactic structure. They shouldn’t be thought of as speech in a conventional sense. Because of the universal nature of language it is likely that sounds in the form of mantras have been used widely by humankind for millennia.
In terms of a contemporary understanding of meditation, mantras originally come from India where they were widely used in the Vedic tradition. They were eventually integrated into, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism. Mantras are regarded as vehicles for spiritual transformation within the religious traditions that use them. The sound (either a syllable, word or phrase) of the mantra can be used in a range of ways according to tradition that employs them. There are a large number of mantras in current use.
View – This meditation puts the mental focus on the mantra. This method is beneficial because it trains the mind to focus on a single object (the mantra) and brings the meditator the benefit of hearing the sounds. For more advanced practitioners the focus can be brought onto the meaning of the mantra. In Tibetan Buddhism the Om Mani Päme Hum mantra is widely used for mind training in formal meditation and everyday life.
Practice – Sit in a comfortable position with the back as vertically straight as possible. Part close or completely close the eyes, whichever works best, the idea is not to focus on objects that come into your field of vision. If this meditation is undertaken for the first time, the mantra is practiced for a short while before the meditation begins. During the meditation the focus stays on the recitation of the mantra, as one becomes more comfortable with the mantra it feels very natural to repeat it. Just loud enough to be audible, the mantra can be recited inwardly should the meditator prefer. As a beginner aim for at least ten minutes of this meditation, more experienced meditators should manage significantly more. Typically a japa mala is used to count the number of mantra recitations.
The Om Mani Päme Hum mantra has a close connection with the concept of compassion for all sentient beings. The definition of the mantra given by the highly respected late Tibetan Lame, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche was:
“The mantra Om Mani Päme Hum is easy to say yet quite powerful, because it contains the essence of the entire teaching. When you say the first syllable Om it is blessed to help you achieve perfection in the practice of generosity, Ma helps perfect the practice of pure ethics, and Ni helps achieve perfection in the practice of tolerance and patience. Pä, the fourth syllable, helps to achieve perfection of perseverance, Me helps achieve perfection in the practice of concentration, and the final sixth syllable Hung helps achieve perfection in the practice of wisdom.
“So in this way recitation of the mantra helps achieve perfection in the six practices from generosity to wisdom. The path of these six perfections is the path walked by all the Buddhas of the three times. What could then be more meaningful than to say the mantra and accomplish the six perfections?”
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Heart Treasure of the Enlightened Ones
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