Mantras are an important part of many yogis’ practice. They can be anything from the traditional “om” to something complex and unique to the individual. It’s something that I gave a lot of thought to while I was in the Tibetan settlement Bir, India last month. I hadn’t quite made the connection between mantras as used in yogic practice and mantras that are religious prayers, but they really are quite similar- even in Western religions the idea of mantras or repeated prayers are pretty prevalent. When I was in Bir, I noticed that many people carried malas (the Buddhist equivalent of rosaries) and even walked around chanting. It seems like something that brought a lot of peace to them as individuals. Something as simple as mindfully saying words that bring positivity really can make a difference.
To me, it seems that the chief difference between a mantra and a prayer is that a prayer is usually asking a higher power for guidance, while a mantra is introspective and reminds the individual to find inner power and contentment. A popular Buddhist mantra that is printed on many of the colorful prayer flags and wheels that I saw in Bir and Dharamsala is “om mani padme hum.” The syllables have literal, earthly translations like “self, “lotus,” and “jewel.” I was told that it’s impossible to translate the deeper implications of the words, but they represent something like “generosity, ethics, patience, devotion, poverty, and wisdom” respectively. The idea is that these are the six tenets of life that all people must try to purify- renouncing pride, jealousy, lust, desire, ignorance, possessiveness, and aggression. Another, more simple mantra that I often choose to use when I meditate is the hindi “shanti,” or peace.
A mantra doesn’t have to be something complex and in a foreign language, though. It can be something as simple as “this too shall pass” or even “just get through today.” Maybe it’s as simple as a word that just has a good rhythm when you say it. You don’t even have to commit to only one- perhaps one day you need to remind yourself to stay grounded, but the next you just need to remember to breathe. The important part is to identify and connect with whatever words or sounds you choose.
The power to synthesize our thoughts and contemplate the deeper meanings of them is one of the main things that makes us human beings rather than simple primates and it’s essential to making the most of this earthly life before moving on to the next one, whatever that means for you in your belief system. Keeping a personal and positive mantra in mind both when you’re happy and when you are experiencing something difficult is a great way to keep your inner self content and perhaps even in tune with your higher power.
What’s your mantra?