Learn to Meditate – Step 5
The mantra AUM
Mantra can be single syllable sounds, or one or several words, or even one or several sentences in length. The repetition of a mantra is called japa.
A mantra embodies a spiritual quality or meaning, or an aspect of God and each has its particular purpose and benefits. They are not random, arbitrary words but specific and powerful words imbued with an intrinsic spiritual consciousness – many have been used by yogis, seekers and spiritual masters for thousands of years.
For the beginner they offer an effective way of concentrating the mind on a sound or on a particular quality or attribute which the mantra represents. They cleanse the mind and provide a powerful touchstone or link to the entire world of spirituality – a distillation or essence of the sacred. At the time of his death, Mahatma Gandhi: The Heart Of Life used the mantra Ram, a name of God, calling out to the deity he had worshipped in his life and surrendering up his soul through this last mantric invocation.
Remarkably, Sri Chinmoy describes Aum as the very seed-sound of the universe, the vibration of God, the mother of all the mantras. He talks of its infinite power, and that Aum is at once the life, the body and the breath of God. "When man chants Aum," he writes, "he touches and calls forth the cosmic vibration of the supreme Sound."
For those of us encountering mantras for the first time, such accounts seem extraordinary – but also inspiring, for they offer a glimpse into an incredible universe awaiting our discovery. But mantras are also infinitely practical as well – you can't usually meditate while walking along a busy city street for example, but you can be inwardly chanting a mantra and this will immediately open up the doorway into your spiritual life and increase your inner strength. Here in the hustle and bustle of life your mantra is bringing forward your peace and poise – all around you the dynamism of the world, inside you a calm detachment and the happiness-fragrance of the soul. Your mantra is the connecting link between outer/inner, earth/Heaven, man/God, matter/spirit and it is as easy as the sound of a single word.
- If your mind is busy with thoughts, when you begin meditation you can chant 'Aum' or 'Supreme' very quickly – "as if you were running to catch a moving train" to use Sri Chinmoy's apt words.
- It is very effective when possible to chant Aum out aloud – the sound of the mantra helps to concentrate and purify the mind. Japa – the repetition of a mantra – should be done in the morning or in the daytime, but not at bedtime when it will only energise the body and prevent sleep. When chanting Aum, pronounced 'Om' as in 'home', the 'mmm' sound is two or three times longer than the 'au' sound.
- In my workshops I often play a CD called Aum Ocean which features Sri Chinmoy chanting Aum along with background sounds of ocean waves and very peaceful flute music. It has great appeal and almost instantly induces a tangible meditative feeling in the room that everyone responds to. Music and mantras as accompaniment to our meditation can inspire us in this way and enhance our whole experience greatly.
Here is an exercise that extends over two weeks and helps greatly in achieving overall purification of our nature. It involves chanting the mantra of your choice – Aum and Supreme are two we have introduced so far – 500 times on the first day, 600 times on the second day, 700 times on the third day and adding 100 more repetitions each day until at the end of one week you have reached 1200. Then you begin descending each day by 100 until you are back at 500. If time is an issue or if you chant quite slowly, start at 50 and climb up to 120 – then progressively back down by 10 each day until you have returned to 50.
If you choose to do the 500 – 1200 or 50 – 120 exercise, you can spread this out over your day in segments – 100 here, 100 there. If you choose to drink ten glasses of water a day, you drink one glass now, another glass two hours later – but you cannot drink all ten at once. In the same way, you can reach your mantra goal over the span of each day.
You can repeat this exercise twice over one month – its completion will give you much purity in the mind, a mind untroubled by the mundane and filled instead with positive energies, clarity and happiness.
How do we keep track of our counting in this exercise? Some people use prayer beads or japa beads (a rosary type string of normally 108 beads) and japa (the chanting of a mantra) will entail so many circuits of your beads. There are small hand-held mechanical counters as well – or simply keep a mental note, but this may require time to master. Alternatively, chant for so many minutes, an allocated amount of time rather than an allocated number of repetitions. But counting the mantric repetitions separates our consciousness from other things and trains the mind to become concentrated. In time, the mantra becomes increasingly internalised. In the silent heart the mantra goes on inside you, even while your attention is elsewhere. Your inner being is meditating spontaneously and as the mantra resonates inside your inner life its power flows out and touches your outer life – now you can move about in the world with a smiling face, a smiling heart.
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