Starting a personal mantra practice

IV.1 janmauṣadhi-mantra-tapaḥ-samādhi-jāḥ siddhayaḥ

“The mystic powers arise due to birth, herbs, mantras, the performance of austerity, and samādhi.”  Edwin F. Bryant translation from “The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali.”

After my last post, I have had overwhelming requests about instructions on how to start with a mantra practice. As a disclaimer, I am indeed a novice in this area and am still figuring it out on my own, but in my toils I would like to share some insights I have gathered about this practice.

Mantra-s fall under the Laya Yoga spectrum of all the yoga-s (Hatha, Raja, Kundalini, Bhakti, Jnana, etc.) Laya yoga is the yoga of absorption. Much like the big bang theory, it is said the universe began with the pranava, or “AUM” and will dissolve in “AUM.”

Traditionally, mantra-s are given from guru to shishya (teacher to student) in what is called diksha (initiation) and are kept in secret otherwise the potency of the mantra will vanish. As we live in an age where this tradition is vanishing, the guru-less aspirant has to find their own way.

That aside, there are many different types of mantras one can chant without diksha and still receive benefits. For those practicing Hathayoga, the bija mantras of the chakras can be uttered. This is how I started my mantra practice. Each chakra corresponds to an element, and each element has a mantra.

Just as one does not start to build a house with the roof or windows, all are useless without a solid foundation. Therefore, it is highly advisable to start with the Earth element. The Earth element is the mantra LAM pronounced LUM. That corresponds with the Muladhara Chakra known as the “root” chakra.

Before moving onto anything else, I would focus on that mantra. I did this mantra for about 4 months every morning for 108 times. Repeating the same mantra is called japa. This was at a time when I was in a stressful low paying job. It seemed that since I had began the practice, I received a sense of stability and eventually a higher paying job in an established company. Perhaps it is just a coincidence, but it has led me into having faith in this practice. As a rule of thumb, one should never expect rewards for mantras as that is not the point. Just like when a child prays to God to get a toy, the likelihood of the child getting the toy will be low (and the best answer to that prayer is denying the toy, lest the child will get spoiled).

The second type of mantra is nama sadhana, or the names of God practice. For me these hold the most power. They require that one be a bhakta, or one who’s yoga is based of faith and devotion. Traditionally, all nama sadhana should begin with a mantra to Ganesh. There is so much lore behind these mantra-s, that I would take a whole encyclopedia to explain. You can research on your own why Ganesh should come first. His mantra is “AUM GAM GANAPATAYE NAMAH.”

Once you utter the Ganesh mantra, then you can utter others. BKS Iyengar, in Light On Pranayama offers the eight syllabled mantra “AUM NAMO NARAYANAYA,” the five syllabled “AUM NAMAH SIVAYA,” the 12 syllable “AUM NAMO BHAGAVATE VASUDEVAYA,” or the 24 syllable Gayatri Mantra which I have blogged about in the past.

There are “masculine” mantras which usually correspond to Ganesh, Vishnu, Hanuman, and Siva (there are many many others), and there are “female” mantras which usually correspond to Durga, Saraswati, and Lakshmi (and many many others). It is said in most of the literature that the female mantras contain “shakti” which has tremendous power. Please use care when using these mantras.

On a final note, it is advisable not to utter “AUM” solely without using the multisyllabled mantras stated above. As said in the beginning, the universe began with “AUM” and will be dissolved in “AUM” and may just dissolve you with it.

Linked here is a tutorial on how to use a mala to count your mantra-s. Hope this is helpful and many blessings!

 

 

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8 thoughts on “Starting a personal mantra practice

    1. yogibattle Post author

      Great question! I don’t think there are hard and fast rules, but typically the Jnani-s who I’ve read have no asana practice aside from sitting. See my post on Nisargadatta Maharaj’ “I Am That” book review. He was considered a true Jnana Yogi as well as Ramana Maharshi. The reason why they didn’t have an asana practice? They did not believe they were their body as the body is made from prarkiti. The sutras advise to separate the idea that prakriti and purusha (the true self, or soul) are integrated. In fact Nisargadatta Maharaj smoked cigarettes during his talks! In many of Iyengar’s writings, he said that he too did not identify with his body, which baffles those who see him in his accomplished asana-s. His reason for doing them were to offer himself in prostration to divinity as stated in his later writings.

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      1. HALTT

        Thank you for your reply. Like many people, I also believe that the Jnani-s dont practise asana until I read the book, what is said in the book makes me confused. they said that in the begining, The Jnani-s mere concentrate on knowledge, analysing, the more they studied, the more question they had. Keep searching for the answer, they forgot the Yogi’s major aim as well as being proud of their knowledg, so they commenced practising austerely like sitting on spike-board.

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  1. So...

    Thank you for this post Michael. Japa began as an exercise to discipline myself and it is hard. After an initial exhilarating period, it settled into a very stark journey until quite recently. I suspect, it will see the same ebb and flow as asana practice with passing time.
    Pranaam

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  2. Dhrishti

    A fantastic and easily digestible post, friend! I’ll share this to my Facebook for others to see. The only bit I’ll be giving second thought to is near the end pertaining to uttering AUM by itself. At my temple, we often begin our group studies and some other functions by repeating the AUM by itself a number of times, usually three or more.

    And besides that, what’s so bad about one being dissolved by the power of AUM? Seems like a rather expedient way toward moksha / samadhi. 😉

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    1. yogibattle Post author

      Thanks Sthapati! Of course this is the “raw beginner” mantra guide. Not everyone is quite so ready to take the plunge into the void just yet. Glad that you are one of the rare few. Many blessings!

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