The word ‘mantra’ is Sanskrit and it means sacred syllable(s) or sacred word(s). Across the literature, mantras are described as vibrational formulas that are recited silently within, spoken, or sung outwardly. There are mantras in Sanskrit as well as in many other Asian languages. The word OM is a mantra unto itself and perhaps the most well-known of them all.
Indigenous tribes around the globe have been known to formulate sacred syllables and words. Shamans and holy men have used these for centuries in Native American cultures as did the Polynesian people, the Australian aborigines and the Mayans and Incas.
A mantra is a precise sound, a frequency that conveys a directive into our sub-consciousness. Mantras are invoked towards the delivery of very specific results and are repeated a certain number of times. These specific results could include healing, fertility, the creation of abundance, etc. Mantras are used to open the heart and the mind and to aid in accessing and entering into a state of greater awareness. They are perfect tools for reaching a meditative state.
Some mantras may be prayer while others can be powerful and invoke commands or demands.
Because mantras are precise sound vibrations that produce geometric patterns, it is imperative that they be recited correctly with the appropriate intonation and pronunciation.
The geometry or visual pattern of a sound vibration containing a particular information code is called a ‘yantra’. A yantra is a sacred diagram that transmits subtle information of mystical significance to the one who looks at it. Like a mantra, each yantra embodies a very particular meaning, opening inner awareness and receptivity to the information that the yantra expresses. Very often, Buddhist monks and other spiritual practitioners focus on a yantra or mandala while meditating.
The Gayatri Yantra is specific to the Gayatri Mantra and transmits a subtle language encoded in the Gayatri’s potential. Every curve, every line and even the number of lines convey meaning.
While meditating and chanting the Gayatri Mantra, it can be useful to the practitioner to have the Gayatri Yantra in front as a point of focus.
Mantras and their impact on our mind
The human mind has often been defined as our “brains in action”.
For thousands of years, yogis have stressed the value of chanting mantra in stabilizing and clearing the mind, leading one to deeper spiritual awakening and awareness. Modern neuroscience is now beginning to discover the relationship between the way words are used and the impact on the functioning of the mind.
When we hear, speak, chant or even think a mantra, the frontal lobes of our brain “light up” and the nerve endings fire up. There is increased flow of oxygen and blood. These frontal lobes are responsible for thought, learning, perception, and emotion.
Mantra, meditation, and contemplation are all tools that facilitate this higher functioning of the frontal lobes. Spiritual teachers often recommend focusing one’s attention while chanting or meditating on this frontal part of the brain as well, placing attention on the “ajna chakra”, the meridian accessed through the space between the eyebrows, also called the “third eye”. I have found that my own efforts at reaching a true meditative state become easier when applying this approach. As you meditate, remember to let the tip of your tongue touch the upper part of your mouth just behind your upper teeth in order to connect the meridians.
The power of 108 (grateful acknowledgements to the Krishna Consciousness Movement)
Traditionally, the Gayatri mantra is recited or chanted 108 times on three occasions daily – at sunrise, at midday and at dusk, when the sun is setting.
It can be repeated in totals of 108, 1,008, 10,008, etc.
When we repeat the Gayatri mantra three times over the day, we are basically affirming the concept of the trinity of life – birth, growth, death.
A japa mala (prayer beads), having 108 beads, is often used during the chanting of the mantra.
For centuries, the number 108 has had relevance in Hinduism, Buddhism and in yoga and dharma related spiritual practices. Countless explanations have been given to provide significance to the number 108. Here are a few:
The ancient Indians were excellent mathematicians and 108 may be the product of a precise mathematical operation (e.g. 1 power 1 x 2 power 2 x 3 power 3 = 108) which was thought to have special numerological significance.
There are 54 letters in the Sanskrit alphabet. Each has masculine and feminine, Shiva and Shakti. 54 times 2 is 108.
On the Sri Yantra, there are marmas (intersections) where three lines intersect, and there are 54 such intersections. Each intersections has masculine and feminine, shiva and shakti qualities. 54 x 2 equals 108. Thus, there are 108 points that define the Sri Yantra as well as the human body.
9 times 12 is 108. Both of these numbers have been said to have spiritual significance in many ancient traditions.
The chakras, our energy centers, are the intersections of energy lines, and there are said to be a total of 108 energy lines converging to form the heart chakra. One of them, Sushumna, leads to the crown chakra, and is said to be the path to Self-realization.
In vedic astrology there are 12 constellations, and 9 arc segments called namshas or chandrakalas. 9 times 12 equals 108. Chandra is moon, and kalas are the divisions within a whole.
In 108, 1 stands for God or higher Truth, 0 stands for emptiness or completeness in spiritual practice, and 8 stands for infinity or eternity.
It is said that Atman, the human soul or center goes through 108 stages on its journey.
There are 108 forms of dance in the Indian tradition of Bharatanatyam.
There are 108 Upanishads according to the Muktikopanishad.