What is Mantra?

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Mantra is a sound vibration, used to free the mind from its obsessive nature. The definition of mantra is: mananat trayate iti mantrah– Through mantra one is able to manage the dissipations of the mind. This is the actual definition: through sound one is able to manage the distresses of the mind. This sound is vibration. Every vibration has a frequency. Sound can change the behaviour in animals. If one plays rock music, the behaviour of animals is different from when one plays classical music. The same is reflected in human beings. One form of sound vibration relaxes, another form of sound vibration stimulates. That is evident in music, for there are some types of music that bring peace and some that make the listener move and dance. This is the effect of sound.

Mantra is more subtle, for the sound vibrations of mantra work at the pranic level in the body. For example, if you use the mantra Om Namah Shivaya, from the religious perspective, Om Namah Shivaya means 'I salute Shiva'. From the yogic perspective, Om is the seed mantra, bija mantra, of ajna chakra, the sixth centre. Na is a sound of the fifth centre, vishuddhi chakra. Ma is also a sound of the fifth centre, in the throat. Shi and Va are sounds of the second centre, swadhisthana chakra. Ya is the sound of the heart, anahata chakra. These are the sounds or mantras, which correspond to the chakras in the body. In yoga, when you say Om Namah Shivaya, you are actually affecting and altering the behaviour of the shakti in these psychic centres, while the mind is focusing on whatever image is coming due to one's cultural beliefs.

Mantras are also given to people from the West where people do not know who Shiva is, they do not know who Rama is, they do not know who Devi is, yet they do the mantra practice. When they are doing their mantra, what are they concentrating on? They are not concentrating on the image of Shiva, Rama, Devi or Krishna. No; they are focusing on sound vibration. It is that sound vibration which is helping them. It is realigning, re balancing their body and mind. When a mantra is given to people from the East, people associate it instantly with a religious figure: this is Shiva's mantra, this is Rama's, this is Devi's mantra. They bring their culture into the mantra.

When the same mantra is taught in the West, people do not have that impression, so they focus on the vibration, and it is this vibration which changes them. Therefore, the definition of the word mantra is 'liberating the mind from its obsessive involvement in tensions, worries and anxieties'.

6 June 2014, Kathmandu, Nepal