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How does one define a mantra? Does it have any specific attributes?

Some mantras are purported to have some effect on the invoker. For example, the Mahamrityunjaya mantra is supposed to bring good health.

How should I believe this? It's like believing in spells and magic. Is it just a question of faith?

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What is a Mantra?

The definition of Mantra is

Mananat Trayate Iti Mantrah

The repetition of which protects or liberates one is called a Mantra (one of many possible translations)

Traditionally Mantra's are the ones commonly chanted by priests. But most saints say that the most powerful mantra is just chanting the name of your Ishta Deva.

Sri Swami Sivananda says in The Secret of Bhakti Yoga by Sri Swami Sivananda:

The name is a verbal expression of the conception of the Supreme Being, who is known by different names and forms, in different climes and times.

Without the name of the beloved none may hope to cross the sea of samsara (worldly existence). The Lord's name is the lasting medicine against any kind of ailment. You cannot be overtaken by sorrows, sins, troubles, sicknesses if you take refuge in the Lord's name. Repetition of the Lord's name dispels all fears and evil thoughts.

What are the (general) benefits of chanting Mantras?

Chanting mantra has three fold benefit

1. Physical benefits:

By constant chanting and repetition of a mantra, your body gets purified and unwanted toxins are removed.

In Power of Chanting by Melanie Cooper, she paraphrases Jonathan Goldman's words in His article, the Science behind Mantra Chanting

He lists physical benefits (of mantra chanting) firstly as relaxation, it lowers heart beat, calms brain waves and relaxes the breath. Chanting balances the functioning of the two sides of the brain and oxygenates the brain.

How? Because by constant repetition of the mantra, one is knowingly (or unknowingly) regulating one's breathing patterns and heart-rate. Prana, which is another name for the life-force, is very important for proper functioning of the body-mind complex. By regulating your breath and your prana, you are automatically getting physical benefits.

Sri Swami Sivananda says in The Science of Pranayama

If one controls the breath or Prana, the mind also is controlled. He who has controlled his mind has also controlled his breath.

He who practises Pranayama will have good appetite, cheerfulness, handsome figure, good strength, courage, enthusiasm, a high standard of health, vigour and vitality and good concentration of mind.

Note that Pranayama here refers to the specific Yogic technique where the breath is consciously and specifically controlled and regulated. This must not be experimented without guidance by Guru as it could have bad side effects if not done accurately. However, by chanting mantras constantly and sincerely, this regulating of breath and prana occurs naturally and thus does not have any negative side effects.

2. Mental benefits:

By constant chanting and repetition of a mantra, you begin to get pure thoughts, good positive energy flows into your Mind. With great positive thoughts, pure thoughts, divine thoughts, your Mind gets purified.

When the Mind is purified, all the six enemies of the mind - lust, anger, greed, pride, delusion and jealousy - get weakened and lose their grip over you.

How? Because each Mantra has a meaning and is associated with God. Thus by chanting the Mantra one is knowingly (or unknowingly) thinking benign and positive thoughts, divine thoughts, thereby creating a strong positive force.

Sri Swami Sivananda expounds about the Gayatri mantra repetition in Gayatri Japa:

The mind is purified by constant worship. It is filled with good and pure thoughts. Repetition of worship strengthens the good Samskaras. "As a man thinks, that he becomes. " This is the psychological law. The mind of a man who trains himself in thinking good, holy thoughts, develops a tendency to think of good thoughts. His character is moulded and transformed by continued good thoughts.

3. Spiritual benefits:

By constant repetition of a Mantra, one develops renunciation, which leads to liberation, which leads to self-realization or to God.

Paramhansa Yogananda says in Cosmic Chants:

Holding the attention unbrokenly on the real Cosmic Vibration, Aum or Om, not on an imaginary or an outward sound, is the beginning of real superconscious chanting.

Gradually the subconscious repetition will change into superconscious realization, bringing the actual perception of God. One must chant deeper and deeper until the chanting changes into subconscious and then superconscious realization, bringing one into the Divine Presence.

How? Because by chanting a Mantra with sincerity and devotion, one is knowingly (or unknowingly) putting focus on the Mantra or on God. By putting focus on God, the focus on the World is lost. This leads one to detachment.

No longer concerned about the wins and defeats in life, one goes on merrily chanting the Mantra, putting the focus on God. Thus by forgetting the world, one remembers God.

From a jnanic perspective, this is self-realization (negating the unreal and realizing the real), from a bhakti perspective, this is madhurya bhava (unconcerned about the world and concerned only with God), from a karma perspective, this is vairagya (detachment to fruits). This leads to moksha.

Paramhansa Yogananda says in His works about concentration and its effect:

When a person by unshakable concentration can visualise any image or object with closed eyes, he gradually learns to do the same with open eyes. Then by further development of concentration, he can connect with God’s all-powerful consciousness and can materialise his thought into an object, perceived not only by himself but by others also.

Concentration consists in freeing the attention from distractions and in focusing it on any thought in which one may be interested.

There are also other benefits, like providing good karma by chanting, removal of bad karma, quick progress in spirituality, getting desires fulfilled, etc.

How am I to believe this?

(Just examples) Mrityumjaya mantra helps to overcome fear. Gayatri mantra helps to become discriminate and detached. Omkara helps to balance all states of the mind.

How is this possible? Is it like some kind of magic?

Analogy:

Most of the users here are computer scientists, i.e. they know how to code. So let's take a analogy of computers.

We write computer programs. When we write something like printf ("Hello Dear Divine sparks");. The computer prints it out.

How is this possible?

The computer itself is incapable of understanding our words. It can only understand
machine code isn't it? Therefore in order to communicate with the computer we have
something called the programming language. When the syntax of the programming
language is properly followed, it is possible for communicating with the computer.

Using just coding, computers can be made to UNBELIEVABLE, SUPERB things, isn't it?

The same goes for the body. The body is like a machine, it can only understand machine-level language. Thus is it not possible to issue statements to the body such as 'become hotter' or 'become colder' and expect the body to respond to that.

In order to communicate with the body-mind complex, the programming language called the Mind is needed. The Mind is the programming language that helps to communicate with the body. Then who is the programmer? The programmer is the soul or jiva or individual consciousness or I-consciousness.

In order to instruct the body in an efficient manner, the syntax of the programming language must be used.
This syntax is the Mantra. By properly following the syntax of the programming language (don't miss any semi-colon!! or don't make logical error)
the computer's true inherent abilites can be used. Similarly by proper pronunciation, proper meaning and proper techniques,
the inherent abilities of the body-mind complex can be brought to unfold.

Sri Swami Sivananda on Practical Aid to Japa in 'Japa Yoga'

Pronounce the Mantra distinctly and without any mistakes. Repeat it neither too slowly nor too fast. Increase the speed only when the mind wanders.

Just as different programming languages have their own syntax, different languages have their own mantras. Thus sticking to the Sanskrit language for chanting Sanskrit mantras is beneficial.

How important is proper pronunciation and proper chanting for liberation:

However, this is only if you want the specific worldly and physical benefits of the mantra. For the one who desires LIBERATION, the good karma and other benefits or siddhis provided by these mantras are simply obstacles on the way to Self-Realization or Moksha.

In the Bhaagavata 11.15.33 it says:

The most wise ones say that those who are engaged in the cultivation of the sublime path of Bhakti (Devotion) or Giaan (Self-knowledge), and who are trying to link with Me (i.e., God), for them all these Sidhis are obstacle; because of these Sidhis, they end up uselessly wasting there time.

Thus the sadhaka who desires moksha does not chant in order to get these worldly benefits, He chants in order to get closer to God. Thus the first three benefits apply to the sadhaka desiring Moksha, while the worldly benefits, such as gaining siddhis (supernatural abilities), getting money, getting fame, etc. do NOT interest him.

Sri Ramakrishna says in The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna:

People of small intellect seek occult powers—powers to cure disease, win a lawsuit, walk on water, and such things. But the genuine devotees of God don't want anything except His Lotus Feet.

For such sadhaka, it is not necessary to follow any strict rules for realization. For such a sadhaka, chanting the GOd's name with FAITH, FOCUS and LOVE is alone enough (although a Mantra initiated by the Guru will do Wonders on His growth).

Sri Ramakrishna says

Approach the Divine as a child approaches his mother, with the same purity, sincerity, ardent love, and faith, and the Mother will come to you! Call ‘Ma, Ma’; call again and again. The Mother is bound to come.

That is it is not necessary to use complex punctuations and tongue twisting incantations to call upon the Lord of the Universe Sri Krishna, all that is needed is Love and Faith.

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    Hands down you post make me wana chant all the time. Thank you Sai! You can't chant without perfect knowlage about the subject. When thougts will fail to understand importance of mantras I will read this post of yours! Thank you again and again! – user2578 Jan 24 '16 at 21:32
  • @urosjarc Thank you very much dear friend! God loves sincerity and practice! You are the one who always puts teachings into practice so hats off to you! :)! – Sai Jan 25 '16 at 15:27
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Mantra recitation might be said to be the mother of meditation. With the recitation of a mantra, the mind promptly concentrates on a solitary thought expediting transcendence (consciousness past the mind). By presenting the mantra, smooth meditation is upgraded even while doing ordinary tasks.

When we meet a higher conscious being as a saint, yogi, or even camouflaged as a cab driver, we realize that we are inspired by the expressions, activity or basically the minor presence of that individual.

Mantras serve as an extension of consciousness.

The point at which we accept the mantra from a guru, we have to comprehend the importance of this to be a start in which we are in eternity joined in consciousness with the guru. By recounting the mantra, the seeker has the ability to move above states of consciousness and turn into the expert.

Each time we recite our mantra, we are conjuring the presence of our guru. An illuminated ace’s vicinity in our lives is securing, nurturing and managing. Bit by bit, our own particular consciousness turns into the presence of the master.

Reciting the mantra stirs the state of euphoria.

As we chant the mantra, we transcend the points of confinement of the mind. Reciting mantras cause delight because of the mind slipping far from its past energy and getting the anxiety free ‘now’ minute. We stir to the now minute without stressing about the past or future, when the mind is repressed to the ever present congruity in the center of our being. We have the ability to experience a state of happiness inside the mantra that the sages of days of yore experienced. Hold on to the state of delights inserted inside the mantra, and start to broaden this state of satisfaction in our being. Through mantras we can transform the patterns of our past thinking.

We can’t simply practise a mantra, by understanding it out of a book. The Guru is an individual, who has picked up dominance over the specific mantra and the Guru will start you into the mantra by whispering it, into your right ear, and likewise do chant it once on the Mala (rosary) we plan on using. There are mantras which are practised by individuals alone and they too can indicate results. However, it is arguably better to get the mantra from a skilled Guru, as the mantra has come to be “animated” by his practise, and he passes this down to us and we will be able to understand the way it can be recited.

Source : http://www.ishtadevata.com/blog/the-significance-of-a-mantra.html#sthash.hkCqOYSi.dpuf

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Let me answer scientifically..

Mantras are some kind of sounds produced vocally. Mantra effects one who both chants and hears them including objects. As @Sai said how it effects humans, in the same way it effects objects also.

Resonance: "the state of a system in which an abnormally large vibration is produced in response to an external stimulus, occurring when the frequency of the stimulus is the same, or nearly the same, as the natural vibration frequency of the system."

Due to vibrations produced by sounds many bridges and buildings have fallen down due to the effects of resonance – or to be more precise, mechanical resonance. This is the susceptibility of a structure to respond at an increased amplitude when the frequency of its oscillations matches its natural frequency of vibration. In other words, this means that if a structure begins to vibrate in a violent manner, it’s liable to fail mechanically and this can quickly lead to its total destruction.

So sounds can cause destruction of materials.

Resonance disaster: An individual resonance is the condition when a natural frequency of a structure or material and the frequency at which it is being excited are equal or very nearly equal. This results in the structure or material vibrating strongly and is the classical resonance state. This resonance state can often lead to unexpected behaviour of the structure or material.

When an singer vibrates a glass with their voice, they have matched the resonant frequency of the glass. As the singer increases the volume of their sound, the resonance becomes too great for the forces that hold the glass together and it shatters. Modern medicine now uses sound waves to break up kidney stones and gallstones. Every object, every organ, every bone, every cell in the body has its own resonant frequency. Together they make up a composite frequency like the instruments of an orchestra. When one organ in the body is out of tune it will affect the whole body. Through sound healing it may be possible to bring the diseased organ into harmony with the rest of the body,hence avoiding the need for drugs or surgery.

Mantras are a collection of definite sounds (energy waves, emphasis is laid on the proper pronunciation, when implemented starts bringing about a change in the body) meant for specific purpose, which when practiced has the capacity to bring about the desired change. As in lot of hindu myths they do structural destructions with mantras. But it is pretty hard to collapse huge structures with the voice produced vocally.

We might have a question like why mantras doesn't show effect as it shown in myth's?

i don't know exactly,(appreciate if someone tells) but it minimum effect. May be frequency and intensity variation in chanting. we don't know what frequency and intensity was.The voiced speech of a typical adult male will have a fundamental frequency from 85 to 180 Hz.

Sorry for sound lectures.

Cymatics: Cymatics (from Greek: κῦμα "wave") is the study of visible sound co vibration, a subset of modal phenomena. Typically the surface of a plate, diaphragm, or membrane is vibrated, and regions of maximum and minimum displacement are made visible in a thin coating of particles, paste, or liquid.1 Different patterns emerge in the excitatory medium depending on the geometry of the plate and the driving frequency.

The science of cymatics shows us how sound vibrations can now be visualized.It is also able to reveal the beautiful, transformational patterns that ancient mantras create when their vibrations pass through water. Beautiful patterns emerge, and as the music changes the water responds. Evan Grant, a cymatologist, says, “Sound does have form and we have seen that it can affect matter and cause form within matter.” check some cymatic patterns of sacred mantras in youtube. Mantras cymatic patterns are showing chakras of cosmic body. Some sounds are even used in dna healing.

Sorry for sound lecture.

Mantras: A mantra is a word, phrase, sound, or set of words that seekers use. Voice should never be looked upon merely as ‘air’ emitted by the mouth. In fact it is like a potent material via which many types of aims can be fulfilled.

Pravivipadwach urmi na sindhuhu.

…………….Rig Veda (9/96/7)

MEANING: Just as waves appear in the ocean, in the same way the waves of Vak (speech) also along with vibrations appear.

Prajapatirva idamek adhitasya vageva stamasit vag dwitiya sa ekshate mameva vach visrija. Iyam va id sarva vibhavavatyeshyatit.

………….Tandya Brahman (20/14/2)

MEANING: Prajapati or creator was alone. Apart from him only Vak was the wealth he possessed. He made a wish that he create this Vak. This Vak shall become everything.

Tadayat kincharvachinam brahmanastad vageva sarvam.

After Brahman (cosmic consciousness/God) whatever exists is Vak.

Vag via twashta.

………………….Aitereya Upanishad (2/4)

MEANING: Vak itself is Twashta deity.

Vak vaivishwakarmarshihi vachahid sarvam kritam.

……………Shatpath (8/1/2/9)

MEANING: This Vak itself is Vishwakarma Rishi who designed (‘engineered’) this world.

Yo vai tam vacham veda yasma eva vikaraha sa sampratividakari vai sarva vak.

…………….Aitereya Brahman (2/3/6)

MEANING: Those who know this primeval fount Vak are called Sidha Purushas (self/God realized saints) and knower of true wealth.

P.S. This might not be an answer. But it's my opinion and it will support answer.

Source: various sites.

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Mantras are sanskrit texts. Depending upon which sanskrit texts are repeated will depend upon the effect. To get the effect, a mantra must be pronounced and intoned in the proper manner. Just as singing a song needs to be pronounced and intoned properly to give pleasure to those listening, a mantra must be intoned and pronounced correctly to deliver the proper vibrations and the desired effect. Just as singing a song sets up a series of vibrations which can be either pleasurable or unpleasurable depending upon the talent of the singer, so repeating a mantra properly sets up a series of vibrations, both physical and subtle. Different mantra vibrations deliver different effects just as different songs (also vibrations) can put a hearer's mind in different moods.

There are different types of mantras. The Atharva Veda is filled with mantras for wealth, progeny, marriage, etc. Brahmin priests are trained in the proper intonation and pronunciation of these different mantras.

Certain mantras ('power of words') can give a person siddhis (powers) - Patanjali's Yoga Aphorisms (IV. 1.)

The fruition of these mantras, those for wealth, progeny, Siddhis, etc., is in this universe and only in this universe.

Other mantras help one to realize God. The repetition of these mantras sets up vibrations which purify the nerve currents and the mind. Swami Virajananda (disciple of Swami Vivekananda) says in his book (Paramartha Prasanga - Towards the Goal Supreme, p 201-202) - "Japa of the Mantra [diksha mantra or bija mantra] or the holy name of God, meditation and worship have been prescribed in order that, by constant repetition and by the habit of continued practice, this thinking and remembrance of God may take firm root in the mind. For this reason alone it is necessary to repeat mentally the holy Mantra of the Chosen Ideal [Ishta] over and over again daily, for a long time. The things with which we are continually occupied, or which we constantly reflect upon, leave their impression on the mind. Though they appear to melt away from the mind, they remain there in a subtle state, in the form of Samskaras, or ingrained tendencies of the past; and as soon as they find a favorable atmosphere they prompt men unawares to thought or action--in an evil way, if the bad tendencies are strong, in a good way , if the tendencies are good. It is therefore seen that evil-doers gradually engage even more in evil deeds, and those who are diligently struggling for spiritual progress advance rapidly in that direction."

The Upanishads teach the repetition of Om for Knowledge of Brahman. Swami Vivekananda said (Complete Works VII. p 62) - "Repeating the Om continually is the only true worship. It is not a word, it is God Himself."

There are also many holy mantras spread throughout the vedas and different scriptures. Repetition of these mantras are used to help the mind think of God.

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    Swamiji namaskAram. Aren't there restrictions to chanting the OmkAra? For e.g., grihastAs (householders) must not chant it too often nor should women. For the praNava increases vairAgyam (dispassion) and is prescribed for sanyAsis. Women are also forbidden from uttering the swAhAkAram. Please correct me if I am wrong. Thank you. – user1195 Jan 9 '15 at 12:48
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    These are popular excuses among worldly people for not doing. These are not reasons for doing. Scripture makes no such restrictions. Sri Chaitanya says in his poem - Chant the Name of the Lord: "No times are set, no rites are needful for chanting of Thy name. So vast is Thy mercy." – Swami Vishwananda Jan 10 '15 at 9:24
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definition of mantra: sound, word or collection of words (sentences) which have a positive or neutral meaning attached to them. for example the word "peace" or "sun" can be a mantra, but not "hate" as the last word has negativ energy attached to it. relate this answer to the famous japanese scientist¨s (I cannot remember his name now) research into how water crystals reacted to the different frequencies/energies put forth from from spoken or written words. Relate this answer to how plants respond differently to music (in the study I read plants liked classical music, but responded badly to rock music). Relate this answer to how music can break glass, etc.

practice a mantra yourself to experience the benefit. the first mantra I ever practiced was "buddho". it gave me nothing but a calm mind sometimes (which is of course enough). in this case I believe the mantra was a tool to achieve concentration.increased concentration led to calm. apart from that the mantra did nothing for me, as I could perceive at least. later I learned a mantra called kunci which is several sentences long. upon practicing it, I got some very strange experiences. today I continue to have these experiences in day to day life. in this case the mantra behaved like an "activator". the mantra activated something within me, or, the mantra opened a door between me and something else. anyway it opened up communication of some sorts between me and that something else. another effect of this mantra was inflow or outflow, or perhaps both, of energy above my head. that happens from time to time. the strange thing is that this particular mantra gave results very quickly. so regardless what people think I have my own proof now that mantras work. but mantras work differently. in any case a mantra will help still the mind, which is good. wanting to have mystical experiences is not a good motivator to start with a mantra, even though a mantra can give you that. because mantras should be used to attain peace.

believe whatever you want. experience is always the best teacher in my eyes.

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Mantra is a vehicle used for mind to attain a target. Just like you are far away from a target, but you use your bow and arrow to attain target, so is the mantra. If the mind is focused on a mantra, in itself, that will not be wise. Instead understand the target and focus on it, using mantra just to bound the thoughts from bondage.

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