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Simon Heather
Category: Sound Healing


“Om is the ascent to the all” - Lama Govinda

Mantra is a Sanskrit word. Its root comes from the Sanskrit words, 'man'' meaning 'to think,' and 'tra' from 'trai'' meaning 'to protect' or 'to free from bondage'. Hence the word mantra means 'the thought that liberates and protects'.

Robert Thurman in the ‘Tibetan Book of the Dead’ says that mantra literally means ‘saving the mind.’ A mantra is a sound that expresses the deepest essence of creation. Some mantras are just a single syllable others are much longer. The ancient seers knew that mantras whether sung or inwardly recited, bring about a subtle inner process that gradually awakens the chakras and leads us to deeper levels of consciousness.

The mind rides on the subtle energy of the breath, which moves through subtle channels in the body. When we chant a mantra, we are filling our being with its subtle energy.

Sogyal Rimpoche says that in Tibetan Buddhism mantra is used to unite the mind with the essence of truth. He says that mantra is ‘that which protects the mind’. Repeating a mantra protects the mind from dwelling on negative thoughts.

He says that when we are nervous, disorientated, or emotionally fragile, chanting a mantra inspiringly can change our state of mind completely. This is because mantras are the embodiment of the truth in the form of sound. Each syllable of a mantra is impregnated with spiritual power; each mantra condenses a spiritual truth, and "vibrates with the blessing of the speech of the Buddhas.” (Rinpoche, 1992, p71)


Peter Hamel says that the most important mantra is 'OM.' OM corresponds to the Christian word 'AMEN', and the Moslem word 'AMIN.'   In the Upanishads, the ancient scriptures of India, OM is divided into its phonetic components, A, U and M.

If we pronounce AUM slowly, we open the mouth wide with the sound 'A', gradually close the mouth to produce the sound 'U', and close it with the sound 'M'. In this way AUM embraces the whole frequency range of human speech.

The Latin word ‘Omne’ and the Sanskrit word ‘AUM’ are both derived from the same root meaning, 'All,' and both words convey the concepts of omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence. At the beginning of AUM is the sound 'A' and at the end is 'M', similar to the Alpha and Omega used by the Greeks for the beginning and the end.

In Tibetan Buddhism OM is called ‘the body-vajra of all Buddhas’. It invokes the power of the universal, resonating with its omnipresence, and therefore occurs at the beginning of most mantras. In Sanskrit vajra means ‘thunderbolt’, ‘diamond’, or ‘adamantine’, denoting indestructibility and immutability. 

AUM is composed of three letters A, U, M. The letter 'A' symbolises the conscious waking state (physical plane), 'U' the dream state (astral plane) and 'M' the dreamless state of mind and spirit (causal plane).

Stephen Cross says that in the symbol for OM the three curves that are joined together stand for the three levels of reality within which man moves. The lowest curve represents the world of waking experience, corresponding to the physical body and to the material universe. The middle curve on the right hand side represents the dreaming state of man and corresponds to the mental life; the inner world of dreams, imagination and subjective experience.

The upper curve is said to represent the state of dreamless sleep, during which consciousness persists. It corresponds to the causal body, ‘subtler than the subtlest’ from which the other two states arise. Above these three curves is a dot, which has an arc below it to emphasise its separation from the rest. This dot stands for that other order of reality that lies altogether outside manifestation, and can never be grasped by the mind.

The entire symbol, together with the crescent and the dot, stands for the fourth state, samadhi, which combines all these states and transcends them. The crescent symbolises the veil of illusion, maya, and the dot beyond represents the transcendental state.


Peter Hamel recounts the story of Sir John Woodroffe, a colonial judge in India at the time of British rule who had to pronounce judgement between two quarrelling families. In court he became confused, at one moment he found himself sympathetic to one family, then found that he was accepting the arguments of the other family having already rejected them the day before.

Afterwards he discovered that both families had employed holy men to chant mantras to help them win the case! As a result of his experiences in India Sir John went on to study yoga and wrote the classic book ‘Serpent Power’.

Repeating a mantra has a powerful effect on the energy field of the body. Chanting a mantra helps us to maintain a permanent connection with our divine essence. For people who find it hard to meditate, this is a wonderfully simple practice. Constantly repeating a mantra will keep our mind free of negative thoughts. 

Many mantras are connected with deities within the traditions that they are used. For instance the Hindu mantra Om Namaha Shivaya is the mantra of Shiva, who embodies the divine energy that exists within all life.

When we chant this mantra, we become one with Shiva, our own inner divinity. Chanting this mantra helps us to purify our inner nature and keeps us in a state of alignment with the divine.

Babaji, the Indian Saint who lived in Northern India said, "by drinking the nectar of God's name, one attains God's holy abode. By chanting the name of the Lord/Divine Mother, you create harmony within yourself and in the world around you. It is like pure water that cleanses your mind and heart."

Babaji recommended repeating the mantra Om Namaha Shivaya while doing all actions. Chanting this mantra will purify our actions and our desires.

At the end of most Sanskrit mantras 'Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti' is chanted. This invokes Peace in mind, body and soul.


In Tibetan Buddhism the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum is the mantra of the Buddha of compassion, Chenrezig. This mantra is associated with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

When we chant this mantra we become one with the quality of compassion. Om Mani Padme Hum means, "I am the jewel of compassion within the lotus of wisdom ". Chanting this mantra helps to purify all the chakras of the body. According to Sogyal Rinpoche it also creates a purifying effect on the six realms of existence.


In the Christian tradition prayers are used with rosaries. This practice is very similar to the mantra practice of the East. The rosary beads are moved with each repetition of the prayer. Popular Christian prayers are Ave Maria (Latin) and Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison - 'Lord have Mercy, Christ have Mercy' (Greek). Early Christians also used the prayer Ma Ra Na Tha - 'Lord come Hither' (Aramaic).


Rumi the great Sufi poet and mystic, who lived between 1207 - 1273AD in Konga, Anatolia, Turkey said there are three requirements on the spiritual path: -

"The first is a tongue that silently repeats the name of God.

The second is a heart that offers thanks to God. Thanking God for bad as well as good.”

The third is a body that waits patiently."


Cross, S. (1994)                    The Elements of Hinduism.                               Shaftesbury, Dorset: Element Books

Govinda, L. (1960)              Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism.                 Boston, Mass: Rider

Hamel, P. (1978)                 Through Music to the Self.                                Shaftesbury, Dorset: Element Books

Rinpoche, S. (1992)            The Tibetan Book of Living and. Dying.        Boston, Mass: Rider

Thurman, R.A. (1994)        The Tibetan Book of the Dead.                        London: Aquarian

Woodroffe, J. (1974)          The Serpent Power                                              New York: Dover Publications

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