Using a sound or phrase to focus the mind is a popular approach in many spiritual traditions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, and Islamic Sufism. In Sanskrit, these special sounds are called mantras and are thought to help better focus attention. Mantra Yoga made its debut in the Western world in the late 1960s with the Transcendental Meditation (TM) movement, founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, whose most famous disciples were The Beatles.
Here are some well-known mantras:
✓ The syllable om is composed of the letters a, u, and m, and stands for the waking state, dream state, and deep sleep respectively. Hindus consider this syllable to be sacred and to symbolize the ultimate reality, or higher Self (atman). The sound begins from the belly and moves upward; the long-drawn, nasalized humming sound of m represents the ultimate reality.
✓ The mantra so'ham (pronounced so-hum) means "I am He," that is, "I am the universal Self." You repeat it in sync with breathing: so on inhaling and ham on exhaling.
✓ Buddhist Yoga widely uses the mantric phrase om mani padme hum (pronounced om mah-nee pahd-meh hoom). It means "Om. Jewel in the Lotus. Hum," which conveys that the searched-for higher reality is present here and now.
✓ The mantric utterance om namah shivaya (pronounced om nah-mah shee-vah-yah) is a favorite phrase among Hindu devotees of the Divine in the form of Shiva. It means "Om. Salutation to Shiva."
✓ The mantric utterance hare krishna (pronounced hah-reh krish-nah) was made famous in the West by the members of the Krishna Consciousness movement. It invokes the Divine in the form of Krishna, who is also called Hari.
According to the Yoga tradition, sounds are considered mantras only after a guru passes the sound to a worthy disciple. Thus, the syllable om on its own — without proper initiation — isn't a mantra. Many Western Yoga teachers take a more relaxed approach and recommend both traditional and contemporary words for mantra practice.
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