Sacred Syllables

Mantras—Words with Spiritual Potency

A mantra is a sacred syllable, word, or set of words that have spiritual potency. From its etymology, there are two main ways of translating the word mantra, a “mind instrument” and a form of mental activity that brings salvation.

  1. The Sanskrit word mantra comes from man (“mind” orto think”) and the suffix tra, which is used to make words denoting instruments or objects. Thus, a mantra is an instrument of thought, or a mind instrument.Mantras are tools to transport the mind from a state of activity to one of stillness and silence. Therefore, thinking activity associated with a mantra is no ordinary thinking: it is not vikalpa (the conceptual, discursive form of thought that accompanies empirical language). It is a more intense, more effective thinking activity, a cogitation that is also one-pointed, since it is connected with a concentrated form of speech and endowed with special potency and efficacy.
  1. Another etymological interpretation of the word mantra relates the suffix tra to the Sanskrit root trai (“to save”). In this way, mantras are seen as a special form of “mental activity that brings salvation.”

The Value of Mantras

The efficiency and significance of a mantra depends, to a large degree, on the level of consciousness of the practitioner (called mantrin) who uses it.

On the other hand, the intrinsic value of a mantra lies mainly in its vibrational quality, not in any psychological meaning that humans, society, culture, or civilization has placed on it. There are countless mantras—seventy million, according to Tantric lore. There is a wide variety, in form and purpose. Just as in the Universe there are infinite forms of energy, there are also many mantras—high and low, dangerous and beneficial, endowed with limited or unlimited powers, from para vak (the supreme Word) to the most mundane level.

Sri Aurobindo Offers More Clarification about the Way in Which a Mantra Functions:

“The function of a mantra is to create vibrations in the inner consciousness that will prepare it for the realization of what the mantra symbolizes and is supposed indeed to carry within itself.”

A mantra is a combination of sacred syllables that forms a nucleus of spiritual energy. It serves as a magnet to attract, or a lens to focus, spiritual vibrations. “Twofold is the aspect of Divinity, one, subtle, represented by the mantra, and the other, gross, represented by an image.” (Yamala Tantra)

Therefore, a mantric syllable symbolizes the essence of divinity, and reciting such syllables brings the yogi closer to union with the divine.

For another approach to coming closer to your innermost Self, try our free guided meditation on the Consciousness of Oneness on Insight Timer.

Learn more about mantras in Hridaya Yoga Retreat: Module 2.