Mantras

Overview

  • “Mantra” means a sacred utterance, numinous sound, or a syllable, word, phonemes, or group of words believed by some to have psychological and spiritual power in Sanskrit.
  • A mantra may or may not have syntactic structure* or literal meaning; the spiritual value of a mantra comes when it is audible, visible, or present in thought.
  • The earliest mantras were composed in Vedic times by Hindus in India, and those are at least 3000 years old. 
  • Mantras are now found in various schools of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Similar hymns, chants, compositions and concepts are found in Taoism, Christianity and elsewhere.
  • Mantras come in many forms, including ṛc (verses from the Rigveda for example) and sāman (musical chants from the Sāmaveda for example).
  • They are typically melodic, mathematically structured meters, thought to be resonant with numinous qualities. At its simplest, the word ॐ (Aum, Om) serves as a mantra. In more sophisticated forms, they are melodic phrases with spiritual interpretations such as human longing for truth, reality, light, immortality, peace, love, knowledge and action.

Definition

  • The Sanskrit word mantra consists of the root man- “to think” (also in manas “mind”) and the suffix -tra, designating tools or instruments, hence a literal translation would be “instrument of thought”.
  • Scholars consider mantras to be older than 1000 BC. By the middle Vedic period- 1000 BC to 500 BC – claims Frits Staal, mantras in Hinduism had developed into a blend of art and science.

Gayatri Mantra

  • The Gayatri mantra is considered one of the most universal of all Hindu mantras, invoking the universal Brahman as the principle of knowledge and the illumination of the primordial Sun. The mantra is extracted from the 10th verse of Hymn 62 in Book III of the Rig Veda.
  • Oṁ Bhūrbhuvaswaha Tatsaviturvarenyam bhargo devasya dhīmahi dhiyo yo naḥa prachodayāt
  • “Let us meditate on that excellent glory of the divine Light (Vivifier, Sun). May he stimulate our understandings (knowledge, intellectual illumination).