I recently went to a mantra chanting event with one of my favourite teachers, Jana Runnalls from Glastonbury. We chanted various Sanskrit and Tibetan mantras that vibrated through our bodies and minds with a subtle charge that had the power to silence all thoughts. This caused me to reflect on my journey with mantra and how practising them changed my life completely.
I was introduced to Sanskrit mantra about a decade ago. I’d started to study Kundalini yoga then, a path of yoga on which mantras play a big part. Yet, it wasn’t until I visited India for the first time that things really began to fall into place for me. Within days of being there, I met Yogi Vishvketu and Chetana Panwar at Anand Prakash ashram, who practiced Agni Hotra fire ceremonies every morning as part of their spiritual practice. In this practice, many elaborate Sanskrit mantras are chanted while ghee and sacred herbs are offered into the fire for healing, purification and spiritual advancement. I began to participate daily, as well as chanting other, simpler mantras we were taught in class, and soon noticed profound shifts taking place in me. I started to feel more peaceful, more aware and more sensitive to myself and others. (You can read about this on my Travelling Priestess blog here).
However, one of the best and to this day most astonishing experiences of my life was taking mantra diksha (initiation) with my Guru Swami Satyasangananda (Satsangi) Saraswati. It is often said that mantras work best if they are ‘charged’ by a Guru who has walked the path to self-realization to completion and can thus give you a transmission of their spiritual powers. The person who has walked the path before you knows its pitfalls and dangers, and will also know the full meaning and potential of a given mantra. S/he is therefore able to select a mantra that is right for you and can lead you, too, to realization in time. This is because, through intense practice, the Guru has developed inner vision that allows him or her to see who you truly are at soul level. Therefore, the mantra, it is believed on many yogic paths, is the most important tool for moksha, liberation.
So, several years ago, I felt it was time to dedicate myself seriously to my spiritual path and put out an intention to meet the right spiritual teacher who could help me to do so. Just a little later, Swami Satsangi visited England and I was drawn to taking initiation with her. Before the actual initiation, my friend Rama slipped a little encouraging note into my hand. ‘Mantra is the bridge that connects’, it read. Connects us with what, I wondered then? Later, I understood that the mantra is the bridge that connects us with the Guru, but moreover, with the higher teachings, with our higher Self and ultimately, with the direct experience of the Absolute.
Before this happens, though, a purification process has to take place. We hold so many negative patterns and conditionings in our bodies and minds, and for energy to flow freely through our system, these need to be dissolved. Practicing mantra and other spiritual practices help us to eradicate the tensions that obscure our vision. Mantra thus aligns us with our true Self, with the person we are meant to be.
‘Everything will come out’, my Guru said during initiation. ‘Your jealousy, your rage, your anger, all the negative patterns you have suppressed within yourself will come out when you repeat this mantra. If you don’t want this to happen, then don’t practice it.’ Weird, I thought then, that repeating several syllables can cut through your personality and dissolve your karmas. I didn’t even know what that meant back then, or how it would affect me. I just decided to take the leap and trust.
And it worked. Looking back, I know now that by taking this first mantra initiation, something in me changed forever. At the time, it felt like something exploded in my head when my Guru touched my third eye. But it wasn’t really until years later that I realized how much it would transform me.
Mantra diksha aligned my entire life with my spiritual practice, and it is always bringing me closer to who I truly am – beyond the personality, the false identity, the karmas. Since I regularly practice mantra, I have become more creative, always more open to trusting and flowing with life, and less fearful. It has allowed me to see worldly life as a cosmic game – important in some way, but not important at all in another, bigger way. It has also brought more ‘difficulties’ into my life at times: it’s said that when we perform spiritual practices, our karmas come to resolution faster because the karmas ‘stand in our way’ to realization. If we recognize this, we can regard every perceived adversity as a blessing.
One funny side-effect of my mantra practice is that some things just ‘disappeared’ from my mind. I can only liken it to erasing a hard drive of a computer – it’s like mantra has done that to my mind and replaced the previous content with something else. More precisely: films, music, books, activities that meant so much to me before I went to India have just ceased to exist. In many cases, I don’t even remember them anymore, and when I do, it’s like a different person used to enjoy them. So be careful, for mantras really work: if you’re not ready to let go of your old identity, you might be in for a surprise! 🙂
I find the Maha Mrituyunjaya mantra particularly effective when I suffer of a physical or emotional pain – it tends to ease it within minutes. I recently suffered for hours of a migraine headache and then finally remembered to recite the mantra and very soon the pain was gone.
Even if you don’t take mantra diskha, mantras can still be helpful. Deva Premal and Miten recently offered a 21-day mantra challenge online, in which they introduced many mantras together with their meanings. This is really great if you don’t have much experience with mantra and would like to find out more.
Here are some of my favourite mantras (click on the links to find out more about them – you can also find them on Youtube for correct pronunciation):
Om Namah Shivaya – a universal mantra to awaken higher states of consciousness
Maha Mrityunjaya mantra – especially effective for healing
Gayatri mantra – ancient Vedic prayer that demonstrates the unity that underlies creation
Kali mantra – a powerful mantra for letting go
Ganesha mantra – great for starting new ventures and for removing obstacles
Durgapath – a wonderful mantra that keeps us aligned with our spiritual path
Enjoy the magical process of mantra sadhana!
My book ‘Meeting Shiva – Falling and Rising in Love in the Indian Himalayas’ is out now on Changemakers Books