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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Mantras and Meditation

Buddhists recite mantras for various reasons--though some eschew mantras altogether.

For myself, I mostly recite mantras and gathas before and during meditating. They are great tools that aid me in relaxing my body and preparing my mind and lungs to allow for the deep breathing that is so important in most forms of meditation. They unite the body, speech and mind to aid in maintaining mindfulness. As we know, It is quite difficult to maintain mindfulness during meditation if our body, speech and mind are off doing their own things.

If I find myself wandering around in my mind during meditation I usually recite the gatha:

(Breathing in) I am present, (breathing out) I am mindful. This statement of intention brings my mind back to the current moment. It is a slight "nudge" that helps remind myself why I'm sitting here with my eyes closed and my legs crossed.

The Avalokiteshvara mantra (Om Mani Padme Hung in Tibetan) of compassion related to the Bodhisattva of Compassion Avalokiteshvara, for example, is a fantastic mantra that I use. It is like a key that aids my mind in opening the locks of duality, fear, anger and other unskillful emotions that tend to block my realization of compassion and its expression. It allows me to refocus my attention and concentration upon the importance of all beings and how their peace is my peace. It empowers me by realizing that Avalokiteshvara is within me and thus I have his/her potential.

It is like a "travel size" meditation that can be easily repeated in my mind during any situation where compassion might be difficult to realize. It isn't the words that matter so much for me but the intention and energy it summons. It is the intention and energy of remembering.

I see mantras as little "tricks" that can be used to access the peace, understanding and mindfulness that one experiences during meditation--at any place and at time. They act as symbols that help us reconnect with the timeless, formlessness of Sunyata (emptiness).

I wear prayer beads (mala) to count out the mantras as something to concentrate upon when I'm out somewhere. For example when we are on vacation and are waiting our turn in line to see a particular attraction I'll count the beads. Or when we go camping or backpacking and I do not have access to my cushion and altar. Just simply wearing the beads reminds me of the great teachings of the Buddha and his energy itself.

~Peace to all beings~

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trinitystar said...

Good little reminders for when one is trying to still the mind.
hope that you are well James! :o)

MikeNJ said...

Thanks for your blog! I just recently found it.
I think Om Mani Padme Hum is Sanskit.
Om Mani Peme Hung is the Tibetan.

MikeNJ said...

That would be Sanskrit not Sanskit.
Next time I will proofread.

EdaMommy said...

I've been contemplating wearing my mala daily. I think I will - you've inspired me. I have more permanent meditative reminders, though. I've got the Jewel Mantra written in Tibetan script inside one wrist, and a calligraphy-style lotus blossom inside the other. They do for me just what I was hoping - they are a very present, unavoidable reminder to return to center. I know that's not for everyone, and I'll tell you what they drive my Dad crazy, but that's what Daddy's do, eh? Great post, as usual!

They call him James Ure said...

Trinity Star:

I am in a rough patch today but I'm sure I'll come out of it. Hopefully sooner then later.


Thanks for the correction and thank-you for your kind words regarding the blog. I bow to the Buddha within you. _/I\_


It's weird. Whenever I wear my mala I feel calm and relaxed. Usually--not always but enough to where I have noticed something. Not sure if that is positive thinking on my part or what but I'm not complaining.

It's good energy and I'll take good energy anytime, anyway. Well, maybe not ANYway but you get the picture.

Are you talking tattoos? I have a few Dharma related tattoos as well. A Buddha on my left fore-arm and the Chinese characters for Buddha, Dharma and Sangha on my right fore-arm.

EdaMommy said...

Whoops, yes. LOL, I am so used to having them, I sort of forgot that I need to say "tattoo".

Be well,

Wade M said...

Hi James,

Interesting post. I've always wondered about those who wear Mala's in public and if they use them. I'm hoping you can clarify something for me.

When using in public, how do you chant the Mantra? If around people, it seems really odd to hear someone chanting, and it looks really odd to see someone muttering Mantras playing with a Mala. Hardly activities that are socially acceptable.

Also, I wonder how you are able to engage in life whilst focusing and bring your mindfulness back to the chant in question. Sitting in a quite spot there is no problems but they way you've written, it seems like an engaged practice, not a secluded one.

Last question, more a structure question; Mala's are from Tibetan schools, with you following in the Zen tradition, isn't it more correct to be using nenju/juzu?

Thanks and keep up the great work on the blog.


They call him James Ure said...

Eda: No worries. :)


Well, I chant the mantras in my head and discreetly as I can run the beads through my fingers. I do not count the mantras when I'm engaged in other activities but when I find myself having some free time. I often wait for my wife after work and sometimes do it then.

Even though I mostly follow the Zen tradition I do use the one Tibetan mantra of compassion (Om Mani Pedme Hung). I personally think that one does not necessarily have to simply use the mantras from ones own tradition.

I don't do the nenju/juzu mainly because it seems to revolve a lot around Amida Buddha. For me personally my practice does not emphasize Amida Buddha.

I also wear the mala through out the day, most days to remind myself of the Buddha and the beautiful Dharma that he taught. Plus, the continuous circle of beads reminds me of the sangha. In which, each bead represents individual practitioners joining together to form a strong circle of inter-being.

I personally do not think that the words are as important as the energy and concentration produced from using them.

Wade M said...

Hi James,

Thanks for the clarification. Your practice is much clearer to me now.

Totally agree it's not the words, it's the intent. In the same way, my 'free time' is spent coming back to the breathe/body rather than using a mantra/Mala.


They call him James Ure said...


I'm glad that I explained myself better. Peace to you as well brother. :)

Larry Keiler said...

I have heard mantras described...I forget protection for the mind, and I often recite them with that in mind. In that sense, they are also practical as well as spiritual. If you are reciting mantras (with some degree of mindfulness) you are less likely to be engaged in negative thoughts, words, or actions.

Tibetan Buddhists talk about mantras as having a mystical power in and of themselves, because they are the dharma speech of whatever buddha or bodhisattva they are attributed to. eg. Om Mani Padme Hum is the holy speech of Chenresig (Avalokiteshvara). Therefore, when you recite the mantra you are both absorbing and projecting the dharma. An excellent method of accumulating merit and treading the path to enlightenment.

Like you, I don't recite the mantras out loud, as in chanting, for the most part, unless I'm by myself or with a group engaged in the practice. But usually, it's not entirely mental either...a sort of internal whisper.

They call him James Ure said...


I also like the Heart Sutra mantra: Om gate gate paragata parasamgate bodhi Soha

mohit said...

This squidoo lens really rocks. You can find great articles on meditation ,which will open your eyes to your inner soul .One of my friends told me about this lens and its worth sharing here.

They call him James Ure said...

Thank-you Mohit.

i_rabbit said...

Wade M said: "Hardly activities that are socially acceptable." (referring to reciting mantras out loud in public)

I recite mantras, often with a mala, all the time in public and have found that it inspires more curiosity than scorn. Granted, I live in a pretty liberal city, but I have found that people are hungry for meaning and not finding it in their day to day lives. When they see someone 'normal', i.e., not wearing robes, chanting, it makes them curious. Especially when that person appears to be peaceful and content.

I consider it a great gift to be able to share what I am doing with people when they ask. Who knows, it may be the beginning of the path to liberation for them.

One of the challenges of being a Buddhist is to engage in the real world and not just 'on the mat'. Also to find ways and time to increase our practice and thus accumulate more merit. One of my favorite ways of doing this is chanting Om Mani Padme Hum while driving, it's a great opportunity to practice that might otherwise be spent absorbed in maya. All of our actions can be practiced with mindfulness after all and this can turn an otherwise mundane activity into an opportunity to purify our even help alleviate the suffering of others. I would hope that these activities/intentions are universally acceptable. My other favorite is the ten syllable Vajrasattva mantra: Om Vajrasattva Sarva Siddhi Hum, which I say as 'grace' before eating, visualizing Vajrasattva, reciting the mantra, offering confession and then dedicating any merit I have gained in the process to all sentient beings.

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