Updated: Nov 2, 2021
What is mantra meditation and how do you practice it?
There are a wide range of applications for mantra practice in Buddhism. As a start, they regulate the breath and subtle energies, allowing our minds to calm down.
They then help us to stay focused on positive states of minds or emotions, like love and compassion. Furthermore, they help integrate and harmonize our body, speech and mind. Finally, through deeper practice, mantras help us to gain access to the subtlest level of mind with a focus on voidness, leading us to the actual attainment of enlightenment for the benefit of all.
For some people, the word conjures up images of magical wish-granting syllables. Others think of chanting them as a form of prayer or devotion. Nowadays, political parties and commercial brands promote their “mantras” to us in the form of catchy slogans. None of this, however, is their intended use in Buddhist practice.
In Buddhism, mantras are utilized as sophisticated tools to help us to generate and stay focused on beneficial states of mind, like compassion for others, or clarity of thought.
The Sanskrit word mantra is made up of its root, man, meaning “mind,” with the suffix -tra meaning “tool” – precisely describing the kind of “mind-tool” that mantras are in Buddhism. They are also found in all Indian spiritual traditions, and beyond as well.
The Tibetans, for example, understood them as a form of “mind-protection,” a tool to protect the mind from disturbing thoughts and emotions.
Recited vocally or mentally, in or out of meditation, mantras help our minds to settle down and maintain mindfulness on a positive state.
Here, mindfulness refers to an awareness that acts as mental glue, holding our attention to the mantra and its associated mental state, and preventing us from wandering off or becoming dull.
Some mantras contain Sanskrit words mixed with syllables, while some just contain syllables. The words and syllables represent different aspects of the Buddhist teachings, like with this example of “om mani padme hum”:
Om – this syllable is made up of the three sounds a, u and m, and represents both the body, speech and mind attained with enlightenment, and our ordinary body, speech and mind that first need to be purified of their deficiencies.
Mani – this word means “jewel” and it refers to the first, or method side, of two factors that bring about the above purification. In this context, method is compassion, based on which we have the bodhichitta aim to attain enlightenment in order to benefit all beings as much as possible.
Padme – this means “lotus,” and it represents the second factor, wisdom, an understanding of emptiness. Voidness (emptiness) is the total absence of impossible ways of existing. Normally we project all sorts of nonsense concerning how we, others, and the world exist, but these projections do not correspond to reality. We believe these projections to be true, and so we become self-centered and unable to develop sincere altruistic compassion.
Hum – this syllable indicates the indivisibility, here of method and wisdom, that will bring about enlightenment for the benefit of all.
Tibetans pray to White Tara especially for health, healing and longevity. She offers healing to our wounds, whether it is our bodies or our minds that have been hurt.
White Tara is extremely powerful. Tara is very close to sentient beings, like a mother to her children. She is very quick to fulfill our wishes and to grant us happiness and a long life, as well as to help us develop wisdom. By taking refuge in Tara and practicing meditation, visualizations, and having faith, you have the power to remove obstacles to your life and to prolong your life.
Tara is closely related to Chenrezig (Avalokitesvara), the Bodhisattva of Compassion. White Tara has 7 eyes — with an eye in her forehead, and one on each hand and foot — symbolizing her compassionate vigilance to see all the suffering of the world.
The Tibetan way to say the mantra is this:
OM TARE TUTTARE TURE MAMA AYUR PUNE GYANA PUNTIN KURU SOHA
For Tibetans the two practices that everybody does, whether you are in the monastery or outside the monastery, are Tara, or at least the praises to Tara, and Chenrezig, the mani-mantra and the praises to Tara, everybody knows them by heart. Everybody chants them; when you are riding on busses, around dangerous corners and bends with steep ravines, then everybody is doing their praises to Tara overcoming fear and obstacles. So it is probably one of the most common practices that you find everywhere.
Mother Tara sincerely and with strong faith, she will protect us from all obstacles and fulfill all our wishes. Since she is a wisdom Buddha, and since she is a manifestation of the completely purified wind element, Tara is able to help us very quickly.
Green Tara is one of the most beloved figures in Tibetan Buddhism. As a bodhisattva, she helps people pass beyond the troubles of earthly existence and move toward enlightenment. She also protects people from numerous worldly dangers. The loving expression on the sculpture’s face embodies Tara’s maternal compassion.
The mantra of Green Tara is
OM TARE TUTTARE TURE SOHA.