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What are Mantras and Why Do We Use Them?

Updated: Nov 4, 2017

Mantra literally means ‘man – trang’ and these syllables mean ‘mind’ and ‘warp/weft’ (weaving). Mantras are sounds that disrupt the incessant thought waves in the personal and collective mind and bring harmony, peace and a cessation of agitation in the yogi vibrating the sounds. ‘Trang’ also has another connotation, as force…. In simpler terms, mantras keep the mind busy, allowing meditation and elevation. I call them holy brainwashing.

What is a seed mantra?

Seed mantras are the component sound syllables that comprise mantras; like a mala made of a series of beads, so a mantra can be made of a series of seed sounds. We can use simple beej mantras or compound mantras – like, Om Na Mo Na Ra Ya Na Ya (Om namo Narayanaya, invoking the sustaining and balancing force of creation).

Where do mantras originate from?

It is said that humans have evolved in a cyclic/spiral fashion through great ages of time, or yugas as they are known in Sanskrit. In yogic lore it is taught that in a previous golden age called, sattya yuga the rishis, or sages - women and men -'downloaded' certain seed sounds whilst deep in ritual and meditation, to chant and intone and plant and place, to ameliorate or elevate the human condition and connect to infinite source. These subtle seed sounds emanate from the depths of time and exist in the most subtle of realms - but in the epoch of sattva yoga sensitivities were far finer and the subtle realms were present to most people and not metaphors or hidden, esoteric truths. People lived with these realms as part of daily life.

Seed mantras are therefore primal sounds that activate spiritual forces to produce the particular effects that the aspirant desires. Using sound in this way is called naad yoga and it is integral to the practice of kundalini yoga. As an aspect of yoga it is of directly transmitted spiritual energy and therefore traditionally mantras were given in direct transmission from teacher to student along a very clear lineage. Yogi Bhajan broke with this tradition of needing a direct initiation from a teacher and opened out these yogic technologies to all aspirants, within the clear framework of the kundalini practice that we teach today as KYTA accredited teachers.

It should be noted that it is not necessary to understand Sanskrit to utilize and benefit from the seed sounds as they predate Sanskrit; which is in fact formed of these primordial seed sounds, bija mantras, and represented by the goddess Kali’s mala.

As an example of how beej mantras are taught in the Kundalini yoga tradition, we use SAT NAM to end class and indeed throughout certain kriyas. This mantra is made up of 4 beej mantras SA TA NA MA –

SA - infinite self TA - finite self NA - death MA - rebirth / resurrection

So in chanting these seed sounds, whose literal meanings are perhaps clumsy and finite in nature compared with the subtlety of their origin, "means:" I am an infinite being living on earth as a finite being. Or, I remember my origins. Bu of course we invoke this deep within the cells and beyond the rational mind.

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