In mantra meditation, you repeat a particular sound or short phrase again and again. This can be done out loud (chanting), in your mind, or in some combination of the two. In many spiritual paths, you can’t just arbitrarily pick a mantra – your spiritual mentor or guru assigns one to you according to your phase of spiritual development and then later changes it in intervals as you grow. In other forms of meditation, spiritual or not, you pick a mantra from a given list of phrases that are thought to resonate positively. Not all mantras work well for all people, and unless you’re taking spiritual direction from a mentor you should feel free to try another.
Using a mantra while you’re meditating helps suppress the thoughts and distractions that arise and gives you a tool to use when you’re not meditating. Repeating a meditation mantra during times of stress, for many people, brings about some relaxation and helps them to better deal with whatever the crisis of the moment is. Depending on your belief system, the mantras may also do things like get you in touch with the true nature of the universe, help you spiritually closer to God, and/or activate energy centers.
Mantra Meditation is One of Many Ways
There’s a lot of ways to meditate. Besides using mantras, you could also focus on your breath, music, a real object, a mental visualization, or nothing at all (Zen). If you’re just starting out, don’t feel like you have to start by picking a mantra – you can start “meditation shopping” the different approaches. Many of the guided meditations are contemplative exercises for gratitude, cleansing, energy, and healing – where it’s not a single idea that holds focus, but an exploration of concepts or guided imagery.
You Might Want a Meaningless Mantra
For that matter, even in mantra meditation you could pick nearly any short phrase and have the same sort of cleansing, buffering effect against the mental trivia that inevitably rises during meditation. There’s some serious hitters backing the idea of your mantra having no meaning:
- Mantras in Transcendental Meditation are intended to have no intellectual meaning and that’s very important in that approach – you can read more here.
- Clinically Standardized Meditation (which was created by a psychologist using a scientific approach back in the 70s or 80s) also uses a set of 16 possible mantras that have no English meaning but have soothing sounds.
- The meaning of the phrase is irrelevant to those who subscribe to the idea that the phrase is really just a way at getting at the underlying vibration. According to the Chopra Center, the ancient seers behind the Vedic texts put down all of the primordial vibrations that make up the universe – and that we can hear them too, if we listen attentively enough to the background hum of the air. “As you meditate, the mantra becomes increasingly abstract and indistinct, until you’re finally led into the field of pure consciousness from which the vibration arose.”
Despite those three very hefty precedents, though, repeating something life-affirming and spiritual can add something positive to our consciousnesses. There’s abundant cultural heritage behind choosing something with meaning – or else I couldn’t supply you with this list, which just scratches the surface. There’s a ton more Hindu and Buddhist ones you could look at using, at least, and some people outside those paths just go directly to using the Lord’s Prayer or the name of God according to their religion of choice. My suggestion to you is that you simply explore to see what feels best for you, especially if you’re just getting started.
21 Mantras for Meditation
- “Aum”, “Om”: Sanskrit/Hindu, meaning “It Is” or “To Become”. This is considered most sacred in that tradition and to have the vibration of intention manifesting in the physical realm, or more simply the vibration of the universal consciousness. Also used in Buddhism and other traditions.
- “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”: Gandhi
- “El Shaddai”: Hebrew, meaning “God Almighty”
- “Elohim”: Hebrew, meaning “to whom one has recourse in distress or when one is in need of guidance”
- “Every day in every way I’m getting better and better.”: Laura Silva
- “Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha”, Buddhist meaning “Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone utterly beyond, Enlightenment hail!”. There’s an MP3 on wildmind.org.
- “Ham-Sah”, “So Ham” (often pronounced “So Hum”): Sanskrit, meaning “I am THAT”. It is suggested to use “So” on inhale, “Ham” on exhale.
- “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”: Hindu, read about its meaning here
- “I am that I am”: Hebrew, God’s answer to Moses when asked for his name
- “I change my thoughts, I change my world.”: Norman Vincent Peale
- “I love you, I’m sorry, Please forgive me, Thank You”: Hawaiian (Ho’oponopono)
- “Love is the only miracle there is.”: Osho
- “Maranatha”: Christian, meaning “Come Lord” and understood by some as the final teaching of the Christian Bible
- “Om A Ra Pa Ca Na Dhih”: Buddhist, and I’m not even going to try to break out the meaning of this in a list. Read about it here, video below.
- “Om Mani Padme Hum”: Buddhist, meaning “Hail the Jewel in the Lotus” (the jewel being Buddha, but that interpretation disagreed with by wildmind.org). Video below.
- “Om Namah Shivaya”: Hindu, meaning “I bow to Shiva”
- “Om Shanti Shanti Shanti”: Buddhist and Hindu, the starting of Om followed by peace of mind, peace of body, and peace of speech. Video below.
- “Om Vajrapani Hum”: Buddhist, read more and hear it on Wildmind
- “Namo Amita Bha”: meaning “Homage to the Buddha of boundless light”
- “Sabbe Satta Sukhi Hontu”: Buddhist, Pali phrase meaning “May all beings be well (or happy)”. There’s an MP3 on wildmind.org.
- “Sat, Chit, Ananda” “Existence, Consciousness, Bliss”, Sanskrit, “Satcitananda“. Deepak Chopra uses it, it refers to the subjective experience of Brahman.
Meditation Mantra Videos
“Aum” / “Om”
“Ham-Sah” / “So Ham”
“Om A Ra Pa Ca Na Dhih”
“Om Mani Padme Hum”
“Om Shanti Shanti Shanti”
Sources & Further Reading
- Buddhist Mantras, wildmind.org. They have quite a few more that I didn’t list above.
- Top 10 Mantras For Meditation finerminds.com
- Mantra definition by the Chopra Center, chopra.com
- Marantha – A Christian Mantra, swamij.com
- Om namah shivaya, meditationiseasy.com
- Om shanti shanti shanti, wildmind.org
- Prajñaparamita mantra, wildmind.org
- Sabbe satta sukhi hontu, wildmind.org
- Simple, Profound Meditation Mantras omharmonics.com
- Some Mantras to Dwell Upon, meditationiseasy.com
- The Power of Mantra Meditation, mayallbehappy.com
- What is the value of the ‘mantra’ in the practice of Transcendental Meditation? founder of the Transcendental Meditation program, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi explains on tm.org
- What is a Mantra? – includes audio from Deepak Chopra, explaining what a Mantra is, chopra.com