Mantras are sounds, syllables, and words as the source of spiritual transformation.
One of the primary goals for those who practice Hinduism and Buddhism is to experience a transformation of consciousness through particular acts of the mind and body. A mantra is a vocalized or written repetition of syllables, words, or phrases that helps to focus the mind and body in order to achieve this transformation. In some mantras, the words themselves become an action that can bring about the transformation. The sound or words of a mantra are representative of an ultimate reality that is meaningful beyond the understanding of the person who is pronouncing them. By performing a mantra, a person is able to place their mind and will in line with the ultimate reality.
The most recognizable mantra is the sound or syllable “Om.” According to the the Upanishads part of the Hindu Vedas, written between c. 1500 and c. 500 BCE-the syllable “Om” represents all of creation. Meditating while uttering this syllable brings the subject closer to realizing the connectedness of all things in the universe. Mantras are also meaningful in the Buddhist tradition, in which they have been expanded beyond vocalized sounds to include written language and characters. As Buddhism spread to China, the writing of mantras became more important as a form of meditation. In either form, vocalized or written, repetition of mantras is a common form of meditating on their fundamental truth.
The idea of a mantra is important for understanding the way that a person’s mind can be intentionally and completely focused on a certain task. Mantras are particularly useful in religious practices that strive to push the self beyond its own consciousness. Outside of religious traditions, the term “mantra” has come to refer to any phrase that is commonly repeated, typically one that contains an essential truth or guiding principle.