Why Do We Use A Mantra?
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF A MANTRA OR A PRAYER WORD?
1. Helps us focus. It detaches us from the distractions that inevitably come when we are sitting quietly.
2. Leads us to stillness. The mantra helps us still our mind.
3. Teaches us simplicity. We gently and patiently repeat one word.
4. Reveals internal silence. We listen only to the sound of the mantra.
5. Expresses intention.The mantra is an expression of our faith and prayerful intention.
Full Mind/Distracted Mind
The problem all of us have in coming to inner silence in meditation is that our minds are full of thoughts, images, sensations, emotions, insights, hopes, and regrets ... a never-ending array of distractions.
An Indian sage, Sri Ramakrishna, once said the human mind is like a great tree with monkeys jumping from branch to branch chattering away. Fr. Laurence Freeman in commenting on this story says there is a path that leads through this forest of chattering monkeys and it is the practice of reciting the mantra in our daily periods of meditation.
The mantra is a help towards concentration, enabling us to go beyond distractions, including words and thoughts, even holy thoughts. We say the mantra interiorly, slowly, steadily. When we find our mind has wandered, we simply come back to the mantra. We cannot force this way of prayer through sheer will power. Do not try too hard. Let go, relax. There is no need to fight or struggle with distractions. Be aware of the distraction, let it go and simply return to the repetition of the mantra.
AttentionSimone Weil, the French author and apostle of the spiritual life, defined prayer as attention. The mantra leads us to this attention. Another French spiritual writer, Pascal, felt the greatest enemy of prayer was the ‘Gethsemani sleep’--- when the apostles slept instead of watching Jesus. Pascal felt that inattention and drowsiness were the enemies of prayer. The mantra helps us listen with attentiveness.
The mantra roots itself in our consciousness through the simple fidelity of returning to the mantra each morning and each evening. Meditation is centering ourselves on our inner core and allowing God to pray within us. Eventually the mantra sounds itself within our hearts.
The repetition of a mantra does not bring instant peace, harmony, the absence of distractions or silence. We must accept where we are on the journey of meditation. Our aim is not to be free of all thoughts. Again this would be a goal and we do not want to have goals. John Main constantly advises us not to come to meditation with any expectations. So do not struggle and fret over distractions. The mantra simply expresses our openness to God and God’s indwelling presence.