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Use of the Mantra in Prayer

Peaceful Forest


The following notes are reflections on the use of the mantra in prayer: 


      1.  The use of mantras in prayer has been practised both inside and outside of Christianity. 


      2.  The repetition of a simple prayer or phrase engages the mind, inducing a state of alert tranquillity. It allows the heart to commune with God more directly. One is able to disengage from other concerns and better concentrate on one’s search for God. Correspondingly, there is also more openness to be influenced by God’s grace. 


      3.  A mantra is also a defensive tool against distractions – including suppressed thoughts and fantasies. The mantra is the prayer and saying it returns our attention to the point of concentration and blocks substitute activities of the mind. 


      4.  A mantra should conform to one’s personal situation – and be an expression of how one experiences oneself to be before God. The mantra, then, is an echo of the prayer constantly carried within the heart. The Word of God is a good source of possible mantras. 


      5.  The mantra, having brought us to an understanding of ourselves (being an expression of our deep aspirations and yearnings), provides a bridge which will carry us closer to God. 


      6.  A mantra should have three elements: the subject (person praying); the object (God); and a relationship (our desire for God, or God’s saving action). It is acceptable to have several mantras – one for all occasions, perhaps two for the extremes of emotions (happy days or sad days), and a couple for special seasons such as Lent or Advent.


      7.  A mantra is private and sacred – it is personal, not to be debased, analysed, or dissected. It should be short, come from the heart, and may vary with circumstances. 


      8.  The mantra begins with our experience of weakness and need, and starts giving us a formless awareness of the divine mystery through the impact which it makes on our spiritual faculties. 


      9.  As the mantra is repeated – focusing on the words, but not reflecting on their meaning – a quieting and slowing process takes place and the prayer of the heart continues between the words. After a while, vocalising may cease and wordless prayer takes place during which one has begun to be the mantra, rather than just saying it. 


    10. A mantra should be consistent with life and hence should serve not to opt out of life, but rather to penetrate to the deep meaning incarnate in human life. If a mantra is not consistent with the prayer that grows from our whole being, it cannot be a means of transferring attention from daily business to search for God. 


    11. A mantra is not a gimmick meant to produce a quick high with no strings attached, but rather a discipline by which we dedicate time toward possessing in greater depth the reality of our heart’s desire for God. 


    12. Mantric prayer is only one type of many, and there is time and place for corporate, liturgical, and intercessory prayer, as well as prayer through lectio divina and personal reflection. A rule of thumb is “pray as you can; don’t pray as you can’t”. In prayer there is as much flux as there is in life.


    13. When familiarity with mantric prayer is acquired, it may be possible to attain deep prayer at odd moments throughout the day. These isolated responses to God’s presence, together with the prayer times set aside, lead toward nearly continual prayer. Through this, almost effortlessly, behaviours at variance with our deepest self become eliminated and a gradual transformation of beliefs, attitude, and values takes place. This leads to spontaneous good actions as we are being renewed in the likeness of Christ. 


    14. A mantra represents a deep attraction toward God that is somewhat at variance with everyday lives of indifference and sin. It represents our future. To the degree that we allow it to grow, we develop according to God’s plan and with a minimum of constrained effort on our part. A mantra is not only a prayer, or wish, or desire. It is also a programme. It is an archetypal prayer available to all and presupposes little more than the genuine search for prayer. 


    15. Seen realistically, at times prayer can be a negative experience because (1) in the inactivity, our resistance to God’s love may surface and it is a struggle to maintain our fidelity; (2) it is a developing phenomenon – a process of growing into something new and at the same time out of the old and familiar which generates confusion and uncertainty; (3) it leads to life transformation and demands action; and (4) in getting closer to God, we are following in the footsteps of Christ which lead through death. In a paradoxical way, prayer leads us to what we are looking for – spiritual communion, but we may perceive it negatively. 


Source: A summary by Eva Peck from Michael Casey, “Pilgrim’s Lament”, published in An Australian Benedictine Review, Tjurunga, 1977/13, pp. 363-375, 379-381.

Photo credit: Intellimon Ltd.


Further Information on Mantras

The following links contain further information on the use of the mantra in prayer:

Overview of Contemplative Prayer


Called to the Contemplative Spiritual Path

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