In my workshop at Central Mass Yoga yesterday I discussed some of the basic choices new meditation students make as they begin their meditation practice.
One of those choices is to decide what one will use as the focus of their attention during meditation. Does one prefer to focus on the breath as it passes in and out of the body? Or does one prefer a sacred word or phrase that is simple yet which is especially poignant and relevant to the journey they are on.
For those who feel a sacred word or phrase is better for them the question arises, “What word or phrase shall I choose and how will I decide?” As one woman noted, in TM many years ago she was given a mantra, but it really did not suit her that well.
But in the tradition of the Simple Path, the teacher does not give someone a mantra. Rather the teacher helps a person search in a creative way for the mantra that is best for them.
The decision of what mantra to use does not need to be made quickly but it is good to settle on a choice when one feels comfortable doing so. While it is recommended one not move from mantra to mantra once one has made their initial choice, it certainly is OK to experiment and reflect on different mantras as one narrows in on a choice that works.
For those who believe God exists or may exist, here are some choices:
In the Sufi tradition of the Muslim faith there is a practice called “Remembering the Names of God”. Googling this search term or “The 99 names of God” will bring up a lot of references. The great strength of this tradition is that these names are very general as Muslins tend to not draw upon specific images when thinking of divine life.
In the Roman Catholic Carmelite tradition a good choice is to choose a phrase from the Lord’s Prayer that is meaningful to you or to simply repeat the Lord’s Prayer very slowly silently within yourself. Another Catholic Mantra from the ancient Eastern Mediterranean is to simple recite “Al-le” on the in breath and “lu-ia” on the out breath as a quiet reverent expression of praise and devotional love. One that came to me is “God (or O Holy Spirit) draw me ever closer unto you.”
From the Hindu tradition there is the sacred syllable “Aum.” Another popular mantra is “Om Namaha Shivaya” translated as “Adoration to Siva.”
From the Navajo tradition “Beauty all around me” or “I walk in beauty.”
A popular mantra from Tibetan Buddhism is “Om Mani Padme OM” related to a practice of deep compassion for all life.
If you search the web for Popular Mantras or Christian or Hindu or New Age Mantras and similar terms you will find a lot of information.
For atheists it probably is best to choose the breath as a mantra as any word or phrase may be too closely tied to a God centered view of life. But from the non-theistic Vipassana Buddhist tradition there is the mantra “Buddho” on the in breath and “Buddho” on the out breath. But that may smack too much of avatar worship for some atheists.
Here are some other choices I thought may help atheists develop their own mantra.
“Life, love, and beauty” or “May all beings be free” or “May I be true to my search.”
Taking the time to think carefully about what you believe, and creatively reflecting on the images or words that come to mind when you think of your beliefs is more difficult and time consuming that simply accepting a mantra someone gives you. But as we learn again and again, it is best to help people search for truth in ways that allow them to embrace the more difficult work of being free to choose.
Ask others, do your own research, and reflect quietly on the important moments of your life when it felt as though you have had a deeply meaningful experience of what is the truth of this life.
Then, over time, let your mantra come to you.
If you find a traditional mantra that works for you, or come up with your own creative mantra as a believer, or as a non-believer, please write in a comment and share it with the rest of us. Your choice may be of great help to others walking a similar path.
Please feel free to call or email me. I am glad to help where I can.
Will Raymond Author of “The Simple Path of Holiness” host of MeditationPractice.com