Chanting involves repetition of ancient cosmic sounds that awaken those specific qualities in our consciousness. Some interesting elements of chanting include
- Chanting of Sanskrit Shlokas or verses enliven subtle energy centers. Here, each Sanskrit word and syllable carries a particular energy vibration.
- When we chant in groups, we experience the oneness of the consciousness. Here, all individual minds merge into oneness.
- Not just our minds, chanting also merges all our sensory experiences into a higher conscious state, and we end up feeling energized.
- Chanting can be done at any time and in any place, though there is certain reverence that is demanded of the one who chants.
- The effect of chanting is that it purifies the vibrations of a place and instills positivity there.
When can you chant?
Om Namah Shivay can be chanted 108 times any time, preferably before meals, twice a day at the most.
Om is believed to be the sound of the universal consciousness. Chanting Om aligns our small individual mind to the bigger mind (the universal consciousness), giving way for more harmony in our life. Chanting Om, creates positive reinvigorating vibrations throughout our body, and elevates prana—life force. More energy translates into better connections with ourselves, more mental clarity, and greater awareness in our dealings with people and the world at large.
“All the saints in the past, when they went deep into meditation, they just heard Om. So, Om means many things. It means love, eternity, purity, peace. Om is made up of several dhatus: ‘Ah’ ‘Oo’ ‘Ma’,” explains Sri Sri.
Om is a complete vibration. ‘Ah’ heals organs in the lower part of the body, ‘Oo’ affects the middle body, and ‘Ma’ soothes and heals the upper body. The total prana is represented by one syllable Om.
But Om is never chanted exclusively. It is followed by another verse to be chanted along with it like Namah Shivay or Namo Narayana or Om Mani Padme Hum
Now, why don’t we take only Om as a mantra?
“Before meditation, you chant Om thrice and create the vibration of peace and attentiveness, but for meditation you need different mantras. Only recluses, those who want to do nothing with the world, or are very old are allowed to do chant Om. Even then, it is not advisable,” Sri Sri says.
It is believed that we have three bodies: the gross, the subtle, and the causal body. Ga-ya-tri is the mantra to help us tide over the three types of misery that originate on the level of these three bodies. About the Gayatri mantra it is said, the one who sings it sails over the ocean of misery.
Om Bhur Bhuvaḥ Swaḥ
Bhargo Devasya Dhīmahi
Dhiyo Yonaḥ Prachodayāt
What does the mantra mean?
Gurudev explains the essence of the Gayatri mantra as, “Let me soak in the Divine, and let the Divine destroy all my sins. The Divine light that burns all sin, let me adore and soak in that Divine light. And let the Divinity inspire my intellect.”
The significance of the mantra is in the prayer for the right thoughts to come at the right time, so they can be followed by right action. It is believed that when we start living a life in alignment with our intuition, the actions we take turn out to be in our best interest.
How to Chant
- Pick a comfortable place. It is important to pick a place that is comfortable and yet full of reverence, so your mind is helped by your external environment to stay alert but not tense.
- Body posture. For chanting, sit in sukhasaan or easy pose. It is important to keep your spine straight and shoulders relaxed while sitting for chanting. Here’s why.
- Close your eyes. Make sure your eyes remain closed while you chant. This is because when we have our eyes open to the outer world, the energy generated from the chanting quickly dissipates. Closing our eyes initially in the practice helps us stay inward and soak in the vibrations of the chants.
- Face your altar. If you have an altar where you pray, you can face in that direction and chant.
Let the mind wander. Allow your mind to wander off if it wants to, while you chant. This total acceptance of your thoughts and emotions right now combined with gentle loving awareness of your mind will bring it back to the present moment over the course of time.
- Focus your breath. To get the most out of your chanting practice, you can also keep bringing your attention back to your breath. The practice of focusing on your breath, brings the mind right back in the now and increases your prana or life force.
- Use beads. If you want to do a japa, or chant without making any sound, then you can use a rosary or rudraksh beads, depending on your belief system.
- Yoga before chanting. If you could practice a few yoga postures or light stretches before sitting down for chanting, you may have a deeper meditative experience during and after chanting. Yoga prepares you to go within and unite with your own self.
- Group chanting. You can also get together to chant in group. Group chanting is powerful and the experience of how our consciousness soaks in the sound vibrations becomes more obvious in a group.
Consistency is Key
Like with any practice, mantra chanting may take a few days or months to bear fruits, or siddhis, but once the consciousness has been cultured to absorb these powerful mantras, their benefits play out in both the subtle and more manifest realm. You begin to feel happier, more peaceful, and energized yet centered. This centeredness starts taking roots in our consciousness and over time we find ourselves less and less bothered by the opposite nature of events in our lives. It is not advisable to keep switching between mantras as a mode of experiment. Stay with a mantra until you have practiced it enough number of times with total honor, before moving to a new one.
Learn from a Master
It is important to receive your mantra from a master or guru through a sacred process of initiation for the personal mantra to work and give you more depth in your practice. Also, the master is well placed to teach you the nuisances of the practice, like how should you place your fingers or palm, how should you sit, how many times should you take the mantra, how should you meditate after mantra chanting, among other things.
If you are a beginner and you are looking to get started on this inner journey, a good starting point is the Art of Meditation program which involves the Sahaj Samadhi meditation technique. Cognized by Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, ‘Sahaj’ in Sanskrit means effortless and ‘Samadhi’ is an equanimous mind. The technique uses a sacred sound to move the mind step by step through thoughts, worries and regrets to a deeper more blissful state.
How are kirtan and bhajans different from chanting?
When mantras are sung in a call and answer fashion that then becomes a kirtan or bhajan. Bhaj means to share. So, bhajan symbolizes sharing of all that is divine. It signifies coming together and becoming one big mind, leaving behind our small individual identities for the time being. Dipping into this vastness of consciousness brings immense happiness and positive energy; negative emotions give way to positive ones like love and compassion. Bhajans or kirtans are rarely about what is being sung but about how or from what space we sing. This brave act of letting our intellect sit by and watch as we sing and repeat mantras as ancient as creation itself, brings about a sense of connectedness with everyone and every life form around. “In satsang (or kirtan), both the left and right hemispheres of the brain get balanced. The wandering mind comes back to the present moment and experiences a deeper dimension to life,” explains Sri Sri.