March 30, 2015 Martin

Mantra, Japa & Kirtan

I didn’t know it at the time but Sri Dharma was present at the beginnings of my practice…..

I was very musical as a child and formed an extremely tight bond with music at a very young age.  My first piano lesson was the same day as my first day of first grade and I played my last recital my senior year of high school.  I joined the school band in fourth grade playing the tenor saxophone then went through a bunch of different instruments – french horn, trumpet, flute, oboe, tuba, baritone – until I quit band my junior year in high school.

I would save my allowance then ask my dad to drive me to the store so I could spend hours perusing the records before I finally made the decision as to which one of the many-coveted vinyl discs would end up living with the other beloveds I had so carefully chosen.  I would then spend hours in my room memorizing every word to every song and commit to memory every melody.  This passion for all kinds of music grew with me all the way through adulthood.

With this deep-rooted love for music I’ve always loved chanting in yoga classes.  I was first introduced to this part of the practice by my teacher, Stephanie Snyder and it quickly became my favorite parts of the class.  She always began and ended her classes with a chant and it was different every time.  At first I just loved the melodies, the smile that these lovely tunes always put on my face and the overwhelming sense of happiness that they left me with once they were done.  I listened very carefully to learn the words so that I could sing along, enunciating each word and working hard to be right on key which was made a little easier since she plays the harmonium.  When I got home from class I would look up these chants online to learn the words and their meanings.  I was certain that knowing the translations would make me understand them even more.

One of my favorites that I learned in Stephanie’s class and the most mysterious of all became The Purification Mantra.  She told us that she had learned it from her teacher, Sri Dharma Mittra.  She told us how this powerful mantra would  purify anything that the sound touched, purify the mind, the practice, everything.  I found myself chanting The Purification Mantra when I was washing dishes, when I was riding my scooter, out for a walk, settling in for my practice – all the time!  I asked Stephanie what it meant and she told me that she didn’t know and that I didn’t need to know and that it is more powerful when you don’t know the meaning.  This piqued my interest.

I started to realize that the effects of the mantras were what was making me feel so clear and grounded, not the happy tune or the words.  It was the repetition of the words that were calming my mind, clearing things out and giving me that feeling of peace and calm.

Many students of meditation and spiritual life complain of a noisy mind, out of control senses, and emotional challenges. One of the most significant, single suggestions of the ancient sages is the use of mantra japa, or sacred word to focus the mind. No amount of intellectualizing will convince you of this. It must be practiced for the benefits to be experienced.  Regardless of what mantra you use, one of the most important principles is the practice of constant remembrance. By cultivating such a steady awareness many benefits come. (www.swamij.com)


When I sit with my mala and chant my mantra 108 times I almost forget the words that I am saying.  The japa of the mantra calms the vrittis to the point that I can hear my own voice as if it is a separate entity completely.  The cadence and rhythm of the mantra and the repetition of it are the simplest way to “nirodhah the vrittis”.  Now I don’t try to figure out the words or what they mean when I learn a new mantra.  I just get into the groove of it and let it works its magic.  These are some one of my favorite times with Sri Dharma – comfortably sitting, chanting, responding incessantly what he calls out and feeling the amazing sense of clarity and calm that comes without really knowing what I’m saying.