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A mantra is a syllable, a word, or a verse that can be...

    an affirmation of deeply held feelings or beliefs
    a prayer for guidance
    the invocation of a protective/guiding/loving aspect of the universe
    or a prayer of gratitude and thanksgiving

...and—when we are ready—a mantra can have the power to open us to new insights and spiritual development. The uplifting effects of a mantra can be felt whether it is repeated aloud or silently, but when a mantra is spoken or chanted aloud, the vibration affects the body (and the surrounding space) as well as the mind and spirit. By creating such a supportive atmosphere, the chanting of these mantras helps lead us toward the experience of our own consciousness as the one Universal Consciousness.

Sanskrit mantras are said to create the vibration of their meanings within the body when they are repeated many times (more on this below). Therefore by chanting a mantra, one can automatically have an inner knowledge of a mantra's meaning, even without understanding the actual translation. But these mantras can be even more powerful if one learns and studies the meanings of the words. And in addition to knowledge of the literal meaning, the experience one has when chanting the sounds, as well as the feelings and attitudes they evoke for some time after chanting, adds to one’s understanding.

There can be many variations and subtleties to the translation according to the translator's state of mind—any translation is therefore a reflection of a moment in the life of the translator. Working out one’s own translations to familiar mantras can intensify the experience of chanting them, and the insights gained, in both the translation process as well as chanting, will continue to evolve throughout one’s lifetime.

On the following pages I share several mantras—each of these verses plays a powerful role in my life. Three forms of each mantra are presented: the original Sanskrit, the transliteration of the Sanskrit into the English alphabet, and my own current translation, however imperfect.

Why Sanskrit?

Any word or phrase occurring repetitively in your mind, whether spoken or not, has the power to influence your thoughts, emotions, attitudes—positively or negatively. Because of this, it can be helpful to guard against unconsciously repeating some of the common negative mantras, such as, “I can’t do that,” or, “I’ll never learn this.” It is easy to slip into the habit of repeating these negative phrases, letting their presence in our heads become our mental default mode. These are powerful mantras that can have a strong influence on our subconscious—repeating them often in the mind, or out loud, can all too easily result in the negative outcomes that they invoke. It hardly seems necessary to point out that it is much better to actively choose words and phrases that will have a positive influence our lives.

The Sanskrit mantras presented on these pages have been used traditionally to create an inner (and outer) atmosphere that is conducive to meditation and spiritual growth. Countless generations have chanted them, some of these verses have been around for hundreds, and some of them for thousands of years. Imagine for a moment, each generation passing along to the next, their translations and experiences of the mantras. Over thousands of years the tradition deepening, the knowledge expanding, and the mantras themselves accumulating the energy of millions upon millions of individuals chanting them with the intention of discovering the truth of the one universal consciousness.

A mantra can be created in any language—we might call a mantra in English an affirmation or an invocation. However, the Sanskrit language has several characteristics that make it especially powerful in terms of how the words and sounds affect us—physically, mentally, and spiritually. First, Sanskrit has the unique quality of being the mother of all the Indo-European languages, including Latin. Anyone whose first language is in this group will, as they begin to explore Sanskrit, recognize many words, endings, prefixes, and so on as the “ancestors” of words and sounds in their own language. Also, one begins to notice that many of the words in this beautiful language feel or sound like their meanings.

There is a reason for this. This language is formulated to resonate with the human body. The alphabet that is used for writing Sanskrit is called Devanagari (deva = god, nagari = city), it is the script of the “city of the gods,” and the city is the human body. (This script is also used for many modern Indian languages, including Hindi, Marathi, Sindhi, Bihari, and others.) The alphabet is completely phonetic; the name of each letter is the sound that it represents. In keeping with its intimate connection to the human body, alphabetical order is a “map” of the throat and mouth. The primal sound “uh” is the foundation of the language, and it is the first letter of the alphabet, pronounced in the back of the throat. This first letter is written, , and transliterated, “a” …alphabetical order then proceeds forward through the mouth, from back to front, each of the other vowel sounds, semi-vowels, and consonants created in a particular place within the mouth. Finally, the last letter, , transliterated, “ha,” is simply air escaping through the lips. So by putting the first and last letters together, “aha,” you are, in a sense, including all of the sounds, making the connection from beginning to end, back to front. Isn’t it interesting that humans everywhere naturally say, “Aha!” when they make a realization, when they make the connection.

The Devanagari alphabet and the Sanskrit language are experiential in nature. Because the sounds of the Devanagari alphabet are arranged according to the inside of our mouths, it is not necessary to memorize how the sounds are made. Once we have had the experience of making the sounds, we know where and how the sounds are made and can reproduce them easily. Because of its phonetic nature, it doesn’t take long for a student of Sanskrit to become aware of the natural affinity that we all possess for these pure sounds. Each letter in the alphabet is a bija (seed) mantra that resonates with a particular area of the body. As one begins working with these sounds, this resonance will be experienced as well.

Sanskrit is more a language of discovery, than of learning. We discover, or un-cover, a feeling of such deep familiarity with the language, that grows more profound with each lesson or practice session. There is a belief among those of us who study Sanskrit… that anyone who feels drawn toward Sanskrit in this lifetime has most likely studied it in other lifetimes as well!

Sanskrit is a language perfectly suited to poetry. There are rules for meter as well as for grammar. And the further one delves into the language, the more one finds that there seems to be an opportunity for alliteration and a pun or a play-on-words at every turn. And double-, triple-, even quadruple-entendres are found throughout Sanskrit literature. As a result, Sanskrit has a capacity for both beauty and a depth of description that is so far beyond the scope of the English language. These attributes make it especially useful for mantras—those sounds, words, and verses that prepare us for inner exploration, and for sacred literature—texts that inspire us to dedicate our lives to our spiritual evolution.

Sanskrit is said to be a sacred language. This refers not only to the spiritual nature of much of Sanskrit literature, but also to the experience that becomes available to us as we begin learning the language. Sanskrit has a magical quality in that it becomes accessible to those who come to it for self-discovery and is very nearly inaccessible to anyone who comes purely as a scholar. We often say that Sanskrit is like the ocean—it is so vast, one can never hope to learn everything about it in one lifetime! Indeed, if you try to gain mastery of Sanskrit by approaching the language exclusively as a scholar, you’re likely to give up in the face of that vastness—Sanskrit and its beauty will be closed to you.

However, when you approach Sanskrit as a sacred language, as a spiritual path, the beauty of that vast ocean becomes available to you. You will soon see that, in addition to its expansive nature, Sanskrit is like the ocean in that, wherever you choose to jump in, you will encounter the beauty of that ocean. Whether you are experiencing the alphabet for the very first time, learning the rules of grammar, reading the Bhagavad Gita, or studying the profound philosophy of Shankaracharya or the sublime poetry of Kalidasa—you can dive into that ocean and experience the beauty for yourself. At any level, at any place in that vast ocean of vibration, you can experience the opportunity that Sanskrit provides for self-discovery, for un-covering one’s identity with consciousness itself, to break the illusion of identifying with the perishable body and all its limitations.

three free downloadable files:

    About Om / PDF / 83-KB

    Devanagari alphabet w translit & combinations / PDF / 1.34-MB

    Devanagari pronunciation key / PDF / 284-KB


My Sanskrit & Mantra Teachers

at Ananda Ashram
Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati
Dr. R.K. Sharma
Bharati Devi
Amma Sri Karunamayi

at Hindu Temple of Delaware,
Mahalakshmi Devasthanam

Pt. Jinit Bhatt

at American Sanskrit Institute
Vyaas Houston