What is a mantra? | What is sanskrit? | How do I get a mantra?

The contents on these Our Teachings webpages are reproduced from the book “Essentials of Yoga Practice and Philosophy”  compiled by Swami Sitaramananda.

Below is a testimonial for this book.

A concise guide to Yoga in all of its aspects, healing, mantra, pranayama, asana and meditation as taught by one of the most important Yoga lineages of the modern world, Essentials of Yoga Practice and Philosophy is a helpful resource that all serious Yoga students should keep close by for regular study.

David Frawley

Author of more than 30 books on Yoga


Quote: “Meditation is the only royal road to the attainment of Freedom.  It is a mysterious ladder which reaches from earth to heaven, from error to truth, from darkness to light, from pain to bliss, from restlessness to abiding peace, from ignorance to knowledge, from mortality to immortality.”
– Swami Sivananda in “Bliss Divine” 

What are mantras?

Swami Sivananda says in “Japa Yoga” that, “Mantra Yoga is an exact science.  By the constant thinking of mantra, one is protected and released from the round of births and deaths. 

A mantra is so-called because it is achieved by a mental process. The root “man” in this word mantra comes from the first syllable of that word meaning “to think”, and “tra” from “trai” meaning “to protect or free” from the bondage of the phenomenal world.  A mantra when constantly repeated awakens the consciousness.”

Swami Vishnu-devananda in his book “Meditation and Mantras” says that, “A Mantra is a mystical energy encased in a sound structure.”

Upon repetition of the mantras, the energy is released.  Mantras are Sanskrit invocations of the Divine.

Sanskrit is also known as Devanagari, or the language of the Gods.  Sanskrit is not a foreign Indian language but an ancient universal language.  The 50 letters of Sanskrit alphabet are based on the pure vibrations of our chakras.

By using the mantras, we create a certain pure vibration in our astral body and mind, and we purify ourselves of all of our impurities and negativities.  It is like washing the mind with soap made of sound.

A mantra can not be created or tailored for an individual.  It is a sound formula given to us by Rishis, or Seers, of the mantra, who have used the mantra and attain the highest realization.

Every mantra has a seed, a Shakti (or power), a presiding deity, a specific meter, a specific wavelength, and a plug or lock.  It is an exact science and needs to be studied properly under a teacher.

inside Durga temple with Puja in progress

What is Japa yoga?

Japa Yoga is a method of meditation using the sound vibration of a mantra.  It is the most effective method to meditate and to clear our negativities.  It helps us to make our mind strong by increasing our concentration.

It keeps our mind focused on one pure vibration, thus counteracting the constant jumping and restlessness of the mind on many objects.  One can repeat the mantra verbally or mentally, daily, at all times or at specific times, using mala beads, or by writing the mantra.

How do you get a mantra and how do you practice?

A mantra can be chosen by you on the basis of the sound that it makes, the image of the deity which it represents, and the meaning of it.

The mantra can also come to you through intuition.  But, to really be able to benefit from the mantra, you need to get initiation to the mantra.  The process of initiation links you spiritually to the Gurus or sages and empowers your mantra with the Shakti of the Guru.

During initiation, the spiritual vibration of the mantra will be transmitted to the mind of the spiritual students.  It is like transmitting a flame or a light from a candle that is already lit as compared to creating the fire out of rock.

Initiation to the mantra has to be done by a genuine spiritual teacher who has used the mantra him or herself.

Please note that a mantra cannot be created or changed just for you because all mantras came from meditation of ancient sages who had used the mantras to attain highest level of realization, and who handed down this sacred sound formula to you in the present time.

The mantra, once initiated should not be changed and has to be repeated daily for a specific length of time.  Spiritual energy needs to be renewed and reconnected

Only one pointed dedication to the mantra will bring about the desired results.


Swami Sita smiles looking downwards
Krishna temple traditional indian temple with statues on structure and main statue inside

Relationship with Guru

The word Guru literally means “the remover of darkness.”  In the Sivananda organization; we follow a long lineage of teachers, ending with Swami Sivananda and Swami Vishnu-devananda.

It is important to stick to one lineage of teacher and not shop around for gurus.  It is important to qualify yourself as a disciple and practice the teachings instead of looking for miracles that come from your guru. 

The blessing of the Gurus is important, but you have to make self effort; no one can eat for you if you are hungry for you have to eat for yourself. 

Mantra, once initiated, creates a link between you and the spiritual teacher and this psychic and spiritual relationship should be kept alive to really benefit you.  

The longer and more consistently you work with the mantra faithfully, the faster the purification will be.  The teacher will initiate you when you are ready.  Keep the practice of meditation and endeavor to purify yourself. 

Be like a white piece of paper which is able to absorb the ink, or an empty cup which is able to hold tea. 

In other words, you have to let go of your ego in order to receive spiritual teachings.

Kinds of Mantras

There are different kinds of mantras, depending on your personality and vibration, corresponding to the different aspects of deities. 

There are also abstract mantras with no particular form, but with meaning.  God is one and not many, even though there are many deities. 

All genuine mantras will lead you to the same realization, but remember that they cannot be fakes, or sold, or modified. 

If you are attracted to one mantra more than another, it is because of your temperament or mindset, and not because one mantra is superior to the other.

There are three aspects of God: Brahma (Creator), Vishnu (Preserver), and Siva (Destroyer or Transformer). 

It is the same reality that is represented by the three aspects, and you can appeal to one or the other depending on which you like. 

God includes all three aspects, and also beyond (see the different mantras in precedent chapter).

Arati at the Durga temple waving light
View of Siva temple from top of the mountain
Opening a coconut and water coming out part of ceremony
Puja with priest and Swamiji in the main Yoga hall

The role of faith:

You become what you think upon most.  In Japa Yoga, Faith is the important factor for the mantra to be effective, not the intellect or ego.  There is a story of a simple farmer to whom a teacher taught many mantras but he could not retain any, until the teacher gave him the mantra of “Om Buffalo.”  He was so attached to his buffalo that this was the only name he could remember.  After some time, the teacher was ready to give him further instructions but could not find him.  Arriving at his hut, the teacher called out his name and after some commotion, he replied: “O teacher, I want to see you, but I can’t get out of the door, my horns are too big!”

The teacher knew then that his mind was completely absorbed in the form of the buffalo, and he was then ready for initiation.

Kali Yuga

Japa yoga is a direct path towards concentration and meditation, and it is the easiest meditation method in this time, the Kali Yuga.

Story of woodcutter

There is a story of a genie who promised not to kill his master if the master could keep him busy.  After some time, his master, a woodcutter, became worried because he was running out of ideas.

His Guru came to his rescue and told him to ask his genie servant to cut a tree trunk and plant it in the courtyard, and then to ask him to climb up and down the tree as his job.

After some time the genie gave up, as his mind could not cope with the repetition.  In the same manner, our mind is always restless and full of desires.

By constant mantra repetition, our mind becomes saturated and gives up distractions, leaving us in Peace.  Mantra repetition is the most effective way to keep the mind under control.


Om Symbol - brilliant and light

The Universal mantra Om:

In the beginning of your meditation practice, you can use the universal mantra Om (or AUM, which represents the three states of consciousness [waking, dreaming, and deep sleep] and the transcendent fourth state, which is that of the pure witness of the other three states). 

Om is the sound of creation, the sound of Unity, a sacred universal sound that is at the basis of all language. 

If you have not been initiated into a mantra, you can use the universal mantra Om for meditation independent of your religious faith.

As your mind purifies, and your connection with your spiritual path and your Gurus ripen, you can approach a spiritual teacher for initiation.

The Sivananda Vedanta Center gives mantra initiation after determining if the aspirant is committed to meditation, often at the end of the one month intensive training called TTC (Teachers Training Course).

The intensive training helps to tune teacher and students, and provide the preliminary purification necessary for initiation to take place.

TTC is a powerful way to prepare you for a lifelong practice of meditation and mantras.

The goal of mantra meditation

The goal is to attain the transcendental state in which everything merges together. 

Through the medium of the vibration of mantra, the thought is purified and comes to a telepathic state, followed by the transcendental state. 

This transcendental state, which can be reached in meditation, is commonly called God.

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The contents you will find here are reproduced from the book “Essentials of Yoga Practice and Philosophy”  compiled by Swami Sitaramananda.


What is Satsang?  What is Meditation? What is Kirtan Chanting?

5 Points of Yoga

Exercise,  Breathing, Relaxation, Diet, Positive thinking and Meditation


What is True Health?  What is health of body, mind, and spirit?


What is Prana?  How can I access prana? What is kundalini energy?

Raja Yoga

What is Raja Yoga? What are the eight limbs?  What is ashtanga yoga?

Jnana Yoga

Who am I?  What is Vedanta Philosophy?  What is Sat-Chit-Ananda?


What is a mantra?  What is sanskrit?  How do I get a mantra?

Yoga Poses

What is in a basic Sivananda class?  What are the benefits?  What are some guidelines?


What is Yoga?  Where did Yoga come from? What is Classical Yoga?


What is the meaning of Life?  What is Freedom? What is Happiness?


What is the mind?  How does the mind work? Am I my mind?

Positive Thinking

What is thought?  What are techniques to practice positive thinking?

Karma Yoga

What is Karma? What is Karma Yoga?  How to practice karma yoga?

Bhakti Yoga

What is True Love?  Who is God?  What is an inner Bhava?

Kirtan Chanting

What is Kirtan Chanting?  How does it work?  What do the chants mean?


What is ayurveda?  What are the 3 doshas?  What is disease according to ayurveda?