Several weeks ago we looked at four of the main spiritual practices which are common to a wide variety of traditions: Silence and Solitude, Spiritual Reading, Spiritual Journaling and Practicing Gratitude. Today I would like to begin a new series of posts which focuses on additional practices. As usual, my aim here is not to suggest that readers adopt all of the practices which will be outlined, but merely to discuss the broader range of options from which the spiritual Seeker can choose.
The spiritual practice of chanting has been utilised for millennia, and involves verbally repeating a word, phrase or even an entire passage. Some traditions, most notably those in which teachings were transmitted orally, used chanting to aid the memorisation of those teachings. Other teachings have used chanting as a tool which is said to bring some kind of spiritual, psychological or tangible benefit to the practitioner.
In the latter case, the word or phrase which is repeated by the practitioner is usually referred to as a mantra. There are many thousands of mantras in existence, and different traditions hold different views about the benefits that can be had by chanting them. Consider the following:
In Buddhism, chanting mantras is a practice that is most often viewed as a form of meditation, and the mantra is used to help steady the mind, in much the same way that mindfulness practitioners watch the breath. Mantras can also be used to help develop specific qualities, such as loving-kindness (metta) and equanimity (upekkha).
In Hinduism, chanting mantras is often viewed as a way of purifying the mind and spirit, as well as paying homage to a specific quality or deity. Certain Hindu deities are often associated with certain life situations, so practitioners can chant the mantra of a given deity in an effort to improve their situation.
In Christianity, chanting is often viewed as a form of prayer, and the words of a prayer are used instead of a mantra. Chanting is not quite as common in Christianity as it is in other traditions, but many of those Christians who do chant like to use one or more lines from the Bible, such as ‘The Lord is my shepherd…’ from the book of Psalms.
Chanting has many psychological and physiological benefits which have been proven by science, including decreased anxiety and tension, reduction in high blood pressure and so on. Those aside, the main benefits of chanting for the spiritual Seeker are as follows:
– Chanting is a superb tool for training the mind to dwell on something spiritual instead of on negative thoughts.
– Chanting is a spiritual practice which can be done anywhere – even whilst driving or working out at the gym.
– Chanting may bring tangible benefits to your life, as claimed by various traditions, but that is for you to discover for yourself.
How to Chant
Those of you who are interested in exploring this practice further, and perhaps incorporating it into your own spiritual path, will be pleased to learn that chanting is not at all difficult. All you need to do is select a mantra that you want to work with, and perhaps acquire a set of mala beads which will allow you to keep track of your mantra repetitions without having to consciously count them.
Some mantras that you might like to begin working with (choose one) are:
Om mane padme hum
Om tare tuttare ture svaha
For further information on this topic, I highly recommend Mantra: Sacred Words of Power by the late Thomas Ashley-Farrand, and Chanting Mantras with Deva Premal & Miten.