Article: Mantra and Meditation Practice

“A mantra is a vehicle for the power of the lineage. It not only represents that power, it is it. So it is good to feel that you have been formally entrusted with it by someone in the lineage. This living connection and the sense of conviction and openness from it gives extra power.

So, clearly, the mantra is more than just muttering words to yourself. The words are emanating from the lineage as an expression of its power, its truthfulness, its reality, its alive quality.

Uttering the words, especially if you do it with openness and conviction, links or tunes you into the power and presence of the lineage. The lineage is the power line through which the truth comes to us. It is able to kick-start the truth within us into action. Again and again, we come back to this idea of linking into the power of the lineage. To some extent it is there in all forms of Buddhism, but in a tradition such as our own it is particularly strong.

We often recite the mantras of Shakyamuni, Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) and the Heart Sutra at Awakened Heart Sangha gatherings. If you are present at that time, you can think that you are receiving the adhistana* of the mantra from the Sangha and that you link into that every time you recite it. Sometimes I might just say to everyone in the room that I am giving the transmission of it and recite it a few times. Alternatively, or as well, I can give the formal transmission on request during an interview or over the phone. All these ways of being formally entrusted with the mantra help you feel a strong living connection with it.

Some people do not respond much to mantra recitation even though they like the idea in principle. However, whether one connects with the actual practice of mantra recitation or not is not important. The important thing is to feel a strong connection with the lineage and to keep going with your Formless Meditation and awareness practice.

In fact, people can put too much store by mantra recitation, thinking that Formless Meditation is not really ‘doing anything, whereas in mantra recitation one is. We are a society of ‘doers’ and tend to feel lost and useless if we are not actively ‘doing’.

So it is important to recognise that the mantra recitation practice is not about ‘doing’ anything. It is more a matter of linking and relaxing into a power that is already there. Then the mantra can come to life, manifest and be reabsorbed into the Openness, Clarity and Sensitivity [the three inseparable qualities] of our being.

It speaks of the essence of the formless practice and can be a vehicle for linking us into it. That is why, having recited the mantra for a while we become silent and open, listening to the mantra speaking to us from the spaciousness of awareness, from the heart of our being. Then we recite it once more, aloud, to express the easy relationship between its outward manifestation and its inner essence. Finally we let go of all contrived effort and simply rest in the spaciousness of awareness with some minutes of Formless Meditation.

It is important to have confidence in the formless practice and not to adopt the attitude that it is ‘doing nothing’. There is no need to feed such a notion. If that thought arises, turn towards it and recognise it as a thought arising in the space of awareness. Since the mantra links you to the Formless Meditation, it goes on even when not voiced. The essence of the mantra is really the essence of the ultimate heart practice of simple resting in the true nature of our being.”

*Adhistana (Sanskrit) – sustaining power, grace, blessing; the living quality of the lineage, which empowers our practice.

This is an excerpt from Lama Shenpen Hookham’s book Mandala of Sacred Space: A Experiential Training in Meditation, Reflection and Insight’. Available here or direct from the Sangha for members of the AHS.

Find out more here about Lama Shenpen’s training in Formless Meditation, reflection and insight, with the Living the Awakened Heart Training.