A student writes:
I have never been taught how to do mantra practice, I just kind of picked it up intuitively. Would you offer some instruction on how to practice mantra skilfully please?
Lama Shenpen responds:
It is an important question and I find people respond to mantra practice very differently. For some people as soon as they hear a mantra they just want to keep repeating it – and it seems to have an energy of its own – maybe like humming a melody that you find catchy – you just like doing it and it brings your mind and heart together in a relaxing way.
When this happens it is only natural to use this to connect to your sense of love and devotion to the Buddha in whatever way comes most naturally to you – maybe it’s in the form of an image such as Tara, Shakyamuni or Guru Rinpoche or even your own Guru and/or sangha – however the mandala of Awakening touches you most easily and obviously.
So the sense of devotion and the sound of the mantra have to be associated together in your being – the one feeding into the other. Just reciting the mantra with no real sense of connection to its source, the Buddha or the true nature of reality, limits how much it can benefit us.
Since mantras are actually the Buddha in essence – they are powerful – but it’s not the sound so much as what is producing the sound that is important – the sound is emanating from Enlightenment itself and so can connect us directly to the energy of Enlightenment – that is why it is important who you receive the mantra from. The more closely they are connected to Enlightenment themselves – the more power there is in the connection they can give you.
So there is their power of realisation and connection, the intrinsic power of the mantra itself and the power of our connection and devotion or veneration – they all come together in a way that allows the mantra to carry us into the heart of the mandala of Awakening.
The same can happen using other practices such as metta bhavana (loving-kindness), apramanas and tonglen, or linking into the true nature of mind through receiving pointing out instructions, or even from circunambulating a stupa or going on pilgrimage, prostrations or repeating pranidhanas. There is always those three things going on – the power of the nature of reality , the adhistana of the compassion of the Buddhas carried to us in some way and the faith, openness and veneration that we bring to the practice.
Is it good to use one particular mantra for a time, or perhaps take a more diverse approach using a variety?
If you find one mantra really works well for you then use it and have confidence that this mantra is the essence and union of all mantras and all Buddhas. If the sangha community is using different mantras on different occasions just join in with those mantras thinking they are no different from your own. Sometimes you might find one mantra connects you to the Dharma in a slightly different way than another – or has slightly different associations for you and so you want to keep a connection with a number of them.
What you want to avoid is a situation where you have so many different practices that in any given situation you are full of doubt about what practice to use. It would be sad for example to arrive on your death bed confused about what practice you were going to rely on. Best prepare in advance and treat each day as if it were your last because it might be!
How would you tell which mantra you have a connection with?
I suppose it’s a matter of trial and error. In the stories of the siddhas they are given a mantra by their teacher with a sadhana that they then make their own and practise for the rest of their lives, often decades in solitary retreat to bring it to completion. That is for when we have the karma and right conditions for that kind of practice.
For most of us we are still on the nursery slopes learning the paces – many different things need to come together before we can scale the heights. There is plenty to be getting on with right here where we are and we don’t know how long we are here for so we need to get on with what we already have and see where it leads.
Read more from Lama Shenpen on mantra practice HERE.
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