Mantra is a sound vibration in the mind, the whole mind, not just the brain. Everyone can use the universal mantram of so-ham (pronounced so hum). This is a beautiful sound to allow to flow with the breath or repeat silently in the mind. Mantras can be used to improve concentration and stabilize the mind.
Mantra initiation is a further step and is a link with the Lineage, the unbroken line of Sages. Swami Veda goes into detail below. The mantra is a friend that helps the mind become one-pointed and slowly leads the student to a deep state of silence.
Mantra Initiation in the Himalayan Tradition
“From childhood we are trained to see, examine and verify things in the external world, but initiation, or receiving a mantra, is a step for seeing and looking within. It is not a religious ceremony. Do not confuse a mantra or meditation with religion; they are entirely different.
A mantra is a sound, a syllable, or a set of sounds. It is known not by its meaning, but by its vibrations. It provides a focus for the mind and helps one become aware of his or her own internal states. It is a way to understand one’s self and to coordinate one’s external and internal worlds.
The mantra is a friend that helps the mind become one-pointed and slowly leads the student to a deep state of silence, to the Center of Consciousness within. It is a spiritual seed sown in the soil of the self. It is a therapeutic guide that leads one through various levels of being and finally to the unity between individual and Cosmic Consciousness.
The mantra is an important means on the path of Self-Enlightenment. You are encouraged to practice meditation regularly, to remember your mantra, and it make it part of your life.
When meditating, use the mantra silently and consciously. At other times you can use it consciously or unconsciously. In time you fill find your mantra guiding you in daily life.” Swami Rama of the Himalayas.
From Mantra: What and Why, booklet by Swami Veda Bharati
Mantra is a linkage of our lower consciousness with the higher consciousness, which we call the Divine Consciousness or the Divine Life-Force. A mantra is a sound-unit, a thought-unit. It is a sound or series of sounds given to a Yoga student or disciple to remember constantly for a spiritual purpose. Initially there are two aspects to mantra that need to be understood. One aspect is that it is a symbolic combination forming a sound that has a particular effect on the mind, especially if it is repeated mentally, and the second aspect is its meaning. Each of the mantras has its own distinct sound vibration. In the Himalayan Tradition, we think of the mantras as though they were sonar forms of the forces of Divinity.
Each individual mind has its own composition. In the mind are stored imprints of many lifetimes. We call these imprints Samskaras. Whatever actions, desires and impulses that arise in us are activated from these imprints. The sum total of these imprints from the past constitutes our personalities. If we want to refine ourselves, we need to learn to change the pattern of these imprints. In this way, the mantra changes our very nature, making it more refined, gentler, quieter. Meditation with mantra is the experience of wordless prayer and of the subtlest in the sentiment and practice of devotion. This practice begins when one ceases to ‘do’ the mantra but only lets it arise from inner depths and listens to it internally.
Even the simple meditation with the breath and “So-Ham” (sounds like so hum) will bring about changes in you. They are not quite as effective as a personal mantra though. When a personal mantra, called a diksha(initiatory) or guru mantra, is given, it is like taking a drop from the universal mind of the Tradition and planting that drop, that seed, into the initiate mind. It is called initiation because, however small it might be, some form of energy is passed on down the lineage from disciple to disciple to the recipient.
How are mantras chosen in initiation? How can the initiator know which one is right for you when he or she may not know your name. The initiator is one who is learned in mantra science and also in aspects of human personality. The person who initiates you has a very pure, unclouded mind, and when in meditation, he can receive and then impart the mantra, which will come matched to your personality type. Both a mantra and meditation instruction are assigned according to the individual’s samskaras, spiritual needs and level of spiritual qualification (adhikara).
Because the process of initiation is a milestone in a student’s life, they are asked to purify themselves for at least a day prior to initiation. This is done by keeping to a diet of sattvic (pure) vegetarian foods, avoiding emotionally disturbing activities and cultivating serenity of mind. The student then comes to receive the mantra wearing clean clothes and having bathed. The student comes into the room where the initiator is in meditation. They meditate together briefly then the mantra is conferred. The teacher, through the Grace coming from the lineage of gurus, gives the mantra and the commitment to help the student grow spiritually.
After initiation, you keep your mantra in the mind at all times. The mantra is something internal to you. So while the whole world is bombarding you with disturbing impressions, there is something within you that remains your permanent focus from which you should not move. It takes time to practice and master it that way. It becomes a quiet friend. The mantra can be your door to meditation because it is the focus. The practice of mantra becomes the meditation. After the mantra is received, it is kept secret. Keep your mantra a secret and practice, practice, practice. The student is urged to maintain contact, not by letters or phone, but by sitting in meditation at a fixed time daily. The mantra becomes the seed from which the tree of your spirituality grows.