A mantra is a word and sound that is chanted not for its meaning but for its sound. Most mantras are not intended to be understood in a discursive and intellectual sense. Instead, you are asked only to go down into the sound, and the sound penetrates you. You are able to settle right to the bottom of it, because when you are listening to sound, and when you are letting sound hum through you, it is one of the most obvious manifestations of the energy of the universe.
So concentrate purely on the sound, and you will find some mantras that play in your ears are so simple that you will be able to join in with them effortlessly, and please do so quite freely.
Although we associate mantras with religion, they are not supposed to be understood, because religion is that which is past understanding.
Understanding may lead up to it, but to express religion intellectually is to try to use the intellect for something it cannot do. It is comparable to picking up the telephone and dialing W-H-A-T I-S G-O-D, and expecting to get a useful answer. Although the telephone is very useful otherwise, you cannot find out the mystery of the universe through talk — only through awareness.
You all have your own way of doing things like this, so do it your own way. This technique is a vehicle, or a support for contemplation, and I suggest you simply sit quietly, and when you feel settled proceed into contemplation.
Still the mind
Sit quietly and be with your breath, your mind, and all your feelings.
It doesn’t matter whether you are sitting cross-legged or on your knees with your legs folded underneath you. The point is to settle into a posture that is stable and comfortable. You can cross your legs in front of you, or if you are limber you may wish to try the half-lotus or full-lotus position. You can sit on a cushion with your knees bent and legs on either side, or you can sit in a chair. The idea is to be comfortable and find a position that you can maintain effortlessly.
As you settle in, remember that although stillness is emphasized in meditation, this does not mean that you should hold still in a rigid way. Becoming still physically helps one to find stillness of mind, but if you need to move, get comfortable, so that you can settle even more deeply.
Keep your back upright and your head erect, but let your arms relax. Rest the left palm in the right palm, and put your thumbs together as if you were holding an egg. Your hands should be positioned at your belly with your thumbs just below the navel.
If you are sitting cross-legged you may wish to rock back and forth for a moment to find your natural center. If you are sitting in a chair, plant your feet on the ground so that you are grounded.
Your mouth should be closed, the eyes lowered slightly.
When you have found a stable posture, allow your awareness to sink into your breath and to find the bottom of your breath. You are not trying to cultivate a particular kind of breath; just gently pay attention to your breathing. Allow the breath to come and go as it may.
That’s all you need to do. Your body will become still, and your mind will naturally, at some point, become still as well. That is the essential process of meditation.
If you wish, you can begin to hum when you feel comfortable with it. As your voice rises, begin to play with the sound. The play of sound will eventually settle into a pattern, and a mantra will spontaneously form. Go with it, and in this moment you are experiencing ritual in its richest form.