By Lama Thubten Yeshe
Kopan Monastery, Nepal, 1975

This short teaching on the power of mantra was Lama Yeshe's response to a question from a student at Kopan Monastery, Kathmandu, Nepal, 1975. Edited by Chris Kolb. First published in Wisdom Energy 2, Publications for Wisdom Culture, Ulverston, England, 1979.

Lama Yeshe teaching at Manjushri Institute, England, 1976.

It is a common misconception that reciting mantras is an external and unnatural mental exercise, rather than an internal and spontaneous occurrence. Reciting a mantra, however, does not mean the mere vocal repetition of speech syllables. Many meditators know from experience that the act of reciting mantras transcends external sounds and words. It is more like listening to a subtle inner sound that has always inhabited our nervous system.

When we receive the transmission of a mantra from a qualified teacher, the integration of that mantra’s wisdom into our consciousness is greatly facilitated. Through the wisdom-power of mantra we can easily communicate with our own true inner wisdom, while remaining free of external distractions. The normal world-oriented state of mind prevents us from letting go of emotional problems as they arise. These distractions invade our mind and constantly impede our concentration. When we recite a mantra this mental agitation spontaneously subsides, leaving our mind at peace. Mantra brings a stronger, more integrated, single-pointed concentration. It quickly rids us of interruptions caused by our habitual sensory response to external stimuli.

When trying to develop penetrative insight into emptiness, it would be absurd if we had plenty of time for eating and sleeping but no time for reciting mantras. Normally, we have plenty of time for listening to meaningless gossip but no time to develop our wisdom by listening to our inner sound. In actual truth, our inner sound can be the means of attaining perfect samadhi, perfect absorption into reality.

The existence of inner sound cannot be denied. Our nervous system has its own specific inner sound. This is not something that Mahayanists have invented; it is an objective reality that exists within us. For example, the sound ‘ah’ exists within us from the moment of birth. All speech sounds are derived from ‘ah.’ Without ‘ah’ there could be no other sound.

Mantra becomes more powerful when imparted by a qualified teacher who has deep inner experience of the mantra. He has acquired the mantra’s power from his own teacher, and has gained further experience while in retreat. Furthermore, a good teacher creates a situation that heightens our receptivity to the wisdom transmitted by the mantra.

The mantra functions in many ways. The reciting of a mantra a given number of times, combined with concentration, opens our mind instinctively to super-normal powers and insights. Mantras can also be used as therapy for the sick, and can bring peace to the mentally disturbed. This has been the experience of many meditators.

Mantra is energy. It is always pure, and cannot be contaminated by negative thought processes. As mantra is not gross energy, it cannot be corrupted the way sensory phenomena are corrupted by our own minds. One can easily discover the power of mantra for oneself by embarking upon a meditational retreat.

Those endowed with skillful wisdom will naturally attain realizations through the power of mantra. Practitioners of mantra yoga will discover that their inner sound becomes completely one with the mantra itself. Then even their normal speech becomes mantra.