While we are reciting mantras what should be our major concern the meaning of mantra or the words we are speaking or the sound that is produced? If we are not able to recite a mantra propery can we use its meaning as a replacement of it(mantra)?
—Prashant Malik, India
Good question, Prashant. Yes, we want to repeat a mantra as correctly as we can — with correct pronunciation of the words, proper cadence and inflection, and deep attention. Since Sanskrit is both a language and a particularly pure vehicle for consciousness, such attention to specifics helps the power of the mantra to come through. Don’t abandon a mantra (or substitute for it the meaning of the words in another language) simply because you think you can’t say it “properly enough”. Ask God for help with getting the most from the practice, and remember: God reads the heart. (In this regard, see my answer to another mantra question in the Ask the Experts section for 2 February 2009.)
And yes, the meaning of the mantra is important — not the intellectual meaning so much as the essential meaning. For example, the Gayatri mantra (a mantra for purification of one’s understanding) should be done with a heartfelt yearning for that purification, openness to God’s grace to effect that purification, and a simultaneous feeling of that purification taking place within you. Try to feel the sounds of the words contributing to that purification, breaking up old habits of thought, self-identity, and self-interest that have distorted your understanding in the past.
There’s also something else going on with ancient mantras: Great masters and deep devotees have chanted them over millennia, using them to achieve divine contact and deep transformation. This infuses the mantras with a power that is far beyond any vibrational effect of the sounds or meanings of the words. That power is available to anyone who will make the effort to tune in to it.
I recommend that, whatever mantra you choose to practice, get a recording of it being chanted properly, and imitate that. (I use Swami Kriyananda’s Mantra CD of the Gayatri and Mahamrityunjaya mantras.) In time, you will go beyond the imitation and mechanics of pronunciation, into the true power of the mantra.
Blessings on your practice,