CHANTING CHRONICLES: THE POWER OF REPETITION

Akhil Gupta, Founder UEF

Repetition has tremendous value. It makes our feet sink deeper into the sand. It creates muscle memory. So, just as we train our bodies through repeat action, we train our brains the same way. Memory gets built by the database of information that you repeat to yourself. All religions have created mantras and daily recitations — often short distilled phrases that are easy to recall and recite daily. These become the tiny anchoring points that help us to deal with the fluid vicissitudes of life. They also automatically, and subliminally, guide us towards the core principles of our faith.

For Jews, the Shema Yisrael is the most important prayer to be recited daily, morning and night, as an affirmation of the Oneness of God. Muslims are all required to pray five times daily and many are taught from an early age to memorize and recite all, or at least some, passages from the Qur’an. Additionally, Sufi Muslims practice Dhikr, which involves the repetition of short prayers or other phrases. Followers of the Baha’i faith recite the phrase ‘Allah’u’Abha’ 95 times a day in praise of God. In Confucianism, memorization and repetition are important aspects of education.

In Indian religions, daily recitations are known as mantra, with the most famous and important being the single syllable ‘Om’ or ‘Aum’ — an expression of oneness; a clever way to incorporate saying it daily is by making it a greeting, so people often greet one another with a ‘Hari Om’. There are many mantras followed by the various Hindu traditions. Sikhs say ‘Wahe Guru’. The Transcendental Meditation technique involves the use of a mantra, which is uniquely assigned to each meditator. The mantra helps to reduce the chatter of the meditator’s mind and ushers her into a deep meditative state.

What we repeat to ourselves on a regular basis has a huge impact on how we think and behave, and mantras hold great potential for sculpting us into more loving and enlightened beings.

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Insightful Quotes on Mantra

Christianity

“That is why daily prayers and religious reading and church going are necessary parts of the Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed.”

– C.S. Lewis, writer and Christian theologian

Islam

“The Prophet said to Ali, if he recited Surat al-Ikhlas [a short chapter of the Quran comprised of four verses] three times before going to sleep, it was as if he had recited the whole Quran.”

— Saba Mahmood, anthropologist

Judaism

“Let every breath praise the Lord” (Ps. 1 50:6). At each and every breath a man takes, he should praise his Creator.”

– Sefer Ha-Aggadah, collection of Jewish writings

Baha’i

“It behoveth us one and all to recite day and night both the Persian Arabic Hidden Words, to pray fervently and supplicate tearfully that we may be enabled to conduct ourselves in accordance with these divine counsels. These holy words have not been revealed to be heard but to be practiced.”

– ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i leader

Hinduism

“Om Tat Sat: these three words represent Brahman, from which come priests and scriptures and sacrifice. Those who follow the Vedas, therefore, always repeat the word Om when offering sacrifices, performing spiritual disciplines, or giving gifts.”

— The Bhagavad Gita (17:23–24), Hindu text

Buddhism

“In Japan we have the phrase shoshin, which means ‘beginner’s mind.’ The goal of practice is always to keep our beginner’s mind. Suppose you recite the Prajna Paramita Sutra only once. It might be a very good recitation. But what would happen to you if you recited it twice, three times, four times, or more? You might easily lose your original attitude towards it.”

— Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Buddhist monk and teacher

Confucianism

“Choose what is good and firmly hold onto it. If we extend our knowledge and investigate the phenomena of things then this is choosing what is good. If we make our thoughts sincere, maintain an upright mind, and cultivate ourselves, this is firmly holding on. These two principles are all that we need.”

– Zhu Xi, Confucian scholar

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