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Mantra: Setting yourself up for success

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Mantra: Setting yourself up for success
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11/18/19 12:11 PM
I usually use breath as an object, and despite years of meditation, haven't gotten to first jhana yet.

Recently I've begun experimenting with "mantra" to see if it's easier. I've found at times I begin to feel a buzz in my hands similar to what I'd feel very rarely towards the end of an hour sit focusing on breath. And I feel it earlier, which is hopeful.

I wish there was something written on mantra as detailed and concrete as Daniel Ingram's "Fire Kasina Book" (not to mention MCTB ). A "Mantra Book" would be great. I just can't find much written about mantra, except in general terms. Are shorter or longer mantras better? Is the focus on sustaining the sound, or sustaining listening to the sound, or sustaining the "presentness" of your focus on the sound? How might access concentration manifest with mantra? Jhanas?

My experiments: After some internet research, I began with a mantra "so-hum", first trying "so" with outbreath, "hum" with inbreath. Then I'd try rapid "so-hum-so-hum-so-hum...", which over sessions shifted to other sounds "om" and just "oh...." or "uh..." or "ei....".
What I've most recently been doing is just imagine a single undying piano note (though sometimes it dies, just like the after image of the flame dies). Or two note, one rising into the second, then resetting. This sometimes is effective and sustainable so that hand buzz starts again. Sometimes, when the buzzing starts I try shifting my attention to "something pleasurable" right away, but this usually brings me back to square one. Perhaps I ought to try sustaining that stage longer first.

Anyway, still have the above questions (and perhaps more that I haven't articulated).
So, until there is a "mantra book" (hint to anyone out there to write it):
For those of you who have used mantra successfully to enter a jhana, what tips might you give to set someone up for success? Especially whether there's a particularly "better" kind of mantra or not, and what the main goal of the concentration process is.

RE: Mantra: Setting yourself up for success
Answer
11/18/19 11:06 AM as a reply to Jack.
Jack:
Are shorter or longer mantras better? Is the focus on sustaining the sound, or sustaining listening to the sound, or sustaining the "presentness" of your focus on the sound? How might access concentration manifest with mantra? Jhanas?
[...]
piano note
[...]
For those of you who have used mantra successfully to enter a jhana, what tips might you give to set someone up for success? Especially whether there's a particularly "better" kind of mantra or not, and what the main goal of the concentration process is.
These are all good questions! I'll do my best to be helpful.

Any length of mantra that you can focus on is good. Too short may not provide enough material to really luxuriate in for those good jhana feelings, too long may take too much effort to remember at first. Up to you.

Focusing on the sound itself, your listening to the sound, and the presentness of the sound are all good. Do what works for you. Focusing on the sound itself is pretty pure shamatha, while the other two mix elements of vipassana in there. Personally I tend toward the third one. Shamatha with no vipassana at all can get very dull to me with my semi-ADD-like tendencies.

Access concentration manifests for mantras like it does for any other object: the object stands out without you having to search for it, it has a certain easy radiance in your mind, although at this point you are still relating to it dualistically. Jhana the same: there's a feeling of falling "into" the object in a joyful way, like your perception is a sponge filled with the water of the mantra.

The piano note thing is a fun twist. Keep going if it works! One way to make it even more kasina-like is not to imagine a sustained tone, but instead a naturally-decaying note that fades to silence, and you follow it into silence. This is part of the brilliance of kasina. It starts with a vivid perception, and as you follow it as it gets subtler and subtler, your mind naturally gets subtler and subtler. You can do this with real or imagined sound as well, and a piano note is a perfect example.

So my tips relate to all of the above. Ultimately, stop relating to the mantra as a dualistic object existing inside of your mind. Instead, aim for the mantra to joyfully permeate your mind like water in a sponge, so there's no circumscribed boundary between one and the other. This type of intimacy with the object is why mantras are often associated with certain qualities - you're filling your entire awareness, so you might as well choose something nice like compassion to fill it with.

RE: Mantra: Setting yourself up for success
Answer
11/18/19 12:53 PM as a reply to Jack.
Hi Jack

If you wish to enter jhanas with mantras, you'll have more success with hindu mantras than buddhist ones. With So-Ham you already seem to be doing that but most mantras require an empowerment, regardless of tradition, incl. soham. I'd suggest you to try Amitabha or Medicine Buddha mantras, neither of which require an empowerment (although it helps). You won't enter jhana through either of them, though, but will be able to recognise yourself as a buddha, which is way more profound and meaningful than any jhana.

RE: Mantra: Setting yourself up for success
Answer
11/19/19 6:00 AM as a reply to Jack.
Hi, Jack,

There's lots of materials on mantra on the web, e.g. https://swamij.com/index-yoga-meditation-mantra.htm I particularly like his video "Mantra in Yoga Meditation, Vedanta, and Tantra; 13 Tips," which analyzes ways of practicing along 13 axes according to whether they are more external (gross) or more internal (subtle).

Luangphor Viriyang Sirintharo, a disciple of Ajahn Mun Bhuridatta, used to offer a course on Buddhist mantra meditation at various centers in Canada. There is a book that goes with the course, but AFAIK they only sell the book to people who take the course. https://www.amazon.com/Meditation-Instructor-Course/dp/9748664163

RE: Mantra: Setting yourself up for success
Answer
11/19/19 7:18 PM as a reply to Derek2.
Many thanks Derek, there's some gold in those 13 axes. Awesome!
Did you ever take that Sirintharo course?