A verse, phrase, or group of syllables that, when spoken or chanted, is considered to have spiritual power in Hinduism, Buddhism, and other Indian religions, particularly when performed in direct imitation of a guru. The Vedas, Hinduism’s first central group of texts, introduced mantras as a ritual technique and the hymns they contain are themselves considered mantras, although generally the word is applied to much shorter statements. The speaking or chanting of mantras can serve purposes from the propitiation of gods to being themselves the focus of meditation in the effort to make breath and sound part of the meditative process. There are three kinds of mantra. One is the use of actual words, such as the names of gods. A second is syllables with no literal meaning, most famously om, properly pronounced ah-oh-mm , which is thought by Hindus to be especially auspicious and is featured in most prayers. The third kind is a combination of actual words with syllables. The most famous of these mantras, com- hayana Buddhism, is om mani padme hum. Mani padme means jewel in the lotus; hum is like om a sound without literal meaning. This mantra is generally dedicated to the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara and figures in the Lotus Sutra, one of the central texts of Mahayana Buddhism. SEE ALSO: meditation; puja

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