A mantra is a way to focus the mind during meditation. In fact, when we dissect the word Mantra, Man: means to think which involves the mind, and tra: means that which protects, another meaning or tra is to cross over or bypass. So, when we put these two meanings together, we can interpret Mantra as either protecting the mind or thought or bypassing the mind or thought. So, when we are reciting a mantra or meditating with a mantra, we want the mind to be quiet, we only want to focus on the sound and the sensation that the sound evokes.
When we add the sound ṃ to a letter of the Sanskrit alphabet it creates a Bija Mantra, or a seed mantra.
The ṃ sound is a nasal sound like a hum, adding it is said to drive the sound of the word into the body. Seed mantras are sounds with effects. They are not words with direct meanings.
For instance – Krim is a seed mantra related to the word Karma which means action. When we dissect the letters or sounds, we can decipher a meaning. K is the first consonant and represents initiation, R represents fire, heat the masculine and actions. I represent the moon, the feminine and the cooling energy that’s these signify. M as mentioned drives the culmination of the sounds into the body. So, this Bija or seed mantra can be used to initiate work or get motivated to work. If you like it is a call to action.
Mantras can be of any length, from a single sound to a collection of verses.
Strangely it is not necessary to know the meanings of Mantras, or course our inquiring minds want to know but the point is to practice the chant and experience the sound and its vibrational effects on the body and mind. The sound carries prana (life force energy) and prana carries information. Learning and sounding out the Sanskrit words links you to the life force of the Vedic tradition on a completely subtle level.