From ignorance, lead me to truth;
From darkness, lead me to light;
From death, lead me to immortality
Om peace, peace, peace
Mantra’s originated in the Vedic tradition of INdia, an essential part of the Hindu tradition and also a customary practise within the Buddhism, Sikh and Jainism religions. The Om Syllable is believed to be the “Sound of the Universe” and in Vedanta mysticism is a mantra in it’s own right.
Hindu tantre also came to see the letters as well as the sounds as divine representatives, the shift towards writing came when Buddhism travelled to China. The Chinese culture prized their written language far more highly then those of the Indian Buddhist Missionaries, and the writing of mantra’s became a spiritual practise in its own right.
The Brahmins had been strict on the correct pronunciation but the Chinese were more concerned with the correct text. This practise of writing the mantra’s was refined further in Japan. The writing in the Siddham script, in which the Sanskrit of many Buddhist Sutras was written, is only really seen in Japan nowadays.
Mantras were originally part of the Vedas, most follow a pattern of two line “shlokas” though they can be found in a single line, or even a word. The most basic being the Om, known as pranava mantra. Om is considered the most fundamental and powerful mantra and is suffixed to all Hindu prayers. Whilst some might invoke individual gods the most fundamental like “Om”, the “Shanti Mantra” and “Gayatri Mantra” all focus on One reality.
In the Hindu Tantrea the universe is sound, creation consists of vibrations and sounds and these ultimately create the world and the purest vibrations are the Var.nas. Each letter becomes a mantra and the language is reflected in this manner, the seed syllable Om represents the underlying unity of reality, which is Brahman.
Here are some of the forms of Mantra, I have taken the list from Wikipedia.
Bhajan: spiritual songs.
Kirtan: repetition of God’s name in songs.
Prayer: a way of communing with God.
Guru mantra: the first initiation (Diksha) given by the master to the
Bija mantra: a bija mantra represents the essence of a mantra (e.g. Om).
Mantra Japa – the concept of the Vedic sages uses the repetition of mantra. It is repeated in numbers (often multiples of three) with the most popular being 108. Hindu Malas (bead necklaves) would often contain 108 beads for this reason, and also the head beads. The fingers counts each mantra and should the devotee wish to do another 108 they would turn the mala around without crossed the head bead and repeat.