I have been asked about authentic, authoritative sources, from real Kabala, not “New Age” stuff, for Hebrew Mantras.
Concerning Hebrew Mantras, as far as authenticity goes, that is always a tricky question. Most of the Jewish Meditation teachers and techniques that I have read about and studied with basically use various prayers or phrases from traditional Jewish liturgy or sources, especially prayers or phrases that originated in the Torah, and employ them as mantras in the same way that yoga utilizes mantras. I have never heard of any reference to an authentic, authoritative source or text that specifically identifies Hebrew mantras and provides instructions as the how to utilize them. I believe this was always left for direct oral instruction and transmission, and self-discovery and experimentation.
In my book, Yoga and Judaism, I have a chapter on Jewish Yoga Meditation. The Layer One practice in my book basically starts with a traditional yoga meditation and replaces a common mantra, sometimes designated as The Universal Mantra, “So-hum” with “Yod-Heh, Vav-Heh”, the tetragrammaton, which is the most central designation for God in Judaism. I learned this directly from a husband and wife Rabbi team, Phyllis Berman and Arthur Waskow, and they assured me that this was not a “New Age” invention, but rather there was traditional authority for this practice. The Layer Two and Layer Three practices I describe in the book build upon this, and as explained, are based upon a peculiar oral tradition (Talmudic) notation for the pronunciation of the tetragrammaton as used in Genesis 15:2, combining the consonants of YHVH with the vowels of Elohim. However, it is strictly my insight/revelation, which I have not yet found substantiated in any authority, to apply it in the way I describe in my book. But it is quite obvious to me that was its intention. I have found only this one rendition in the entire Torah, and no other usages in any of the other Jewish scriptures (although I haven’t read them all, yet) other than King David utilizing it a few times in Psalms.
The Repetitive Phrase Practice I describe in my book utilizes what in yoga is called a “japa” technique (fast repetition), applying it to the most central prayer in all of Jewish liturgy, the Shema, which is derived directly from the Torah. I don’t think that I have seen any authentic authority to support this specific practice, although there is authority to support comparable practices, and there is actually some authority that discourages such types of fast repetition techniques. However, I have found this to be a very potent practice, and I am quite convinced of its efficacy. What many people don’t realize is that the Shema prayer technically includes not only these one or two lines, but three other paragraphs that follow it, the first paragraph certainly being the most well-known, beginning with the phrase referenced by Jesus when asked to summarize the most important of the commandments, that you should “love God will all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind/might”. The other most central prayer in Judaism created later on, but with some phrases from the Torah, is known as the Shimoneh Esray (meaning “The Eighteen”, as there were originally 18 blessings in it, although a 19th controversial one was later added, also called The Amida (meaning “The Standing”, as you are to recite it standing up. My interpretation is that it is to be recited with the body erect, as in a seated meditation posture, and not necessarily as standing up on your feet). It includes the well-known “priestly blessing”, which is in the Torah. I include the Shema, its first paragraph, and an abbreviated form of the Amida in my daily Jewish Yoga meditation practice.
There is a tradition in Judaism called “Midrash”, which allows for students and scholars with insights to place their own spins and interpretations on the main authoritative texts. These midrash, affirmed and repeated over time, then become recognized as their own authority. The Zohar, one of the principle Kabbalistic texts, is actually in the form of a midrash/commentary on the Torah, although its author is still disputed (it is narrowed down to one of two people by most scholars). The Bahir and Sefer Yetzirah are two of the other principle Kabbalistic texts, and no-one is certain of their authorship. An argument among some quarters is being made that the process of midrash must remain alive with current practitioners in order for the tradition to remain alive, dynamic and vital, and as such, anyone can create midrash. If you want to consider that as “New Age”, you can, but I think it is vital that current students, even this writer, be allowed to voice our own insights and revelations. One of the criticisms of Jewish scholarship over the centuries is that many of the midrash were more intellectual gymnastics/sophistry rather than expressing any real experiential insights. The practices I describe originate in authentic tradition, but then are extrapolated from those traditions, both Jewish and yogic, tweaking certain practices. They are based not on my intellectual imaginings, but rather on intuitive and experiential insights and practices.
So you can see why I say that authenticity is a tricky question.
For anyone interested in Jewish Meditation and utilizing Hebrew mantras in their meditation practice, I would suggest that you experiment with some of the practices I describe in my book, and then study a traditional Jewish prayer book and the Jewish Bible for prayers, blessings or phrases that particularly resonate with you, and try using them as mantras. Besides the Five Books of Moses (the Torah proper), phrases from Psalms and the Song of Songs have been of particular inspiration to many people.
Although it is a favored practice of mine, as described in my book, I know that there are issues about utilizing the Tetragrammaton or approximations of it in any way, as there are long-held traditions and beliefs that either the correct pronunciation is no longer known, and even if known, should not be spoken or even thought because it would be using the name of the Lord in vain. My childhood rabbi, who was Modern Orthodox and pretty straight-laced, told me that the correct pronunciation is known, but is just a well-kept secret for advanced students only. The Jewish Renewal take, upon which my suggested usage is based, is that it can’t really be “spoken” out loud or even internally as a word, because it really isn’t a word in the common sense and doesn’t have vowels, because it is the sound of the breath. You could also say it is the Word as described in the gospel of John, which is of course, like all early “Christian” writings, based upon Jewish belief and practice: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The idea is just to internally intone/coordinate the approximation of the sound of YH on inhalation and VH on exhalation, and really to then just let the breath do the work. One of my favorite quotes of my yoga meditation mentor, Swami Rama, from his book “The Art of Joyful Living”, is a rare section where he actually talks about his practice. He says he doesn’t mess around with all of the preliminaries he teaches his students, he just gets right into turning his inner being into an internal “ear” by which he listens to his mantra, which is already there of its own accord, so he really isn’t “doing” his mantra, he is just listening to it, as it has an internal life of its own. This is what in yoga is called “ajapa japa”, whereby the rapid repetition is not initiated or maintained by any effort of the practitioner, but rather it takes on this life of its own, whereby the practitioner is placed more in the role of a listener/receiver. This is consistent with Jewish teachings as the term “Kabala” comes from the root word meaning “to receive”, and “Shema” means “Hear”. The beauty of these breath-coordinated practices are that they are aligning their sounds with the breath, and letting the breath become the sounds of its own accord. So you could say that this practice is not “speaking” or even “thinking” the word, either externally or internally, not even as a thought. It is something beyond and deeper than thought. It is alignment with life force and its source.
Consonants do have sounds even without formal vowels accompanying them: Y = Yeh or Yuh; H = Heh or Huh; V = Veh or Vah. Also, they can be sounded by the names of their letters Y = Yod or Yud; H = Heh; V = Vav or Vuv. My yoga tradition encourages exploration, so the whole idea is for the practitioner to go with the suggestion and experiment with it and see what feels right. Perhaps it is time to overcome and explore resistance due to childhood restrictions and taboos. All mantras ultimately lead to silence, but on the surface level there is sound, and it becomes more subtle as it is aligned with the breath and becomes the sound of the breath.
However, for those who remain uncomfortable employing anything related to the Tetragrammaton as a mantra, there are other biblical names/designations for God in the Jewish tradition that might be suitable: “Adonai” is the first name used by man/Abraham in addressing God. “El Shaddai” is another common potent designation, and also contains a feminine aspect, as it shares the same root as the word for “breast”, suggesting nurturance. When Moses asked God whom should he say had sent him to the slaves in Egypt, God responded, “Tell them ‘Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh’ sent you, which is generally translated as “I Am That I AM”, but also has the timeless connotation of simultaneously being “I was, I am, and I will be”. A similar designation is “Hayah Hoveh V’ehyeh”, which means “I was, I am, and I will be.”. Yet another simple designation that is currently in favor with the Jewish Renewal movement is the simple “Yah”, meaning “I am”. A female connotation roughly similar to Kundalini Shakti in the yoga tradition is “Shechinah” (with the accent on the second syllable. This is defined as the aspect of God’s presence in the world. It was the Shechinah that communicated with Moses and the High Priests from the Ark. When the Torah speaks of creating a dwelling for God’s presence to dwell among us, it is the Shechinah that is to be doing the dwelling. It is definitely a feminine noun. There is also the idea that a suitable “dwelling” for God’s presence was not only meant to be the Ark and the Tabernacle, but rather the human body, as the human body is also designated as a Temple, and the actual Temple building is seen as a depiction/representation of the human body and vice-versa). Other possibilities might include the Hebrew term for Israel, “Yisrael”, “Baruch”, “Atah”, or any other of a number of blessings or prayers.
There is also a lesser-known designation for God steeped with mystical mystery which might be suitable for use as a mantra: “Emesh”. According to Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, an incredible modern (but unfortunately, deceased) mystical orthodox scholar, in his commentary on the Sefer Yetzirah, this word is composed of the three “Mother” letters of Aleph, Mem and Shin, and represents all kinds of things, including a reference to the Ein/Ayin/Void underlying all of existence (similar to Brahman in the yoga tradition and shunyata in Buddhism), a reconciliation of opposites, the mystery to master fire, and is used in the Torah and other Jewish scripture, often translated as the dark gloom of night, suggestive of the time of deep dreamless sleep, of the deepest recesses of the unconscious.
During the event when Moses encounters the burning bush on Mt. Sinai, when the voice of God calls out to Moses, his response is, “Hinani” (phonetically, “Hee-Nay-Nee”). This is translated as “Here I am”, or “I am here.”, but the commentary on the inner meaning of this response is very significant. This is not the common separative “I/self” asserting itself and indicating physical location, but rather the humble vestige of a separative self responding in awe to the greatness of the Almighty which it is beholding, and offering up itself in complete submission and service. “I am at your service”, would be a more correct translation capturing the inner meaning of the literal translation. Like Abraham’s earlier responding to God by addressing God as “Adonai”, here again is an utterance of another great servant of God in response to God’s call to him. So I believe that “Hinani” would be another suitable term to use as a Hebrew mantra. I have utilized “Adonai Hinani” in conjunction – with “Adonai” on inhalation (breathing in the Divine essence offered by God) and “Hinani” on exhalation (extending back to God what we can offer) – and I have found it to be very powerful.
And finally, in my book, I list the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy of God as found in Exodus 34:6,7 which were revealed by God to Moses during an extraordinary event on Mt. Sinai. One or more of them might also be appealing to some as Hebrew mantras.