Question: How can mantras help on the spiritual path?
Now, with the mantras, mantra chanting is a more preliminary round than the actual meditation. It is also repeated to achieve concentration of the mind first. The mind is constantly into thought after thought, the thought process keeps coming, it does not stop on one thought. Thousands, millions and billions of thoughts keep coming, one after another. The idea of mantra is that at least the mind shall try to stick to one particular thought, one particular object, one particular concentration. When you are practicing the mantra your mind has to stop all the analyzing and totally concentrate on the mantra you are chanting, this is important. Only then the mind can lose all other thoughts and get concentrated into one thought.
Ultimately, when the mind has to go to the Self, you have to abandon this mantra also. This shall happen by the Divine's Grace or the Guru's Grace either by some guidance or by an inspiration that would come from inside. Only then, you would abandon that mantra. The mind loses all its appetite for any such utterances, any such imaginations and realizes that the chanting of the mantra is also an imagination. When the mind is able to give up such imagination it starts going towards the Self automatically. Just like in the Bhaghava Gita, Krishna says that when you sacrifice the thought that you want Liberation, Samadhi or any such thing, then the mind goes into Samadhi. It means that this shall be the last thought. Until then you have to keep hold of it as an anchor, setting it as a target that you want to achieve Self Realization. That is why you have to give up all other thoughts.
Suppose you achieve this, that you give up all other thoughts and that one thought remains that you want Samadhi. It is something like, you want to give up everything in the world and just want to jump into the ocean. You try to forget everything else and keep one thought, that you want to jump. Finally you have to abandon that thought also, that you want to jump, and you have to jump into it. Here also, you have to abandon the thought that you want Liberation or Self Realization, and you become one with the Self. That is how these things work, ultimately.