While my experience with Tibetan Buddhism has been predominantly Nyingma lineage, the 100 syllable mantra is one that is used a lot in all lineages. At least, that is my understanding. This mantra has two versions that are used often, the long (100 syllable) and short version (6 syllable). To see the mantra in both Tibetan and Sanskrit, as well has how to apply the mantra, you can see a short teaching on it here.
The reality is this: when you go to an event where the 100 syllable mantra is used, you have two choices. (1) Just sit and let those who know the mantra say it or (2) prepare in advance so you too can benefit from saying it. This mantra is usually spoken or chanted very, very fast. So fast in fact, that unless you have studied it in advance you will have a hard time even keeping up with reading along in the Tibetan transliteration. And not only that, when the real lamas from Tibet utter this mantra, it sounds so different than how you say it, or members of your sangha may say it. Liturgical Tibetan spoken by real lamas in a real liturgy is unrecognizable unless you prepare. This has been my experience at least.
In my case, I have had a very difficult time memorizing common prayers in Tibetan or Sanskrit. This is mainly because I have not had regular access to hear them or practice them in a real live setting. It definitely takes effort. But in my case, what helped is listening to a recording of the mantra that sounded similar to what it does in real life. Not too slow, and not too fast. It is medium paced, so you can actually learn.
I used the recording by Wonderband
It costs .99 or so and is the best recording for learning this by yourself that I have found. You can also find it on Spotify.
Here is why this particular track is so good for memorizing the 100 syllable mantra:
- It is not too fast or too slow.
- It is chanted by experienced practioners.
- The mantra is repeated about 15 times in a row in 6 minutes so you have a lot of chances to practice and self-correct.
- The tune is catchy and the meter is even. This really helps a lot in the beginning when you are learning. Then, later, when you need to simply speak the mantra, you will be able to more easily.
- It is chanted in Tibetan. Although some lamas chant it in Sanskrit, Tibetan is more common. The mantras are similar. One difference is, in Tibetan they say “Benzo” and in Sanskrit they say “Vajra”.
Here is what I did to commit this mantra to memory.
- I listened to it all the way through about 10 times not even trying to articulate the words. I looked for patterns and repeated phrases.
- I took each phrase and wrote it out 50 times until I had the spelling memorized for all the syllables.
- I tried to isolate a key word or two in each phrase whose meaning I knew, like “samaya”. This helped stabilize things. Memorizing is so difficult for people who do not speak Tibetan because you are trying to imitate 100 meaningless sounds in order at the right pace. Attaching meaning to as many syllables as you can will help.
- I replayed the mantra about 200 times as I chanted along. This was a process that took me about 3 months of concerted effort several times a week. In total, probably about 20 hours of study and practice.
If you are going to pursue Tibetan Buddhism, there are many prayers and mantras you will have to memorize in Tibetan or Sanskrit or both. The 100 syllable mantra is one of them, and for me, I found it challenging, especially since I was alone with no group to learn with. But, if I can do this (granted, it was difficult and I had to stick with it a long while), you can too.