In western culture, the word "mantra" is tossed around quite casually as a substitute for the word "affirmation," which is something we say to ourselves repeatedly to bolster our motivation or to ward off discouragement. While mantras certainly serve that function, their original intent goes much deeper.
Not only have mantras been a cornerstone of many spiritual practices for thousands of years, their physical and psychological benefits are increasingly born out by science. Understanding more about their origins and how they are believed to work can help you choose mantras for avoiding negativity and discouragement and encouraging positive thinking.
In Hinduism and Buddhism, mantras are direct appeals to deities requesting that they bestow blessings in the form of positive energy. They are said -- or chanted repetitively -- to help us ward off harm, to succeed in our endeavors or -- most importantly -- to make spiritual progress. The word "mantra" is derived from two Sanskrit words: manas, which means "mind," and trai, which means "to protect" or "free from." So it seems that mantras were originally designed as a method to cultivate positive thinking.
Brush Up On Your Sanskrit?
Sanskrit is regarded by mystics as the most powerful language for saying mantras because its syllables originate from primal sound that can bring us to higher levels of awareness. In Buddhism, while various prayers may be translated into local languages -- whether it's Chinese, Tibetan or even English -- mantras are still said in Sanskrit.
Sanskrit mantras are regarded as so powerful that you don't even have to know what they mean to obtain benefit, according to the book, "Mantra Yoga," by scholar David Frawley. Saying mantras is a transformative activity that harmonizes mind, body and spirit.
Sources for Mantras
There are many religious and not-so-religious sources for obtaining mantras and, as you might expect, a number of different philosophies behind them.