To many, the biggest issue with mantras is that they are ineffective and limited only to the chosen few who devote their lives to it. A study done by The University of Waterloo and The University of New Brunswick is in support of that idea as it says,
…present results suggest that for certain people, positive self-statements may be not only ineffective, but actually detrimental. When people with low self-esteem repeated the statement, ‘I’m a lovable person,’ or focused on ways in which this statement was true of them, neither their feelings about themselves nor their moods improved—they got worse. Positive self-statements seemed to provide a boost only to people with high self-esteem—those who ordinarily feel good about themselves already—and that boost was small.”
Scientific proof of this common claim is enough for most people to shut out mantras completely, but this concern is flawed as it was never argued that mantras would work for just anyone. Also, mantras are more than just saying a basic statement of “I’m a lovable person,” as most would seem to believe it is.
Mantras are made to work for people who have high self-clarity. Self-clarity is defined by Melissa Dahl as, “how well we know our own strengths and weaknesses, as well as our ability to accept them.” This is where most people run into trouble. They think that self-esteem is the key. For the most part, self-esteem is overrated. Melissa Dahl, a writer for the New York Times, states that,
…high self-esteem inflates your ego, which can make the reality of how others see you harder to bear. With high self-clarity, though, you can see and accept yourself much more easily–even your flaws. But this form of self-acceptance doesn’t leave you there, gaping at your imperfections.
Boosting our self-clarity is important to using mantras because we need to be in-tune with ourselves. We have to have a good understanding of who we are on the inside before we can look introspectively for positive energy and power. Self-clarity can be learned through embracing mistakes we have made, and realizing that everyone makes mistakes. Changing ones’s philosophy from that of a pessimist to that of a realist isn’t necessary, but looking at things from a neutral standpoint rather than a negative one is key.
Mantras harness the power of sound, and Gabriel Axel wrote a great article on how sound effects the body on October 2, 2013, in the US News Website. Different sounds have different meanings, such as a car screeching to a halt followed by a crashing sound is connected with an accident and all that entails. Axel states that the word mantra is Sanskrit for “sound tool,” and that many languages evolved to include onomatopoeia to make use of the movement of energy through those words.
This evocation is qualitative and subjective and is linked with interoception (inner body sensations) and emotional sense of self, both predominantly represented in the right hemisphere of the brain. Conversely, the narrative strand of sounds in which we give them meaning is done predominantly through the left hemisphere.
Sound itself, from a physics standpoint, will resonate in different parts of the body and mind before it is assigned a meaning. The different areas where the sound resonates can make you feel different emotions, or remember old memories. Feelings and effects will vary from person to person, but the best effects are found in people who know themselves. The better the condition of the body and mind, the better the outcome. People who become well versed in mantra usage can eventually not even have to use their voices because the feelings produced by their voice can be replicated through their thoughts alone.
If my arguments still haven’t convinced you, then at least let me convince you of the power of sound. Buddha Weekly wrote a good article about the science of mantras, how they work with and without faith, and how they effect the environment. In the medicinal field, mantra usage has been found to be beneficial to people with PTSD. The Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology and Behavioral Science states that patients experienced,
“lowered levels of tension; slower heart rate, decreased blood pressure, lower oxygen consumption, and increased alpha wave production. The benefits experienced in 20 minutes of meditation exceed those of deep sleep, thus indicating the regenerative power of meditation and saving of wear and tear on the body”
Chanting and other self-created noises have been found to help oxygenate and synchronize the right and left sides of the brain, reduce our heart rate and blood pressure, and calm brainwave activity.
Researchers attribute a large portion of the benefit of mantras and chanting to sound’s effect on water. Maseru Emoto, a researcher, published his findings in the peer reviewed journal, Journal of Scientific Exploration. He photographically demonstrated the effects that mantras had on water. Negative sounds and thoughts created common and negative ice formations, while positive sounds and thoughts created rare and positive formations. His work is commonly debated, but most researchers agree that sound can positively and negatively impact humans (who are made up mostly of water).
Horton, A. P. (2018, February 16). Positive Self-Esteem Is Overrated, Here’s What You Need Instead. Retrieved March 17, 2018, from https://www.fastcompany.com/40531879/positive-self-esteem-is-overrated-heres-what-you-need-instead
Wood, J. V., Perunovic, W. E., & Lee, J. W. (2009). Positive Self-Statements. Psychological Science, 20(7), 860-866. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02370.x
Axel, Gabriel. “Your Brain on Om: The Science of Mantra.” US News, 2 Oct. 2013, 11:27, health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/2013/10/02/your-brain-on-om-the-science-of-mantra.
The Science of Mantras: Mantras Work With or Without Faith; Research Supports the Effectiveness of Sanskrit Mantra for Healing – and Even Environmental Transformation. (2017, March 05). Retrieved March 23, 2018, from https://buddhaweekly.com/science-mantras-mantras-work-without-faith-research-supports-effectiveness-sanskrit-mantra-healing-even-environmental-transformation/