You’ve probably heard the word mantra before. You may have heard of the mantra om, or even come across another famous mantra – Om mani Padme hum. But what is a mantra, and how are they used?
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What is a Mantra?
When translated into English, the word mantra can mean set free the mind.
Other times, when translated from the original Sanskrit word, there is more emphasis on the protection of the mind. Often, people associate a mantra with wisdom, Dharma, and the path to enlightenment.
People have been using mantras for thousands of years to help them in many areas of life, including healing the body and mind.
Buddhists associate mantras with health changes, reduction in stress, and protection. Millions of people around the world use mantras every day.
In recent years, there has been more and more scientific research into mantras and their effects on the human body.
We’ll go into plenty of detail about that in this article. We’ll also give a quick breakdown of what mantras are, why Buddhists chant mantras, and how mantras heal, looking specifically at Medicine Buddha.
You’ll also find a few examples of Buddhist mantras for healing and some tips to help you begin your mantric chanting practice.
To get your mind working and thinking about the potential benefits of mantras, think about the following scientific finding for a second.
In 2014, findings backed up by the China Agricultural University showed that crops exposed to soothing music and mantras increased output by 15%.
It’s particularly important to be able to protect ourselves physically and mentally these days.
Incorporating a healing mantra into your health routine is a great way to take advantage of the findings of modern medicine and traditional Buddhist wisdom.
What are the Buddhist Mantras for healing?
Mantras exist in other religions like Hinduism and share commonalities with prayers in other faiths.
To put it as simply as possible, Buddhist mantras, or Buddhist chants, are words or sounds Buddhists repeat to aid concentration and meditation.
Often, people meditate to feel more “at One” with the world. People regard meditation as one of the ways that the Buddha reached enlightenment. It’s a fundamental practice when following the Dharma.
One of the problems is offering oversimplified definitions to terms like One, mantras, Dharma, concentration, mind, and meditation.
They lack context we have to understand these words. We tend to understand their literal meaning, but many uses of these words work in a spiritual, traditional sense instead of a literal rational one.
Sometimes, things like metaphors, symbols, and physical practices can be better ways to understand the meaning of a mantra.
It can be helpful to think of mantras as symbols made of sound. Some religions encourage praying while looking at statues or painted icons that represent visual symbols.
Similarly, some Buddhists use mantras as audible icons and symbols. Mantras can, therefore, act as audible triggers. These symbols, or icons, can help visualizations in the imagination.
Another way to think about mantras is by seeing them as instruments of thought. Some Buddhists use mantras to help them tune their mind towards concentration, mindfulness, and meditation.
Repeating a word or phrase is an excellent way to improve mental discipline and to remain fixed in the present.
Why do Buddhists chant mantras?
Chanting is where you speak certain words over and over. These can be individual words, phrases, and sayings, called mantras.
Some people use prayer beads, called malas, to count how many times they’ve repeated the mantra. You can also do it for a certain amount of time.
Using a timer on your phone is a great way to keep track of time while chanting a mantra.
Practitioners of Buddhism use sound, chants, and mantras as ways to learn and show devotion to the teachings of the Buddha.
For someone just starting, it can be a little confusing separating the differences between the Buddha, a mantra, the Dharma, the One, and enlightenment. So, let’s take a look at an actual mantra.
One of the most common and popular mantras to use is Om mani Padme hum. This simple, four-word mantra is relatively easy to remember and has a beautiful meaning, translating roughly as Behold! The jewel in the lotus!
If you’re struggling to memorize a mantra, try listening to it on repeat for the first few times or writing it down on a piece of paper.
With repetition comes memorization. It won’t take you long to be able to recite it without needing a sound prompt or reminder.
Can mantras heal?
The connection between Buddhism and healing goes back centuries. The Four Noble Truths, according to the teachings of the Buddha, are suffering, origin/cause, cessation/ending, and path.
These are fascinatingly similar to the modern medical model of diagnosis, etiology/cause, prognosis/expected development, and therapy.
In the teachings of the Buddha, our intent and actions influence, or cause, our futures. Good intentions and actions contribute to good karma.
The opposite, bad intentions and actions, contribute to bad karma.
Buddhists believe that karma affects a person’s health. For example, bad karma can have negative consequences on your overall health.
Buddhists use mantras to help free themselves from karma and get closer to Dharma.
The religion believes that the process of freeing ourselves from karma, especially bad karma, heals physical, emotional, and spiritual conditions.
For Buddhists, incorporating a mantra into your practice is a way to stay on the path to wisdom and enlightenment.
In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, religions, philosophies, and traditions have collided with the modern scientific method. This has caused plenty of strain between individuals, cultures, and beliefs.
However, there are other examples where both parties have benefited. This is the case when it comes to mantras, mantric chants, sound, and meditation.
Over the last four or five decades, a large number of scientific studies and papers investigated the effects of mantras, the practice of meditation, and mindfulness on our brains and bodies.
One study found that mantric chants create sounds which cause the left and right hemispheres of the brain to synchronize.
Brain synchronization helps with coordination and cross-body movements. This helps us use both eyes, ears, hands, and feet in a more equal and balanced way.
Brain synchronization helps focus your mind and improve cognition.
Furthermore, studies show that chants like mantras can also help oxygenate the brain, lower your heart rate, and your blood pressure. The sound of a mantra also helps calm brainwave activity and can lead to a better night’s sleep.
A mantra can be particularly helpful for someone looking to avoid the side effects of some of the Western medicine used to treat these conditions.
Another intriguing effect of mantric chants comes from the simple act of moving your tongue around in your mouth as you say the words.
As your tongue touches different parts of your mouth, it can stimulate acupuncture meridians in your mouth. This triggers melatonin release, a hormone associated with improving sleep patterns.
While there are plenty of areas still needing more research, a massive amount of anecdotal evidence exists, backing up the health benefits and healing properties of mantras. Some people go so far as to say mantras helped cure their cancer.
What are some examples of Buddhist mantras for healing?
There are thousands of mantras. There is probably an infinite number as people make up new mantras every day.
From curing snakebites, to aiding meditation, to curing an illness, people use mantras to help them deal with almost every problem imaginable.
Some mantras are more famous than others, and often a mantra will be used for specific purposes. One of the most fundamental ones is the mantra om.
In this article, though, we talk specifically about the mantra associated with healing and the Medicine Buddha.
Depictions of Bhaiśajyaguru show the Medicine Buddha, with either golden or Lapis Lazuli-blue skin, while dressed in the robes of a monk.
In his right hand, Medicine Buddha holds a branch of the healing myrobalan plant.
His left-hand rests in his lap, making the gesture of meditation, called a mudra, while also holding a bowl of the nectar of immortality, called amrita.
The specific mantra associated with healing and Medicine Buddha goes as follows:
oṃ bhaiśajye bhaiśajye mahābhaiśajye bhaiśajyarāje samudgate svāhā
In Tibetan translation, it looks like this:
Om Be-kan-dze Be-kan-dze Ma-ha Be-kan-dze Ra-dza Sa-mung-ga-te So-ha
And, translated roughly into English, it means something like this:
Hail! Appear, O Healer, O Healer, O Great Healer, O King of Healing!
To chant the Medicine Buddha mantra, repeat the Tibetan translation over and over.
We go further into the details of how to chant a Buddhist healing mantra in the next section.
How do you chant a Medicine Buddha mantra?
When learning to use a mantra for healing, you’ll probably come up against a few questions in the beginning, such as When can I do it? Where can I do it? How do I do it? How much should I do it? And so on.
The good thing about mantras is their flexibility.
While Buddhist monks can chant for hours on end, most of us, especially those living a Western lifestyle, only have a few minutes here and there to practice something like mantric chanting.
When you’re learning to chant a Medicine Buddha mantra, try to be forgiving as you undoubtedly forget to do it.
Also, try not to expect too much too early. Instead of starting out trying to chant for an hour straight, why not start with ten minutes and slowly work your way up?
You can also practice healing mantric chanting as you go about your day. Stuck in line at the grocery store? Practice a minute or two of mantric chanting.
Are you waiting for an appointment at the dentist’s? Repeat the healing mantra to Medicine Buddha as many times as you can until they call your name.
The versatility of repeating mantras make them one of the best, and most readily-available medicines.
You can repeat Om Be-kan-dze Be-kan-dze Ma-ha Be-kan-dze Ra-dza Sa-mung-ga-te So-ha anytime, anywhere. Practice it throughout your day.
If you can, set aside a certain amount of time every day. Building time to practice chanting a healing mantra in your habitual routine makes it easier to show up and practice every day.
Soon, you’ll be ardently defending that time and space as you tune into the benefits of healing mantras.
If you don’t want to chant out loud, do it under your breath. Remember to physically move your mouth.
Movement activates certain health benefits, such as triggering the release of melatonin. So, you don’t have to say the words out loud.
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the words meditation and medication come from the same Latin root – medeor, which means “to heal or to make whole.”
As the collected wisdom of Western medicine meets Eastern traditions, we’re seeing a meeting of two very different ways of dealing with and healing, painful conditions, and illnesses.
Plus, we’re increasing our understanding of the conceptions of a “good life” and “enlightenment.”
Western medicine tends to focus on the external, physical symptoms, while Eastern philosophies and traditions like Buddhism tend to focus on the internal, mental causes of illnesses.
In a world where we share information at an unprecedented rate, let’s try to maximize the benefits by taking the best from both worlds.
Some people claim you must believe in the Buddha and study the Dharma (the teachings of Buddha) for a mantra to work.
Many others believe anyone can benefit, regardless of the details of their beliefs.
For some, a mantra is a fundamental element in a life on the path to enlightenment.
For others, the sound and action of a mantra are less about Dharma and more about optimizing health and wellbeing.
As we’ve seen, mantras and mantric chanting help us heal in myriad ways, especially when using a mantra like that of the Medicine Buddha.
From decreasing heart rate to hormone balancing to balancing karma, mantras are an easy, practical way to improve our health and overall wellbeing.
Hopefully, now you have everything you need to start using a mantra for healing yourself. You can use it to help and heal your body and mind as you travel on the pat of life, attaining wisdom and enlightenment.
All you have to do is take a deep breath and repeat the words:
Om Be-kan-dze Be-kan-dze Ma-ha Be-kan-dze Ra-dza Sa-mung-ga-te So-ha.