Mantras are sacred words, which are chanted by Buddhists and Hindus, but for many Western people, mantras often seem useless because they are not present in the Christian religion and they are not really part of the Western culture. So mantras from the western perspective are often misinterpreted. However, it is a fact that words are very powerful irrespectively of any religion. This is supported not only by Eastern religions but it is present in the Bible as well. For example, the Vedas state that everything comes into being through speech, while in The New Testament, Gospel of John, starts 'In the beginning was The Word. And the Word was with God and the Word was God...'
One of the reasons why many Western people do not believe in mantras is that for most of the people, mantras are meaningless words which are strange and difficult to recite and the benefits of mantras are not really researched.
Although sometimes it seems like mantras have started to be accepted to some extent by some Western people, the positive effects of these sacred formulas are still undervalued in Western societies. Another reason is that people tend to rely more on science than on religion. Science has an enormous respect in many societies and religions are undervalued. However, by looking at those few studies conducted on the benefits of mantras, it can be concluded that mantras actually work and they can be useful in treating stress and depression.
Two Indian scientists found that participants who had never chanted the 'OM' mantra and were asked to chant this mantra on a regular basis witnessed improvements in focus, concentration and steadiness and found themselves feeling relaxed as their stress level had reduced (Gurjar and Ladhake, 2008). Another study found that by chanting the 'OM' mantra the mind becomes calm and stays wide-awake and alert (Gurjar, Ladhake and Thakare, 2009). The body relaxes and the breath becomes calmer and slower. Negative thoughts disappear and there is an increase of mental energy. The mind enters its natural state, which is a perfect medicine for people with low energy who are under stress.
In another experiment, scientists compared functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging scans (f-MRI scans) before and after the 'OM' mantra chanting and before and after a meaningless 'SSSS' chanting (Kalyani et. al, 2011). They concluded that a regular 'OM' mantra chanting indicated limbic deactivation, which might be able to treat depression and epilepsy, while 'SSSS' chanting did not produce any significant activation or deactivation in any of the brain regions.
Mantras are regularly used during meditations and actually chanting in itself can be considered as a type of meditative state. Although there are only a few studies about mantras, there are a plenty of studies proving that meditation is very effective. It can be concluded that actually there are quite a lot of researches about these subjects, which proves that these practices are beneficial.
However, probably no scientific methods will change the opinion of those who do not believe that mantras are beneficial for them. Many spiritual teachers consider that certain spiritual maturity is necessary for spiritual practice, which is often absent from western societies due to the materialistic view of life. Nevertheless, all human beings have the potential to step on the path of spirituality and to use mantras effectively.
Gurjar, A. A. and Ladhake, S. A. (2008) 'Time-Frequency Analysis of Chanting Sanskrit Divine Sound “OM” Mantra' International Journal of Computer Science and Network Security, 8(8) , pp. 170-175. Available at: http://paper.ijcsns.org/07_book/200808/20080825.pdf (Accessed: 28 Jun 2015).
Gurjar, A. A., Ladhake, S. A. and Thakare, A. P. (2009) 'Analysis Of Acoustic of “OM” Chant To Study Its Effect on Nervous System' International Journal of Computer Science and Network Security, 9(1), pp. 363-367. Available at: http://paper.ijcsns.org/07_book/200901/20090151.pdf (Accessed: 28 Jun 2015).
Kalyani , B. G. et. al (2011) 'Neurohemodynamic correlates of ‘OM’ chanting: A pilot functional magnetic resonance imaging study' International Journal of Yoga, 4(1) pp. 3–6, DOI: 10.4103/0973-6131.78171