The use of, and beliefs about, short recitations are universal in the traditional forms of Buddhism. Popularly known as mantras, the term, derived from Sanskrit, breaks down into two parts: man means to think; and tra is a suffix that designates a tool or instrument. So the literal meaning is: “an instrument of thought.”
The fundamental misapprehension of personhood that the Buddha penetrated is that we live our lives as if we are separate, independent and hence almost invulnerable. I notice the suffering—as well as the moments of happiness— from this misconception much more now, both in myself and in others. I welcome that awareness.
Buddhism stands on three foundational legs: virtue, concentration (the meditation practices) and wisdom. The three are inextricable in their effect on each other; however, I’m going to approach your question today through the leg of meditation practice as over the last decade or so a tremendous amount of neuroscience has validated the practical benefits of meditation for mind.