Mantra - Instrument of thought


mántra [L=157237]
(rarely n. ; ifc. f(ā).) , " instrument of thought " , speech , sacred text or speech , a prayer or song of praise RV. AV. TS.
786,1] [L=157238]
veda which contains the texts called c or yajus or sāman (q.v.) as opp. to the brāhmaa and upaniad portion (» IW. 5 &c ) Br. Gr2S3rS. &c

e.g. om śivāya nama) RTL. 61

esp. in modern times employed by the śāktas to acquire superhuman powers ; the primary mantras being held to be 70 millions in number and the secondary innumerable RTL. 197-202) RV. (i , 147 , 4) A1s3vS3r. Mn. Katha1s. Sus3r.

RV. &c

of viṣṇu Vishn2.

śiva MBh.

astrol.) the fifth mansion VarYogay.
mantra [p= 787,1] [L=157540]
[p= 785,3].
mantra [p= 1331,2] [L=337930]


[p= a Vedic hymn or sacrificial formula , that portion of the
[L=157239]a sacred formula addressed to any individual deity (
[L=157240]a mystical verse or magical formula (sometimes personified) , incantation , charm , spell (
[L=157241]consultation , resolution , counsel , advice , plan , design , secret
(H2) »
(H2) (in


mánas [p= 783,3] [L=156776]
mind (in its widest sense as applied to all the mental powers) , intellect , intelligence , understanding , perception , sense , conscience , will RV. &c &c (in phil. the internal organ or anta-karaa of perception and cognition , the faculty or instrument through which thoughts enter or by which objects of sense affect the soul IW. 53 ; in this sense manas is always is always regarded as distinct from ātman and purua , " spirit or soul " and belonging only to the body , like which it is - except in the nyāya - considered perishable ; as to its position in the various systems » for nyāya and vaiśeika IW. 63 ; 67 ; 76 , for khya and vedā*nta ib. 84 ; 109 ; 117 ; in RV. it is sometimes joined with hd or hdaya , the heart Mn. vii , 6 with cakus , the eye)

asu in animals ; cf. above ) ib.
784,1] [p= 783,3] [L=156778]
ib. (ifc. after a verbal noun or an inf. stem in °tu = having a mind or wishing to ; cf. draṣṭu-m° &c ; manak , to make up one's mind ; with gen. , to feel inclination for ; manak,pra-k , √ dhā , vi- √ dhā , √ dh , √ bandh and Caus. of ni-viś with loc. dat. acc. with prati , or inf. , to direct the mind or thoughts towards , think of or upon ; mana with sam-ā-dhā , to recover the senses , collect one's self ; with √ han » mano-hatya ; mánasā ind. in the mind ; in thought or imagination ; with all the heart , willingly ; with gen. , by the leave of ; with iva = °se*va , as with a thought , in a moment ; with √ man , to think in one's mind , be willing or inclined ; with sa-gam , to become unanimous , agree ; manasi with √ k , to bear or ponder in the mind , meditate on , remember ; with ni-dhā , to impress on the mind , consider ; with √ vt , to be passing in one's mind)

of the 26th kalpa (s.v.) Cat.

mānasa BhP.

N. of a sāman A1rshBr. [cf. Gk. μένος ; Lat. miner-va.]


[L=156777]the spirit or spiritual principle , the breath or living soul which escapes from the body at death (called
[p= thought , imagination , excogitation , invention , reflection , opinion , intention , inclination , affection , desire , mood , temper , spirit
[L=156780]of the lake
[L=156781]manaso doha

Mantra as an English Word

Word Origin & History

1808, "that part of the Vedas which contains hymns," from Skt. mantra-s "sacred message or text, charm, spell, counsel," lit. "instrument of thought," related to manyate "thinks." Sense of "special word used for meditation" is first recorded in Eng. 1956.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
Cite This Source

Example Sentences
  • He said that we all possess a mantra unique to us.
  • The constant mantra of money management advisers is this: Save, save, save.
  • Today's globe-trotter follows a simple mantra: light and wired.

World English Dictionary
 any of those parts of the Vedic literature which consist of the metrical psalms of praise
Buddhism  any sacred word or syllable used as an object of concentration and embodying some aspect of spiritual power
mantra  (ˈmæntrə, ˈmʌn-) dictionary_questionbutton_default





[C19: from Sanskrit, literally: speech, instrument of thought, from man  to think]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
Cite This Source

mantra dictionary
1808, "that part of the Vedas which contains hymns," from Skt.
mantra-s "sacred message or text, charm, spell, counsel," lit. "instrument of thought," related to manyate "thinks." Sense of "special word used for meditation" is first recorded in English 1956.
Hare Krishna dictionary
1968, title of a Hindu chant or mantra, from Hindi
hare "O God!" + Krishna, name of an incarnation of the god Vishnu.
mandarin dictionary
"Chinese official," 1580s, via Port.
mandarim or Du. mandorijn from Malay mantri, from Hindi mantri "councilor, minister of state," from Skt. mantri, nom. of mantrin- "advisor," from mantra "counsel," from PIE base *men- "to think" (see mind). Form influenced in Portuguese by mandar "to command, order." Used generically for the several grades of Chinese officials; sense of "chief dialect of Chinese" (spoken by officials and educated people) is from c.1600. The type of small, deep-colored orange so called from 1771, from resemblance of its color to that of robes worn by mandarins.


yantra [p= 845,2] [L=170248]
yantra [p= 845,3] [L=170300]
any instrument for holding or restraining or fastening , a prop , support , barrier RV. &c

Mn. MBh.

esp. a blunt one , such as tweezers , a vice &c , opp. to śastra) Sus3r. Va1gbh.

&c ) MBh. Ka1v. &c (cf. kūpa- , jala- , taila-y° ; ibc. or ifc. often = mechanical , magical)

°trea ind. forcibly , violently) MW.

Katha1s. Pan5car. (cf. RTL. 203) .


(H2) n.
[L=170301]a fetter , band , tie , thong , rein , trace
[L=170302]a surgical instrument (
[L=170303]any instrument or apparatus , mechanical contrivance , engine , machine , implement , appliance (as a bolt or lock on a door , oars or sails in a boat ,
[L=170304]restraint , force (
[L=170305]an amulet , mystical diagram supposed to possess occult powers


tāntra [p= 442,2] [L=83872]
(ī)n. having wires (tántra) , stringed (a musical instrument) W.

A1pS3r. xiv , 12 , 5 f.

tantras W.
tāntra [L=83875]
the music of a stringed instrument R. i , 3.


[L=83873]regulated by a general rule
[L=83874]relating to the
(H2B) n.


yóktra [p= 854,3] [L=171995]
any instrument for tying or fastening , a rope , thong , halter RV. &c &c (also -pāśa , m.)





[L=171996]the thongs by which an animal is attached to the pole of a carriage
[L=171997]the band round broom
[L=171998]the tie of the yoke of a plough


śastrá 1 [p= 1044,1] [L=210885]
(for 2. » under √ śas) invocation , praise (applied to any hymn recited either audibly or inaudibly , as opp. to stoma , which is sung , but esp. the verses recited by the hot and his assistant as an accompaniment to the grahas at the soma libation) VS. Br. S3rS. ChUp.

śástra 2 [p= 1060,3] [L=214541]
(for 1. » [p= 1044,1]) a sword L.
śástra 2 [L=214543]
an instrument for cutting or wounding , knife , sword , dagger , any weapon (even applied to an arrow Bhat2t2. ; weapons are said to be of four kinds , i-mukta , yantra-mukta , muktā*mukta , and amukta) S3Br. &c
śástra 2 [L=214544]
any instrument or tool (» comp.)
śástra 2 [L=214545]
iron , steel L.
śástra 2 [L=214546]
a razor L.


[L=210886]reciting , recitation
(H2) m.
(H2B) n.
(H2B) n.
(H2B) n.
(H2B) n.


tantrin [p= 436,2] [L=82552]
having threads , made of threads , spun , wove W.

tantrin [L=82554]
a musician W.
tantrin [L=82555]
a soldier Ra1jat. v , 248-339
tantrin [L=82556]


[L=82553]chorded (an instrument)
(H2B) m.
(H2B) m.
(H2B) m.


mudrā́ [p= 822,3] [L=165530]
» mudrā below.
mudrā [L=165535]
(fr. mudra » above ) a seal or any instrument used for sealing or stamping , a seal-ring , signet-ring (cf. aguli-m°) , any ring MBh. Ka1v. &c



MBh. Ka1v. &c


esp. a token or mark of divine attributes impressed upon the body) Ka1v. Pur. Ra1jat.


gen. or comp.) Ka1v.

Amar. Bhpr.


of partic. positions or intertwinings of the fingers (24 in number , commonly practised in religious worship , and supposed to possess an occult meaning and magical efficacy Das3. Sarvad. Ka1ran2d2. RTL. 204 ; 406)

partic. branch of education (" reckoning by the fingers ") DivyA7v.

śākta or Tantrik ceremonial) RTL. 192

rhet.) the natural expression of things by words , calling things by their right names Kuval.



(H1) f.
[L=165536]type for printing or instrument for lithographing
[L=165537]the stamp or impression made by a seal
[L=165538]any stamp or print or mark or impression
[L=165539]a stamped coin , piece of money , rupee , cash , medal
[L=165540]an image , sign , badge , token (
[L=165541]authorization , a pass , passport (as given by a seal)
[L=165542]shutting , closing (as of the eyes or lips
[L=165543]a lock , stopper , bung
[L=165544]a mystery
[L=165547]parched or fried grain (as used in the
[L=165549](in music) a dance accordant with tradition

Other Etymologies of Mantra

Whitney Roots links: tf

t [p= 454,2] [L=86817]
(rarely A1.) tárati (Subj. tárat impf. átarat , p. tárat inf. tarádhyai , °áni RV. ) cl.5. tarute (x , 76 , 2 ; Pot. 1. pl. turyāma , v f.) cl.3. titarti ( BhP. ; p. nom. pl. títratas RV. ii , 31 , 2 ; Pot. tuturyā́t , v f. viii) , with prepositions Ved. chiefly cl.6 P. A1. (tiráte Subj. tirāti impf. átirat , p. tirát inf. tíram , tíre RV. ; aor. átārīt , i , vii ; 1. pl. °rima i , vii , °rima viii , 13 , 21 ; táruante v , °ta i , °ema vii [cf. Pa1n2. 3-1 , 85 Ka1s3. ] ; A1. and Pass. -tāri RV. ; P. atārīt BhP. ; °am MBh. Das3. ; pf. tatāra RV. &c ; 3. pl. titirur , i f. ; teritha,°ratur Pa1n2. 6-4 , 122 ; p. titirvás gen. tatarúas RV. ; fut. tariyati , °° , taritā , °rītā [cf. pra-tár°] Pa1n2. 7-2 , 38 ; tárutā RV. i ; Prec. tīryāt , tariīṣṭa Vop. ; inf. tartum MBh. R. ; °rīt° iv f. °rit° MBh. i Hariv. R. v ; ind.p. tīrtvā́ AV. ; -tū́rya » vi-) to pass across or over , cross over (a river) , sail across RV. &c  ; 
to float , swim
VarBr2S. lxxx , 14 Bhat2t2. xii Ca1n2.  ; 
to get through , attain an end or aim , live through (a definite period) , study to the end
RV. &c  ; 
to fulfil , accomplish , perform
R. i f.  ; 
to surpass , overcome , subdue , escape
RV. &c  ; 
to acquire , gain ,
viii , 100 , 8 MBh. xii R.  ; 
A1. to contend , compete RV. i , 132 , 5  ; 
to carry through or over , save ,
vii , 18 , 6 MBh. i , iii : Caus. tārayati (p. °ráyat) to carry or lead over or across Kaus3. MBh. &c  ; 
to cause to arrive at
AV. xviii Pras3nUp. vi , 8  ; 
to rescue , save , liberate from (
abl.) Mn. MBh. &c : Desid. titīrati (also titariati , °° Pa1n2. 7-2 , 41 ; p. A1. titīramāa MBh. xiii , 2598) to wish to cross or reach by crossing Kat2hUp. MBh. BhP. iv : Intens. tartarīti (2. du. °rīthas ; p. gen. tárilratas [ Pa1n2. 7-4 , 65] ; » also vi- ; tātarti , 92 Sch.) to reach the end by passing or running or living through RV.  ; 
cf. tára , tirás , tīrá ; Lat. termo , trans ; Goth. thairh.])


cl.1 P.

Selection from Visible Mantra:
Historical Etymology
All agree that mantra is made up of two parts: a root (man-) and a suffix (-tra). Agehananda Bharati confidently states in his book "The Tantric Tradition"
"There can be no doubt about the correct etymology of mantra. It combines the old Vedic (and Indo-European) root 'man' 'to think' with the element –tra, i.e. the kt- suffix indicating instrumentality." [Bharati : 103]
The meaning therefore is something like "what the mind does". A far longer and more considered examination of scholarly opinion on the etymology of mantra is provided by Jan Gonda in what is considered a seminal article on mantra.
The verbal root man- is related to our English word 'mind'. Gonda draws out the a range of references:
Without entering into the linguistic details the root men- may therefore to be assumed to have expressed also such meanings as "emotional, moved, wilful, intentional, directed 'thought', experiencing impulses in heart and mind etc". [Gonda : 250]
Gonda says about the suffic tra-
The Sanskrit words in –tra < Indo-European –tro>, when neuter, are generally speaking, names of instruments or sometimes names of the place where the process is performed. The former category may occasionally express also a faculty: Sanskrit śrotram "organ, act or faculty of hearing"; jñātram "the intellectual faculty"; or a "function": hotram "the function or office of a hotar priest". [Gonda : 250]
So again, we get a meaning of something like "mental/emotional functioning". This doesn't really tell us anything about mantra though. Another possibility occurs in Gonda: "As shown by Renou the verb man- has in Vedic usage also the sense of "evoking, calling up", and is then often associated with the noun nāma "name". [Gonda : 250]
The word mantra is quite rare in the Vedas, and then more common in the parts which are thought to be newer, chapters 1 and 10. Mantras in the Vedas were verses in praise of gods; later as the Vedic rituals were internalised mantra became more abstract – strings of sounds.
Gonda explores the various ways the word is used and his definition of mantra is:
A mantra may therefore, etymologically speaking and judging from the usage prevailing in the oldest texts [ie in the Vedas], approximately be defined as follows: "word(s) believed to be of 'superhuman origin', received, fashioned and spoken by the 'inspired' seers, poets and reciters in order to evoke divine power(s) and especially conceived as a means to creating, conveying, concentrating and realizing intentional and efficient thought, and of coming into touch or identifying oneself with the essence of the divinity which is present in the mantra. [Gonda : 255]
This is a fair attempt at combining the etymological and usage meanings for Vedic mantra, though it is clear that he has had to work quite hard to make it come together. As a scholarly definition, it will probably also suffice for Buddhist mantra, though no doubt we would argue about the details.
Ellison Banks Findly draws attention to another etymological possibility, which echoes Gonda reference to Renou. Findly quotes Sharma who argues that 'man' actually comes from the root mn
ā (to rote, to utter) which would mean that mantra would mean "to speak, to utter". [Sharma : 25] This would lead to a simpler definition, and resolve the conflict between etymology and usage.
Traditional Etymology.
One folk etymology of mantra is it is that which saves (trā- "to save, rescue") the one "who, in thought, formulates it and meditates upon it" (man-). [Gonda : 248] This kind of protection is a theme especially in Mahayana Buddhist texts. Gonda is mostly interested in Vedic texts, and although he doesn't give a source for this etymology, he does footnote it to say that a similar folk etymology occurs in the Chāndogya Upaniad so that the idea is most likely pre-Buddhist. It reoccurs in the Guhyasamāja Tantra according to the Dalai Lama in his introduction to Tantra in Tibet.
An example of a Niukti style etymology from the Visuddhimagga by Buddhaghosa says that:
the Buddha is blessed (bhagavā) because he has broken (bhagga) greed, hatred and delusion; he partakes or shares (bhāgī) in the gifts of lay devoted (bhattavā) followers such as alms and robes. He is possessed of blessings (bhagī) because he is a frequenter (bhajī) of places conducive to meditation. He has analysed (vibhaji) and classified (paibhaji) the Dharma Treasure. He is fortunate (bhāgyavā) and developed (bhāvita, subbhāviatattno). [condensed from Vism VII.52-67; Ñānamoli : 224-230]
I haven't found a Nirukti etymology for mantra but it is easy enough to construct one on traditional models by collecting words that sound similar:
  • manā is devotion, atttachment, zeal.
  • manik - to take to heart.
  • manu – wise, intelligent, thinking.
  • ma - sounds
  • maṇī is a jewel.
  • tra- protection, and trā a protector
  • tras can mean "to speak" or "to shine".
From these we can say that: Mantra protects ( tra) the mind (man) from confusion (trap) and so that one is not afraid (tras). A mantra tears (tru) the veil of illusion (māyā). Protection (tra) is born of the mind (manoja) because a well guarded mind protects on from all evil. A mantra is the function (tra-) of the intelligent mind (manas), it speaks (tras) intelligently (manu), it shines (tras) like a jewel (maṇī). In the final analysis wisdom (manu) is the best protector (trā), because all is mind (manas).
Paragraphs like this are very common in the Buddhist commentarial literature, if not the actual suttas themselves. You can see that the link between the words is poetic rather than literal; associative in a way that opens up possibilities rather than settling on certainties. Each word can be used in different ways.
There is a view in the West that ideally each word should stand for one thing or concept; and each thing or concept should have only one name. The consequences of this view are amusing at times and have lead to some quixotic adventures, some of which are chronicled in Umberto Eco's book "The Search for the Perfect Language". The view is fuelled by the idea that everyone spoke only one language before God divided the languages – that is to say it is rooted in a literal reading of the Bible, and the story of the tower of Babel. The assumption that there can be a one to one relationship between language and what we might loosely call the world is entirely unscientific, is not at all practical or pragmatic, and is not a feature of natural language. Multiple meanings – polysemy – is the norm. Nurukti etymologies exploit polysemy in constructing a story about what a word means.
Ancient Indian linguists had a sophisticated understanding of polysemy, metaphor and metonym, and synonymy. True they also had views about ideal languages, and artificially changed Sanskrit to be closer to their ideal, they did not, it seems fall for a one to one correspondence ideal. Ideal in their case meant on the whole regular grammar and meter – which reach a very high degree in Sanskrit literature. Sanskrit is one of the few languages which can rival English for synonyms generally, and is gave rise to wonderful poetry.

And Also Keep in Mind:


strī́--yantra [p= 1261,1] [L=255057]
a woman regarded as the mere instrument or tool of man Bhartr2.



Mantra as Salvation

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