Mantra Cover

This article was written by Srivatsa Ramaswami and is published here with his kind permission.

Breathes there the man (or woman) with soul so dead that his/her heart
does not bleed at the intense pain of the stoic Japanese people
suffering from the triple tragedy inflicted by nature recently? Hope
and pray that the suffering is quickly contained and rehabilitation of
the victims who survived the ordeal comes about early. Our need for
energy that we tend to waste indiscriminately has led us to exploit
resources beyond what has been conventional. The abundance of natural
radiation from the sun and the other secondary sources of energy from
nature like wind and vegetation should be sufficient for our needs if
we can be a bit more frugal and careful with the use of energy. We
have gone on to tap the huge energy  that nature has tightly held
within atoms. Science has found ways to control the radiation from the
nuclear resource,but they do not seen to be foolproof. An earthquake,
a war between peoples,sabotage  could all trigger an uncontrolled
fallout of radiation. Though reactors have been designed and operated
safely, they appear to be potential disasters due to external
factors.  The thought that in next coupe of decades the earth may be
dotted with hundreds of nuclear power plants is a bit worrying. Ok,
let us leave it to the collective wisdom of the experts in these
fields.

Pray, tell us, do prayers or mantra chants work? Do they prevent the
fury of nature and/or the sufferings one undergoes during these times?
Perhaps not, but probably yes. As the word ‘mantra’ indicates, it is
supposed to protect the one who meditates/chants the prayer mantra.
Mantanam trayata iti mantra, that which protects the one that chants
it is mantra…probably.

This following episode happened more than 40 years back but, I
remember it very vividly. One late summer afternoon, I went for my
class with my Guru. Unusually there was nobody else at home. When I
just entered his room, I saw him pacing up and down in the room,
chanting a portion from the Pravargya chapter of the Yajurveda. It
contains the famous Ghosha santi mantras. As soon as he completed the
chant, he looked at me and asked how I came, I said in my car.
Sometimes I used to walk from my home and sometimes by my bicycle. He
immediately asked me to take him to a particular hospital in the city.
As we were going in the car, he did not say a word to me but kept
chanting these mantras. On reaching the hospital he asked me to come
with him. One of his close relatives was admitted in the hospital. She
was having labor pains and the childbirth appeared to have become
suddenly complicated. I could see that my Guru was worried, concerned.
He spent some time with her talked breifly to a few relatives and
then  aswe returned home  he continued to chant the same mantras,
never saying a word to me. On reaching his home he asked me to leave
and I left.

I went to my next class a couple of days later, wondering about the
health of his close relative in the hospital. I was shocked to learn
that it resulted in a stillbirth. While I was very sorry for the
mishap, I could not stop wondering about the efficacy of the mantras
chanted by my Guru. Do these mantras work, especially when used by
such a stalwart like my guru? I thought for a moment that my guru’s
faith in all these mantras also would have taken a beating. But no.
When I started expressing my condolences, he immediately and sternely
cut me short and started the class with the usual mantra prayer. At
the end of the class he chanted the end peace chant and I left the
class. In spite of his prayer not being answered his faith in these
mantras remained unshaken. I  spent almost 1500 hrs studying and
chanting with him during my classes with him. His faith and commitment
could be discerned every time he would chant. It was a remarkable
experience listening to his chants, unhurried, involved and full of
commitment and absolutely charming.

The Ghosha santi mantra he chanted is a beautiful and profound piece.
It is part of the portion which starts like this
“ May the wind blow gently
May the sun shine warming us
Like a (cuddling)mother warms the infant
….

The ghosha santi mantras are meant to be chanted aloud (ghosha) in a
chorus praying to the various gods of nature to be kind to us, and not
harm us. According to vedic belief, God created the universe and
appointed intelligent/conscious entities/gods to control the natural
forces. In fact it is said that there are 330 million gods controlling
several million aspects of the universe. There is a god of fire, of
wind, of time, of life, of wealth, of knowledge, of earth, of love, of
speech etc. And the vedas contain mantras to propitiate these
intelligent gods. So when we say a prayer using the vedic mantras
addressed to these gods and propitiate them with offerings, they tend
to be helpful to human beings and individuals. However if we act
against the rules/laws of nature they get angry (prakopa) and show
their displeasure which we call  acts of god. Human beings are unable
to predict or control these acts.

Prayers to natural forces  may appear to be irrational  but become
meaningful if one subscribes to the view that gods of nature are
intelligent entities. This belief led to a plethora of vedic and non
vedic mantras that are chanted by millions to appease the gods of
nature not only for their bounties but also as  a cover or protection
against the vagaries and adverse effects of nature. The word mantra
means that sound which protects the one who thinks (chants) it. My
teacher would say that vedic mantras were designed in such a way that
they purify the various chakras of the body. Mantras are used to ward
off unhappiness of adhyatmika or of the body  from the common cold to
cancer, and of the mind  such as depression (soka), obsession/
worry(chinta) or anger(manyu). These are individual and specific in
nature. Mantras are also used to counter the problems created by adhi
bhoutika or the other beings like my neighbor, stray dogs, war etc.
Then there are mantras that help appease the devatas manning the
different aspects of nature and prevent disasters like water (flooding
and tsunami) of air (tornadoes), of mother earth (earthquakes) of fire
(forest fires and radiation). In fact there are mantras used by the
orthodox people for all the daily activities (nitya karma). A mantra
to the female aspects of the trinity of creation, sustenance and
destruction (Lakshmi, Saraswati and Gauri) is recited the moment you
open your eyes in the morning. Then as ones steps out of bed a mantra
prayer to mother earth asking for pardon to step on her. One prays
with mantras to several aspects of nature to make the day happy and
ward off evils that may come in the way all through the day. Then
there are mantras as one brushes the teeth with a neem twig, while
taking a bath, then to the food and the five pranas before taking
food. Mantras are chanted as you step out of the house so that the
journey may be uneventful. Then there are mantras so that one would
have a good night’s sleep without those excruciating nightmares.
Prayer to Sun for health and removal of heart disease and eyesight
problems are well known.  In fact apart from these daily mantras there
are mantra rituals done at different stages of life. Mantras are used
all through life, from the time of conception to the event of
consigning the mortal remains to the sacred fire, the last rites.
Mantras when a baby is started on solid food, mantras for starting
study, wedding vows, childbirth, etc. In addition to doing proper
karmas (punya) consistent with nature (will of gods),  people used to
propitiate the gods with these beautiful, innocent but powerful
mantras. There was an attempt to live one’s life trying to harmonize
it with nature and these mantras helped develop an empathy with
nature. One endeavors to go through life shrouded in peace with the
support of the mantras.

Then there are mantras and prayers used for specific situations.
Mantras to propitiate the sun and the god of rain in case of
drought(anavrishti). Mantras for getting married at the proper time
are still used with varying degrees of success. Some mantras are
considered to be efficacious in getting justice in court. Mantras are
used to climb out of a hole, out of desperate situations.

Last year I was talking to a friend in India about a common friend who
was in a dire situation. She was a surgeon. She had ended her first
marriage in a divorce, which is rather uncommon in India. She married
again and got a son, a brilliant charming boy. But things took a turn
for the worse. Her second husband died suddenly. Her demanding mother
became sick and it was a task taking care of a difficult sick mother
and it drained her energy and enthusiasm completely. She had to work
in a distant hospital to make both ends meet. It took a toll on her
and  led to a nervous breakdown. She lost her job and this started
affecting the boy as well. Her behavior started getting bizarre. She
would wake her son up a few times during the night to see if he was ok
and alive. She complained of being stalked by strangers. My friend
said that she was concerned about her and thought she would need
immediate psychiatric care and it was impossible to convince her to go
and consult a doctor. I felt unhappy about her lot. Impulsively I took
the book of Sundarakanda from the Ramayana of Valmiki. This section
contains  more than 2800 Sanskrit verses. It deals with the condition
of Sri Sita who was abducted by Ravana and incarcerated in Lanka. Her
husband Sri Rama had no clue about her whereabouts and sent emissaries
in different directions. The great devotee of Rama, Hanuman the monkey
god leapt over the Indian Ocean( a la Hanumanasana or Anjaneyasana)
and reached Lanka and ultimately found Sri Sita confined in a remote
forest. He managed to convince her that he was an emissary of Sri
Rama, exchanged a ring given by Rama for identification, received a
crest jewellery of Sita as proof of his meeting with Sita. He finally
returned to the mainland and reported to Sri Rama about the successful
completion of ‘finding Sita Mission’. This portion of the Ramayana is
said to be very powerful and is used as a mantra portion. Sita was
desperate, had lost all hopes of returning to her beloved husband and
was about to commit suicide– she saw no light at the end of the
tunnel (2800+ verses for this?). So this is chanted when people feel
‘hope-less’. To chant this whole section takes about ten hours. Many
times people who can not do it by themselves because they can not read
Sanskrit or are not in a mental condition to read ask a priest or
someone else to recite/chant and sometimes they sit down and listen to
it. It is believed that chanting or listening to it will help the
subject to get out of the hole like Sri Sita who was able to get out
of Lanka and return to her husband after a successful   mission of her
husband.

So I just chanted the whole section during the next three days at the
rate of about 3 hours per day. I felt a little peaceful afterwords.
After about 15 days I was talking to my friend in India again and she
had something interesting to say about our common friend. I was told
that she became worse, even became violent and suddenly one late
evening she impulsively rang up her first husband who was living in a
city about 400 miles away and poured her heart out about her desperate
situation. He listened to her carefully and calmly and he (himself a
medical doctor) asked her to come over to his city as he thought she
needed a change of place first. She quickly wound up her
establishment. Her first husband helped her find an apartment to stay
in, found admission for her son in a good school. He also used his
contacts and found her a job in a new teaching hospital in the
outskirts of the city, He also took personal interest in the adorable
and brilliant boy,– as a godfather . When I met her during my recent
visit to India I found her absolutely fine. She even got a promotion
in the teaching hospital as an associate professor in Surgery. A
dramatic turnaround in a very short period of time.

Whenever I have problems the solutions for which are beyond my
control, I resort to chanting. Most often they do not seem to have any
effect, but they help me to calm down a bit and to view the situation
more realistically. Mantras seem to work if one chants for others,
most times. Mantras seem to work wonders sometimes. Mantras act as a
protective cover or a shield .Of course skeptics would say these are
coincidences.

There is a work called Tarka Sangraha. It is a treatise on ancient
vedic logic. It starts with a prayer to the Almighty for the
successful completion of the work, like we pray to Ganesha at the
beginning of Yoga class. In a commentary on this work, the commentator
poses the question (it being a work on logic and inference) whether it
is necessary to pray before starting any work like writing a book. He
quotes an instance of a book successfully completed without a prayer
in the beginning. He also quotes another literary work which remained
abandoned even with a beautiful prayer to start with. Then he goes on
to answer. Just because there is no written prayer at the beginning of
the book it does not mean that the author had not recited a prayer. He
might have done it silently without writing it. Or he could have
prayed sufficiently in his previous births. Regarding the unsuccessful
book, he says that mantras and prayers alone may not be sufficient if
the obstacles are insurmountable. I can not write a book on let us
say, “ Nuances of British Criminal Law” by just writing a prayer to
Lord Ganesha, nor a couch potato win a marathon after chanting a
mantra on Vishnu. If one’s Karma is very negative, prayers may help to
mitigate the ill effects rather than in completely nullifying it. In a
desperate situation most people instinctively look up to the superior
force/being  even if they do not pray routinely.

Most days I try to chant a portion of the vedas, different portions on
different days. One day in the morning I chanted the pravargya chapter
containing the ghosha santi mantra referred to in the beginning of
this write up. Soon thereafter I learnt about the earth quake in
Japan, then later on the horrendous tsunami and then the nerve racking
news about the nuclear plants. The pain one feels in such situations
is compounded by one’s impotence. I could only think of chanting the
45 minute pravargya chapter almost daily thereafter which contains the
beautiful ghosha santi mantras

May the Earth function peacefully
May there be peace in outer Space 
May there be peace in the Heavens.
Peace, may there be, in all Directions
In all the intermediate directions, may there be Peace
May the Fire function peacefully
May the Air function peacefully,
May the Sun warm us gently
May the moon shine peacefully,
So the stars function peacefully,
May the waters function in peace,
May there be peace in herbs
May the trees (and forests) be peaceful
May the milch cows be peaceful
So the goats be peaceful
And the horses be peaceful,
May human beings be peaceful.,
May the Lord be kind and peaceful,
May the scholars (brahmanas) be peaceful,
Let there be peace alone (no strife)
Let there be Peace alone in me.
May I be peaceful as the Universe becomes peaceful
May peace be instilled in me, in bipeds and quadrupeds
May there be Peace
By this universal peace may I remain peaceful
And I pledge to remain peaceful
And pledge to create peace in bipeds and quadrupeds
May there be Peace in me, Peace alone in me!!

This is also known as Maha Shanti or the great peace invocation. I had
included this chant on the cd that accompanied the first few prints of
my book “The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga”. I had also recorded the
Sundara Kanda I referred to in this article a few years back and it is
still available in India as a two cd pack running for close to 10
hours. Many people chant “Hanuman Chalisa” an excellent prayer mantra
on Hanumanji and is considered to be equal to the lengthy Sundara
Kanda in its efficacy. You may also consider reading the chapter on
Mantra Yoga in my book “Yoga for the Three Stages of Life”.

  *******

       ***Kapalabhati is voluntary sneezing. Ujjayi is voluntary
wheezing. Bhastrika is voluntary coughing. Pranayama is voluntary/
mindful  breathing. These simple yogic procedures help overcome the
underlying chronic respiratory problems

       ***According to my Guru the inversion twins Sirasasana and
Sarvangasana are like two eyes of yogasana regimen. They are also
compared to the head and the heart..they benefit respectively the
brain and the heart. Some call them as the King and Queen of asanas.

      ***Pranayama is one procedure that has a direct correlation to
longevity.

      *** A sage (yogi) should use food  as a medicine to treat a
disease called hunger. Minimal clothing-the loin cloth– should be
used like a bandage to cover a wound.– My Guru quoting an old
Sanskrit saying. (A recluse yogi ate three handfuls of food a day and
perhaps just wore a loincloth—no yoga wardrobe or yoga recipes /
kitchen, I guess )

    *** The tongue (jihwa) has two tendencies/weaknesses (chapalya).
One is to taste (and eat) excess stimulating food. The other is to
talk in excess and without purpose. Tapas,  a yogic niyama is to keep
the twin functions of the  tongue under a leash by moderation is
speech(mita bhashana) and moderation in diet (mitaa  ahaara)–From my
class notes on YS of  my Guru

  *** The initial goal of a Yoga is to transform one’s mind (chitta)
into a predominantly Satwic state. The ultimate goal of a Yoga would
be to make the mind (chitta) transcend all the gunas, called nirodha
avasta (state of  peaceful stillness) or saamya avasta ( state of
absolute equilibrium of the three gunas). How to achieve these? Ask
Patanjali Maharshi, he has all the answers.

  *** I know what is right action(dharma),
         but am disinclined to do what is right
         I know what is wrong action (adharma)
         but am unable to refrain from doing it
         So, let me act the way, as directed
         By whosoever divine being resides in my heart
         -A Sanskrit morning prayer

Thank You and with best wishes
Sincerely
Srivatsa Ramaswami

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