Make your Mantras Mighty

Mantras and chants are powerful prayers that can inspire, uplift and heal if recited properly. Whether you attend or lead yoga classes, or want to employ mantras for meditation, there are two guidelines to keep in mind when reciting mantras or chants. One is tuning in to the meaning of the words, the other has to do with the words themselves.    Read (and listen!) on to find out how to create your own practice with some of the most beloved and potent chants of India.

Sanskirt is sometimes called a “vibratory language.”  Of course, all languages rely on vibration of the vocal folds (or cords) to produce the air and sound being shaped by the mouth.  But, Sanskrit takes it a step further – the specific vibrations of the syllables themselves are said to be inspired by, and aligned with the Divine. For example, when you move your vocal folds and mouth in the specific way needed to produce the sound OM (or AUM), it is thought you are creating a vibration that is in resonance, or matching with, the Divine. Sometimes it’s even said that creating the sound OM is the same as manifesting the Divine in the physical form of sound waves.  The same goes for all the following mantras.  That’s why it’s important to try to pronounce them correctly – the syllables create, in the form of sound, a physical manifestation of the mantras’  meaning. In addition, respect for the Sanskrit language connects you to, and honors the Indian heritage of yoga practice.

Good pronunciation is one key aspect of a strong mantra practice, whether recitation takes place aloud by yourself (japa mantra)  in your head (sometimes called a-japa mantra although a-japa can have another, more subtle meaning),  or with others (called kirtan, when people are singing together).

The second key to a strong mantra practice is held in the meanings of the words. I’ve given a few literal translations of the selected chants (where noted), but also my own personal interpretations.  My interpretations are not word for word translations. but my attempt to capture the chants’ essence when I recite them.  I always think of chant and mantra as prayer, and try to bring the feeling of the words into my heart, mind and body.  This is the second part of “correct” practice with mantras and/or chants; understanding their meanings.

So, there are two efforts you must make when practicing mantra or chant:

  1.  align the sound vibration as closely as possible to the Divine resonance (correct Sanskrit pronunciation)
  2.  align your mind with the meaning  (attempt to have a heartfelt connection to the mantra or chant)

However, it’s sometimes said that the mantras are so potent and powerful, that even a less-than-perfect recitation is beneficial. In fact, just being within earshot of the Gayatri Mantra (below) is said to potentially bring about Enlightenment or Liberation. So don’t worry about getting it perfect!  Just like asana practice, (practicing the yoga postures) you will grow into your own personal practice. And, your practice may differ from your teacher’s, your friend’s, or anyone else’s. Use these guidelines and recordings to help you practice with confidence and integrity.

The following recordings are chanted by Lakshmi Nair, yoga teacher, Berkley Sanskrit scholar and founder of Satya Yoga Immersion for People of Color.   Each recording has two parts. The first part is simply the chant in a normal rhythm, the way you might sing or say it.  The second is the same chant, slowed down so that you can repeat after each section.

*please note that the transliterations below (the sound-it-out English script of the chant) is not a word-by-word translation of Sanskrit and does NOT follow the academic standard for Sanskrit. It is only my best attempt to get you chanting!

Gayatri Mantra

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Origin: Rg-Veda 3.62.10Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 9.08.18 AM

Om Bhoor buva soovah-ha

tat savitoor varen-yam

bhargo devasya dheemahi

dhiyoyo na pracho-dayat          

Giver of Light, Giver of Life, Destroyer of Darkness –

We meditate on the Sun’s radiance.

May its Light propel us on the inward path, may it guide our minds and souls to its perfect reflection, blissful and Self-luminous within us.


Asato Ma

 

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Origin: Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 1.3.27Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 8.56.37 AM

Om Asato Ma  Sadgamaye-a

Tamaso Ma Joteer gamaye-a

Mrityor Ma Amritam Gamaye-a

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti                     

Lead me from illusion to Truth.

Lead me from darkness to Light.

Lead me from my thirst for material life to the permanent bliss of my own Inner Light.

Om. Peace Peace Peace.


 Saha Navavatu

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Origin: UpanishadsScreen Shot 2015-07-06 at 8.57.38 AM

Om Saha Navavatu

 Sahano Bhunaktu 

Saha Viryam Kara-va-vahai

Tejasvi Nau-vadhi-tam astu  ma vid-vishavahai             
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti                                                     

 

May we be protected as we work together.

May our work be vigorous and brilliant, and may it serve a higher purpose.

May we always work in harmony with one another.

Om. Peace Peace Peace.


Tryambakam: Mahamrtyunjaya Mantra

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Origin: Rg-Veda 7.59.12Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 8.59.44 AM
Om Tree-Ambakam Yajaamahey

Sugandhim Pushti-Vardha-nam 

Urva-rukam-iva bandha-nam

Mrityor Mookshee-ah Mamritat              

(Literal) We worship the three-eyed one (Shiva)

who is fragrant and nourishment-increasing;

and like the cucumber (severed) from it’s bondage (to the vine)

may I release (myself) from death, not from immortality [1]


Purnamadah

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Origin: Upanishads

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 8.57.11 AMOm Purnamidah Purnamidam

Purnat Purna-mudach-ya-tey

Purnasya Purnamadaye-a 

Purnam-eva-va-shishyatey                    
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti                                                               

 

You are whole and complete just as you are, right now. You cannot be broken in any way.

Because even if you have shattered each piece of you is a priceless seed, fruitful enough to grow an entire universe.

Nothing can undo your complete Perfection.

 

(Literal) That is whole.  This is whole. From that which is whole, this which is whole is produced.

Taking the whole from the whole,

Verily the whole remains.

Om. Peace Peace Peace. [1]

 

[1]Nicolai Bachman “Chant Packs” from http://www.sanskritsounds.com/media/chant-packs/