What is Mantra? The sanskrit word itself has 2 roots: ‘Man‘ is the stem of the sanskrit word manas (mind or to make) and ‘tra‘ translates to traverse or protect. Mantras are sacred prayers that historians say great sages herd from the universe’s sonic resonance and passed down as chants dating back to India’s Vedic times (1200-800 BCE). A mantra was learned through listening and reciting where the correct practice was more important than correct belief – a mantra’s meaning is naturally revealed through its’ practice. Here is the translated version (from Sanskrit) of the Ashtanga Opening Chant found on the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute website.
vande gurunam charanaravinde – I bow to the lotus feet of the guru,
sandarsita svatmasukhava bodhe – The awakening happiness of one’s own Self revealed,
nihsreyase jangalikayamane – Beyond better, acting like the jungle physician,
samsara halahala mohasantyai – Pacifying delusion, the poison of Samsara.
abahu purusakaram – Taking the form of a man to the shoulders,
sankhacakrasi dharinam – Holding a conch, a discuss, and a sword,
sahasra sirasam svetam – One thousand heads, white,
pranamami patanjalim – To Patanjali, I salute.
Understanding the Ashtanga invocation can help place a clearer intention to our mantra and yoga practice. Based from my readings sited below, this is what I make of it:
I show respect to the great teachers and the lineage of Yoga,
Who reveal our true self as pure and happy beings,
Who heal our physical, mental and emotional disease,
Who bring peaceful resolution from suffering (conditioned existence).
I bow before the great sage, in both man and animal form,
Holding a conch shell (divine sound), a wheel (infinite time) and a sword (discrimination),
Presenting us his greatest divine form (Ananta – the divine serpent),
To Patanjali, I salute.