I can’t count the number of times I chanted the Mahamrityunjaya Mantra during two of my Sivananda teacher trainings in India. Chanting it today takes me right back to the ashram! I’m especially grateful for the grounding and centering I feel after chanting. We’ll be sharing the Mahamrityunjaya during the 108 for Peace this Saturday . . . and I have a feeling it’ll serve to bring all the hearts of our participants to the same frequency before the lake-side ceremony.
What’s a Mantra?
In its simplest terms, a mantra is a sequence of words repeated by an aspirant. In the Sanskrit language each utterance is said to have a divine frequency, so by chanting a mantra, the aspirant can potentially reach the ultimate experience of bliss absolute. Mantras like the one below are well known. Others are given to an aspirant by a guru, and remain a personal (and private) tool for liberation.
According to Feuerstein (The Yoga Tradition, 51), mantra is derived from the root man (to think or be intent), which is also is found in the terms manman and manas, for example. The suffix tra suggests instrumentality. He goes on to note that a related word tranas means ‘saving,’ so a mantra can be seen as that which saves the mind from itself. In other words, one may find salvation through the concentration of the mind.
Goswami Kriyananda (The Spiritual Science of Kriya Yoga, 273) defines mantra as a means of transcending thought and bringing consciousness to a higher level of spiritual being. He translates the prefix man as ‘continual or constant thinking’ and tra is translated as’ free.’
In the Sivananda teachings, a mantra is defined as a sacred syllable, word or set of words through the repetition and reflection of which one attains perfection or realisation of the Self. Mystical energy encased in a sound structure.
If all this sounds a bit too out there for you, there are piles of studies out there on the psychological benefits of chanting. It’s relaxing, it’s uplifting, it gets the good brain juices flowing. Just ask the Benedictine Monks!
Mahamrityunjaya Mantra (maha-mrityun-jaya) is one of the more potent of the ancient Sanskrit mantras. Maha mrityunjaya is a call for enlightenment and is a practice of purifying the karmas of the soul at a deep level. It is also said to be quite beneficial for mental, emotional, and physical health.
Om Tryambakam Yajamahe
Mrityor Mukshiya Maamritat
We Meditate on the Three-eyed reality
Which permeates and nourishes all like a fragrance.
May we be liberated from death for the sake of immortality,
Even as the cucumber is severed from bondage to the creeper.
AUM/OM: Absolute reality. That which encompasses the three states of waking, dreaming, deep sleep, represented by AUM, the three levels of gross, subtle, causal, the three levels of conscious, unconscious, subconscious, and the three universal processes of coming, being, and going. Absolute silence beyond the three levels is the silence after AUM.
Tryambakam: Trya means three. Ambakam means eyes. It means the three eyes of the Absolute, which are the processes of creation, existence, and dissolution, as well as the other triads, which are part of AUM. The three “eyes” means experiencing these three stages and triads at one time, from the higher, all pervasive vantage point of the Absolute.
Yajamahe: We rejoice in meditation on all of this.
Sugandhim: Means fragrance. Like a spreading fragrance, all of this permeates the whole of existence, while at the same time being that existence
Pushtivardhanam: Means that which sustains and nourishes all. Thus, the fragrance that permeates all is the sustainer of all beings, while also the essence of all beings.
Urvarukamiva: Urva means big and powerful. Arukam means disease, like the spiritual diseases of ignorance and untruth, which are like the death of Wisdom or Truth.
Bandhanan: Means bound down, as in bound down to the ignorance and untruth.
Mrityor: Means ignorance and untruth.
Mukshiya: Means liberation from the cycles of physical, mental, and spiritual death.
Maamritat: Means please give me rejuvenating nectar, so as to have this liberation, like the process of severing the cucumber from the creeping vine.