Mantra Japa as a Timeless Practice for Conquering Fear
If you take a moment to sit and notice what you are feeling right now, there is probably a mixmaster of thoughts, emotions, beliefs and feelings running around your body and mind.
Continued worries about the pandemic, worry about the future (health, finances, relationships), interacting with people in public again — a mixture of longing and hesitation, seemingly ever-widening polarization of society, wanting to get more involved with extended family, changes that we never anticipated, what comes next? …..worries, anxiety, desire, clinging to the familiar that is now long gone. Uncertainty. Fear.
Yoga offers many tools to welcome, understand, listen to, and grow from the messages delivered by feelings, emotion, thoughts and beliefs. Those “fluctuations of the heart-mind” have a habit of running around in our heads constantly, telling us our story, keeping us in a self-referenced bondage of our superficial self — our personality, relationships and possessions. Yoga teaches that our deepest self is the Awareness of all these activities of the heart-mind.. And that Awareness is always unchanging, sweet and joyful. Once we calm the activities of the mind, we can notice this subtle Awareness and know that deep down, we are whole, complete and perfect.
The tools of yoga include yoga postures, breathing practices, meditation, yoga nidra and mantra japa. Mantra japa is the repetition of a word or phrase over and over, calming the mind and helping us be open and aware of our ever-present Awareness. Repeating the mantra evokes the archetypal energy that already exists within us, represented in the mantra. Your mantra japa practice may also have a specific intention.
The topic of this blog is the Mṛtyuñjaya-mahāmantraḥ, the great death-conquering mantra. It is chanted in support of ourselves, family or friends who are going through great difficulty, health challenges, or death. It’s intention is to help us through these difficulties and importantly, to eliminate the fear of the changes that are coming, immersing us in the sweetness of Awareness.
This mantra is one of a literal handful of mantras that have been in continuous use for over 3,000 years, perhaps 4,000 or more. It is still in use today by millions of people around the world, and so links us to maybe 150 generations of humanity all chanting these very same words, these very same sounds, with the same or similar intention. And since it is a Vedic chant, we chant it even with the same melody. It can provide us a connection to the past that is often missing from our young immigrant / melting pot country.
It originated, as you would expect, in a very different culture, full of agricultural metaphor and personal deities. The deities, at their root, speak to archetypal structures that all of us have within us, so when we chant to a deity, we call forth that archetype from within. This is a chant to Shiva, the three-eyed one (representing pure consciousness). The archetypal form of Shiva associated with this mantra is Amruteshwara, the lord of the nectar of immortality.
A literal translation of the mantra is:
“We worship the three-eyed Lord, who is sweetly fragrant (with awakened consciousness) and who increases well-being.
Liberate us from bondage to death / fear of death like a cucumber separated from the vine, (i.e., irreversibly and easily) but not from the nectar of immortality.“
That is a bit far afield from our world-view and experience. Since this is a mantra associated with Amruteshwara, we can translate it as follows:
“We invoke the sweet fragrance of awakened consciousness to increase our well-being.
Forever liberate us from all fear and the fear of death and immerse us in the nectar of immortality.”
So our intention for using the mantra is to be liberated from fear, which is at the root of so much anxiety and suffering, and to be immersed in the sweetness of universal consciousness, which was never born and never dies. We can apply this to specific intentions for health and healing for ourselves and for others. Mantra japa is generally performed in a quiet voice in a space and time where you will not be interrupted. People often use a mālā to further the meditative quality and also track the number of repetitions, perhaps 27 or 54 or 108 repetitions. If you do not have a mālā, you may just set aside a specific time for your mantra japa practice.
The Sanskrit transliteration of the mantra appears below:
Oṁ tṛya̍mbakaṃ yajāmahe suga̱ndhiṃ pu̍ṣṭi̱vardha̍nam | u̱rvā̱ru̱kami̍va̱ bandha̍nānmṛ̱tyormu̍kṣīya̱ mā’mṛta̎t ||
To learn more about Vedic chant, yoga sutra-s and yoga philosophy, check out the Chanting and Yoga Philosophy Intensive, offered in conjunction with River Flow Yoga Teacher Training School, starting May 17: http://www.riverflowyoga.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/ChantingYogaPhilosophy-Intensive_2021-22_012721.pdf