How Mantra Can Change Your Life – Stories Of Chandra And Hanuman
The Full Discussion
What is Mantra? Cultures all across the world, from all time periods have practices (both social and private) that encourage the repetition of certain words or sounds. In these two stories, we’ll explore examples of how to use mantra in our lives to help us overcome our subconscious desires and distractions in order to achieve our greatest goals.
Greetings everyone Ashton Szabo here, and welcome to the Sivana podcast.
Today’s episode is all about the mind and mantra. It’s about how the mind gets distracted and how mantra can carry us back to ourselves, how mantra can help us to achieve our goals. We’ve actually got two stories to explore today, both stories explore the power of mantra and its abilities to overcome our conscious as well as subconscious desires and habits.
I feel like this is a big one for all of us. We all have our habits, our patterns, our distractions, our desires and often they pull us away from what would really truly serve us the most in life.
So what do we do?
How do we overcome this tendency to get swayed or distracted away from what really matters?
Well that’s what we’ll explore in these two stories today.
Before we dive into the stories, I think it’s appropriate to clarify what we mean when we talk about mantra. Mantra, the word, originates from Sanskrit. While Sanskrit words have a variety of meanings, we can say here that mantra means a sacred utterance and that could be a sound, a word, or group of words. Within the traditions of India, these vibrations are said to hold a particular power to them. In some cases, mantra can be associated with a particular deity or a chakra. In tantric yoga, the mantra themselves, the vibrations, are in fact considered to be deities. Meaning that a mantra is not considered to be associated with the deity, as we seen much of Hinduism as an example, but rather is the deity itself. For example, in the Tantra traditions, Shreem is not a mantra of or that is associated with Lakshmi, it IS the Goddess Lakshmi. But instead of getting into the intricacies of how mantra has been developed within the Indian subcontinent or any one particular tradition, I think it’s actually more interesting to realize how mantra, sound, vibration is used all over the world in many different cultures, in different spiritual and religious organizations, as well as socially to bring people together.
Very early on, human kind realized the power of vibration to focus the mind, whether that focused was on an external object or thing, or a means of emptying the mind into a moment of clarity peace and connection. But that’s actually what really fascinates me the most. To see that cultures all over the world have used mantra, perhaps under different names and words, sounds, vibrations and used it as a tool to bring the mind into focus.
Having personally traveled all over the world, it’s also very obvious to notice that: one, for the most part, we have lost this idea in our North American culture. Although you could say it still exists in certain religious context here in the United States.
Two, everywhere else in the world, people are singing. Often they’re singing together sometimes or singing by themselves, and if it’s not being done publicly to bring people to focus in together, it’s being used privately in a spiritual or sacred context or devotional context. But just because we don’t really talk about it or realize it’s power, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist at all socially or privately in our culture.
Most people in the US only sing in the car with the windows up, or in the shower when they’re alone. But, go to a music concert and see how people will sing along with the songs.
What’s happening there?
Everyone is collectively drawing their focus on the same point, the same words. It has an amazing power in it to transform people, it’s tangible. You can ask somebody at the concert if they feel something, even if they’ve never heard of the word or concept of mantra. And chances are they will feel something even if they’re unable to really describe it. That’s the power of vibration, the power of mantra.
What that thing is, some cultures have developed in very sophisticated ways. They realize that different vibrations, different words, different sounds have different feelings and different effects, different abilities in focusing and/or emptying the mind or even different physiological effects on the body.
There’s a whole science behind mantra and the yogic traditions of India, as well as elsewhere in the world. But what I think we’re missing from our modern American culture, or what I think we’re actually missing the most from our modern American culture, is not the power of mantra, but the stories. We have some contexts where it exists, but what we don’t have is the stories, the myths that reinforce their importance in our lives. But we don’t have to invent our own stories. There are amazing stories out there from cultures around the world that help to reinforce this point for us, and let’s dive into two of those stories now.
Once upon a time, Chandra, the moon, was banished to live out among the stars away from the earth. But his love for the world was so strong that he spent all of his time shining his light upon the earth. It didn’t matter who or what you were, he would shine his light down upon you. It was Chandra’s reputation in the evening times for shining a romantic light down on all people that one day drew the attention of King Daksha.
King Daksha had twenty-seven beautiful daughters. He approached Chandra because he shined his romantic light equally upon them all, and surely Chandra could shine that love and light equally upon all of King Daksha’s Daughters.
So Daksha went to Chandra and said,
“If you promise to shine your light equally upon all of my daughters then you, and only you, have permission to marry my daughters”.
This was no different than anything Chandra was already doing, of course he could shine his love and light on all these beautiful princesses equally, and so they married. And the princesses went off into the sky to live as stars around Chandra, the moon.
But it didn’t take long for Chandra to develop a particular infatuation with one of King Daksha’s daughters, Princess Rohini. She truly was the brightest, most radiant star of the bunch. And slowly, Chandra began to spend more and more time with Rohini, shining more and more of his light her way. As his light was being more directed towards just Rohini, Chandra was shining less of his light to the rest of his wives.
The wives were obviously bothered by this and they grew jealous. Eventually the other twenty-six wives went to their father Daksha and told him that Chandra had broken his promise and was no longer shining his light equally on them all, but instead was favoring Rohini.
This naturally made King Daksha furious. He went to Chandra who, drunk on love, welcomed his father in law with open arms. But once he noticed the anger in Daksha’s eyes, he realized something was awry.
Daksha cursed Chandra,
“You have broken your promise to me,” he said.
“After swearing an oath to shine your light equally upon all of my daughters, your wives, you have broken that oath by favoring Rohini and neglecting your other wives. And for that, I curse you Chandra. Your light will fade. It will fade until there is nothing left and you have no more light to give anyone”.
Chandra was shocked, concerned not only for himself but for his love Rohini. One of Daksha’s other daughters, Sati, who is known far and wide as a great devotee of the God Shiva, took pity on Chandra. She knew of a great healing mantra of Shiva, “Om Tryambakam.”
She shared his mantra with Chandra in hopes that it might save him. And so Chandra chanted.
“Om Tryambakam Yajamahe Sugandhim Pustivardhanam Urvarukamiva Bandhanan Mrtyor-muksiya Ma-amratat, Om Tryambakam Yajamahe Sugandhim Pustivardhanam Urvarukamiva Bandhanan Mrtyor-muksiya Ma- amratat”
Again and again he repeated this mantra as his light continued to fade away.
We bow to the three-eyed one, the three-eyed one is Shiva. We bowe to the three-eyed one who is fragrant. Who nourishes and gives life fullness. May we be released from all bondage and suffering just as the stock gently releases the cucumber. May our minds be overtaken by the supreme light which is the immoral nectar of Shiva.
“Om Tryambakam Yajamahe Sugandhim Pustivardhanam Urvarukamiva Bandhanan Mrtyor-muksiya Ma-amratat”
All through the night and all through the day, Chandra repeated this mantra with devotion and sincerity in his heart. And finally through his commitment in heartfelt devotion, Shiva took notice and bestowed his grace upon Chandra.
He took Chandra and placed him at the top of his head and nestled him into his hair at the spot where the Immortal amrita, the nectar of immortality, flowed down on top of Shiva.
Chandra drank of this nectar and was restored to his fullest light, free again to shine his light equally upon all. But Chandra was not satisfied. He longed for Rohini. So once his light was full, he rushed off to be with Rohini, and slowly again his light began to fade. The curse of King Daksha remained.
Then again the mantra. Again, the amrita, the nectar of immortality, and Chandra would be restored to his full light and this pattern would and does repeat itself for eternity.
Chandra drinks of the nectar of immortality, assumes his brightest fullest self, then, distracted by the radiance of Rohini, his light dims and fades.
Through mantra he’s given access to the immortal amrita of the Gods and is restored. Again and again and again this goes on, restoring his full light then fading. radiant to all, then limited and diminished. And back to radiance again.
And the phases of the moon become a reminder of Chandra’s struggles.
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How does this all relate to us?
Well, once we understand what a few of the key characters represent, we can start to extract the wonderful message in the story. And Chandra represents the mind. It takes the light of the universe and reflects it back equally on all things. But what happens once there is preference, Rohini. Call it, or her, desire or distraction. The mind no longer wants to shine on all. It wants just to shine on one worldly person or thing. It wants that one thing, and so out light dims and fades. We stop allowing the light of the universe to move through us, and we try to force that light into a particular direction. No longer receptive to the will of the universe, we start to fade.
We have likes and dislikes, preferences.
We want this but not that.
We want this more than we want that.
The ego creates desire. The mind pulls us this way or that way, and so we suffer as we stop perceiving the fullness of the possibilities of life. But there is hope. We still have the opportunity to receive the full light of the universe, of life, of Shiva.
How do we help to heal the self-inflicted wounds of the mind?
Mantra overpowers the ego and its desire, and it opens us up to receive the full light of the universe and in this story as represented by Shiva. When we are not consumed by our desires, we open ourselves up to receive the grace of the universe. We are restored to our full light. But like Chandra, we get full and our desire, our habits, our preferences they come back.
This happens to a lot of us with our basic health. When we’re healthy, we tend not to take care of ourselves as well as we do when we are sick. We tend to take our health for granted. But if we get sick, then we start taking all of our vitamins, our herbs, our medicine, and it’s so easy, it’s so tempting once we’re feeling good to forget these things are the things that we did to get there. To succumb to distraction and fall back into old habits.
If you ever struggled with an injury, I see time and time again as a yoga teacher someone gets injured. They do all the work to get out of pain, but once they’re no longer in pain, they figure, hey they’re cured. They don’t need to do the work anymore. And so sure enough, the pain of the injury comes back or they injure themselves again and again if they don’t actually stay vigilant with their therapy.
Or dieting! You’re going along doing well with your diet. Chandra, drinking the immortal nectar from Shiva, feeling good. But then something distracting comes along. A nice juicy piece of chocolate cake and boom! You’re tempted away from the healing powers of the nectar of immortality, away from healthy living or let’s say in this case healthy diet, and you go back to the things of your desire, the chocolate cake. That is ultimately going to take your life force a way.
How do we get back on track?
How do we get back into the things that are going to restore our life instead of take away from it?
And this is where mantra comes in. On the context of the yogic traditions, there are specific Mantra’s that can very much help with different things. We can also see more globally, the ability of Mantra to bring us back to a place of wholeness, of healing, the peace.
I have a mantra that I recite regularly, and they sit in the background of my mind constantly. When my mind gets dragged away or filled with anxiety or stress or anger, the steady presence of the mantra is in the background of my mind and that’s what brings me back to a calm centered and peaceful place.
And I got one more story to share today, and it’s a story of my most beloved character, Hanuman. It takes place in the great Indian epic the Ramayana.
As always our story takes place once upon a time, when the Monkey-God Hanuman, has been tasked with helping Prince Rama, an avatar of the God Vishnu, to find the Princess Sita, who’s been abducted by the ferocious demon Ravana.
At this point in the story, Hanuman has found where Ravana was holding Sita. He’s holding her on the island of Lanka.
So, Hanuman has gone back to Rama to tell him where Sita is, and Rama has brought back a massive army of animals: of bears and apes and other creatures to go and fight Ravana and his demon army.
And the obstacle facing them?
Well they’re on the tip of South India and an ocean separates their army, and the army on the other side of Ravana, on the island of Lanka. An ocean separates Prince Rama and his beloved Sita.
First, they try to build a bridge. With the bears and the monkeys, the magical creatures that comprise most of Rama’s army, they grab nearby boulders and they start chucking them in the ocean, only to see them sink to the bottom of the deep sea.
It would take mountains of earth to build a high enough earth-bridge to get any army across and even then, it seemed impossible. Some kept going about this and throwing the rocks in the ocean, and some just stood in frustration looking out at the sea. While all this was going on, Hanuman went about his usual devotion to Rama by writing Rama’s name in the sand, and writing it on rocks. Writing the mantra “Rama.”
One of the bears happen to grab one of these rocks and throw it into the sea, only to watch as this time and instead of the rock sinking, it floats to the surface. It takes a moment for everyone to realize what just happened. They ask hanuman to write Rama’s name again onto a stone, which he does, and they throw it out to sea. Again, it floats. So they do this again, and everyone starts to write Rama on whatever earth or rock or boulder they see, and they hurl it into the ocean. And each and every stone, every boulder, floats to the top. And this is how they build a bridge for the army to travel across to ultimately defeat Ravana and his army, and rescue the Princess Sita.
And once we have a basic understanding of what the overall story is telling us, this moment in the story, in the grand story of the Ramayana, gives us great insight into our own lives and spiritual journey. Rama and Sita represent the divine self and the individual self, the individual soul. Rama, the large self, the self with a capital S, the godhead of the divine, and Sita the individual soul, the self with the small S.
How are these two things separated?
They’re separated by Ravana, who represents the ego. Ravana himself has ten heads. We have to navigate one head in one ego. Imagine having ten to deal with. That’s one big ego. So it’s the ego that makes the soul feel separate from the divine. In part of our journey to reconcile this feeling of separation, we’re likely to encounter resistance and barriers from the subconscious. In cultures across the world, large bodies of water, a lake or the sea, represent the subconscious mind. And so here too, the sea, the subconscious, becomes a barrier they must cross. It represents an obstacle in their journey.
Why is the subconscious an obstacle?
Because it holds old programs, old tapes, old habits and desires inside of it. And most dangerously, because it is part of our subconscious, we usually have little to no idea of the roots or sometimes even the presence of these habits, patterns and desires.
How do we continue on our path when we become blocks of the flow of life from these subconscious patterns?
Mantra. Mantra, in this case the name of Rama, carries us over those patterns, beyond those habits and desires. It helps to lead to the reconciliation of the divine self in the individual soul. Or even more simply, it helps to carry us past those tendencies so we can accomplish our goal.
The army of Rama: our allies, our tools, our good habits, are at risk of being overtaken and drowned by the subconscious. But mantra can keep us afloat. It can carry us across the ocean of the subconscious mind and allow all of these tools, these allies, to be utilized properly.
So, both of these stories, the story of Chandra the moon and the story with Hanuman from the Ramayana with the army of Rama traveling to Lanka, they give us reminders of the importance of Mantra on our spiritual journey. Mantra becomes a lifeboat, something that keeps us afloat keeps us from drowning in our subconscious habits and desires.
What Mantra then to recite?
Well every tradition, within the tradition, tends to put a lot of determination in the saying that the specific words of their tradition, and perhaps even their pronunciation, carry the power. And in one sense that can very much be felt to be true. A very short time into exploring different mantra, you’ll notice that you feel differently chanting some sounds or words than others. This is as clear as can be.
Within a tradition, you can follow the particular intricacies of that within that tradition, but other traditions will have other intricacies, other words, other vibrations, and some of those vibrations might be contrary to what you find in other traditions. It can be a little confusing when taken out of context like that.
But in another sense, a mantra can really be anything. You can use any word as a mantra Lemon, Lemon, Popsicle, Popsicle, Om. Play with them yourself, if you’re in a particular tradition, then it’s probably a good idea to explore the means of that tradition.
But if you’re not a part of any particular spiritual tradition, play around, experiment, try things yourself. What do sounds and vibrations feel like in your own body? You might start to really connect with one particular word or sound, and perhaps it sinks into you and becomes your lifeboat. I hope it does, and I hope you all get to experience the power and joy that comes from Mantra.
This concludes our show for today.
Thank you all so much for listening.
I’m Ashton Szabo with the Sivana podcast.
I hope you’ll tune in again next time.
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