When I first arrived at the ashram in Nepal in 1996, where I was about to do an intensive month long teacher training program, I met one of the new yoga instructors who had just finished her month-long intensive with the previous batch of teacher trainees. She was all packed up and ready to go back home.
“So, how was it?, I asked her, hoping to get some insight into the program.
“It was GREAT! You are going to learn SO much from Swami Vikashananda. And at the end of your stay, he will give you your OWN mantra!”
There was something a little wild-eyed about her which made me want to ask more about the intriguing manta.
“My own mantra? Tell me more.”
So she went on to explain how Swami Vikashananda “studies his students in training” and comes up with a unique mantra that is specifically for that very person. This mantra is to be said during meditation to keep one focused on the moment and it is NOT to be shared with anyone.”
You can just imagine my intrigue all throughout the month-long training program. I imagined Swami Vikashananda secretly studying me, trying to come up with the perfect mantra for ME! There was another side of me, the naughty skeptic in me who wondered if he just gave the same damned mantra to everyone and said, “Don’t share this with anyone!”
So, eventually it was time for me to leave. One full intensive month of learning and hard work flew by, and I found myself all packed up, standing with my luggage at the edge of the ashram property with Swami Vikashananda. This was my farewell. And I was feeling super emotional-not because I would miss him- but because he DID NOT yet give me my mantra!
I would not make a good poker player. My face betrays my feelings. I do play Pinochle and everyone knows when I have a good hand vs. a lousy hand. It’s just the way I am. So Vikashananda, standing there next to me in his white flowing robes, asked me, “But please, tell me, what is the matter?” Can I tell you how stupid I felt, practically in tears because I didn’t get my stupid freakin’ mantra? I told him, “Well, see, I was told you would give me a mantra before I left here, and..” I couldn’t even finish my words.
And then his whole face lit up!
“You want a MANTRRRA?” …followed by howling laughter. (when you read his dialog, you have to roll your rrr’s!)
When he re-collected his composure he said, “OK, I will give you your MANTRA! OM SAHANA VAVATU. OK?”
I was desperate to write it down, but everything was packed away tightly. “Vikashananda, I need to write it down!”
“No, No. Say it VERRRY quickly. OM SAHANA VAVATU. OM SAHANA VAVATU. Like that! Ten Times! You will remember.”
“Please tell me what it means. That will help me remember!”
So he explained to me, “This mantra is for YOU! But this mantra is one that you WILL share from time to time with your students because this mantra means “Let us Grow Together”. Listen, don’t be sad, but you will not find YOUR own one special Guru. However, you will find that your greatest teachers are your students. From them you will learn to be a great teacher. They will be your GURUS. Yes, many many gurus coming. From time to time, you must share your MANTRA with them. OM SAHANA VAVATU. OK? Om Shanti, FRAN.”
This is my MANTRA story. And yes, I share my mantra story with my students from time to time, just as Vikashananda suggested. For me, it is powerful because I don’t have ONE guru whose teachings I cling to. I explore my yoga practice through my readings, through my meditation and personal practice, through my life experiences, and from my students. My students ARE my greatest teachers. They teach me to be present. They teach me how to listen, how to be intuitive, how to give and receive. They teach me how to be kind, compassionate, and how to be courageous in life. They teach me how to be the best I can be. They teach me how to BE.
This is the first time I have written my Mantra Story. Pia inspired me to write it down in my blog! When I got back to the states, I began studying Sanskrit and I was surprised to come across my MANTRA. Through my studies, I have learned that my mantra is part of the Shanti Mantra (the Peace Prayer). It is a Mantra that originates from the Upanishads. I have learned my Mantra’s many translations. One translation of it is:
That is Absolute. Absolute arises out of Absolute.
Below you will see it written in Sanskrit followed by the translation. My Mantra is the first line of a well-known chant, the Shanti Mantra:
ॐ सह नाववतु ।
सह नौ भुनक्तु ।
सह वीर्यं करवावहै ।
तेजस्वि नावधीतमस्तु मा विद्विषावहै ।
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥
Om Saha Nau-Avatu | (also read as Om Sahana Vavatu-my mantra!)
Saha Nau Bhunaktu |
Saha Viiryam Karava-Avahai |
Tejasvi Nau-Adhii-Tam-Astu Maa Vidviss-Aavahai |
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||
1: May God Protect us Both (the Teacher and the Student),
2: May God Nourish us Both,
3: May we Work Together with Energy and Vigour,
4: May our Study be Enlightening, not giving rise to Hostility,
5: Om, Peace, Peace, Peace.
So from “May we Grow Together” to “May God Protect us Both (the Teacher and the Student”, I say to you, OM SAHANA VAVATU!