ॐ त्र्यम्बकं यजामहे
मृत्योर्मुक्षीय मामृतात् ॥
Om Tryambakam Yajamahe Sugandhim
Urvarukam iva Bandhanan Mrtyor
1: Om, We Worship the Three-Eyed One (Lord Shiva),
2: Who is Fragrant (Spiritual Essence) and Who Nourishes all beings.
3: May He severe our Bondage of Samsara (Worldly Life), like a Cucumber (severed from the bondage of its Creeper), …
4: … and thus Liberate us from the Fear of Death, by making us realize that we are never separated from our Immortal Nature.
As well-known as the powerful Savitur Gayatri Mantra – Om Bhur Bhuva Suvahah, Tat Savitur Varenyam… the Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra inspires its chants and reveals the Highest Spiritual Truths. Its popularity is due to the fact that it releases one from spiritual bondage and prevents untimely death. It can also ward off accidents and said to cure even the most ‘incurable’ of diseases. That is why it is called the Maha-Mrutyunjaya Mantra, maha means ‘great’, jaya means ‘victory’ and mrtyu means ‘death’. Thus, it is that great mantra that can help us to conquer death. The Maha-Mrtyunjaya Mantra is found in the Rig Veda as well as in the Yajur Veda.
WHAT IS MANTRA?
Mantras are revealed truths, not concocted theories. Anything created by the limited ego, the limited being, can only be limited. Mantras are not philosophies developed by a human intellect or mind. They have been revealed to great ancient sages (Risi) following their intense meditation and austerity. Therefore, mantras are classified under Sruti – ‘that which was heard’. Mantras are divine revelations. The very word mantra has been defined as ‘mananat traiyate iti mantra’ – ‘That which protects the one who reflects upon it’. So, the mantra protects that person who recites and reflects upon it.
MANTRAS ARE VIBRATIONS
Mantras are not just words or sentences put together. Besides being words with deep meanings, they are also vibrations. The whole universe is nothing but vibration. Even scientifically, electrons, protons and neutrons are only energies in varying states of vibration. The entire universe is made up of energy, and this energy in different states of vibration makes up the objects of the universe. Even between people there are vibrations. How often do you hear, “He has a good vibe”, or, “We just don’t vibe with each other”.
These vibrations are actually thoughts. To put it simply, sometimes our thinking processes match, and sometimes they don’t. As we think, so we are. In fact, our mind in different states of vibrations produces different results or manifestations. Even things like illnesses, are often produced by our mind in a ‘dis-eased’ state of vibration. We know how our mood at any given moment colours our experience of things. Also, what brings joy to me, may bring sorrow to you, depending on our individual likes and dislikes.
Now, for two people to understand each other, they have to ‘vibe’ together. In the same way, to understand the universe, we need to ‘vibe’ with it. How did Newton discover gravity? Because of his deep enquiry, the nature of gravity revealed itself to him. Whenever our mind reaches the same frequency of any object, the complete secret of that object is revealed. Why?
When objects vibrate at the same frequency, they merge; they unite. Per the vibrations of our mind, so is the world that we experience.
This is the principle of mantra chanting. It is a specific sound vibration that helps our mind to vibrate at a certain frequency. And, when our mind reaches that frequency, the ‘law’ of that object, or ‘essence’ of that object, is revealed. Thus mantras are very powerful vibrations and must be chanted properly. When chanted properly, they are extremely effective.
WHO IS THE MANTRA DEVATA?
Over a period of time when we keep chanting, the mind begins to vibrate at that frequency and, as mentioned, the mantra reveals itself or its devata. This Sanskrit word devata or deva, commonly translated as ‘deity’, has been explained in many different ways. In his Isavasya Upanishad commentary, Sri Adi Sankaracharya defines ‘deva’ as ‘the sentient forces governing the sense organs’.
Swamy Chinmayananda has very often referred to deva as ‘the potential in our field of activity (commentary on Bhagavad Gita Chapter 3, Verse 11). It can also mean the law or governing force of a field. All these meanings are inherent in the word devata.
Every mantra has its own devata, its own presiding deity, so to speak, and to those who chant the mantra properly with devotion and sincerity, the mantra devata manifests. When it manifests, it blesses the chanter with the boon mentioned in the mantra. These blessings are the knowledge, the governing laws and the power invoked by that mantra. And by that knowledge, by that power, or by that devata, we are protected.
The presiding deity of the Maha-Mrtyunjaya Mantra – that mantra which is the most powerful in conquering death – is Lord Siva, the Destroyer. It is Lord Siva in the form of Tryambakeswara – the One who has three eyes.
TO WHOM WAS THE MANTRA REVEALED?
The Maha-Mrtyunjaya Mantra was revealed to none other than Sage Vasista, Sri Ramachandraji’s Guru. This is why we find Sri Ramachandraji worshiping Lord Siva. At that time Sage Vasista and Sage Visvamitra were great competitors (and later on best of friends). Because Sage Visvamitra was always in competition with Sage Vasista, wanting to be his equal, he strove with all his might, and so to him was revealed the Savitur Gayatri Mantra, while to Sage Vasista was revealed the Maha-Mrtyunjaya Mantra. Both mantras are equally important, and both are, moksadaya mantras – meaning they can bestow spiritual liberation.
It is said that the Gayatri Mantra reveals the entire universe while the Maha-Mrtyunjaya Mantra releases one from the universe. In this way both mantras are really the same; when you come to know the universe, you will also know The Reality beyond the universe, and so you will be released from delusion and sorrow.
Each mantra also has its own metre (chanda). For example, Gayatri Mantra is type of metre. There are many Gayatri mantras and the most famous one is Savitur-Gayatri. This mantra, the Maha-Mrtyunjaya Mantra, is in the Anustubh chanda (metre), which has thirty-two letters in it.
Generally, when you chant a mantra, you do the nyasa – invoking the Risi, the metre (chanda) and the deity (devata). You invoke the deity in that mantra for its power and you pay respect to the metre because only by knowing the metre can you chant the mantra properly. So you start by invoking your own Guru, then Sage Vasista, to get the blessings of the Maha-Mrtyunjaya Mantra.
However, besides the Guru, the deity and the metre, a mantra also has a feminine force or Sakti behind it. This is the power that guides it or gives it direction. Amrteswari, the giver of Amrtam (immortality), is the Devi (goddess) behind the Maha-Mritryunjaya Mantra.
Mantras are capsules. In medicine, capsules can be very small and look quite harmless, but once they burst open there is usually a lot of medication within. So, too, when you internalize the Maha-Mrityunjaya Mantra. When you contemplate on it, it may burst open to reveal a tremendous amount of meaning. It mushrooms in its message, almost like an atomic explosion!
If we look at the different dimensions of this mantra’s meaning, confusion may arise. So, first we will look at the simple meaning of this mantra.
Tryambakam – The One with the three eyes, Lord Siva
Yajamahe – I worship, I sacrifice
Sugandhim – Who is fragrant
Pustivardhahnam – Who makes you grow
Vrvarukam iva Bandhanat – Just as a ripe cucumber is freed from its bondage to the creeper
Mrtyor – from death
Muksiya – May I be liberated
Mamrtat – not from Immortality
Thus a complete translation would be:
‘I worship the three-eyed One (Lord Siva), who is fragrant and makes us grow. Like the ripe cucumber (that is freed effortlessly) from bondage, may I too be released from mortality. May I never be distanced from Immortality.’
WHY VICTORY OVER DEATH?
WHAT IS DEATH?
The Maha-Mrtyunjaya Mantra is known as the mantra that gives victory over death. What, then, is death? Generally we think of physical death, but in fact there are many types of death.
Birth, in a funny way, is really the beginning of death. The moment you are born, you have actually started dying! We know through our studies that when the body dies, the jiva or ‘soul’ moves on to another body. Therefore birth and death are two sides of a coin; you cannot have one without the other. Birth is the beginning of a new state, which means the death of a previous state. We cannot speak of one without the other. Hence, birth itself is death. And when we celebrate birthdays, what are we celebrating? Years which are dead. That’s why we blow out rather than light the candles on our birthday cake.
Change is also a form of death. Scientifically, we know nothing in the universe id destroyed; it only changes its form. Even if the body perishes to become ashes, those ashes become nourishment for plants, and the plants become food for animals and humans. Everything in nature is recycled. That which seems to perish, is reborn in another form.
If death, in effect, is the culmination of a state of ongoing birth and change, then change by the very same fact can also be considered death. And, from moment to moment, change is taking place — your childhood died for your youth to be born, your youth died for your adulthood to begin, and so on. This change is taking place at every moment at every level of your being – physical, emotional and intellectual.
The Maha-Mrtyunjaya Mantra helps us to recognize and manage this change. Today in business management there is what is called ‘change management’, because people keep changing jobs. And don’t you have to mange people in your house who are constantly changing as well? Learning to manage change, then really a matter of learning to manage death. Change is death of what preceded it. Conversely, death is simply change.
Misery, too, is death. When a change seems to be conducive to us, we forget it is death. When the share market, for example, goes-up, people are happy, but when it comes crashing down, people become miserable. In some there is an almost fundamental change in their mindset and lifestyle. So, misery, a negative change, is also a form of death.
Does anyone really want death or misery? Obviously not, but everything we want, desire, hold on to, get attached to and live with, will one day change and give us misery. Change or death is inevitable. Nobody really wants a life of misery. It seems, however, that everything we want will at some stage make us miserable.
If someone is living an unproductive life, a life in which that person is just lazy, you often hear people, say, ‘That person is as good as dead.’ Other people may be brain damaged or disabled, some of them may even look dead, yet often they use whatever abilities they have to produce an amazing life.
Agitation or sin is also death. Death is that which destroys or ends, and therefore, all those things or actions that destroy us, our peace.
By extension, dishonour is a living death. Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita says to Arjuna, ‘For those who have lived a noble life and who have attained fame, for them, dishonour is death. Bhagavad Gita Chapter 2 Verse 34. Would you be able to face the death of your fame? Interestingly, in the Japanese culture of the past, when their honour was lost, they would perform suicide.
Severe illness similarly causes pain and misery. Those who are very ill and incapacitated may even want euthanasia. For those who have such an illness, living is very difficult. Their illness either leads to physical death or itself a form of death. Thus, when you say, Mrtyor Muksiya, you are actually saying, ‘Please free from all this that is called death.’
Even when things are favourable, the fear of change is always there. There is a saying, ‘Fear itself is death’, and for one who lives in constant fear, tension, and anxiety, this mantra releases them from all such pains and sorrows. When we are living under stress, we do not love or enjoy life; there is a constant fear. The threat of change, whether real or imagined, causes fear, and that renders our life a virtual death in progress. We know from our studies that there is no real death, but it is fear itself which is the death element.
There are so many meanings to be derived from the word ‘mrtyu or ‘death’ in this mantra. We have many fears and, as we have seen, death can present itself to us in many ways. The Maha-Mrityunjaya Mantra helps us to overcome death and gives us freedom from misery, illness and the fear of change.
From this mrtyu, ‘death’, O Lord, muksiya, ‘may I be liberated’.
INITIATION INTO THE MANTRA
We have seen that mantras are actually vibrations, and when chanted they have a certain power. This power is enhanced when they are chanted with right bhavana – the right feeling, attitude and devotion. However, the effect of any mantra is most potent when we understand what it means. Thus we should:
1. know the proper pronunciation of the mantra;
2. develop reverence and devotion for the deity of that mantra and for the mantra itself; and
3. understand and internalize its meaning.
Without these, we cannot experience the full glory of the mantra.
MEDITATION – HOW TO SIT, INVOKE AND CHANT THE MANTRA
• Have a special room or corner specially screened off (at least mentally) for your prayers.
• Fix a charming picture of Lord Siva and your Guru at such a height from the floor that when you sit in front of the portrait, the Lord’s feet are directly in your sight-line.
• Spread out a simple mat or asana (or use a floor cushion).
• Sit on the asana in a comfortable legs-folded position, keeping your back, neck and head in a straight line. You may use a chair if you are uncomfortable on the floor).
• To begin with, gaze at the Lord’s feet and slowly raise your sight from His feet to His legs, body and face.
• Close your eyes, feel His presence within you and try to visualize the Lord exactly as He is in the portrait.
• Before you start chanting the mantra, invoke the blessings of your Guru and Lord Siva.
• Now start chanting. First chant loudly, then turn it into a whisper and then finally chant only in your mind. Your chanting should become such that the mantra starts resonating by itself.
• Contemplation: Once the mind is effortlessly chanting the mantra, your intellect can then dive into the meanings you have learnt here. Don’t just sit and merely analyse the logic behind it, but think about whatever you have understood and allow your heart to embrace it. Let it seep into your every bone and breath.
• Every time you get distracted, resume the loud chanting, then reduce your volume and again dive into your contemplation.
Practice this every day for 10 minutes. Be regular and be sincere. Steadily and slowly increase the duration of your Japa and see what happens.
~ Excerpts from the Book on ‘Maha Mrtyunjaya’ by Swami Swaroopananda