The Mangala mantra is from the Rig Veda and is traditionally chanted at the end of ceremonies.
Mangala means ‘auspicious’ which means ‘conducive to success.’
It brings the practice to a peaceful end; sealing in the work done and offering the efforts of our practice to improve the state of the world. The essence of the finishing mantra is to wish for peace, prosperity, and happiness for all creations of the world.
This is akin to one of the reasons for practicing yoga as stated in the Bhagavad Gita 3.20. The effort to purify and uplift our own life as stated in the opening prayer, should be done altruistically for the benefit of uplifting and enriching the world. The energy we created throughout the practice is sent into the world in form of love, light, and peace.
So the opening chant talks about the benefits of the practice to our self and the closing chant dedicates it to others
OM Swasthi prajabhyah
Nyayena margena mahi mahishaha
Lokaasamastha sukhino bhavanthu
OM shanti shanti shanti
May all be well with mankind
May the leaders of the earth protect in every way by keeping to the right path
May there be goodness for those who know the earth to be sacred
May all the worlds be happy
There is also an extra verse
Kale varsatu parjanyah prthivi sasyasalini
Desoyam ksobharahito brahmana santu nibhayah
May the rains fall on time, and may the earth yield its produce in abundance. May this country be free from disturbances,
and may the knowers of the truth be free from fear.
The Mangala mantra is from the Rig Veda, which is old—very old. Exactly how old is a matter of some debate but often estimated to be around 3,500 years old. It is the oldest religious text that has been in continuous use and is still used today.
In general terms it contains several mythological and poetical accounts of the origin of the world, hymns praising the gods, and ancient prayers for life, prosperity including the Gyatri Mantra (verse 3.62.10 in Mandala 3) and the Mangala mantra.
For me an important aspect of a yoga practice is that we are not just doing it for ourselves. We do it for the benefit of everyone. At the end of our practice in the end chant we take the energy of the work we have just done and offer it out to benefit everyone.
If we are all one—part of the same thing—what we do does effects everyone else in the world. But we can make this process deeper and more meaningful if we do it with awareness.
There is a beautiful image in yogic philosophy that the universe is like a net and each person or creature sits like a jewel at each intersection of the net. It is our ‘job’ to shine as brightly as we can. By doing this we improve our own lives but we directly affect the beauty of the whole net as well.
Dedicating your practice to something bigger, or pariṇāmanā, is a central theme in yoga and in most spiritual traditions. We don’t do yoga to become fitter and happier ourselves, otherwise it could all get a bit neurotic and self-obsessed. We do it for the good of everyone.
If we don’t dedicate our practice to the good of all, then the practice itself can become a huge source of attachment. And this attachment stops us, from achieving what we have set out to achieve (which is some kind of spiritual transformation?). So in order to get it, you need to let it go.
This is one of the central ideas in the Bhagavad Gita (BG 2.55-59) which is the idea of non-attachment. It is said in the Yoga Sutras that this is just as important as practice (YS 1.12-16). Abhyasa (practice) and vairagya (non-attachment) are two central aspects of yoga.
It is also an important aspect of Buddhist practice.
The first two of the Four Nobel Truths of Buddhism are:
- life is suffering
- the cause of suffering is attachment
In researching the meaning of the end chant I have looked at esoteric descriptions of loving-kindness meditations and more recent scientific studies.
The Pali Canon, a Buddhist text written down around 2000 years ago, identifies a number of benefits from practicing loving kindness meditation, including:
- You will sleep easily
- You will wake easily
- You will have pleasant dreams
- People will love you
- Devas (gods or angels) and animals will love you
- Devas will protect you
- External dangers, such as poisons, weapons, and fire, will not harm you
- Your face will be radiant
- Your mind will be serene and gains concentration quickly
- You will die unconfused
- You will be re-born in happy realms
(from Anguttara Nikaya 11.16)
Buddhists believe that those who cultivate loving-kindness will be at ease (and have good skin apparently). The first three benefits are to do with sleeping well. Common causes of insomnia and nightmares are anxiety and depression so if you are ‘at ease’ these will improve.
The next four talk about how the world will react to you when you are at ease. If you are angry and judgmental towards other people, then your peace of mind will be disturbed. This disturbance within you is likely to disturb people around you.
On the other hand, if you are at ease with the world and yourself, other people are more likely to be relaxed and at ease around you. You will look good.
Actually I think you can often tell by looking at people if they meditate or have a spiritual practice. Their eyes shine and they have an inner beauty that is quite unmistakable. Your mind will be stilled and so you will be more open to creativity, more able to focus and deal with life. Then the last two talk about death and re-birth.
Modern Research (Compassion meditation)
A few recent psychological studies suggest that loving-kindness meditation directly affect health and well-being. One study done at Stanford University suggests that a short seven minute practice of loving-kindness meditation can increase social connectedness.
Another study shows it to reduce pain and anger in people with chronic lower back pain. Researcher Barbara Fredrickson at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that loving-kindness meditation could help boost positive emotions and well being in life which helps in dealing with pain.
A serious practitioner of loving-kindness can actually alter their brain. An EEG study by Richard J. Davidson of people who meditate in metta, with a minimum of 10,000 hours practice, showed substantial differences in the magnitude of gamma waves as well as gamma synchronization, especially during meditation sessions, and directly afterwards.
Even in normal states, there was a signature brain wave pattern that is different from people who have not practiced compassion meditation. This study also showed, during meditation, an increase in the activity of brain areas such as the temporoparietal junction, insula, and amygdala. This can increase the subject’s ability to see things from another’s perspective.
So practitioners of loving-kindness sleep well, are loved by those around them and are at ease and focused. They experience increased social connectedness, reduced pain and anger, boost positive emotions and refined brain wave activity.
How to do it
So when you are chanting the closing chant—you can choose to focus on someone: yourself, someone you love, someone you hardly know, someone you have problems with and send them love. You can use mental images. Imagine them happy and getting whatever will make them happy, or a feeling of love. Whatever works for you.
It can be relatively easy to cultivate feelings of metta in a yoga class or sitting meditating in your bedroom—but can you do it when you’re going through your daily life? Much harder. If someone is challenging for you, try to welcome the situation as an opportunity to practice love and patience and tolerance. And practice. None of us are perfect, we’re all just doing the best we can.
When we practice asana we are working with our body, mind, energy and maybe spirit on many levels. One of the results of an asana practice is that we are prepared for the more subtle practices such as pranayama and chanting. If we do asana without adding one or more of the more subtle practices it’s like getting dressed up to go out then just sitting alone in the kitchen. We miss out on amazing altered states of consciousness and feelings of connection and bliss.
It is somehow hard for many of us to start to add one of the more subtle pratices. For myself I would daily travel for two hours to practice asana for 1.5 hours. That’s 3.5 hours from my day, but I couldn’t find five minutes to chant or meditate or do pranayama.
In London where I live, there are hundreds or even thousands of asana classes but very few pranayama or chanting classes. Somehow we haven’t been ready to go to the next step.
But I sense a change in the yoga scene, I think we might be about to start exploring the other aspects of yoga, and I think it’s going to be very cool.
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Ed: Dana Gornall