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In my household in India, when I was just a child, we would wake at dawn to this and other such mantras from the Upanishads. My grandfather, who I call baba, would chant (in Sanskrit) first, and everyone would follow suit.
May I journey from unreal to real,
May I journey from darkness to light,
May I journey from mortality to immortality.
~ Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
While we would get ready for school, our mothers and their children would chant this mantra of taking life’s journey into their own hands.
I could also hear it emerging from tiny huts and from extravagant homes, sometimes joyfully, at other times intensely. It echoed in temples, and it reverberated in Hindu monasteries.
It was chanted as a newborn emerged from the womb, and it was chanted as the dead body was placed on the funeral pyre before being offered to Agni, the god of fire.
As the sick in my hometown would toss and turn, suspended between in breaths and out breaths, pain and relief, hope and dismay, family members keeping vigil by the bedside would whisper the same mantra in the ear of the struggling one. It was a reminder of the deepest healing yet to be aspired to, and the final and most significant journey yet to be undertaken—the journey of self-realization from darkness to light, from death to true existence.
A mantra is a sacred utterance that protects and frees our minds.
Ayurveda encourages that we chant mantras even while conducting the simplest of everyday activities, such as while waking up, first putting our feet on the floor after a night’s sleep, taking a shower, and before partaking a meal.
A mantra protects us when we meditate on it. It is a specific grouping of sound vibrations that, when verbalized mindfully or when its meaning is meditated on silently, creates a sound-based frequency that protects the mind from its own conflicting emotions, desires, and thought vacillations.
Mantra vibrations can help you overcome any tendency toward repetitive thoughts and anxiety, and can also help you become fully present to every moment of your day.
It is said that spiritual light is concealed inside the sounds of the mantras from the Vedas. When the mantras are chanted, the spiritual light emerges to not only illuminate the physical space, but also the internal space of the ones who chant or hear the mantra. The reality of self is indeed the only light—the light that is self-shining, and that causes everything else, including the eyes, the moon, the sun, and the stars, to shine.
In the beginning, you may have difficulty with it, especially with the obligations and distractions of modern life.
With a little repetition, however, you will soon find that mantras are emerging spontaneously in your heart and that invoking them transforms the most banal events into self-affirming, self-honoring sacred rituals.