Mantras for peace of mind (part one)

Aditya Hrudayam

I don’t know about you but I reacted to this weeks blue skies with an almost giddy joy.  Even though we have had to spend a lot of time just looking at them! As the famous Beatles song here comes the sun goes: “it feels like years since it’s been here”.

the return of the sun reminded me of a great  practice resource. A prayer (sometimes called a hymn or even a mantra) which can be chanted to bring the strength of the sun into our hearts. I always think mantra is a good word to use as the Sanskrit literally means “mind protection”. When our thoughts take us to a dark or chaotic place, we can re order them by focusing on the mantra.

The Aditya Hrudayam is an extract from the Ramayana epic, one of India’s most beloved tales. Scenes from this story of love, exile, monkey- gods and demons  are re-enacted or told across South Asia on a daily basis. Much of the poem focuses on prince Rama’s quest to rescue his beloved Sita from abduction and regain his kingdom from its usurpers.

The Aditya Hrudayam is a departure from the narrative thrust of the Ramayana. On the cusp of a climactic battle with the demon Ravana, our hero Rama loses heart. He is overcome by fear and fatigue, convinced that his foe is better prepared. At this point the Gods send Agastya the sage to Rama’s side. His brief is to teach Rama a prayer which will rejuvenate him and gird his loins. A prayer which will make him invincible in battle. A prayer to Aditya who is also known as the sun god, Surya.

As a student of Astanga Yoga you will be familiar with the word Surya.

Surya  Namaskar is the very beginning of our asana practice. It translates from Sanskrit as “saluting (literally: welcoming) the sun”.  Because Surya Namaskar is mostly performed at the break of day it has elements of a puja or “offering” to the dawn and all its potential for renewal. There are teachers of Astanga Yoga who recite the Aditya Hrudayam as a mantra while their first students of the day practice Surya Namaskar. Peter Sanson from New Zealand is famous for this. Chanted as a mantra the Aditya Hridayam has a hypnotic and energising quality about it.

In content and context the Aditya Hrudayam has elements in common with The Bagavad Gita, possibly the world’s most famous pep talk. This also takes place on the eve of a big fight. In the Gita, Krisna persuades Arjuna that he can face his demons and and do battle with them.

If you are familiar with the Bagavad Gita you’ll recognise elements of Chapters 10 and 11 in the main section of the Aditya Hrudayam. The main difference between the two is demonstrated by the roles of Agastya and Krisna. The former delivers a message from the gods. The latter is God.

From verses 6 to 15 of the Aditya Hrudayam Agastya lists the many powers of  the sun from the point of view of an admirer. In the Bagavad Gita Krisna declares himself to be the “all – pervading source of everything” (10:8)  so not just our sun but every star in the cosmos. The two different approaches bring about the same result. Rama and Arjuna are freed from despair. They feel ready for anything.

Crucially, both texts serve to remind us where this strength and resolve has been hiding all along. It is within us. “In the heart of all beings” (AR:23)

Sometimes it helps to contemplate something much larger than ourselves when we are looking for inner strength. This is an extremely challenging time for everyone. It is easy to feel despair or hopelessness and although mantras are not everyone’s cup of tea, they can be powerful motivators. Have a read (or,  if the mood takes you, a listen) to the Arditya Rhudayam next time you wake up feeling flat. It’s a great resource for the early morning.

A quick guide to the text:

Verses 1 and 2 set the scene

Verses 3-5 list the benefits of chanting the hymn

Verses 6-15 list the powers and attributes of the sun

Verses 16-24 are considered to be the core of the hymn…pretty much a sun salutation in words!

Verses 25 – 27 are a reminder of the benefits of recititation

Verses 28-32 speak of Rama’s resolve and subsequent victory.

A very easy to read version here, the Sanskrit is translated verse by verse so you don’t have to cross check

A lovely translation here and an audio file.

Ermmm…poppy version here!

Spoken word version here

On Spotify (this is with the classical tune but goes at quite a pace)

If you’d like to hear the two similar chapters from Bhagavad Gita

Dr MA Jayashree from Mysore does the whole thing on SpotifChapter 10 here

Chapter 11 here

Of course if mantras aren’t your thing you could stick with the Beatles…

Happy sun salutes !!