24 Apr Mantras for peace of mind (week 5)
The Prayer of St Francis
This week’s mantra may surprise you. The Prayer of St Francis is not in Sanskrit and it is not about forests or demons or Gods in disguise. It’s not ancient. It’s actually quite modern. No one is exactly sure when it was written but it is almost certainly a work of the twentieth century. This may surprise you if you know anything about St Francis of Assisi. One of the few certainties surrounding the prayer is that he didn’t write it. Composed originally in French, the author might have erroneously used verses from a prayer by Giles of Assisi who was a friend of St Francis.
Giles’ prayer contains the lines,
Blessed is he, who loves and does not need to be loved,
Blessed is he who fears and does not desire to be feared
Both beautiful sentiments and not far from a section of the work we will look at today.
If you have been following my blogs on mantras you will have noticed regular references to an author called Eknath Easwaren. He has been a big influence on my yoga studies. He has produced beautiful translations of The Bagavad Gita and the Upanishads but he also wrote a book about meditation, aimed squarely at the novice, which I love. Many moons ago when I was new to practice I found some of the liturgy intimidating because of the amount of Sanskrit involved. So I was delighted to stumble upon a book that enticed rookies to start with mantras which were easier to learn. One of these was the so-called Prayer of St Francis. Incidentally, Franciscans do not denigrate this prayer. They recommend it, but they prefer to call it “the peace prayer”. This is interesting because ‘peace prayer’ is a fairly direct translation of the words Shanti Mantra.
The similarities do not end there, because the Pavamana Mantra, which we covered some weeks back, has elements in common with the peace prayer: notably the idea of moving from death of the self toward immortality or union with the divine.
And so to the text: It may be familiar to you. Apologies if Eswaran’s translation is slightly different to the one you know.
Oh Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon,
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope,
Where there is darkness, light,
Where there is sorrow, joy.
Oh Divine Master,
Grant that I ask not so much
To be consoled as to console
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
In pardoning that we are forgiven,
In dying to the self, we are immortal.
The English version of the prayer is slightly abridged. There is a French verse that usually gets left out of translations. I’ve never been quite sure why. Perhaps it seems out of step with other lines which rely on conjugating the same verb.
Here it is:
C’est ens’oubliant qu’on trouve
“In self – forgetting we find”.
Very Patanjali, wouldn’t you agree?
There is much about the prayer that Patanjali would identify with, not least the concept of being an instrument of peace. There is a famous verse in the Yoga Sutras which says that in the presence of one rooted in ahimsa (non violence) the animosity of others will cease (2:35).
According to the prayer the path to being such an instrument is in meeting hatred with love, injury with pardon and so on…
This method is touched upon in the yoga sutras via slightly different means. When presenting us with the Yamas Patanjali suggests the practice of pratipaksha bhavana: manifesting or cultivating the opposite. So if one experiences violent or hateful thoughts, the idea is to work on cultivating the opposite feelings. Crucially, this is not about suppression but introspection. Our urges must be understood if we are not to be led by them.
This prayer is a beautiful evening meditation. It’s a good one for bedtime. Sometimes I add it to my asana practice, annexing it to the closing chant. I don’t think you need to be an overt ‘believer’ to be comfortable with words like “Oh Lord…” It is quite clear that the prayer is about finding inner strength to deliver such qualities as being a mediator or a consoler.
Grab a few quiet moments tonight or this weekend and see where it takes you…