Om svasti prajabhyah paripalayantam
nyayena margena mahim mahisah
gobrahmanebhyah subhamastu nityam
kale varsatu parjanyah
brahmanah santu nirbhayah
Om sarve bhavantu sukhinah
sarve santu niramayah
sarve bhadrani pasyantu
ma kaschit duhkhabhagbhavet
Om asato ma sadgamaya
tamaso ma jyotirgamaya
mrtyorma amrtam gamaya
Om shantih shantih shantih
An invocation can easily be mistaken for a petition, a form of prayer that is asking for something quite specific for ourselves, for our loved ones, or even for the world at large. In fact, however, an invocation is an acknowledgment of the unseen forces or energies at work in our universe and within ourselves. To call upon these forces, to invoke them, is our attempt to align ourselves with them, to become better attuned to them, as it were. This particular invocation, known simply by its first two words, svasti prajabhyah, is chanted with the specific intention that humanity as a whole will realize its full potential in the ever-expanding scheme of things.
An invocation can easily be mistaken for a petition, a form of prayer that is asking for something quite specific for ourselves, for our loved ones, or even for the world at large.
I first heard svasti prajabhyah in the ashram where I studied Vedanta and Sanskrit for some time. It was chanted every evening after our last class and before satsang. Almost a decade later it remains a regular part of my morning and evening meditation. I also find it echoing within myself during those especially vehement political and social crises in the face of which we feel so helpless as individuals. A case in point was the ice storm that blew through much of eastern Canada and the northeastern United States at the beginning of 1998, leaving huge numbers of people without hydro and the other usually secure comforts of home. Another was the renewed bombing of Iraq toward the end of that same year.
The svasti prajabhyah invocation helps to remind me that, while we may not be in charge of very much, we are not without the inner resources required to be a balancing force, be the chaos in question of our own making or more cosmically imposed. It anchors me in the “what is” of life and, perhaps more to the point, the “what is not,” in spite of my treasured illusions. It also reminds me that behind all of life’s situations, ranging from the exceedingly comfortable to the devastatingly miserable, there is an unknown factor at work, call it what we will, that we ignore at our peril.
Like so many “educated” Westerners, I used to look upon the practice of invocation as so much hocus-pocus. However, thirty-five years of self-inquiry and yoga practice have mercifully relieved me of such a hard, fast, and shallow view. Now, I can fully acknowledge the more subtle realms of existence and feel quite certain that the pure and openly expressed intentions of invocation can do much to ameliorate the negative forces that seem to have as their sole purpose the blocking of human evolution at every pass.
Occasionally the svasti prajabhyah mantra comes into my head for no apparent reason. At such times, I assume that there are situations unfolding that might benefit from my chanting this invocation for well-being. And so I do. Perhaps someone is reaching out into the universe for the energy to move through some crisis or other. Let me then take a few minutes and awarefully open myself more fully to life’s abundance, magnanimity, intelligence, and love. Because the intention of the invocation is directed toward aligning myself with the unseen forces at work on our behalf, I quite effortlessly assume an attitude of “Thy will be done, not mine,” which in itself instills an inner peace and awarefulness wherein amazing transitions can and do occur. After all, we are the world, are we not?
I’ve always chanted the invocation in Sanskrit, as I learned it, but I often share its meaning in English with those who are drawn to it, as I was. While the Sanskrit language is eloquently terse, English is not always able, in the same few words, to reflect the full meaning that each Sanskrit word conveys. For this reason I have taken considerable literary license with the original in order to more accurately express the meaning that I have derived from it:
May everyone enjoy a sense of fulfillment.
May those we elect to provide leadership do so wisely.
May we always ensure the welfare of the animals who nourish our bodies
and the wise who nourish our minds and hearts.
May everyone be content.
May the rains grace the Earth when her thirst needs to be quenched.
May the Earth yield abundantly and well of her produce.
May the planet’s inhabitants be free from famine.
May the contemplative among us have no reason to fear us.
May everyone be happy.
May everyone be free of illness.
May everyone enjoy prosperity.
May none suffer needlessly.
Svasti prajabhyah concludes with the well-known Sanskrit prayer that so clearly juxtaposes the conflict of duality in which we live with the fullness of Oneness that is our essential nature and points the way to a better understanding of reality:
May we distinguish the false from the real.
May the darkness of ignorance give way to the light of wisdom in us.
May we rid ourselves of the self-imposed limitations that prevent us from realizing our ever-expanding potential as vehicles through which the mortality of the many is understood as the immortality of the One.
The three Shantis chanted at the end of a Sanskrit invocation are usually translated simply as “Peace. Peace. Peace.” However, they are traditionally directed to the three sources from which obstacles are known to come. The first, chanted loudly, is directed to the cosmos at large, with its more violent distractions such as earthquakes, volcanoes, lightning, and thunder. The second, chanted in a normal voice, is meant for our immediate surroundings—telephones, doorbells, people wanting something, and the like. The third Shanti, perhaps the most important one of all, is chanted to oneself and addresses our own busy mind:
May we not be distracted from our course by calamities brought on by the cosmic forces, nor by the disruptions that occur around us, nor by the confusion and chaos of our own minds.
As I write this, I have just come from my daily walk along the country road in rural Ontario where I live. It’s New Year’s day and, at the halfway point, I sat in the snow, my face turned up to the sun. It was 0 degrees Fahrenheit at high noon and I was as warm as the proverbial toast. As I closed my eyes and waited for the silence that surrounded me to pervade my mind, svasti prajabhyah came to call. Yes, I thought, how appropriate! May everyone on this vast and beautiful planet know the Well-Being, Peace, and Love that is our birthright. And may I acknowledge my gratitude to the guru and his Shankaracharya lineage for bestowing upon me the gift of this ancient invocation that is as relevant today as in the times of long ago.
Om shivaya namah Om