Yoga Q&A: Mantra
I have heard meditation students who are more experienced than I am talking about doing a practice called “purash charana.” What is it?
Purash means “first” and charana means “step.” Thus “purash charana” is the first step toward the experience of the Divine. When you undertake a purash charana you make a commitment to recite a mantra a specific number of times within a specific period of time. The number of repetitions depends on the mantra. A purash charana of the gayatri or maha mrtyunjaya mantra, for example, is usually 125,000 repetitions. A mala has 108 beads so if you do 10 rounds a day it will take you 125 days to complete the practice. If you do 5 rounds a day, you will complete the practice in 250 days. (Even though the mala has 108 beads, you take only 100 repetitions into account because traditionally 8 repetitions per 100 are dedicated to honor the force that enables us to complete a round.)
Once you have developed a regular meditation practice you impose the discipline of a purash charana on yourself as a means of strengthening your self-discipline and subduing the mind’s deceptive tendencies. When you make a commitment to repeat your mantra a certain number of times each day, you are much less likely to let the mind play tricks on you by coaxing you to cut your practice short today and do a longer practice tomorrow.
When you commit yourself to a purash charana, you are undertaking a higher practice. The higher the practice, the more intense the need for self-observation. So when you undertake a purash charana, it is important to prepare yourself to confront bigger temptations and to strengthen your resolve not to be swayed or distracted from your purpose.
When you commit yourself to a purash charana, you are undertaking a higher practice.
What do you mean by temptations? Why would they become stronger when a person undertakes a purash charana?
The logic is simple: the higher the peaks, the deeper the valleys. Once you have become established in your daily meditation, there is no challenge—it becomes a routine part of your life. The issues you confront are usually related to your daily life and you manage them as a matter of course. But once you undertake a purash charana of, for example, repeating the gayatri mantra 125,000 times within 125 days, you will find yourself facing bigger challenges. The part of you that rebels against self-discipline will show up. You will be caught in the war between your power of determination and your lack of self-confidence, between your power of resolution and your tendency to procrastinate.
The urge to go against our determination is a hidden tendency that looks for an excuse to manifest. Anything that serves as an excuse is a form of temptation. In the normal course of practice, we have no chance to observe this tendency in ourselves because unless we present ourselves with a challenge it remains dormant. By undertaking a purash charana we impose a stricter-than-normal discipline on ourselves, thereby challenging our ingrained habits. To prevail we need God’s grace, the blessings of the saints, firm conviction, and strong willpower.
I have heard that there are certain mantras which can help us destroy (or at least attenuate) negative tendencies while bringing forth positive tendencies to counteract the negative ones. What are these mantras?
According to the sages, there are two ways of overcoming obstacles to our spiritual unfoldment—overcoming our weaknesses and thereby becoming strong, or strengthening that part of us which is already strong and thereby overcoming our weaknesses. The first method is predominantly cleansing and the other predominantly nourishing. In the Vedic tradition the two best-known and most widely practiced mantras are the gayatri mantra and the maha mrtyunjaya mantra. The gayatri mantra focuses on cleansing and is one of the most potent mantras for overcoming weakness, while the maha mrtyunjaya mantra focuses on healing and is one of the most powerful strengthening mantras. Although they approach the goal differently, both are given for the purpose of eliminating obstacles. Ultimately they have the same result.
The gayatri mantra works with karmic impurities, the subtle impressions of our mind that are the source of negative thinking patterns. This mantra calms mental noise, washes off karmic impurities, purifies the ego, sharpens the intellect, and illuminates our inner being. It connects us with the inner teacher so that we become more receptive to inner guidance and illumination. This mantra is particularly suitable for those who are struggling with confusion, doubt, skepticism, lack of self-trust, and lack of direction.
The maha mrtyunjaya mantra is a healing and nourishing mantra. By awakening the inner healing force, it strengthens our power of will, knowledge, and action. It helps us to receive and assimilate the nourishment from food and herbs as well as from the spiritual disciplines we have undertaken. This mantra is often given to those who are struggling with low energy, a sense of hopelessness, grief, or illness, as well as from lack of enthusiasm, courage, and determination. It is particularly suitable for those in the healing professions as it helps prevent burnout by continually replacing the healing energy that a healer transfers to the patient.
The scriptures call the gayatri mantra “the mother of the Vedas” and the maha mrtyunjaya mantra “the heart of the Vedas.” Many practitioners combine the two mantras to experience optimal progress. Scriptures such as Gayatri Panchanga and Netra Tantra describe the general and specific techniques of meditating on these mantras for unique spiritual results.
Can anyone undertake the practice of a purash charana?
It is best to undertake such a practice only after you have established a regular schedule and formed the habit of eating, sleeping, and meditating according to an established routine. Regularity is the most important factor in such a practice. To understand why, let us take a fruit tree as an example. After the seed has been planted, it first sprouts and then eventually grows into a tree. Before it can produce fruit, a specific amount of time must pass, and further, the tree must be exposed to a certain amount of light and heat and consume a certain amount of nutrients and water. If it does not get these elements in appropriate amounts and at the appropriate time, the tree’s growth will be stunted; it may even die before reaching maturity. Light cannot be substituted for water; heat cannot be substituted for nutrients. If it is deprived of the proper amount of light for months and is suddenly bombarded by intense light for days at a time, what will happen to that poor tree?
When we undertake a purash charana, we are planting a spiritual tree that must be nurtured and encouraged through steady, regular practice. Once you are sure that your schedule is well established and that you will neither starve nor overfeed your spiritual plant, go ahead and undertake a purash charana. The subtle but crucial details of how to sow the seed and tend the plant once it begins to grow must come from an expert gardener—a spiritual teacher.
Spiritual head of the Himalayan Institute, Pandit Tigunait is the successor of Swami Rama of the Himalayas. Lecturing and teaching worldwide for more than a quarter of a century, he is the author of fourteen books, including his recently-released The Secret of the Yoga Sutra, and his autobiography Touched by Fire: The Ongoing Journey of a Spiritual Seeker. Pandit Tigunait holds two doctorates: one in Sanskrit from the University of Allahabad in India, and another in Oriental Studies from the... Read more>>