First, we experience the sound and vibration, and anything else that comes standing there chanting together, whatever that may be (energy, joy, self-consciousness, whatever…). Then we reflect: “hmmm i wonder why it felt like that”. And we may also inquire “what is it that we just chanted? what does it mean?”
Then we find out what the words mean, and we chant again and again until we may no longer be conscious of the meaning of the individual words, but we know from experience what the meaning is for us.
The Mangala Mantra, literally ‘the auspicious sound meditation’, is the closing prayer that we chant on fridays as a way to punctuate the week, to celebrate our effort. It begins with the words ‘swasti prajaabhyah paripalaayantam’. In the pronunciation of these words, we may instinctively feel opening, energizing, expansive nature of the the vowel ‘aaa’. Aa is in fact the beginning of the sound aum, and is one of the five primal sounds that Sanskrit is built on. Hint: you have to open your mouth very wide to get that sound.
Or we may recognize the root of the first word swasti… Swasti combines the prefix su (as in sukha) which means goodness, joy, happiness, wellness, etc. Add the asti, which is the verbal root of ‘to be’, and we get a meaning of well-being. This verse of the mantra means something like ‘may all beings be happy and well.’ We take all the hard work we put into our practice this week and offer it out to the world.
If your mind connected swasti to the word swastika, maybe your body gave you immediate feedback of a negative meaning. Interesting… Because the feeling that gave rise to the word way back when was totally positive. Actually the symbol of swastika means the same thing as the word swasti today in India, just as it has for thousands of years. And it is still used all over India. In our yogashala in Mysore, like in many sacred rooms in India, there are hand-painted swastika’s adorning the entrance, wishing the yogini well every time she crosses the threshold.
May we all be well and happy, especially those that have suffered from the theft, misrepresentation, and exploitation of this symbol. As the Mangala Mantra continues “May leaders protect the Earth in every way by keeping to the path of just virtue.”