Beause many of us are more and more are committed to being multicultural in our respect for and participation in the sacred in every tradition, we are using more music, songs, dances, images, and references to traditions, some of which may be unfamiliar to some of us.
Therefore, I am including in this post some basic information in the hopes of answering some questions, such as “What does that translate to in English?”
Since, especially in chants, it is meaningful to have even a small sense of the deep spiritual meaning of some of the mantras, I do not pretend that the following “short hand versions” do anything like justice to the subjects, and I myself could say much more about some of them, but for now, I offer it for your consideration at your leisure.
However, before we go into all that, I offer the following story, found at website http://www.dharma-haven.org , to help us put it all in perspective.
The True Sound of Truth
An old story speaks about a similar problem. A devoted meditator, after years concentrating on a particular mantra, had attained enough insight to begin teaching. The student’s humility was far from perfect, but the teachers at the monastery were not worried.
A few years of successful teaching left the meditator with no thoughts about learning from anyone; but upon hearing about a famous hermit living nearby, the opportunity was too exciting to be passed up.
The hermit lived alone on an island at the middle of a lake, so the meditator hired a man with a boat to row across to the island. The meditator was very respectful of the old hermit. As they shared some tea made with herbs the meditator asked him about his spiritual practice. The old man said he had no spiritual practice, except for a mantra which he repeated all the time to himself. The meditator was pleased: the hermit was using the same mantra he used himself — but when the hermit spoke the mantra aloud, the meditator was horrified!
“What’s wrong?” asked the hermit.
“I don’t know what to say. I’m afraid you’ve wasted your whole life! You are pronouncing the mantra incorrectly!”
“Oh, Dear! That is terrible. How should I say it?”
The meditator gave the correct pronunciation, and the old hermit was very grateful, asking to be left alone so he could get started right away. On the way back across the lake the meditator, now confirmed as an accomplished teacher, was pondering the sad fate of the hermit.
“It’s so fortunate that I came along. At least he will have a little time to practice correctly before he dies.” Just then, the meditator noticed that the boatman was looking quite shocked, and turned to see the hermit standing respectfully on the water, next to the boat.
“Excuse me, please. I hate to bother you, but I’ve forgotten the correct pronunciation again. Would you please repeat it for me?”
“You obviously don’t need it,” stammered the meditator; but the old man persisted in his polite request until the meditator relented and told him again the way he thought the mantra should be pronounced.
The old hermit was saying the mantra very carefully, slowly, over and over, as he walked across the surface of the water back to the island.
The syllables or sounds in sacred chant cannot be translated literally for several reasons. The simplest is the familiar one: much is always “lost in translation.” What is lost in translation of sacred chant is its most important aspect: mystical or spiritual understanding.
1) There are stories, legends, traditions, beliefs, history, etc. behind every word or sound; these automatically amplify the word’s meaning to a native speaker in the tradition (think of the word “cross,” for example, to a Christian; think of the magnitude of the “backstory” that words carries).
2) In addition, many spiritual traditions hold that sounds themselves, without language attached, have “vibrational” power. Certain chants, for example, are not taught or sung in the presence of those who are uninitiated into years of disciplined study and practice, because it is believed they could be “dangerous” to the chanter or to the atmosphere itself. (Think of the emotion aroused in some of us when we hear the sound, even without words, of the cry “Seig Heil!” or of the music of “We Shall Overcome.”)
In general, when chanting a chant from a sacred tradition, a sense of devotion to the “highest good” in whatever form that might take, is what is recommended.
Having given that disclaimer, here are a few words with a sort of general interpretation that may prove useful. These are my own interpretations, and I claim no authority for them, but offer them reverently. Glenda Taylor
Om refers to the idea that before there was a universe, there was a vibrationless void of pure existence. Out of this void came the vibration which started the universe, which is known as Om.
Namah or Namaha means “to bow before that which is great.” It is often followed by the name of some particular aspect of divinity or the absolute, as, for example, in Hindu tradition, when put together with the name for the “god” or spiritual essence called Shiva, we get the respectful chant Om Namah Shiva.
Shri means honored or respected, usually before a name.
Jay, or Jaya means victory or victorious, spiritually.
Put those two “Shri” and “Jay” together with a name, like Ram, and you get the simple invocation or honoring chant Shri Ram, Jay Ram.
Shanti means peace, or peace be upon you or us or all.
Gate (Ga-te) means gone, as in gone beyond (usually meaning to another energetic or conscious or psychic dimension).
Para means the opposite shore, so Para-gate means gone to the further shore.
Sam means completely, thoroughly, so ParaSamGate means completely, thoroughly, altogether gone, gone to the further shore.
Bodhi is the light inside, enlightenment, or awakening.
Swaha or Soha, is a salutation, means “Hail to you,” or “May blessings be upon you.” It is also a cry of joy or excitement, like “Welcome, you!” or “Hallelujah for you!”
(Put those together and you get a familiar chant: “Shanti! Gate, Gate, ParaSamGate, Bodhi, Swaha!” Meaning, roughly, to me, at least: “I or we or all of us here chanting, have gone or desire to go into a very deep state of peace and enlightenment, for which we give joyful gratitude to all that make that possible, without and within…etc.)
Sat – The formless
Chit – Consciousness of the universe
Ananda– Pure love, bliss and joy
Put those together for an invocation or salutation or prayer beyond words to the ultimate mystery: Sat Chit Ananda
Ham means roughly “the ultimate in the universe.”
Sooooo or Saaaa is the sound of inhalation, and the Ultimate is remembered in the mind along with that inhalation.
Hummmm is the sound of exhalation, and our own Ultimate essence is remembered in the mind along with that exhalation. Hence “SoHam,” or “HamSa or “Hum” means identifying oneself with the universe or ultimate reality.
Om Ma Ni Pad Me Hum , text that follows is from http://www.dharma-haven.org
The Mani mantra is the most widely used of all Buddhist mantras, and open to anyone who feels inspired to practice it; it does not require prior initiation by a lama (meditation master).
The six syllables of the mantra, as it is often pronounced by Tibetans — Om Mani Padme Hum — are here written in the Tibetan alphabet:
Reading from left to right the syllables are:
The vowel in the syllable Hu (is pronounced as in the English word ‘book’. The final consonant in that syllable is often pronounced ‘ng’ as in ‘song’ — Om Mani Padme Hung. There is one further complication: The syllable Pad is pronounced Pe (peh) by many Tibetans: Om Mani Peme Hung.
Gen Rinpoche, in his commentary said: “The mantra Om Mani Pädme Hum is easy to say yet quite powerful, because it contains the essence of the entire teaching. When you say the first syllable Om it is blessed to help you achieve perfection in the practice of generosity, Ma helps perfect the practice of pure ethics, and Ni helps achieve perfection in the practice of tolerance and patience. Päd, the fourth syllable, helps to achieve perfection of perseverance, Me helps achieve perfection in the practice of concentration, and the final sixth syllable Hum helps achieve perfection in the practice of wisdom.
The following translations are from http://www.freemeditationinfo.com/meditation-instructions
Om Tare Tuttare Ture Soha
“Om” is the body, speech, and mind of the Buddha.
“Tare” is Dharma, which liberates beings from sufferings.
“Tuttare” is the one that liberates beings from danger.
“Ture” is the one that release beings from sickness.
“Soha” is laying the foundation.
Om Tare Tuttare Ture Mama
Ayuh Punya Jñana Pustim Kuru Svaha
(White Tara Mantra)
White Tara is especially associated with compassion, health, healing and longevity.
“mama” is mine, means that I would like to possess the following qualities:
“ayuh” is long life
“punya” is merit that comes from living life in an ethical way. (In the Tibetan version – “pune”)
“jnana” is wisdom (Tibetan – “gyana”)
“pustim” is increase (Tibetan version – “puntin”)
“kuru” is do so, do it now.
“svaha” is hail, or may blessings be upon you (Tibetan version – “soha”
GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE BODHI SVAHA Mantra.
The following is from Richard Hayes, Religious Studies,McGill University,Montreal, Quebec, cx**@mu****.ca
Note: The key word is BODHI, a feminine noun in the vocative case, which means awakening. All the other “words are also in the vocative feminine and therefore modify BODHI.
“GATE means gone.
“PARAGATE means gone to the further shore and is a stock Sanskrit expression used by Jains and Buddhists to refer to arahants. (The word PARA means the bank of a river opposite to the one on which one is presently standing.)
“PARASAMGATE means completely gone to the further shore. (The prefix SAM is intensive in meaning: completely, thoroughly, altogether.)
“SVAHA is an indeclinable particle from Vedic Sanskrit. It is said to be the name of the wife of Agni, the god of fire. It is used at the end of a recitation that accompanies a burnt offering made at a Vedic sacrifice (rather as “amen” is used at the end of a prayer in Christian liturgy). It cannot really be translated, since it is a performative word rather than a word that conveys meaning.
“The whole mantra, literally translated, comes out a bit like this: “Oh awakening that has gone, gone, gone to the further shore, gone completely to the further shore. Amen.”
Another writer states:
“Gate means gone. Gone from suffering to the liberation of suffering. Gone from forgetfulness to mindfulness. Gone from duality into non-duality. Gate gate means gone, gone. Paragate means gone all the way to the other shore. So this mantra is said in a very strong way. Gone, gone, gone all the way over.
“In Parasamgate, sam means everyone, the sangha, the entire community of beings. Everyone gone over to the other shore. Bodhi is the light inside, enlightenment, or awakening. You see it and the vision of reality liberates you. And svaha is a cry of joy or excitement, like “Welcome!” or “Hallelujah!” “Gone, gone, gone all the way over, everyone gone to the other shore, enlightenment, svaha !”
The following are from http://www.freemeditationinfo.com/meditation-instructions/hindu-mantras.html:
Om Nama Shivaya
Om-. Before there was a universe, there was a vibrationless void of pure existence. Out of this void came the vibration which started the universe, which is known as Om
Namah- This literally translates to bow.
Shivaya- Shiva, and the Shiva within each of us
About Shiva on Wikipedia:
Shiva is one of the principal deities of Hinduism. Shiva is the “destroyer of evil and the transformer” within the Trimurti, the Hindu trinity that also includes Brahma and Vishnu. Shiva creates, protects and transforms the universe. Shiva has many benevolent and fearsome depictions. In benevolent aspects, he is depicted as an omniscient Yogi who lives an ascetic life on Mount Kailash as well as a householder with wife Parvati and his two children, Ganesha and Kartikeya. In his fierce aspects, he is often depicted slaying demons. Shiva is also known as Adiyogi Shiva, regarded as the patron god of yoga, meditation and arts.
The iconographical attributes of Shiva are the serpent around his neck, the adorning crescent moon, the holy river Ganga flowing from his matted hair, the third eye on his forehead, the trishula as his weapon and the damaru. Shiva is a pan-Hindu deity, revered widely by Hindus, in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Hrim Shreem Klim Param Eshwari Swaha
Simple Translation: “Om and salutations to Parvati, the creative abundance that is the very form of this universe.” “Swaha” is hail, or may blessings be upon you.
About the Goddess Parvati on Wikipedia: Goddess Parvati is one of the many forms of Shakti, the powerful feminine energy of the universe. She is the Goddess of Love and devotion. She is an auspicious goddess and the divine consort of Lord Shiva and represents virtue, skill, fertility, marital felicity, asceticism and power as per the Hindu mythology.
Om kali kayai namaha
Om sri maha kali kayai namaha
Om: Before there was a universe, there was a vibrationless void of pure existence. Out of this void came the vibration which started the universe, which is known as Om
Kali: The Goddess Kali
Kayai: The term Kāya literally signifies the vital heat or fire which runs through the entire system, and particularly the energy that creates matter or elemental being; the elements of the human body
Namaha: To bow, we bow
Sri: Respectful allusion
“Om and salutations to She who is the first one, dark within her own reality, the supreme primordial feminine, who cuts through illusion to the unabridged truth of existence.”
About Kali on Wikipedia:
The Hindu Goddess Kali Ma Kali Ma is both as the giver and destructor of life. In most of the interpretations she is portrayed as ferocious, but she is the mother of the world and the treasure-house of compassion. She is considered as the primordial mass from which all life arouse. She is known as the preserve of Earth, but due to her destructive powers she is also known as “Dark Mother”. The name Kali means “She, who is Beyond Time.” She is considered as a berserk form of Durga/Parvati, who is consort of Lord Shiva.
Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha
Simple Translation: “Om, Salutations and Prostrations to Lord Ganesha.”
This mantra is for the removal of obstacles, for success and for wisdom
About Ganesha on Wikipedia:
The chubby, gentle, wise, elephant-headed Ganesh, or Ganesha, is one of Hinduisms most popular deities. Ganesh is the remover of obstacles, the deity whom worshipers first acknowledge when they visit a temple.Statues of Ganesh can be found in most Indian towns. His image is placed where new houses are to be built; he is honored at the start of a journey or business venture, and poets traditionally invoke him at the start of a book. Ganesh is also patron of letters and of learning; he is the legendary scribe who, using his commonly held broken tusk, wrote down parts of the Mahabharata Epic.
Om Hreem Sri Lakshmi Bhyo Namaha
Simple Translation:“Goddess Lakshmi, reside in me and bestow thy abundance on all aspects of my existence.”
About Lakshmi in Wikipedia:
Lakshmi or Laxmi, is the Hindu goddess of wealth, fortune and prosperity. She is the wife and shakti (energy) of Vishnu, one of the principal deities of Hinduism and the Supreme Being in the Vaishnavism Tradition. Lakshmi is also an important deity in Jainism and found in Jain temples. Lakshmi has also been a goddess of abundance and fortune for Buddhists, and was represented on the oldest surviving stupas and cave temples of Buddhism.In Buddhist sects of Tibet, Nepal and southeast Asia, goddess Vasudhara mirrors the characteristics and attributes of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi with minor iconographic differences.
Om Dum Durgayei Namaha
Simple Translation: “Om and Salutations to that feminine energy which protects from all manner of negative influences.”
About Durga in wikipedia:
Durga, also identified as Adi Parashakti, Devi, Shakti, Bhavani, Parvati, and by numerous other names, is a principal and popular form of Hindu goddess. She is the warrior goddess, whose mythology centers around combating evils and demonic forces that threaten peace, prosperity and dharma of the good.She is the fierce form of the protective mother goddess, willing to unleash her anger against wrong, violence for liberation and destruction to empower creation.
Durga is depicted in the Hindu pantheon as a goddess riding a lion or tiger, with many arms each carrying a weapon, often defeating the mythical buffalo demon. She appears in Indian texts as the wife of god Shiva, as another form of Parvati or mother goddess. She is a central deity in Shaktism tradition of Hinduism, where she is equated with the concept of ultimate reality called Brahman. One of the most important texts of Shaktism is Devi Mahatmya, also called as Durgā Saptashatī, which celebrates Durga as the Goddess, declaring her as the Supreme Being and the creator of the universe.Estimated to have been composed between 400-600 CE, this text is considered by Shakta Hindus to be as important scripture as the Bhagavad Gita. She has a significant following all over India ,Bangladesh and in Nepal.
Om Shri Hanumate namaha
Simple Translation: “Om and Salutations to Lord Hanuman.”
Reverence to Hanuman, invokes unbounded love, gives strength, success in devotional activities, and reveals the power of the soul that can triumph over adversities for attaining highest realizations.
About Hanuman in Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain tradition, from Wikipedia:
Hunaman symbolizes the excellences of inner self-control, faith and service to a cause, hidden behind the first impressions, as he is pictured as looking like a monkey. He is viewed as the ideal combination of “strength, heroic initiative and assertive excellence” and “loving, emotional devotion to his personal god Rama”, as Shakti and Bhakti. In later literature, he has been the patron god of martial arts such as wrestling, acrobatics, as well as meditation and diligent scholarship.
– He is described in Hindu texts as ugly on the outside, but divinely beautiful inside.
– He can shape shift, become smaller than the smallest, larger than the largest adversary at will.
– He is extraordinarily strong, one capable of lifting and carrying any burden for a cause.
– He is described as someone who constantly faces very difficult odds, where the adversary or circumstances threaten his mission with certain defeat and his very existence. Yet he finds an innovative way to turn the odds.
– He is presented as the exemplary devotee (bhakta) of Rama and Sita.
– He is learned in Vedanta philosophy of Hinduism, the Vedas, a poet, a polymath, a grammarian, a singer and musician par excellence.
– He is the remover of difficulties
The Sanskrit words Han (“killed” or “destroyed”) and maana (pride); the name implies “one whose pride was destroyed”. …
According to Valmiki’s Ramayana, one morning in his childhood, Hanuman was hungry and saw the rising red colored sun. Mistaking it for a ripe fruit, he leapt up to eat it. In one version of the Hindu legend, the king of gods Indra intervened and struck his thunderbolt. It hit Hanuman on his jaw, and he fell to the earth unconscious with a broken jaw. His father, Vayu (air), states Ramayana in section 4.65, became upset and withdrew. The lack of air created immense suffering to all living beings. This led Prajapati, the god of life, to intervene and resuscitate Hanuman, which in turn prompted Vayu to return to the living beings.
In another Hindu version of his childhood legend, which Lutgendorf states is likely older and also found in Jain texts such as the 8th-century Dhurtakhyana, after Hanuman’s Icarus like leap for the sun, it proves to be fatal and he is burnt to ashes from sun’s heat. His ashes fall onto the earth and oceans. Gods then gather the ashes and his bones from land and, with the help of fishes, from the water and re-assemble him. They find everything except one fragment of his jaw bone. His great grandfather on his mother’s side then asks Surya to restore the child to life. Surya returns him to life, but Hanuman is left with a disfigured jaw.
Sat Chit Ananda Parabrahma
Sri Bhagavathi Sametha
Sri Bhagavathe Namaha
Om – We are calling on the highest energy, of all there is
Sat – The formless
Chit – Consciousness of the universe
Ananda– Pure love, bliss and joy
Para brahma – The supreme creator
Purushothama – Who has incarnated in human form to help guide mankind
Paramatma – Who comes to me in my heart, and becomes my inner voice whenever I ask
Sri Bhagavati – The divine mother, the power aspect of creation
Same tha – Together within
Sri Bhagavate – The Father of creation which is unchangeable and permanent
Namaha – I thank you and acknowledge this presence in my life. I ask for your guidance at all times.
Om Shreem Hreem Sarasvati Namaha
Om: Divine Reality
Shreem: for material prosperity
Hreem: for becoming a leader and fulfilling desires for power
Sarasvati: Goddess Saraswati
Namaha: we bow/ show reverence.
About Sarasvati in Wikipedia:
Saraswati (Sanskrit: सरस्वती, Sarasvatī) is the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, arts, wisdom, and learning worshipped throughout Nepal and India. She is a part of the trinity (Tridevi) of Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati. All the three forms help the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva to create, maintain and regenerate-recycle the Universe respectively.
Often pronounced So Hum, this mantra is said to be a universal mantra, as it is meant to be used in conjunction with the breath. If you can breathe, you can use this mantra.
Inhale with “So”, and exhale with “Ham”.
“I am That” or when repeated, it becomes “I am that I am”.