It is more than six months since my last blog on Freedom. Recent Global events that affect all of us made me to take a break from the intended series of posts on freedom but write about positive affirmations the help us to cope with difficult situations.
We were in Tasmania, Australia on a hiking tour during our presidential election and heard the news while on a long hike. We returned back home on December 1. As everyone knows this has been an interesting time ever since. The stark increase in polarization, marked absence of empathy, compassion and accommodation, the rise of ‘me first’ thinking, intolerance and the resultant uncertainties in life made me wonder about what a concerned human being can do to help humanity at large. What adds to the sense of deep anguish is that this situation here may represent a microcosm reflecting happenings nowadays in other developed and developing nations as well. This made me think about the living tradition in which I was born and brought up, whose philosophical underpinnings I studied in depth. I find solace in some of well-known daily affirmations (prayers?) chanted by many in India, the ones I know and used to chant daily!
While reflecting on these lines, I remembered a reply I read in a small magazine in Tamil when I was about ten years old. To a question about what one could do under emotionally draining situations when the mind gets stuck in an infinite loop of real or imagined helplessness, the author of the magazine wrote “ இருகரம் கூப்பி இறைவனைத் தொழுவதன்றி வேறு வழியொன்றில்லை! – Other than holding both hands (in prayer) and praying to God, there is no other go.”
Thus such a daily prayer came to my mind. But, when I see the meaning of the words of these Sanskrit verses, I do not find anywhere the word God or its equivalent. To me it looks more like what one says when meeting someone “Good day, mate!” or, when one is sick, saying “wish you a speedy and complete recovery” or a ‘bon voyage’ to a friend going on a journey. These are not really prayers, but are nevertheless sincere words wishing for the good of people or offering words of solace.
There is no explicit mention of God or Higher Being in these Sanskrit verses. These cannot be considered to be religious, nor restricted to any single faith or theology. Not long ago, I heard one of these verses chanted at the closing of a talk by a Teravada monk from Sri Lanka at a Stanford University Hospital Spiritual Care Interfaith conference. At that time I was serving as a volunteer Hindu Chaplain at the hospital.
The English rendering (not a literal translation) of these Sanskrit verses captures the spirit of these affirmations
“May the rulers of nations follow the right path, may the subjects be prosperous
May animals and seekers of truth be at ease, may all the world be happy.
May the rains come at the right time, may the Earth be bountiful
May the nations be free of adversity, may seekers of truth be fearless.
May all be happy, may all be free of afflictions
May all see goodness, may none be sorrowful.”
The verses in Roman transliteration and in devanāgarī script follow.
Svasti prajābhyaf paripālayantām nyāyyena margeṇa mahīm mahīśāḥ
Gobrāhmaṇebhyaś śubhamastu nityam lokāssamastāssukhino bhavantu.
Kāle varṣatu parjanyaḥ pṛthivīśasyaśālinī
Deśo’yam kṣobharahitaḥ brāhmaṇāssantu nirbhayāḥ.
Sarve bhavantu sukhinaḥ. Sarve santu nirāmayaḥ.
Sarve bhadrāni paśyantu. Mākaścidduḥkhabhāg bhavet.
स्वस्ति प्रजाभ्य: परिपालयन्ताम् न्याय्येन मार्गेण महीम्महीशा:।
गोब्राह्मणेभ्यः शुभमस्तु नित्यम् लोका: समस्ता: सुखिनो भवन्तु।।
कालेवर्षतु पर्जन्यः पृथिवी शस्यशालिनी।
देशोsयं क्षोभरहितः ब्राह्मणा: सन्तु निर्भया:।।
सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः। सर्वे सन्तु निरामया:।
सर्वे भद्राणि पश्यन्तु। मा कश्चिद्दु:खभाग्भवेत्।।
For the few of among us who like to hear these chants in Sanskrit I have attached an audio file. If you are so inclined, this chanting helps you memorize them in order to repeat them daily before you go to bed and also when you get up from bed. I believe, like many a wise person in India, the more participants in this affirmation, the more it gains potency for the affirmations.
A comment on my English rendering
Many of you who know the Sanskrit language may not think that my rendering is precise. The reason is the popular meanings of some of the Sanskrit words, such as ‘go – cow’ (animal) and ‘brāhmaṇa – member of the brahmin caste’ (seeker of truth). As most of you know, one of the objectives of these affirmations is to highlight the intent, called tātparya in Sanskrit, and not the words of the verse. These verses have nothing to do with the ‘holiness of cows’ for Hindus or with members of the caste called ‘brahmins’. The fact is that both animals and seekers of truth – be they scientists, scholars, philosophers or journalists – have relatively limited means of defending themselves. World history, ancient or modern, clearly shows how those who pursue the path of truth are typically persecuted, and helpless animals neglected, during political or religious upheavals. It is the role, if not the responsibility of the rulers to follow the right path to protect the innocent and defenceless. These affirmations reflect a keen understanding of the world and what can and does seem to happen too often.
Regarding the question of authorship or age of these verses: in India authorship and the date of compositions are relegated to the background, often just unavailable and untraceable. It is true of these affirmations as well. I do not know the origin or the author. It has been part of the Indian tradition.
I thank my friend Richard Goeller for his input and for editing this post.