When you unfold the treasure of the mantra that has become known as the Anusara Yoga Invocation, you see within it the philosophy that informs freedom and awakening which is the reason hundreds of thousands of people have been drawn to this path of celebrating and refining the self.
This mantra is the first part of the Niralambaya Upanishad.
Anusara yoga has its roots deep in the soil of ancient tradition. The chant itself is very old, and carries with it a resonance of powerful wisdom and transformation. Yet, while this school of hatha yoga joyfully honors that which has comes before, it also opens up to the unlimited possibilities of evolution.
One of the many strengths of Anusara yoga is its innovative spirit. There are Universal Principles of Alignment, which guide both the thought and action of the yoga. Using these guiding principles, you can do anything! Invention happens daily. Creative expression and beauty are a part of every practice, on and off the mat.
So let’s take a look at how a relatively short little song can describe an entire system of thought and practice.
The Anusara Invocation
First, if you haven’t heard the song before, play this video to experience it. Pay attention to how it feels. Sanskrit has a direct effect on vibration and feeling.
Notice how you resonate with it. The way the song feels to you is as important or more so than your intellectual understanding of its meaning. Let your heart understand it first.
One of the first things I tell new students in my class is that the English translation you see below is just one possible phrasing of what these words mean.
It is most important that the mantra supports what you already believe in your heart, so feel free to shift the words some so they feel comfortable. As long as you stick to the overall meaning it’s fine. And as we explore each part in more depth you will have more understanding with which to create your own translation if you wish to do so.
Namah Shivaya Gurave
I offer myself to the Light, the Auspicious One,
Who is the True Teacher within and without,
Who assumes the forms of Reality, Consciousness and Bliss,
Who is never absent and is full of peace,
Independent in existence, the vital essence of illumination.
Om Namah Shivaya Gurave
The very first part of the chant is a Maha mantra, or great mantra. Om Namah Shivaya is one of the most widely used mantras in the world of yoga. It has been given to students by gurus and teachers throughout time. It is extremely effective to use in meditation, and a powerful phrase to recall when you need support.
OM, of course, is the primordial sound. It is the sound of the Universe experiencing itself. It is vibrating within everything. When you sing or chant OM, you are simply participating in something that always is.
OM contains within it all beginnings, every end, and all things in between. AUM is another way to write it. There are three parts to it: The ‘Ah’ sound signifies creation, or beginnings. U, or the ‘oooh’ sound is the sustaining factor, while ‘mmmm’ is the dissolution or end. So these three parts are contained in each moment, because OM is always present. The fourth aspect of OM is silence.
NAMAH is a deep honoring. It means to bow, yet it is a bow like no other – one that comes fully from the heart. It’s the awe you feel when you see great beauty like an ocean sunrise or a sparkling mountain lake. It is the gratitude within divine love, or the wonder and miracle of a perfect starlit night.
SHIVAYA comes from the word Shiva, which literally means ‘auspicious’. Shivaya describes the intrinsic goodness that exists within all things, because it is the nature of the energy that pulses and penetrates, creates and absorbs, all that is. Truly, at the essence of every being and every part of creation, there is this auspiciousness. That is Shiva.
OM NAMAH SHIVAYA, then can be described in many ways, but here are some of my favorites:
- I honor the goodness in myself and in the universe.
- May I reveal and express the highest part of my heart.
- I bow to Shiva – I bow to all of creation
- I bow to the goodness within myself
- I honor the goodness of my True Self
- At its essence, everything is good
- I respect myself
And you could continue along this line of meaning for quite a while.
GURAVE contains the word GURU, which is generally translated in two distinct ways: “Weighty One” and “That which brings light to darkness”.
Gurave refers to the Guru Principle, which lives as us, through us, and in everyone else. This is the highest self; the light at the seed of every heart. And it shows up everywhere!
“If you know how to listen, everyone is the guru.” – Ram Das
So, Om Namah Shivaya Gurave teaches the foundational principles: Consciousness is in everything. One energy pervades all, its essence is goodness, and it is constantly guiding us.
This line describes the elements that compose all that is. The first word combines the three aspects of the energy of the universe – Sat Chit Ananda – which we’ll get into in a moment.
MURTAYE describes taking form. It derives of the word Murtie, which can be thought of as a form, image, or manifest thing of divinity and power. So the line basically says that Sat Chit Ananda has taken form.
SAT, CHIT, and ANANDA are the elements which comprise the all pervading goodness referred to in Om Namah Shivaya. Let’s break them down individually.
Some ways to think of “Sat”:
- Reality. That which is real (Satya means truth)
- The power to BE. Existance.
Some descriptions of “Chit”:
- Pure being with awareness
- The power to Know
Attempts at describing “Ananda”:
- The highest, supreme bliss
- Pure delight – beyond happiness
- The power of ecstasy itself
Now, these three concepts could be explored for a few lifetimes, but that should give you a decent grasp on their meaning if you weren’t already familiar with them. They are truly everywhere.
A more helpful approach to their understanding is to recognize them as you see them in your own life. By melting experience, feeling, and intellectual knowing together, you enter the realm of wisdom.
This line is a deep comfort to me. It affirms that this guiding goodness that is reality, consciousness and bliss, is never absent. It is truly ALWAYS there. We sometimes forget, but that doesn’t change the fact that we ARE this energy, and it never for a moment ceases to support us.
NISPRAPANCHAYA describes transcending limitation. In this line it is a formless quality that surrounds and penetrates all with Shantaya.
SHANTAYA is a deep, abiding peace. Shanti is peace. Shantaya is a realm of peace; an ultimate peacefulness that is complete and all pervading. Isn’t that nice?
This line is just as mysterious and revealing as the others. It further describes Shiva, or the auspicious energy that Is, as completely free and illuminated.
NIRALAMBAYA means without support. Source has no outside support because there is nothing other than Source. It is a stable ‘ISness’, if you will; completely free from limitation for it is all that is.
TEJASE is a light that is always present, even if we can’t see it. It is the fire of passion, the luminous divinity that is in every heart. It is the spark of the conception of a new being, the sparkling beauty that shines out through all of creation and within the meditative realms. It is the purest, most powerful light, and it is beaming its goodness within you!
Putting It All Together
We sing the Anusara yoga Invocation as a way to connect to the deepest truth, most profound peace, and brightest light of who we are and what we’re a part of. We sing to align with the highest intention, to remember who we really are, and to celebrate the wonder of life.
By opening your ears to hear the voices around you (if you’re with others), or the silence between the words, this listening helps you become more spacious and receptive, expanding your awareness. By focusing on the sounds, feelings, and meaning of the Invocation, it helps you become more present.
May your experience and understanding of this beautiful song continue to lead you on a journey of delight!
If you’d like to go deeper into the philosophy of Anusara yoga via the Yamas and Niyamas, you might enjoy explore this series of the guiding principles of yoga, and learn much by shifting the way you look at these basic and essential aspects of yoga.