“ One has to see and enjoy the beauty of prayer. There is no meditation, no ritual without prayer. There is no technique which can replace prayer because in any technique, the will is retained. Here, the will willingly submits. That submission performs the miracle.”
That I can pray is itself a blessing and how I pray, makes prayer meaningful to me.
All Vedic literature like Upanishads start with “ Shantih Patah” meaning “Peace Invocation”. This is a prayer to the Cosmic powers to ward off all obstacles on the path of study and this prayer is daily chanted together by the teacher and the student. The chanting of the invocation prayers helps to calm the mind and tune in the subtle intellect for comprehending the philosophy ingrained in the scriptures.
We note that all shantih patahs end with
“Om, Shantih, shantih, shantih”
Shantih simply means “peace”. It is a beautiful meaning and also a very beautiful sound. The shantih is repeated three times. You could interpret this as meaning, peace in body, speech, and mind (i.e. in the entirety of one’s being), or as a wish for peace individually, collectively and universally.
The three shantihs is an appeal to the phenomenal powers to lend peace to their hearts for the pursuit of their study. The three Shantihs are directed to the three sources of disturbances that destroy mental peace necessary for teaching and learning the contents of the sciptures.
The three sources of disturbances are:
Aadhi daivikam, Aadhi bowthikam, Aadhyatmikam
Aadhi-daivikam literally means disturbances from the phenomenal powers—i.e. things that are utterly beyond our control: hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, tsunamis, etc. We have no control over these types of disturbances. So when we say the first shantih, we are praying, “O God, may we be protected from these obstacles that are beyond our control.” Hence the first shantih is chanted loudly.
Aadhi-bhautikam literally means environmental disturbances that come from the world. That means anything stemming from the world around us—mosquitoes, noisy neighbors, barking dogs, the phone ringing, family arguments. As opposed to the first category, we have some control over this second category of disturbances. We can use mosquito repellent, we can call the police on our neighbors, we can turn off the phone, we can leave the place altogether, etc. So this shantih means, “O God, may we be protected from the people and surroundings.” This shantih chant is softer than the first to indicate that it is directed to the environmental disturbances.
The third type of disturbance is the most powerful and at the same time, the only one over which we have total control. Aadhyatmikam means “disturbances springing from one’s own body”, like sickness, worry, jealousy etc. For one who is still identified with the ego, the people, places and things of this world stimulate one of two reactions in the mind—attachment or aversion. Whether we physically see someone we consider our enemy as we walk down the street or remember him during meditation, the mental turbulence that results is the same. Lust, jealousy, anger, sorrow, hatred destroy our peace. During meditation, pleasant memories also distract us. Hearing the sound of a jet plane flying overhead may mentally carry us off to a fabulous holiday we once took. Only after 10 minutes of daydreaming do we realize we have lost focus on our object of meditation. We pray not to be disturbed, springing from our own body. Hence the last chant is in whispers, directed to the inner disturbances. In fact, the ego is the only true obstacle to mental peace. This third shanti is therefore the most important one, because even if we are free from outside disturbances, if the inner realm is not calm we will never know peace. Conversely, once we have found inner peace, no external force can ever disturb us. So chanting this third shantih is akin to praying, “O God, please remove all the inner obstacles”.
The invocation prayers ending with three chants of shantih when sincerely and devotedly chanted, prepare a proper mental climate for spiritual study and reflection.