The Panchakshara Mantra by Neil Campbell
Posted November 8, 2008on:
The Panchakshara Mantra
Om Namah Shivaya
This mantra can be chanted daily on a Rudraksha mala.
This mantra is said to be the heart of all the Vedas and Tantras. Namah Shivaya is found, quite literally,
in the middle of the Vedas, in the Rudram. In the Agamas its meaning is elaborated upon. Natchintanai
“Namah Shivaya is in truth both Agama and Veda. Namah Shivaya represents all mantras
and Tantras. Namah Shivaya is our souls, our bodies and possessions. Namah Shivaya has become
our sure protection.”
It is difficult to give a clear meaning to the mantra. The easy exposition of it would be “Om, I bow to Shiva”.
But this interpretation does not do it justice. Shiva means Auspicious, so it could be said that the mantra
means bowing to the Auspiciousness. Shiva however should be understood in the fuller context, and not in
the overly simplistic picture that is typically given in books and websites as a god of destruction. In
Shaivism and other Hindu systems, Shiva is the formless transcendental Being (often called Paramashiva),
the Divine source. This is the source that rests in each and everyone. It is not a god seperate from yourself,
it is the core being of your self. Nothing external or seperate from you, rather it is your heart of hearts. See
the Shiva page for more info.
More important than the literal translated meaning of this mantra is it’s sound, it’s vibration. Just as with all
mantras the sound of it is more important than its literal meaning. This mantra is also known five syllabled
mantra, for it consists of five syllables, Na – Ma – Shi – Va – Ya. The start of the mantra, Om, does constitute
as a syllable because it is the Mahabija, the great seed from which all other mantras and sounds arose. The
syllables within the mantra are said to have a range of meanings and attributes. Satguru Sivaya
Subramuniyaswami writes that
‘Na is the Lord’s concealing grace, Ma is the world, Shi stands for Siva, Va is His revealing grace, Ya is the soul.’
”The five elements, too, are embodied in this ancient formula for invocation. Na is earth, Ma is water,
Shi is fire, Va is air, and Ya is ether, or akasha. Many are its meanings.’
Paramahamsa Muktananda also eloquently explains this point and tells of how it benefits ones mind
and spiritual path, he speaks of the nadi’s, the channels of pranas and the purity of mind. Repeating
this mantra rids the mind of tamas and rajas, making it suitable for lofty spiritual experience. Muktanandaji
“Underlying this mantra is a great secret. As we chant the five syllables Namah Shivaya, the five
elements that comprise the body are purified. Each of the syllables corresponds to one of these
elements: the syllable na to the earth element, the syllable ma to the water element, the syllable
shi to the fire element, the syllable va to the air element, and the syllable ya to the ether element.
Each syllable purifies its corresponding element. As long as the body and the mind are not
completely pure, we cannot fuly benefit from our spiritual practice. Therefore, we repeat Om Namah
Shivaya to help cleanse them.”
In Yoga Magazine, Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati expounds somewhat on the vibrational
quality of the mantra and its relationship with the main chakras, he says
“When we repeat the mantra Om Namah Shivaya, for example, we are not becoming a Shaivite,
we are not adoring or worshipping a deity, but we are stimulating the force of these different chakras.
Om is the sound of ajna chakra which is responsible for clarity, for creativity, for the intuitive faculty
of mind. Ya or Yam is the mantra of anahata, Va or Vam is the mantra of swadhisthana. Similarly Na,
Ma, Sha are different sounds or syllables corresponding to the different chakras.”
Subramuniyaswami again offers some elucidation on the mantra’s relationship with the chakras,
and other matters such as prana and the astral. The sage says that
“When “Aum Namah Sivaya” is repeated, we go through the chakras, Na Ma Si Va Ya Aum.
The Aum is in the head chakra. Within Namah Sivaya is each of the elements–earth, water, fire,
air and ether–which in the mind are transmuted into all-pervasive consciousness, and that is
also transmuted into the great chakra way above the head at the end of the Aum. In just the breath,
the space of time between the next repetition of “Aum Namah Sivaya Aum Namah Sivaya Aum
Namah Sivaya,” the pranas, having reached Parashiva, fall back into the spiritual, mental, astral
and physical worlds, blessing them all with new energy, new life and new understanding. “Namah
Sivaya Aum, Namah Sivaya Aum, Namah Sivaya Aum, Namah Sivaya Aum” is the constant process
of life. It is the essence of life itself.”
It is really only in the repeating of this mantra, whether aloud or mentally, that a true taste of what
it is can be had.
How to Repeat the Panchakshara Mantra
Paramahamsa Muktananda suggests that we should ideally repeat the mantra silently
(Manasika – mental repetition) and at the same speed at which you talk. It is also possible
to coordinate it with your breath, repeating once when you inhale and then once when you
exhale. Muktananda says that if you do it in this fashion the mantra will saturate your mind,
circulate round your body and permeate your blood cells with its vibration. He even suggests
that the walls of the room in which you daily sit to repeat it will become infused with it. On this
matter he tells of his own account, he says
In my ashram in India there used to be a special room where I lived for a long time and where
I meditated and repeated the mantra . Eventually I moved into other quarters, and the room
was kept locked. Several years ago, a government official came to the ashram. He told me,
“I have heard many people say that if anyone stays in your ashram, he can get into meditation
very easily.” I took him to the room, showed him inside, and told him to sit for meditation. “What
mantra should I repeat?” he asked. “If you hear a mantra in this room, repeat that,” I told him.
When he came out, he said, “I heard Om Namah Shivaya coming from the walls! The entire
room was repeating it!” Mantra is a living force. If you repeat it one-pointedly for a long time,
it will permeate your whole environment.
Since truly ancient times many of India’s greatest sages and illuminated ones (both men and women)
have praised this mantra and the practice of japa in general. A further insight as to why this mantra
is so special is given by Swami Subramuniyaswami, who says that it
“is such a precious mantra because it is the closest sound that one can make to emulate the sounds
rushing out of the Self into the mind. Chanting it is profound because it is a sound channel which you
can follow to get close to the Self of your self [i.e. Shiva, your own Divine Essence or Higher Self]”
The sage Upamanyu explained its secret in that it nullifies the need for special rituals, particular times
or external needs, the sage said:
“If this mantra vibrates continually in your heart, then you have no need to perform austerities, to meditate,
or to practice yoga. To repeat this mantra you need no rituals or ceremonies, nor must you repeat it at
an auspicious time or in a particular place.”
Also put forth is the fact that this mantra is open to all. Paramahamsa Muktananda tells that this mantra
is not bound by rules and regulations, he expounds,
“This mantra is free of all restrictions. It can be repeated by anyone, young or old, rich or poor, and no
matter what state a person is in, it will purify him. The sages said, “This mantra is mysterious. Repeat it,
repeat it, repeat it.”
This mantra is said to be the mantra that will take those who earnestly practice it across the ocean of
samsara, to the shores of realization. The great woman saint of Kashmir, Lalla or Lal Ded, chanted this
mantra and wrote of it
With right knowledge, open your ears and hear
how the trees sway to Om Namah Shivaya,
how the wind says Om Namah Shivaya as it blows,
how water flows with the sound Namah Shivaya.
The entire universe is singing the name of Shiva.
Pay a little attention!
If given the chance the mantra will offer so much in return for the effort given to it. In modern life finding the
time for such practices can be difficult. But if time can be found for activities such as tv, socializing, etc.
then if we are sincere we can find 10 minutes on most days to do japa and repeat the mantra. Once given
the opportunity to let it’s worth shine through in experience, the practitioner sees that the benefits derived,
such as stress, anxiety and negativity disappearing while peace and serenity increase, are worth more
than gold. Siva Yogaswami encouraging those who are receptive said inspiringly:
“Wear rudraksha beads, repeat the Panchakshara, let your heart grow soft and melt. Chant the letters five,
and in love you will discover Siva’s will. Chant so that impurities, anxieties and doubts are destroyed.”
Read more about these mantras: