Thursday, January 6, 2011

Sutra 1.28

sutra 1. 28

tad japah tad artha bhavanam

Repeating OM and considering its meaning lead to a its understanding

I'm a big believer in manners. Manners count. Manners are important. Many modern parenting philosophers insist that prompting your children to say "please" and thank you is wrong because when the words of gratitude are uttered upon demand they are empty. Fortunately I can't follow too many modern parenting strategies because there are too many rules. Thus, I can often be found at the dinner table forcing my children to say "please" and "thank you" no matter how empty the words may seem.
On Thanksgiving of this year, at the table I must have been on my 15th or 16th round of reminders about manners when Misha wiped her mouth and delicately laid her napkin on her lap, and said: "You know..." she paused for dramatic effect, "...when you say thank you over and over and over and over it doesn't mean any thing any more." Was this a five year old child's version of reminding me that vain repetition can empty a word of all its meaning? Or was she telling me to kindly shut my trap? 

There are many mystical practices that suggest a repetition of prayer or gesture to align with the Divine. Almost all those practices also warn again robotic repetition. The mind must engage with the purpose of the practice. There are many practical works that have repetition at its root and lead us into a state of sweet contemplation, such as drawing, weaving or knitting. The asana practice can also have this at its root; the repetition of the postures becomes a doorway into the depth of self awareness.  In this sutra Patanjali reminds us that the practice is the way. That through yoga, yoga shall be known. Through the soulful repetition of the mantra OM, the true nature of its source is revealed.  

I was first introduced to the concept of repetitive prayer in high school upon reading one of my favorite books, Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger. In it, Franny, a young woman despairs of the world around her and tries to find solace in the "Jesus Prayer," a Christian orthodox practice of what in Vedic culture is called japa. In repeating the prayer over and again she drives herself into a nervous breakdown and her brother Zooey helps her out of her metaphysical jam. The book holds up over the many years I've revisited it. When I re-read it I am reminded of the passion of youth, the desire to connect to something beyond, the naivete of discovering religious practice and the hope that something as simple as saying an incantation will deliver us from suffering. It will not. Mantra and the use of powerful words is not magic. It is a method of meditation. It is used as a point around which to walk, much like Muslims circumambulate the Kaba at Mecca. There is a center and we rotate around it. Sometimes the revolutions are peaceful and purposeful, other times the cycle is erratic and disturbed. The mantra remains our constant.

And that is why I believe in manners. Good manners are a fixed point in humanity that transcend culture, class, race and religion. Being civil is a reminder of our joint humanity. Being polite is a practice that when cultivated, at first may seem empty but over time take on deep and abiding meaning. 

The other day Misha said to me, "Mama can I have some water?" I was in the other room but I heard Lucy whisper to her little sister, "Please. Say please, please." 
"Please Mama. And thanks too." Misha bellowed from the bedroom. "You're the best!"
"No! You're the best!" I shouted back.
Om shanti Om.

How do you feel about chanting a mantra?

Does it move you in any particular way?

What is the purpose of prayer? Is it to ask for something or to connect to something? 

Where do you direct your mind when you chant OM in a yoga class? Are you just noticing your own voice wondering if you're in tune? Are you noticing if someone else is singing beautifully or hideously? 

What goes through your mind when you see or hear OM.


The Emblemist said...

I've only been to yoga once, but I'm planning to go more often. I do meditate every day, and I think of the mantra and the practice as similar parts to a larger whole. The practice is the thread that connects us to something deeper. By engaging that thread we stay connected through life's challenges and tribulations.

I think of these practices as connective tissue for our inner selves; perhaps manners form the connective tissue between us and other souls?

Anonymous said...

I wrote a comment about this excellent reflection on manners (the Thank You prayer?) but not sure if it went through. This is a test of comment box to see if I can do this from school...

Anonymous said...

(Dang it, when I try to write longer comments it zaps my words and I have to start over! This is take 3, but know that I wrote brilliant, clever words.)

Thank you for this great post! I agree wholeheartedly with your thoughts about manners. Manners are really about learning to be aware of our role in the human community. Manners are about learning to look and listen and think about other's feelings and safety. As a teacher, it starts at the beginning of the year when I teach my students to say good morning, to shake hands and make eye contact, and to smile (I show them a short movie I made called the Morning Movie with a before and after class).

I have a lot of work to do with manners! I've been meaning to have a conversation with them about little things like going through a door and holding the door for the person behind you, being aware of their safety, etc.

Having good manners is a little like being a good band member, learning to listen and follow leads and work together.

Thanks for the great post.a