Here’s a four-part post series for scholars!
I haven’t studied the layered meanings in Sanskrit. But I learnt a few sacred Names and phrases along the way; I hear the chanting and smell the sandal paste; the syllables are long musical frequencies; from in between them, emerge the tantras. Tantra is the art of touch throughout the universe. Needing to touch base with some of my Indian and Vedic threads, I turned to Ganapati Muni’s analysis of his mantric science. I prepared this text in the 1990s from Sri K Natesan’s translation, for the Ramana Foundation Journal Self Enquiry. Sri Natesan – a “grandchild” in the Muni’s sacred lineage – checked it for mistakes.
In the text the secret known to knowers of truth is mentioned: when we truly know that we do not know – we begin.
“Guru Mantra Bhashyam” by Ganapati Muni
Introduced and Translated by S.Sankaranarayanan
Adapted for English readers by J.A., with the help of Sri K.Natesan at Ramana Ashram
The eighteenth chapter of Sri Ramana Gita contains a series of verses which describe the characteristics of Ramana Maharshi. Amongst them, the tenth verse enunciates in the style of the Tantra, the Mantra by which the Maharshi has to be invoked.
Ganapati Vasishta Muni valued this Mantra very highly. When disciples approached Ramana Maharshi for elucidation on the Mantra, he directed them to the Muni. So Vasishta Muni decided to write a commentary on the 10th verse of the eighteenth chapter of Sri Ramana Gita for the benefit of aspirants. The Guru-mantra-Bhashyam was written in sanskrit and it was published along with the Text and Sri Kapali Shastriar’s Prakasha Bhashye (Commentary) of Sri Ramana Gita.
Considering the importance of the work and the wealth of spiritual insights it unfolds, a free translation in English of the whole commentary and Appendix to the Commentary is provided here, in four parts. Footnotes explain certain terms and concepts occurring in the commentary.
Ramana and Ganapati were spiritual brothers – Ramana the silent jnani or Realised One and Ganapati the tantric philosopher and poet. Ramana was regarded as the embodiment of Skanda or Kumar: Ganesh and Skanda are the sons born to Siva and Parvati. When the two wild young sages sat together in the caves of Siva’s hill Arunachala, Ramana taught Ganapati that the root of the mantra and of the breath are one and the same, to dissolve into Self enquiry. Ganapati’s outpouring of verses to the Mother brought their ageless Saivite brotherhood into the 20th century.
Some years ago, Alan Jacobs and I wrote 55 sonnets on the Ramana Gita English version; the sonnet form was chosen, to interact imaginatively with the formal Sanskrit text, and as a spiritual practice. Here below, to provide the setting, is a sonnet based on verses 8 – 11 of Chapter Eighteen, Ramana Gita (see below). It contains our interpretation of the Mantra OM VACADHBUVE RAMANA.
In Praise of Ramana: Three
FROM grasping freed, his peace
in quantum abyss unheeding
restores our alchemy. He pilots the seas.
Ganapati child at breasts of Parvati feeding,
cried “Mother’s mine!” In her lap, Kumar his brother
replied, “Never mind, for mine is Father!
I rest in his right heart, he kisses my head!”
Give glory, elephant child, to He whose lance
in Kumar’s hand pierced hill to the heart, ‘tis said.
Boon bringer, pour poem from His holy glance
by Vedic vessel whence emerges Word
by power of Fire as mystic Sword.
Without a staff, our song you uphold –
ferryman, defend everyman from demon gold!
THE VERSES FROM ‘RAMANA GITA’ CHAPTER EIGHTEEN
v.8 Free from infatuation, greed, distracting thought and envy, he is ever blissful. He is ever active, helping others to cross the sea of Becoming, regardless of reward.
v.9 When Ganapati saying ‘Mother is mine’ sat on the lap of Parvati, Kumara retorted ‘Never mind, Father is mine,” and got on to Siva’s lap and was kissed by him on the head. Of this Kumara who pierced (with his lance) the Krauncha Hill, Ramana is a glorious manifestation.
v.10 He is the mystic import of the mantra ‘OM VACHADBHUVE NAMAH.
v.11 An ascetic without danda , yet is he Dandapani. He is Taraka for crossing the sea of suffering, yet is he the foe of Taraka.
NOTE - Danda is a "Staff"or wand, yet Dandapani is the staff holder - even one who no longer uses it. The word Taraka means Deliverer, but "Taraka" was also the great demon Taraka who almost destroyed the universe. These are typical Sanskrit word-plays.
THE COMMENTARY ON THE MANTRA OF THE MASTER
“Om Vacadbhuve Namah Nahasyam”-
“Salutation to the Fire of Brahman whence emerges the word”
First Chapter: Pronouncing the Mantra
VERSE TEN, Chapter 18, RAMANA GITA
Vedådi påkadamanottara kacchapesair “He is the secret sense
Yuktair dharadhara susuptyamaresvaraisca of the group of words arrived at
Suksmamrtayug amrtena saha pranatya by uttering the following Sampannasabda patalasya nahasyam artham* Om Va ca dbhu, ve and Namah”
- —Vedadih “the beginning of the Veda”, or Pranama OMKARA (1)
–Pakadamanat “from the destroyer of Paka Asura”, that is, Indra bija, whose letter is la
–Uttarah the letter next to it alphabetically, that is VA ; pakadamanottara kacchapesah —the bija (2) of Rudra in His form as Lord of the tortoise Kurmesa” that is, the letter CA.
—With these letters OM VA CA, – Dharadharah, the bija of the Mountain,
the letter DA.
—Susuptih the sakti power of deep sleep, whose bija is the letter BHA.
–Amare-Isvarah “the Lord (Isvara) of the immortals” (Amara, deathless) – Rudra dwells in this Name, his seed-letter U ; therefore DBHU. Yuktaih, “union” (at the beginning of the line) joins this with the letter DBHU.
–Suksmamrta, whose Sakti’s bija is the letter E ; Yuk joined to amrtena, (nectar) whose seedletter is the watery VA, form the letter VE.
–Pranatya, (Salutation) unites with the suffix namah (3.) The Sampanna sabda patalasya group of words forms the secret of the mantra OM VACADBHUVE NAMAH NAHASYAM. This can be known only to the knowers of Truth.
(Sabda is another word for Primordial Sound, Word, the Vedas, Omkara.)
The secret (Nahasyam) of this Mantra is revealed only to knowers of Truth. To them alone can the artham or full meaning be outwardly expressed; as in the form of the king of ascetics, Bhagavan Ramana (4 ), when questioned by Amrtanatha. (Ch.18, Ramana Gita)
- —Thus “OM Vacadbhuve Namah” is established as the Mantra of Bhagavan the Guru.
Kapali Sastri’s Commentary on this verse in the Ramana Gita, states in brief:
“By joining all these letters we arrive at the group of letters OM VACADBHUVE NAMAH. This group of letters forms the Mantra. Its secret sense, known to the learned, expresses the meaning “RAMANA WHO IS THE FORM OF THE DEITY INVOKED BY THIS MANTRA”.
Who is God, expressed in this Mantra ? Subrahmanya. How so ? ‘Om Vachadbhuve Namah’ – Omkara is the supreme Brahman. The word is indeclinable, and so it will make sense with all the case endings. Vacadbhu, the field that creates, releases the Word, the Fire. The fire became the word and entered the mouth. So explains the scripture. Born from the god who presides over speech is Vacadbhu, born from Fire, Kumara. Salutation to Him.
“This is not physical fire, but the effulgence of the word. In order to drive this home, in the Mantra, Agni is denoted by the word ‘vacat’. It is the tradition of the Tantra Shastra to expound the Mantra by using words of similar sense. Following this, the Master (Ganapati Muni) has expounded the Mantra of Subrahmanya. The author of this work, our Master has been praising the Maharshi, as one born out of a portion of Kumara. And so the essence of the Mantra is said to be Ramana.”
FOOTNOTES - PRONOUNCING THE MANTRA: * - Sri K Natesan states: "The literal translation is given here. In Tantra Shastra (science) the mantras are not mentioned plainly and directly. There is a way of symbolic expression for which a working knowledge of their terminology is needed." 1 - pranava the letter OM: the primordial sound from which the Veda, the word of revelation, has sprung 2 - The Tantra talkes about bijakshava, SEED LETTERS which contain in a potential form what they would be manifesting. The SEED LETTER is fixed for each Deity. For example Indra's SEED LETTER is la. By convention, each SEED LETTER is connoted by one or more names. The Bhija-nighantu, the Dictionary of seed-letters, gives the corresponding names. 3 - Pranati, bowing down, which is expressed by the word namah 4 - This verse is one of twenty four verses in praise of the Maharshi, at the end of which the questioner Amrtanatha addresses him.
The Detailed Commentary by Ganapati Muni now Continues :
If we are asked: is not this mantra, the famous one of Skanda, mentioned in Tantric works like Saradatilaka? we say it is only the mantra of our guru, Bhagavan. It is known that Bhagavan Ramana, the Master, is avatara, descent of effulgence from the original guru, Skanda the Godhead, another of whose names is Sanat kumara. (5)
THE BODY OF THE MANTRA
This great mantra is originally of six letters as vacadbhuve namah. It becomes a mantra of seven letters with the pranava which is usually employed by certain Tantrics at the beginning of all mantras. Just as the five-lettered namah shivayah becomes six letters with the Omkara, so also here. All godheads have four forms. One pertains to the spirit, the other to the physical, another to the gods and the last to the form of the mantra.
Elsewhere we find this vedic piece:
Vacam astapadim aham navasraktim rtasprsam “Around Indra I create the body
Indrat paritanvam name of the Word with eight steps and nine parts
close in touch with the Right Law.”
(Rig Veda VIII 65.12)
By this Rik, the Rishi says that he creates the body of Indra, in the form of mantra. The Tantrics also say this:
Derike manavabhrantim “To inferno he goes who mistakes
pratimasu silamatim the guru for a man,
Mantresvaksarabhuddhim the idol in the temple for a piece of stone
ca kurvano nirayam vrajet. and the mantra for a group of letters.”
Here the popular parlance that Gayatri is the Deity of the most famous Mantra, Tat Savitah serves as evidence. (6) Gayatri is the Mantra itself alone, not ‘a woman’; (this word indicates the name of a metre – the feminine sakti as the name or vessel). What does this establish? that the body of God Guha in the form of mantra has six letters. In this view that the body is formed by the Mantra, six letters become the six faces of the Lord.
Likewise, the five letters in the Panchakshara Mantra of the Supreme Shiva — NAMAH SHIVAYA — are his five faces. This is the same as the saying of the Mimamsakas: that the Deity is formed by the Mantra.
THE GENERAL MEANING OF THE MANTRA
- Om to the One in the form of Brahman. As the word OM is indeclinable, it keeps the same syntax with all cases. As acclaimed in the Upanishads, the letter OM denotes Brahman.
- Vacadbhuva – Vacatah “from one who speaks”, creates statements. This is derived from Agni (god of sacred fire) in whose subtle form is the inner sense of ‘word’.
- Bhu born, to Him Namah, salutation. It is well known that Skanda was born from Fire, Agni.
TO BE CONTINUED.
FOOTNOTES: GANAPATI'S COMMENTARY CONTINUES ... 5 - Chandogya Upanishad (7:26:2) equates Sanatkumara with Skanda, and says that he takes ashore across the (ocean of) ignorance, the pure soul with constant awareness. 6 - "Tat savitur varenyam bhargo devasya dimah Dhiyo yo nah pracodayat" - "We meditate upon that excellent splendour of the Lord Savitr. May he activate our thoughts." 7 - Badarayana is the author of the Brahma sutras. This Sutra IV.1.5 says that symbols are to be regarded as Brahman, and not vice versa. An inferior object has to be looked upon as symbolic of the superior.
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