The Swaminarayan Mahamantra
In the last issue we saw how the power of the Swaminarayan mantra liberated the souls trapped in narak.
In this article, we take a look at some of the physical,
mental and spiritual benefits mantras in general give.Helpful for a Healthy Body and Mind
Although spiritual bliss is the aim, a more immediate and aggravating issue may be the physical pain and stress which one experiences. While Shriji Maharaj Himself promises no miracles with the Swaminarayan mantra, new-age scientists would probably like to add a word or two of their own. Not only are doctors and scientists coming to accept chanting and meditation as an accredited means to a healthy body and balanced mind, they are positively propagating it.
Dr. Herbert Benson, acclaimed international author and professor at Harvard University, notes that two 20-minute sessions of chanting during the day can reap energy and freshness normally only experienced after eight hours of sound sleep, regulation of abnormal blood pressure and levelling out an erratic pulse.
Recently, Readers' Digest ran an interesting article titled 'Eight Natural Energy Boosters'. Not surprisingly, the first two 'boosters' mentioned amount to nothing more than the quiet, contemplative chanting of a mantra. Writes Winifred Yu, "(1) Take a deep breath. (2) Meditate - find a quiet place and sit comfortably. Relax, close your eyes and focus on a neutral word. When distracting thoughts intrude, bring yourself back to the neutral word."
Helps Subdue Base Instincts
More often than not, mental afflictions can be just as, if not more, distressing than physical pain. When base instincts such as anger, lust, egotism, jealousy are gnawing away at you, Shriji Maharaj and Gunatitanand Swami prescribe the perfect medication,
"When such vicious thoughts arise, one should stop meditation, and should clap and chant 'Swaminarayan, Swaminarayan' aloud,..." (Vachanamrut Loya-6.)
"This [Swaminarayan] mantra can eradicate all mental distress." (Swamini Vato I:272.)
Shastriji Maharaj administered this treatment to one of his ardent devotees, Gulzarilal Nanda, one-time Prime Minister of India. Nandaji requested Shastriji Maharaj to help him overcome his short, fiery temper. Shastriji Maharaj recommended that whenever he felt an outburst of rage arising within him, he should first chant 'Swaminarayan' 10 times, and then permit the anger to be released. By the eighth or ninth 'Swaminarayan', Nandaji observed his anger had invariably all but subsided.
Helps Relieve Social Problems
Whenever someone came to Yogiji Maharaj with a problem, he often offered chanting as a solution. "Karo dhun (Chant the Swaminarayan Mantra)!" he would say enthusiastically, and himself begin clapping and chanting aloud. He often spent hours chanting in the Akshar Deri at Gondal, praying for the relief of others' afflictions. In fact, Yogiji Maharaj called chanting an 'atom bomb' - so powerful that it could annihilate the hardiest of problems. Pramukh Swami Maharaj, too, chants the Swaminarayan mantra whenever he prays - whether it be for rains, for the unobstructed completion of a new project, or generally for peace and prosperity in the world. Swamiji considers the Swaminarayan mantra his tried and tested solution to any problem, of whatever size and shape.
Indeed, throughout the history of the Satsang Fellowship, many incidents have been noted that prove that the Swaminarayan mantra not only works as a spiritual aid, but also as a social aid. A particularly noteworthy incident has been included by Nishkulanand Swami in the Bhaktachintamani (130:9-29).
There was once a chaste Brahmin who had long been serving as a loyal minister in the king's court. It so happened that one day, he found himself on the wrong side of the law. The cruel Muslim king sentenced him to serve indefinitely in the palace dungeons. Several days passed before the poor minister was summoned before the king for judgement. Without even allowing for a fair hearing, the king declared the minister guilty - unless he could fill the royal coffers with ten million rupees within a month. And to guarantee the payment, the king also made a rich merchant stand as surety for the minister. If the minister didn't pay the penalty, the merchant would have to.
The minister left the court in disbelief. Where would he find that amount of money? And that too, in such short a time period! But to prove his innocence, he somehow had to come up with the money.
The minister began selling off his belongings and assets one by one. Soon, though, he found himself without even a roof over his head. And he was still miserably short of the payment. Thoughts of jumping bail, and even suicide crossed in his mind. "'Tis better to die and bring this nightmare to an end than to live and forever have to wear the cloak of blame," he contemplated.
At his wit's end, the minister went to the local Shiv mandir to beg leave from this world. While offering his last respects to the deity, he broke down in a cry of despair. A group of Swaminarayan sadhus passing by heard the minister's wailing. Vyapkanand Swami, who was leading the sadhus, consoled the minister and asked as to why he was so upset. Amid interludes of sobs and sighs, the minister narrated his tragic story. Vyapkanand Swami offered a helping hand. "Here, we shall pray for you to God, Purushottam Narayan, Lord Swaminarayan. You, too, should chant 'Swaminarayan' and seek His blessings."
Obediently, the minister joined in the chorus of chanting. Before the sadhus departed, Vyapkanand Swami initiated him into the Fellowship. The minister felt relieved as he engrossed himself in chanting the mantra.
Far away, Shriji Maharaj felt somebody calling Him by His name. Shriji Maharaj picked up on His new devotee's strife and decided to come to his aid.
Maharaj, disguised as a smartly dressed businessman, arrived at the minister's town. He made His way directly to the shop of the merchant who was standing as surety for the minister. The merchant was surprised to see such an impressive looking man at his shop. When Maharaj handed over a heavy bag of money to the merchant and ordered him to pay off the minister's penalty at once, the merchant complied without even stopping to question Maharaj as to who He was or to why He had come. Maharaj made sure He took a signed receipt from the merchant. With the receipt, Maharaj went straight to the minister. When Maharaj gave him the receipt, the minister's face lit up with relief. But before the minister could look up from reading the receipt, Maharaj was on His way again - satisfied at having saved a devotee from blame and shame.
Helps Us Come Closer to God
Above all, Lord Swaminarayan has graced us with this mantra to help us come closer to God, to attain final liberation. He explains in Vachanamrut Gadhada I-56, "However grave a sinner a person may be, if at the end of his life he utters the name of 'Swaminarayan', he will be redeemed of all sins and will reside in Brahmamahol (the abode of God)."
Gunatitanand Swami adds, "I will have to redeem anyone who - consciously or unconsciously - utters 'Swaminarayan', even a few times." (Swamini Vato I:24)
The paramhansas, too, have interlaced the glory of the Swaminarayan name in many of their works of poetry. Nishkulanand Swami sings:
"Even vaguely in his ears, hears he the Swaminarayan name;
To the road of realisation, he'll surely lay claim."
Purushottam Prakash - 23:11-12
"To cross the sea of births and deaths;
It has to be where rest my breaths.
'Tis dear to me, the 'Swaminarayan' name..."
To conclude with, one final example highlighting how the Swaminarayan mantra actually can help us attain the abode of God.
There once lived in Amdavad a pious Brahmin devotee by the name of Pranvallabh. It so happened that Pranvallabh tragically fell victim to a fatal plague, a plague so devastating that it stomped across the region like a hungry beast, devouring anyone who dared to stand in its way. After several days of unbearable fever, Pranvallabh finally left his body. 'On the other side', he was greeted by Shriji Maharaj, who was ready to take him to Akshardham. Before they actually departed, Shriji Maharaj asked Pranvallabh, "Do you have any final, unfulfilled desires?"
Pranvallabh was a staunch devotee, and so had nothing left to do or achieve besides pleasing Shriji Maharaj. But he did have one small desire itching in his mind. "Maharaj, since you ask, I do have one final wish," Pranvallabh revealed. "You see Maharaj, everyone who knew me, knew me as a Swaminarayan devotee. If they come to know that even a Swaminarayan devotee died of the plague, they will think nothing much of you or Satsang. Instead, if I could only go back to explain to the people your glory, and that I have indeed been blessed with a place in Akshardham, then I could join up with you again."
Shriji Maharaj accepted Pranvallabh's proposal and allowed him to return to his body.
Back home, though, Pranvallabh's family and friends were on their way to the riverbank - to cremate his body! Those carrying the corpse felt a sudden jolt as Pranvallabh re-entered his 'dead' body. People couldn't believe their eyes as they saw the corpse, first, twitch, and then, get up.
"Ghost! Ghost! He's come to haunt us!" cried someone. "Are you absolutely sure he was dead?" queried another.
Pranvallabh calmly stepped down from his pyre, and then calmed the people around him. "Listen everyone," he said in a commanding tone, "I am no ghost, but I have returned from the dead. Lord Swaminarayan has graced me immeasurably by blessing me with a place near Him in His abode. He still waits for me. I have only returned to warn you that no one can escape the clutches of death. It is the inevitable end of one and all. So, if you wish to escape the drudgery of this world and the continuous births and deaths hereafter, and truly enjoy eternal bliss, I sincerely urge that you seek the refuge of Swaminarayan and chant His holy name. That is the only way to ultimate deliverance. Please believe me, and join in with me now."
Pranvallabh sat upright, and began clapping and chanting aloud. The people, dumbfounded by what they had seen and heard, obediently followed in the chanting. Only then, satisfied that he had fulfilled his final duty as a devotee, did Pranvallabh leave his body - again. As he returned to Shriji Maharaj, who was patiently waiting for him, his family and friends could be heard down below, chanting 'Swaminarayan, Swaminarayan, Swaminarayan.'