OM PURNAM ADAH PURNAM IDAM PURNAT PURNAM UDACYATE
PURNASYA PURNAM ADAYAH PURNAM EVA VASHISHYATE
~ Ishavasya Upanishad or “Shanti Mantra” from the Yajur Veda
That is whole. This is whole. From the whole, the whole becomes manifest.
When the whole is negated, what remains is again whole.
At first glance, this verse may seem like a riddle. We wonder how anything can be taken away without something being missing. Reflecting on the mantra and exchanging the word “whole” with either “perfect” or “complete” offers further insight into the message.
The Upanishads, written by ancient rishis or seers, documented the insights they received from their practices during prolonged states of ecstatic bliss. The word mantra can be translated as “mind-bridge”. The rishis, having experienced ultimate reality, passed down the mantras like roadmaps paving and lighting the way to discovering inner joy, wholeness and satisfaction.
Each time we repeat a mantra, we take a few more steps towards the insight that is being revealed. In this instance, the revelation that perfection is right here, right now. The word purnam means absolute wholeness, lacking nothing whatsoever. It has been said that “yoga is the state where we feel that we are missing nothing”. Reflecting on this mantra will unify and direct our attention, leading us to the realization that we are missing nothing.
Even as the meaning becomes clear, the message of perfection may still be puzzling for the mind and ego. The idea of wholeness is a foreign concept to most of us, especially when we consider the influence of our media-dominated, consumption-oriented culture. We are bombarded with advertisements for everything coming from everywhere encouraging us to live beyond our present means, telling us that what we have and who we are, is not enough.
Where have the prevailing slogans such as “more is better”, “the grass is greener” and “buy now and save” so you can “pay later” (with interest) taken us? With major recent events such as mass housing foreclosures, bank bailouts, excessive material waste and a precarious ecosystem caused by living in the cultural trance, we are being forced us as individuals and as a society to wake up and look at ways we can simplify. Let us gain inspiration from the American philosopher, Thoreau, who said, “A man is rich in proportion to what he can afford to live without.”
Essentially, the practice of yoga is a process of elimination, removing all that we are not to discover that which we are. It involves stripping away all the expectations, distractions and desires that are preventing us from seeing the whole picture. As long as we are seeing the world through a cracked and distorted lens that is covered in dirt, we will not see perfection. Focusing on the timeless message of the rishis, we eventually realize that freedom and joy exist within all of us independent of external things. Answers and solutions become evident as we follow their tried and true steps. Through practices ranging from asana, karma yoga and vegetarian diet to meditation, chanting and scriptural study, we discover our innate ability to regulate our happiness from the inside out.
Deep down, we know our value and our happiness are not dependent on external things. Yet, when we are constantly receiving societal messages telling us otherwise, confusion arises as we struggle with conflicting information. Focusing on the Shanti Mantra teaches us to accept and appreciate our present circumstances. Re-minding each of us that “you have all you need”. “You are all you need” and “you can manifest all that you need”. When we cultivate the ability to shift our focus to the perfection of every moment and experience, we begin to see abundance in simplicity, beauty in difficulty and problems as opportunities. Repetition of this de-hypnotizing mantra reveals that there are no mistakes in the universe and that everything is unfolding as it should.