There's a chant that I've been leading in class lately, which is the Sanskrit mantra that is given to all Kripalu teachers: OM Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya.
Translations of this mantra are rich and varied, due to the nature of Sanskrit, which is a vibrational language that has many layers of meaning. Some yogis, when given a mantra by their teacher, are never told the meaning of the words. Rather, they are invited to chant it until they feel its transformational power, and find out experientially what it "means."
Russill Paul, in his book The Yoga of Sound, writes:
When we use Sanskrit mantras, our normal perception of the world dissolves and we awaken to the spiritual fields of energy represented by the sounds. Sanskrit, as a spiritual language, has been accurately and uninterruptedly transmitted for at least four thousand years. The resonance of these sounds uttered by millions of people who have been awakened to spiritual reality assists us in our own use of the language. In other words, we draw from the power of numbers when we use Sanskrit; we connect our soul to numerous yogis and spiritual teachers who have employed this language in their own self-transformation.
Back when the Kripalu Center was an ashram, and the building in Lenox, MA was purchased, the OM Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya mantra was chanted ceaselessly as they were renovating the building. As hundreds of bricks were being set into the interior wall of the main chapel, a repetition of the mantra was chanted for each brick that was laid. Now, when I sit in that magnificent chapel, I can feel the power of OM Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya resonating energetically in that space.
During my teacher training, I received a set of mala beads, given to me in a ceremony by my teachers, who encouraged me to chant the mantra as often as possible. It felt like an intitiation for me, and I recall being brought to tears as I was invited into a lineage of yogis who have chanted this mantra for many centuries.
I am still exploring and opening to its layers of meaning. Sometimes I chant it and feel connected and in Love. Other days I chant it and I feel bored and tired of it, and can't wait to get to the end of the mala. I enjoy singing it and putting it to different melodies, or repeating it silently while doing alternate nostril breathing. Sometimes I love the rhythm of it, while other times it seems achingly long. It's a lot like being in relationship, with its times of sweetness and times of struggle.
Although knowing the meaning of a mantra is not necessary, it can be helpful in deeping into the experience of chanting when we bring intention to the practice. Here are a just a few interpretations of OM Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya:
I bow to the Lord who lives in the hearts of all
OM and salutations to the Indwelling One, substance of the Divine
O my Lord, the all-pervading Personality of the Godhead, I offer my respectful obeisances unto You.
Salutations to the Indweller who is omnipresent, omnipotent, immortal and divine.
And, Swami Kripalu said it the most simple and succinct way:
Thy will be done.
Thy will be done.