2500 BC, somewhere in central India, the day begins with the recitation of the Vedic peace mantra from Ishavasya Upanishad.
The first rays of the sun had just kissed the earth. A glorious morning was about to sprout, lending a healing touch to everything, lush green trees, a big blue river, and all living beings living nearby. But the young boy had no time to stop and admire all this. After a cool bath and with nimble steps he rushing to his teacher’s holistic, live-in school [āshrama]. Another day of studies under the loving and stern gaze of his Teacher [Guru], the teacher had started. Thousands of years back in India, students would live with their Guru for at least twelve years, in his āshrama usually located in forests far away from towns, for a purist, holistic education.
As he paid obeisance to his Guru, our boy sat cross-legged on the ground, in meditation. And then both the Guru and the students burst into a melodious and energizing, metered sound of the peace chant [Shanti Mantra]. The Guru looked at his students with a loving, benevolent gaze and spoke:
“Shanti Mantrās are embedded in every Upanisad [Philosophical texts found in Vedas]. Shanti Mantra is an invocation, sung at the beginning and conclusion of any religious [Dharmic] activity, including studies. Every Shanti Mantra begins with OM, the most definitive, signature sound of the highest reality, God [Parmatma, Brahman] and ends with three repetitions of Peace, Peace, Peace [Shanti, Shanti, Shantih] ”
A gentle breeze brushed their hair and face as they soaked themselves in every word of the Guru.
“This is a unique invocation of peace and requires elaboration. Vedic literature [Ved shastra] recognizes human life to be extremely vulnerable to sorrows and troubles [Dukha]”
Years later, this concept was to become the foundational teaching of Gautam Buddha.
“Vedic Shastra talks about threefold calamities [trividh-tap] that befall a man.
Aadhyatmic or troubles caused within and by our body-mind complex. Such as anger, stress and depression, desires, attachments, and aversions [Rāāg-Dwesha].
Adhibhautic or sorrows caused by known sources, those caused by the elements and other sentient beings, such as earthquakes, floods, war, poisonous creatures and so on.
Adhidaivic or troubles emanating from unknown sources, from providence, due to accumulated past Karma [Prārabhda karma].
At the end of every discourse, we invoke peace thrice, in order to invoke the removal of calamities. All actions, rituals, and studies in Sanatan Dharma must begin with a loud and melodious OM. Om is a seed word and denotes all that exists. Om is how we address Brahman, the ultimate reality.
Let us then chant and understand the most profound of the Shanti mantras. “In the next session, we shall study and understand this beautiful prayer of deep significance. Let us chant this mantra together” said the Guru as he folded his hands in front of his chest, in a gesture of gratitude to God.
As he taught them the chanting of this mantra, it was time for the morning meal, cooked on firewood by the caring hands of Guru mother [Guru Mata].
(Note – This shanti mantra appears in the ‘Ishavasya Upanishad’)