Aṣṭākṣari literally means ‘the eight-syllabled mantra’.
Importance of Mantra-Jāpa
‘Mantra-jāpa’ or repetition of the divine name or sacred formula is emphasized in shastra. There are several such names and formula which must be received in a ceremonial way from a competent person, called guru or spiritual preceptor. This is known as ‘dikṣā’ or initiation. The repetition of these divine names and sacred formula done as per the injunctions of the guru can give any desired fruit.
The ‘asṭākṣarī,’ the eight-syllabled mantra, is one of the famous mantras. It is :
Oṃ namo nārāyanāya - ‘Obeisance to Nārāyāṇa, the Supreme Lord!’
Significance of Aṣṭākṣari Mantra
The first syllable Om (also called ‘praṇava’) is the most common and widely used word-symbol for Brahman or God, the Supreme Spirit. It is composed of three letters a, u and m. In the Vaiṣṇav tradition of Rāmānuja (A. D. 1017-1037), these syllables have a significant meaning. It is mentioned below :
- A stands for Nārāyana/Viṣnu
- U stands for Lakṣmī, Viṣnu's Consort
- M stands for the jīva or the individual soul
It thus represents the totality of the Nārāyaṇa-principle viz., God (the Supreme independent Reality), his Power and the souls (who are dependent realities).
Significance of the word Nārāyaṇa
The word ‘Nārāyaṇa’ (of ‘nārāyaṇāya’) that stands for God, the Supreme Reality, is interpreted in several ways of which three are more important :
- One who has made the causal waters his abode
- One who has made the human beings (or all living beings) his abode
- One who has become the abode for human beings (or all living beings).
The first is an explanation from the mythological standpoint wherein he is depicted as resting on the serpent Seṣa or Adiśeṣa, in the kṣrīrasamudra or the ocean of milk. The second and the third depict him as the immanent and the transcendent principle of creation.
Significance of the word Namah
The word ‘namah’ which means obeisance, also signifies ‘not mine’ (but thine) (na = not, mah = mine). A minor Upaniṣad called Nārāyana Upaniṣad deals with this mantra and the fruits of its repetition which include the destruction of sins and reaching Vaikuntha, the Perfect Abode of Nārāyaṇa.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore