In an essay on "Mahavidya Iconography: Its Esoteric Meaning," Sarbeswar Satpathy cites mudra, a hatha yoga session, a nyaasa ritual, and pranayama as recommended preludes to mantra japa. That seems fine if you've got five or six hours to devote to sadhana each day; but for most people who aren't living in an ashram or monastery, it seems a bit much other than on special occasions.
For householders, isn't the best approach to turn each thought and routine of one's entire daily routine into sadhana, as Adi Shankara recommends in the 27th "wave" of his Saundaryalahari?
Anyway, Satpathy defines nyaasa as "the placing of the hands of the worshipper on different parts of the body and at the same time uttering the appropriate mantras and visualizing that, by this action, the corresponding parts of the body of the Devi are placed there in her/his own body. The rite terminates with a movement of the hands 'spreading' Devi all over the body."
He notes there are at least 12 different approaches to nyaasa, all of which share the goal of reinforcing the individual souls unity with all-encompassing Devi, and says it is "an important aspect of worship."
But how important? And how necessary? Isn't it just one more approach in Tantra/Shaktism's almost bottomless arsenal of techniques? Or is that an underestimation?
I would like to contribute my mite as a layman. First by raising a question on Nyasa you have entered the field of Mantras. Belief in the efficacy of Mantras is commonplace in the Hindu culture today as in the past. For Hindus, mantras are real, palpable, mental artifacts to be revered and mastered, to be used or misused. Mantras play a pivotal role in Hinduism. The possibility of a successful use of Mantras was, and is, simply a common part of Hindu mentality. There is nothing similar in other established religions.
I am talking about Mantra, as Nyasa is an essential part of the Mantra Prayoga. Mantra is the Deity. Nyasa is the recreation of the worshipper in the Divine image. You had asked what is Prayoga earlier. To put it in a nutshell it is the use of Mantras. For the use of mantras there are Prayoga Vidhis or instructions for use.
Tantric texts are similar to User's manual. I agree with you that the techniques are bottomless. I remember that there was no user's manual when we bought our first radio in early fifties. But now I got a fat users manual when I bought my TV. But for switching on the TV and watching it you do not need to read the entire users manual. But if you want to set the child lock you have to read the manual. Similarly for simple recitation of the Mantra you do not need to follow any rules. That is Parayanam. But if you want to use the Mantra for achieving certain objectives you have to follow all the rules. Each Mantra has its own Nyasa or Nyasas. Some books give thirteen Nyasas for Devi Mahaatmyam.
Though the Nyasa might have started as a Tantric rite it has been absorbed into the mainstream Hindu religion. While performing Sandyavandana (a ritual to be performed three times a day by all Brahmins) Nyasa is required for performing Japa of Gayatri mantra.
For reciting Vishnu Sahashranamam as a Japa, Nyasa is required **. All Mantra Japas require Nyasa. This is the accepted practice today.
Though the Nyasa Mantras may be Tantric or Vaidic the exclamations (swaha, namah, voushat, phat etc.) are all ones occurring frequently in Vedic liturgy (Yajur & Atharva Veda)
1.Understanding mantras- A compilation of 10 articles on Mantra - Edited by Harvey. P. Alper - Motilall Banarsidass.
2. Vishnu Sahashranama Sthothram - in Tamil - Little flower Co.(LIFCO). Madras- An authoritative text read and used by all orthodox Vaishnavites andSmarthas.-One of the first books on religion I bought.
Thanks sankarrukku for a very useful overview. I especially liked your comparison of the array of Tantric ritual to a modern television owner's manual. For the simple on-off function, there's no need to open the manual; but for fancier functions you've got to dig in and learn the procedure.
So what is the most elementary, on-off function of Mantra? I would say it's a daily ritual toward the eventual hope of moksha. It's a function of bhakti, cultivating a intense, pure love for and surrender to Devi.
All right. So what is the "fancier function" of Mantra? As you state, "if you want to use the Mantra for achieving certain objectives you have to follow all the rules." But what objectives are we talking about? The siddhis [occult powers] that are the goal of lower forms of Tantric ritual? Certainly a precise procedure has to be followed for that, under the close supervision of a guru. The 10 Mahavidyas are said to be especially powerful and dangerous manifestations of Devi -- when we seek to harness and use their powers for our own ends.
But if our goal is not siddhis, but pure, unselfish, unconditional love and devotion, they are not dangerous at all. They are Mother. Even the fearsome Dhoomavati -- the fierce and ruthless "widow goddess" whom householders with families are cautioned to avoid -- can be an absolute pushover when approached as Mother, with pure love.
The Hinduism scholar David Kinsley cites a field experience in which he discovered a neighborhood where Dhoomavati had become the village goddess of choice. Women prayed to her for a good marriage or healthy children, business owners asked her for material success, children for good luck in their studies, farmers for abundant harvests. All of these functions are the exact opposite of what Dhoomavati is supposed to symbolize. But because she was not approached as a nasty Mahavidya holding coveted magical powers, she became just Devi again, happy to offer Her children what they need.
So, would I be correct to say that Nyaasa, properly and precisely performed according to the Tantras, is absolutely necessary only for those seeking something other than Supreme Knowledge? Or have I misunderstood your reference to the "more complex functions" of Mantra?
Aum Maatangyai Namaha
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