"Om Namah Shivaya" is the most holy mantra for worshipping Lord Shiva, the Paramaathma Para-Brahman. It is known as "Sri Shiva Panchakshara Maha Mantra" (Pancha - five, Akshara - letters). It is the maha-mantra devoted to Lord Shiva.
The Vedas are centered around this maha-mantra.
Of the primary three Vedas (Rik, Yajur and Sama), Yajur Veda is in the centre. At the heart of Yajur Veda is Sri Rudram, in the 4th of the seven chapters in Yajur Thaithria Samhitai. At the very heart of Sri Rudram (8th prachna), in the section beginning with "Somaya cha .. Rudraya cha", the maha-mantra 'Namah Shivaya' shines like the Sun. Again, the two aksharas "Shiva" are in the heart of the text. The great sage Sri Kanchi Paramacharya Swamigal has cited the slokam by Sri Appaiya Dikshitar who identifies the "Shiva" in the middle of Veda as "Jeeva Rathna" (Jewel of the soul).
Such is the significance of this maha-mantra.
By constantly hearing (sravanam), reflecting (mananam) and meditating (niddhyasanam) the Shiva Panchakshara maha-mantra, we can reach the total absorption in the absolute bliss (samadhi), the ultimate goal of human life.
According to the Saiva Siddhanta, Shivam is formless, eternal and all encompassing. Within the Shivam is the Shakthi as the ‘Bindu’, formless infinite potential.
Sada Shivam is the formless form as a ‘linga’ to indicate Shiva-Shakthi as the ‘Nada’ tatva. Sadashivam is the Sat ultimate-noumenon, chit infinite-knowledge and ananda absolute-bliss. The Nada is the first cause of creation and the final cause for emancipation.
"Mananat-trayate iti Mantra" - By constant thinking (manana) of which one attains the desired status or attains liberation (mukthi) is called the "mantra". The first syllable 'man' comes from 'manana' meaning 'to think' and the second syllable 'tra' refers to 'trai' meaning 'to protect or to liberate'.
The "mantra japa" or the recital of the maha-mantra is considered as ‘Nada Upasana’ or worshiping the Nada (Sadashivam) through the Nada (Panchakshara). This is said to be the most sacred and the easiest path to liberation.
All mantras are the words of God and by proper application of these mantras, all of us can accomplish our rightful desires. When recited correctly and with real conviction, these mantras are capable of elevating our lives.
The Veda mantras are the construct of heavenly hands; in particular, the seers (risis) have identified mantras for meditation (japa mantras ), based on sacred seed letters (bija-akshara). Although these appear simple in constructs , these are capable of triggering significant transformation upon proper application.
To the Panchakshara "Namah Shivaya', the greatest of all bija-aksharas, the sound 'OM' is added. OM symbolises the Para-Brahman. The three interconnected letters A, U and M represent the waking (jagrat), dream (swapna) and the deep sleep (sushupti) states of the individual souls as well as the respective state of the cosmic soul (virat, hiranyagarbha and isvara). OM as it is pronounced ordinarily is an outward gross form of the real subtle inaudible state of sound, denoting the fourth transcendental state (thuriya or Amrta). It is not possible to explore the deeper meaning and the significance of OM in a short text like this.
In the maha-mantra 'Namah Shivaya', the first letter 'Na' represents the concealing grace of Lord Shiva, 'Ma' is the material cause the Shakthi as the Bindu, 'Shi' represents 'Sadashivam' as the Nada, 'Va' represents the revealing grace of Lord Shiva and 'Ya' is the yearning soul.
The subtle and gross worlds of emdodiments are successively evolved through the five common elements namely space (akash), air (vayu), fire (agni), water (appu) and earth (pritvi). Vedanta analyses the non-self into five kosas or sheaths, namely the gross physical sheath (annamayakosa), the sheath of vital force (pranamayakosa), the sheath of mind (manomayakosa), the sheath of intellect (vijnamayakosa) and the sheath of bliss (anandamayakosa). These are called sheaths because, like sheaths, they conceal the Atman, the spark of the eternal Shivam from our cognition.
The Panchakshara maha-mantra 'Namah Shivaya' breaks these five sheaths and reveal the Atman (Atma Darshan). This is the true liberation (mukti).
Om Namah Shivaya is also a "kavacha" mantra or a kind of armour that protect us from bad karma or deeds. By constantly meditating the mantra, we can protect our earthly life from all misfortunes and attain reverence and purity in all aspects.
Let us meditate on "Om Namah Shivaya" with sincere commitment and sure understanding. By steadfast contemplation, we will raise to view the world as one family, life is a joy, and all beings are none other than the Self, the true Shivam, only waiting to be realized.
Om Namah Shivaya