Whatever we do, we need to be in the right mental condition. When we enter a temple, especially a big temple, we do not get into the sanctum sanctorum straightaway: instead, we go through the outer prakarams, worship Ganapathy, Subramanyar etc., and finally enter the sannidhi of the main deities. This is to ensure that we have the time to leave behind the hustle and bustle of the outside world, gradually soak in the divine ambience of the temple and mentally condition ourselves to focus and meditate on the main deity.

Much the same way, when we start study of Vedas or Upanishads, we recite a Shanti Mantra. The Shanti mantra recited by the Guru and sishya(s) for Shukla Yajurvedam is:

Om Saha Naav[au]-Avatu |
Saha Nau Bhunaktu |
Saha Viiryam Karavaavahai |
Tejasvi Naav[au]-Adhiitam-Astu Maa Vidvissaavahai |
Om Shaantih ||

What does this mantra mean?

  • Om: We usually start mantras with the Omkara. It is a most auspicious and powerful yogic sound comprising the letters, a, u, and m. Also, as Lord Krishna says in Bhagavad Gita, the one-syllabled Om is Brahman itself. Kathopanishad says that to know Om is to know Brahman. Om is therefore used to refer to the God and the Truth.
  • saha navavathu: May we, the teacher and disciple, be protected with regard to our physical and mental well-being. Not anyone can teach, nor everyone learn the Vedas, or for that matter, any serious subject. The teacher and the taught, both, need to be qualified – sastras use the word adhikaritva. Besides having the required qualifications, as a teacher or as the student, one needs to be physically fit to put in sustained teaching or learning effort. And, without the required mental fortitude, it is difficult for the teacher to pass on knowledge or for the student to absorb it properly.
  • saha nau bhunaktu: Together may we enjoy, both the process and fruits. As Mahatma Gandhi used to point out, the end is important, but, the means adopted are equally, if not more, important.
  • saha viryam karavavahai: May we both put in our best in our joint endeavor. As we say these days, it takes two to tango. It has to be coordinated, committed, effort.
  • tejasvi nau adhitam astu: May what we learn be bright and brilliant.
  • ma vidvisavahai: May there be no differences or misunderstandings between us. Misunderstandings arise when there is no goal congruence, clarity on roles is lacking, mutual respect is not there, communication is poor, or, when there is genuine, or at least, perceived, lack of 100% all round commitment.
  • Om santih, santih, santih: May there be peace, peace, peace. Why do we say santhi thrice? One interpretation, among the many profound ones, is that peace and the right learning atmosphere prevails when there are no disturbances: first, from within us; secondly, from the known or seen external sources; and thirdly, from the unknown or unseen external sources.
  • This shanti mantra has obviously a profound meaning in the context of the sublime guru-sishya, or the teacher-student relationship. They must have the right qualifications. Mentally and physically both have to be healthy and well-nourished so that proper learning and understanding can take place. The process should be enjoyable, and, not tedious. It has to be joint effort. In the case of Upanishads, the subject matter is Brahma Vidya, or, Knowledge of the Brahman, not something easily grasped. The teacher and taught have to feel a divine mental attunement, an atmosphere of purity and strength, and, individual and mutual commitment, so that the outcome is nothing but Scintillating Joy or Supreme Bliss.

    Such prayers are in fact not just for the teacher and taught but for the peace and happiness of all.

    This mantra can be readily applied in real life relationships beyond teacher-taught, to almost any relationship, in the family, between a husband and wife, between parents and children, in the society or in work place, or, to almost any team-endeavor.

    Examples abound.

    In organizations, success depends on effective team-work at all levels. According to Katzenbach and K Smith, authorities on the subject, team-effectiveness depends on three things. First, accountability, clarity and no misunderstanding on roles; second, skills – everyone in the team needs to be qualified; and, most importantly, commitment, joined-up and not disjointed efforts. Only such teams will produce brilliant outcome for all stakeholders.

    The importance of joined-up efforts – saha viryam karavavahai – cannot be overstated. It is obvious in any team sports. Team members have to bring in complementary skills and attributes and perform in a coordinated way. All round brilliance in scoring a great goal in football can be undone by a momentary lapse of concentration on the part of a defender. All the speed of a Formula 1 driver will come to naught if the lowly tire-changer takes 1 second longer during a pit-stop. Team-work is extremely important even in the so called individual sports like Tennis and Golf. Not surprisingly, even the GOAT (Greatest of All Time, e.g., Federer) needs coaches, hitting partners, physical trainers and support teams. Not without reason, during his heydays, Tiger Woods paid his caddy, Steve Williams, several million dollars, not for carrying the clubs, but, to be his thinking partner through the golf course.

    May we therefore start all our team efforts by reciting:

    Om Saha Naav[au]-Avatu |
    Saha Nau Bhunaktu |
    Saha Viiryam Karavaavahai |
    Tejasvi Naav[au]-Adhiitam-Astu Maa Vidvissaavahai |
    Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||