A note to the readers:
This text was a reply, a bit too detailed, to someone’s simple questions on chanting Lalita Sahasranamam.
A note to the class students:
A PDF of LS with audio from the internet and some transliterations by AVG USA website have been added to the site and the link is provided at the bottom of this article. Kindly read the article first. Much of the content has been discussed in the class a couple of times. The pdf was obtained from a google search and will soon add the correct source.
These were the short questions from an individual addressed to me that triggered the long responses
1. Can I stand and read – if not why?
2. Can I read after taking food – If not why?
3. Can I read without taking bath ( I believe vishnu sahasram can be read with out taking bath in fact can be read in any condition by anyone) etc – If not why?
4. Can I listen in the car with shoes on while driving – If not why?. What is the relation between shoes and reciting. Is it just cleanliness or something
5. Who can read – Can Women without husband / men without wife read it. – If not why?
Here is my long answer to these simple questions
KINDLY READ THE EMAIL IN FULL as I have tried to outline the general framework and answered the questions in different sections. IF TAKEN OUT OF CONTEXT, the statements many not give a complete answer. Also, the answers are not meant to discourage anyone but to inform one of the facts. Each individual is a universe to oneself and thus the picture varies. Above everything, it is the Ishwara samkalpam – the Will of Ishwara – that propels us in a path.
The person’s questions and responses with ** at the start are stated below:
>I understand that Vishnu Sahasram (VS) has few rules to read but Lalitha sahasranamam (LS) has several rules, may be because it has lot of Bija aksharas. I wish to know the rules prescribed.
** It is true that VS has a few rules, none limiting to the extent stated for LS. Bija aksharas are one of them but it is applicable only when the naama-s are recited individually as naamvali. In fact, naamavali (as in archana) needs to be done with specific bija aksharas and usually not recommended otherwise. But archana with 1000 naamavali can be done having learned the procedure from a suitable teacher for pronunciation, format etc.
Another important reason for the restrictions is: each of the name is a mantra, each syllable in the name is a mantra and hence certain regulations are put forth to instill a strict discipline when chanting the sahasranaamam.
Some have suggested that for inner contemplation, one can pick a name ( or the name comes to the seeker) and contemplate on the meaning, and imagining Mother in Her Swarupa as presented by the name.
LS is also part of Srividya nava aavarana puja and hence the strictest of regulations are attached to it. I have touched upon it below again. VS does not have this particular circle of fire around it.
>>Can I stand and read – if not why?
**Yes; I have not come across any injunctions against sitting or standing. I can imagine that standing may not be recommended if done as a group paarayanam – recitation – as many would be sitting.
There is a deeper purpose to certain postures. In ashtaanga yoga, there is a stage called “aasana”. It is defined as the posture or seating that is most comfortable. Applying to the principle of worship, it is essential that our body is straight above the hip so that the spinal cord is erect. In most simpler terms, it helps in the flow of energy with in us. At some point in the saadhana, this posture does not matter. But I understand this question is for someone like me who is in the beginner steps.
>>Can I read after taking food – If not why?
**Any worship is not recommended after food. Obviously, when our stomachs are full, our body consciousness is predominately taamasic- lethargy, clumsiness, drowsiness increase. Mistakes could be made in the recitation; while doing paarayanam, one may go to sleep; if not properly trained, by immersing oneself into paarayanam, one may affect proper digestive processes.
Fundamentally, all saadhana, worship, prayers, paaraayanam, service to others are meant for chitta shuddhi : cleansing of our inner vessels of consciousness and its parts. If the food we take is rajaswic or tamasic, the purpose is lost. All parts of our being – body, mind, intellect etc. – take part in a prayer and recitation. It is necessary that one is “fully” alert and responsive not just in parts.
If food is taken giving a sense of fullness of pate, then also the purpose of worship is lost as our bodies would get not be in tune with our thoughts. If, during a vrata, one takes saatwic food and wants to continue chanting, it should not be stopped. In fact, when doing recitation of raamaayana, or repeated recitation, one is advised not to do so in empty stomach.
>>Can I read without taking bath ( I believe vishnu sahasram can be read with out taking bath in fact can be read in any condition by anyone) etc – If not why?
**This is also a tricky situation. In general, in hindu dharma, worship is done after taking bath or cleansing one’s body to the extent possible. Taking bath for worship is expected: after sleeping, recovering from fever, visiting outside to different places, if sweaty, if worked in dirty environs, if indulged in sensory pleasure-seeking activities, during morning and evening (sandhya – junction of two parts of the day) or participating in any kind of non-saatwic activities, is always recommended. Bathing – regular non-recreational bath – has a calming effect, gives a sense of bodily purity which is a sign of saatwic outlook. A prayer is started with such saatwic attitude. But what if a person is sick, old, fragile, living in frigid or cold conditions etc., how can all these conditions be met with?
It is said that only for those rare ones who have gone afar in saadhana, external cleanliness does not matter. If one’s heart and mind are consumed by the vibrations of stotraa-s like LS and VS, I can see why even waiting to take a bath would be a burden. But for the rest of us, certain basic disciplines are prescribed under normal conditions and if we can afford it. Even in yoga, the first two steps are yama and niyama which are nothing but inner and outer disciplining.
The proper way of chanting LS as per the text is to take bath, complete the sri chakra puja, do the panchadashi mantra japa, chant LS. This routine, when taken as an ‘initiation’ , has to be followed with strict norms. Many, if not most, chant LS without one or more components of this workflow. While the original text do not allow it, there have been always gurus who have advised minimum discipline to the chanting. Usually, the groups of people who do the regular chanting of LS as a stotram learn as a group and continue to do the same. It has become a norm now.
So for any kind of shoucha – or external cleanliness, the rule of thumb would be: if one is bodily clean, maintained saatwic habits in the prior part of the day etc., clean one’s feet and face before worship. If no water is available, or no warm water is available, then mentally clean oneself and start the chanting.
Whether Narayana or Ambaa is going to come and punish one for skipping a bath for any of the above valid reason is a question that does not make any sense. AT the same time, if there are no valid reasons but I am just lazy and lethargic to take a bath or at least clean my feet/face before a serious worship, what kind of mindset I am bringing into the worship – is it taamasic, making me less receptive to Divinity or saatwic, enabling me to make the connection? So, as far as cleanliness goes in this country or outside India, I have to use the common sense and adapt a “best possible practices” approach which may be determined only by the season, geography, health and availability of resources. Any other reason by itself disqualifies me from taking on the worship.
>>Can I listen in the car with shoes on while driving – If not why?. What is the relation between shoes and reciting. Is it just cleanliness or something
**If the purpose of LS chanting is to tune my mind to Her, driving a car may not be a best situation – either for one’s longevity or for attaining the purpose – to listen to LS. But once memorized and chanting LS becomes a second breath, then it becomes easier to chant while driving. Until then, I may want to give some special daily minutes to Her chant. Still, it is NOT advisable to chant and drive. It is advised to do the chanting in a clean, calm environment without discussions where the mind can be trained on Her in the names and in the image to focus on. The continuous stream of focus on the name and form cannot be possible while driving. If everyday, one can only spare that 30 minutes when driving then for self-redemption it is better to do that than doing nothing. Maybe praying to Her to give an opportunity to recite in an appropriate way would be a solution. But most of people if they try seriously to listen, to chant or to chant along with following a book for 30 minutes may find it actually possible.
As mentioned earlier, I am hesitant to say ” do not recite LS” for any reason. Who am I to stop somebody from doing a holy act? These things get sorted by themselves, in time.
>>Who can read – Can Women without husband / men without wife read it. – If not why?
**marital status does not determine the eligibility if the right discipline and bhaava – emotional and intellectual attitude is there.
Now i have to mention a few things of caution. Please read this fully till the end. #1 and #2 are from the text itself:
When one chants LS properly, the benefits are enormous culminating in one’s salvation: this is according to the text itself. AT the same time, undisciplined way of life and arbitrary protocols are not the optimal framework for this. All the conditions and restrictions prescribed are meant to have the devotee prepared in mind, body and intellect in taking up more sensitive worship of Ishwara.
It is also good to remember, LS and VS are not for everybody, right at the beginning. One goes along slowly discussing with others and teachers like our Swamiji, attending temple services to bring oneself to the fold. One takes up first with small slokas, prayers or whatever is shown to them by Ishwara without us recognizing it as such. It is also not the only path. In fact, in Hindu Dharma each person has something of a unique path depending on one’s nature and how far one has evolved in the spiritual path. In general, at this age of Kali marked by ever-running-around-our-vanities, paarayanam of stotrams and some sacred texts are highly recommended to prepare for more intense upaasana of a Deity. For the less prepared, our shaastraa-s advise regular chanting slokas like (for worhsip of Mother): lakshmi ashtotram, lalita ashtotra naamavali, raja rajeshwari slokas etc.; (for worship of narayana): so many of them – mukunta maala, slokas of rama and krishna, Sundara kaanda paarayanam, bhagavatha paarayanam; (for woship of shiva): lingashtakam, siva sahasranamam, siva ashtakam, bhilva ashtakam etc. etc. For all these things, the texts say, an unflinching bhakti and Shraddha are the basis. Even to worship Him or Her, we need to have Their Blessings. To progress too, we need Their blessings.
Some rules according to the texts are given below:
1) LS should not be chanted without being taught by a teacher. LS should not be chanted without being initiated into some for mantras of srividya by a competent Guru.
2) Each of the syllable and thus the name of LS is a mantra and hence it is said to be a maala mantra: garland of mantraas. Mantraas by themselves invoke the Force of the Divinity it represents in our mind and body. Each of us many not be ready of any kind of mantra. A competent Guru intuitively determines the spiritual status, karmic evolutionary station of our souls or jeevaa-s. When given by a Guru, not just the mantra, but also the potency of the mantra as given by the Guru is obtained by the disciple. A guru potentiates a mantra, almost like a ready to eat gourmet food. When we pick up a book or listen to a mp3 recording and chant a maala mantra like LS, in spite of our inefficiency and unpreparedness, the potency of such powerful mantraas do not get lost. It may backfire on us in some form. Or, according to the injunctions, when we chant these only because we could, we incur the negative effects described in the text.
3) These are the general rules. Like any prescriptions, these may not be applicable to one and all the same way. If someone has unquenchable thirst in spiritual matters, in worshipping Her in Her varied forms, do not know where to begin, seeking but not finding answers, chanting of such things like LS, VS would definitely help. In that case, LS and VS are chanted as stotrams: hymns of praise with enormous amount of Bhakti and surrender. One takes Her as the teacher and offers everything back to Her without claiming any benefits.
One of a recent commentators and otherwise too highly qualified person has stated that in the case of LS, Sri Dakshinaamurthy Himself could be considered as Guru in the initial stages. The initial stages are marked by seeking, shraddha and not vanity. Lalita Ashtothram says that Lalita Herself is Saakshat Sri Dakshinaamurthy Swaroopini: She is actually of the Form of Dakshinaamoorthy. He advises one to invoke Sri Dakshinamoorthy – at our home, temple etc. – and start chanting LS from dhyana sloka three times . Each time, one would assume that He HImself is teaching us. After that, it is necessary to pray to Her every time one recites to give us a guru in physical Form. ONce the chanting ends, we offer everything back to Her and seek Her blessings. When this goes in cycles, it is upto Her to guide us if we are sincere. Many would fall back and a few will go forward.
This, the commentator says, is because of the times we live in. If we are sincere, She will bring us the Guru who would guide us in the right path.
4) By following such a cycle, praying to Her for guidance, our vessels get cleansed and She would guide us according to our swabhava, karma and destiny. This attitude is very important as many are those who have faltered by assuming mastery and blinded by ignorance. While learning LS and VS in a class or even while reading the meaning from books as part of self-study, we may not be able to follow all the strict regulations. Such regulations come into play when we are using enough of the sacred texts for daily saadhana.
5) When chanted as a stotram – minimal praise to Her – the loosening of #1 and #2 regulations happen. When we follow #3, we will guided by Her to carry out the chanting of the stotram properly. This is also similar to VS where each name and each syllable of each name is a sacred mantra. When we chant LS and VS as storam thinking of the divinity with shraddha, then my marital status, external cleanliness, attire, etc. would not matter. For someone with so much karmic baggage like me, it is a long drawn search to that state, so as to say. Until then, I try to force myself to follow basic disciplines as narrated in the Q and A part of this mail above.
6) When chanted as part of Japa and Dhyaana, then the above regulations need to be practiced under the supervision and guidance of a competent Guru. Any japa and mantra saadhana involve kindling of subtle energies and need to be done under proper supervision. Recitations of slokas and sahasranamaas following certain disciplines as stated above will help us gradually unfold our being. The difference is like riding a wild horse as against going on a country-fair pony. I am not going into the details of that but I am sure there are a few books that have authentically shed light on these things.
Hope I have given some response to satisfy the reader’s questioning. I apologize for not giving YES or NO answer. It is something for me to follow and live but it is another to convey the facts to others: one should not misspeak or speak vaguely to confuse or even miscue a sincere questioner.
Here are some PDFs of Lalita sahasra nama including one with individual audio of obtained from internet (this is for the students from the class at chinmaya mission, Maryland, USA).