This post from Padma Kuppa is part of a larger blog series on faith and the fight against malaria ahead of World Malaria Day. Get involved in Faith at ONE’s “Shine a Light on Malaria” campaign on their website.
Om asato mā sadgamaya, Tamaso mā jyotir gamaya, Mṛtyormā’mṛtaṁ gamaya, Om śāntiḥ, śāntiḥ, śāntiḥ.
Lead us from the unreal to the real, Lead us from darkness to light, Lead us from death to immortality, Om Peace, Peace, Peace
– Brihadaaranyaka Upanishad 1.3.28
This Hindu prayer for enlightenment includes an invocation for peace. Hindus regularly recite such shanti mantras, peace prayers, from the Vedas, the Hindu scriptures. Shanti, uttered thrice at the end of most shlokas or verses, with a basic meaning “peace,” is a powerful Sanskrit word.
The initial Om represents the essential wisdom of the Vedas and stands for Godhead, pure and absolute. The three shantis, respectively, are: peace in the individual, adhyatmika; peace in the surroundings, adhi-bhautika; and peace in the spiritual context, adhi-daivika.
Peace in the individual relates to body and mind; peace in the surrounding comprehends the physical environment and social situations; the third peace refers to forces beyond our normal control. The three shantis also refer to the three-fold ills that man is heir to: physical and mental ailments; distress caused by other creatures including fellow humans, and troubles from unforeseen calamities or natural upheavals. Man needs to safeguard his existence from disease, social stresses and ecological disaster. Shanti is a state of perfect bliss we achieve within ourselves, which is why an individual Hindu seeks enlightenment.
But Hindus are also called to action, as explained in Chapter 3 of the Bhagavad Gita, which focuses on Karma yoga. The Gita, an 18-chapter conversation between Krishna and Arjuna about fulfilling one’s dharma (duty/justice) and what it entails, includes this advice from Krishna to Arjuna: perform activities “for the sake of benefiting the welfare of the world.” As part of the Hindu belief that we are part of one world, Vasudaiva Kutumbakam, another shanti mantra also comes to mind on World Malaria Day. It is a simple, all-encompassing blessing we utter for everyone we share the planet with. It also comes from the Brihadaaranyaka Upanishad (1.4.14), and includes a hope that we can be free of malaria and other diseases, working toward global health.
Sarve bhavantu sukinah; Sarve santu niramayah; Sarve bhadraani pasyantu; Maakaschit duhkha bhaag bhavet, Om Shanti Shanti Shanti
May all be happy; May all be without disease; May all have well-being; May none have misery of any sort. Om Peace Peace Peace.
These two Sanskrit shlokas, or verses, on peace, are ones that we chant at the end of the congregational prayers every Sunday at my local Hindu-American temple. The idea that we are one community, part of one human family is driven home to me as Hindus of all shapes and sizes, different ages and economic backgrounds, various sampradayas (traditions, similar to denominations) and languages, come together to share these ancient words and the foundational beliefs of our Hindu faith. We have one voice in seeking peace, for ourselves and our neighbors — be they around the corner or around the world.
Please join ONE this World Malaria Day to “Shine a Light on Malaria” and take action to save lives. Together, we can show that people of all faiths care about our neighbors suffering from malaria. Download the World Malaria Day Action Guide at www.one.org/faith to get started today!
Padma Kuppa is a member of the executive council of the Hindu American Foundation.