If there is a single prayer or sutra that describes the essence of Jainism, then it is the Navkar Mantra. The Navkar Mantra on a basic level is simply the five-fold salutation to the five spiritual entities (panch-parmeshthi) of the universe. On a deeper level, the Navkar Mantra contains a greater significance than its literal meaning. According to Acharya Sushil Muniji, this mantra is the perfect composition of sounds culminated by the Gandharas (disciples) of the Arihants. This composition is believed to be the most beneficial sequence of sounds for spiritual progress.
Meaning and Significance
The Namaskar Maha-mangal Sutra (or Navkar Mantra) is as follows:
I bow to the Arihants, destroyers of their inner enemies.
I bow to the Siddhas, the liberated souls.
I bow to the Acharyas, the religious leaders.
I bow to the Upadhyays, the religious teachers.
Ṇamō Lōē Savva Sāhūṇaṁ
I bow to all the Sadhus and Sadhvis (spiritual practitioners), those who have renounced the worldly life and follow a path of simplicity.
Maṅgalā Ṇaṁ Ca Savvēsiṁ,
paḍamama havaī maṅgalaṁ
This five-fold bow (mantra) destroys all sins and obstacles, and of all auspicious mantras, is the first and foremost one.
The Navkar Mantra has multiple areas of significance in Jainism and world religion. It is one of the few mantras or prayers in the world that makes no reference to any specific higher entity or personality. It establishes the five states of spiritual progression, namely, Arihant, Siddha, Acharya, Upadhyay, and Sadhu/Sadhvis. When reciting the Navkar Mantra, the virtues of the panch-parmeshthi are given more importance than the actual personalities. By excluding divine personalities, the Navkar Mantra aims at progressing one spiritually without ego or attachment to any individual entity.
Another interesting fact about the Navkar Mantra is that the mantra itself is composed of smaller mantras. Every single letter and every line individually is a mantra of its own (e.g. the single line Ṇamō Arihantāṇaṁ can be recited alone). According to the 10th-century text Dravyasamgraha by Acharya Nemichandra, the Navkar Mantra can be shortened to various reduced forms¹. The single letter of Om (Aaaum) itself is believed to be the shortened form of the Navkar Mantra. Aaaum represents the panch-parmeshthi (A — Arihant, A — Ashariri (Siddhas), A — Acharya, U — Upadhyay, and M — Muni).
Ultimately, the anecdotes and possibilities of the Navkar Mantra are limitless. Countless stories and myths exist about the secrets of the Navkar Mantra, but these are only secondary to its primary importance. The ultimate goal of the Navkar Mantra is liberation (Moksh) through the sacred path of Ahimsa (non-violence).
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If anything in this article has offended you or gone against the teachings of Bhagwan Mahavir, we sincerely ask for forgiveness. Michhami Dukkadam!
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