Back in the late seventies, when I was travelling with Baba Muktananda, it was customary for the devotees to ask for a “spiritual name.” Initially Baba would come up with a name on the spot as the person kneeled before him, but as the crowds got too large, he handed the person a card with a name on it. Although the process seemed impersonal to me, I nevertheless asked for a name. Baba read the card, said “Ahhh,” and handed it to me. My name was Rakshā, meaning “protection.”
Within that tradition the Guru is seen as one who protects the devotee. And “mantra” means “that which protects the mind” – which is pretty cool actually.
Now that I no longer practice that yoga, and I practice Zen, I take refuge and protection in the Buddha, the dharma [the teachings], and the sangha [the community of practitioners]. I especially like to visualize the buddha robe, the “okesa” that is worn over the shoulder of a Buddhist priest or monk, as a sacred object. Being [probably over the top] devotional, I love to imagine bowing to my teacher’s okesa.
The last few days I have been freaked out over my blood pressure. Every time I see the insouciant expression “meditation lowers blood pressure,” I think, “Yeah, right.” I meditate daily, but my blood pressure is all over the map. For the last week or so, my blood pressure readings have been really high, at around 160/115. Are these real numbers? I had developed so much anxiety around this that I couldn’t get a real blood pressure measurement because I was so anxious.
So I sat in the nurse’s office. She took my pressure – 155/109 – and told me to relax. She said that she would return later and would take it again. I don’t think you can tell someone to relax. But I imagined an okesa. I imagined being enveloped in the protection of the okesa. Minute after minute, I took refuge in the okesa. When she returned my blood pressure had dropped to 130/85!
There is a mystery here concerning the nature of protection, devotion, and faith. I think that no matter what the object of devotion – the guru, the Holy Mother, or an okesa – the important thing is the devotional act of seeking refuge or protection with all your heart.
It is open-ended prayer, devotion, and faith. Faith in “…” with no predicate. Praying for protection – as an act independent of the object of devotion – is that which protects.