The longevity mantra goes like this: " So Drum Ah Khar Mu La Ting Nam Od Du Mu Ye Se Ne Dza" The mantra is the binding element of soul retrieval.
The soul perhaps means something different in Bon practice than what I would usually mean in conversation, here in Pittsburgh. In Pittsburgh, we tend to think of the soul as some kind of distillation of our essence, the purest form of our personality. We think this when we watch the trains trundle through the South Side, and we think this when we see the Monongahela river reflected in glass. Soul retrieval sounds like it would mean bringing back fragments of the personality, assimilating trauma, considering long forgotten insights, remembering previous incarnations: that kind of thing.
The Bon soul retrieval ritual is an elemental one, meaning it is a ritual to balance the 5 elements of earth, air, fire, water ,and space.
There is Tsa; there is the Lung; there is the Ra...these are the life force (Tsa), the life expectancy (Lung) and the soul (Ra). The soul (Ra) binds the life force (Tsa) to the body for the duration of the life expectancy (Lung).
So you see, your natural life expectancy may be 110 years, but due to karmic traces perhaps your soul weakens at 45. Good practice could strengthen the soul, perhaps but maybe not back up to your potential, but certainly longer than before. The Soul Retrieval ritual is Good Practice.
The soul retrieval ritual can last for days. I sat in a shortened version, 2 days. The mechanism for all of this is prayer, chant and visualisation led by the lama (teacher) to strengthen and balance our elements. This naturally strengthens the Tsa by removing the afflictions of ignorance, desired attachment and anger which all combine to weaken the life force.
There are 10 Torma created for each participant. They are small clay objects made in the form of the physical body, holding representation of the body fluids, charged with our negative karmic traces, and ultimately offered up as sacrifice.
The soul is represented as a totem animal. In Tibet, each family would have a specific animal, but the generic totem for all is the deer. A beautiful clay deer rests on a plate on the altar throughout the preceding rituals
A cauldron of saffron infused milk is given a good stir, and the deer is floated on the spinning surface. We are all now chanting, watching the deer slowly come to rest. Chanting.
If you've ever watched a pendulum come to rest, you will know that what 'rest' means changes after 40 minutes staring at smaller but still measurable deviation. Perhaps it will never stop, and you will be left there, sitting in half-lotus , screaming knees for ever.
If the deer stops facing the sangha, then the ritual has been accepted, the mechanics have been executed correctly. If the deer stops facing away from the sangha, then the spinning has to start again. I think you get three spinning starts before you have to go back to the beginning, which in our case was only yesterday but in the full ritual would be 5 days ago.
The longevity mantra distills all of the soul retrieval practice. Mantras can be used in a lot of different ways. Repetition of a mantra by itself is beneficial and accumulates merit. With visualisation, the mantra becomes a vehicle for energy transfer with deity. I sometimes wear a banner embroidered with the syllables of the longevity mantra. It is wrapped over my shoulder like a boy scout merit badge sash while I meditate. These kinds of things I find useful reminders to stabilize and strengthen the practice. I don't want anyone to think that I'm saying only with this merit badge sash can the practice be effective. My mind is prone to wandering, and sign posts along the way help to keep focused.
So now, in the mornings at the YMCA, when I run on the treadmill. The first 5 minutes are solid misery. It has always been this way, even when I was training to run marathons and the run would be lasting 300 minutes. But at a certain point now I start to stand a bit straighter, I start to sweat a bit and I get an even breath pattern. I follow a rhythmic breathing pattern, two steps exhale 3 steps inhale. I heard this is effective for oxygen intake, but that it also evenly distributes stress across the body because the pattern offsets an alternating foot strike with the inhale.
I start to feel loose, limber and graceful. I always run like a moose, so take that as a directional statement rather than a description. I run like a moose with diarrhea, barely stifling a heart-rending bellow. But then I start running through the mantra, with each step a syllable. If I start the mantra on the right foot, the next repetition will begin on the left foot, that's just that way it works. Like this. Right foot start " So Drum Ah Khar Mu La Ting Nam Od Du Mu Ye Se Ne Dza" Left Foot start " So Drum Ah Khar Mu La Ting Nam Od Du Mu Ye Se Ne Dza"
Then I become aware of my hands loosely jogging by the side of my waist. When I start the first mantra on the right foot, I fold down the thumb on my right hand. When I start the second repetition, with the left foot, I fold down the thumb on my left hand. Then I alternate fingers on each hand with each repetition, until all 5 fingers on each hand are folder in to a loose fist. On the next repetition, I let the pinky on my right hand come out of the fist, because I will have started the mantra on my right foot. Then the pinky on my left hand and so on until I'm back with two loosely held hands. 20 repetitions of the mantra.
While I'm doing that, I become aware of the central channels supported by my breathing. This is a very purifying sensation, breathing in negative, expelling transformed positive. Breathing in stiffness, idleness; breathing out vitality, optimism.
Each footstep strikes the ground , and as they do a lotus emerges. In the lotus is the seed syllable of the mantra. It's a lot like a video game where you drive a car around and hit power points. The treadmill extends off into the distance and every footstep is a mantra-filled lotus waiting to burst open with my stride.
I'm trying to get back into marathon running shape. I think it would be a wonderful experience to run 26.2 miles each step reciting the longevity mantra. Not just for my own decrepit body, but as a healing force for everyone who shares the same course that day.