Om tryambakam yajamahe
urvarukam iva bandhanan
mrityor mushiya mamritat
- From Taittiriya Upanishad
We worship the supreme light, the Absolute Shiva, who has three eyes, who is fragrant and nourishes all beings. This light is the expression and communication of our life, and it is our physical, mental and spiritual radiation and prosperity. Kindly release us from all calamities, bondage and suffering, just as a cucumber is released from its stalk, without any injury. May our minds be absorbed into Shiva, amritam (nectar), the ocean of tranquility. - Interpretation by Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati
This mantra is a mantra of liberation. I think it is important to understand this mantra by putting it in context. That way, we won't be put off by our biases on what it means to worship or our attachment to our own beliefs or how we perceive deities from religions not our own. The same way that we would be open to understanding someone's culture when we visit a different country, the same mindset can be applied to deciphering this ancient mantra. We can look past the literal meaning of the words and get to the core of its intention.
The mantra expresses liberation in a very poetic way, making use of imagery and analogy, story and diety. Many of us may originally find the idea of worship problematic, depending on our spiritual dispositions. But worship is not only about making an external God magnanimous, though that is the image we may commonly have. The other often forgotten aspect of worship is submitting to humility. It is acknowledging that our egos and selfish tendencies are not God, and so we surrender to something that is more than that ego and that selfish tendency. Whatever name we use to call it- God or the universe or the law of nature or great void or the collective consciousness or the higher Self or if we choose not to name it at all- does not matter as long as we can be sincere in our connection to that which is bigger than us.
Three-eyed Shiva is the Higher Self in us that is able to see oneness rather than separation. The two eyes represent being able to see both sides at the same time. It means that I do not cling only to my opinion, my perception, my beliefs, my experiences; but that I am also able to see others' opinions, perceptions, beliefs, and experiences. The third eye represents the ability the see the oneness beyond the duality of self and other. When we act in selfish, judgmental, or fearful ways, it is not because we are bad people. It is because we have forgotten to submit to our Higher Self. When we become humble, we see that we can open our three eyes to let go of this "other-ness".
When we buy a cucumber from the market, it is likely that this cucumber has been picked before it is fully ripe. Therefore, even though it is hardly visible to the eye, this cucumber would have sustained a little injury, a little bruise perhaps, a little force would have been applied. The metaphor of a cucumber being released from its stalk speaks about the ripeness, the readiness, and the natural progression that happens when one has reached his or her time for liberation. It is not forced. Looking at this ripe cucumber, one could not see traces of its former attachments. Similarly, someone who is completely liberated would not have traces of his or her conquered fear, anger, jealousy, and other worldly problems. When one is liberated, it is a process of completion, with all loose ends tied, with no unfinished business. It is the complete letting go of all that weighs it down.
This mantra teaches us that everyone could be liberated, that Shiva is in us, that to be released is our final destination. We can practice as much asana as we want, study the many deities as much as we want, discuss and intellectualize the concepts of liberation as much as we want. But in the end, it is not the body or mind that will free us, for the body and mind can also serve as a bondage. Ultimately, it is our Higher Self, beyond body and mind, that will lead us to freedom from suffering. It is our Higher Self that will remind us of what we have merely forgotten- that we are complete, and in this completeness, we are one and connected with everyone and everything else.