by Acharya Sadanandaji
Someone asked me couple of days ago the meaning of Gayatri mantra. I listened recently to the talks by Swami Paramarthanadaji on Sandhyavandanam, which is available in CD form for those who are interested. Here I am giving the notes that I have prepared based on his talks, on the meaning of Gayatri. His talk itself is based on several sources that he has collected, and as usual presented in a very systematic form. In preparing the notes, I have interjected some of my comments. Hence the original belongs to Shree Swamiji. For those who are interested, I suggest that they listen to the original talks than relay on my notes. Since this is relevant to the topic of tat tvam asi, I decided to include it as part of – A Perspective series. There are many meanings given to Gayatri mantra but the Vedantic meaning is appealing to me the most, hence this post. Since the questioner wanted my views, needless to say that I subscribe to Gayatri not as japa but as one
of the means for my nidhidhyaasana contemplating on the Vedantic meaning provided.
Gayatri mantra has five parts–with stops after each one 1. Om! 2. bhuurbhuvassuvaH (vyaahRiti mantra) 3. tat saviturvareNyam 4. bhargo devasya dheemahi 5. dhiyo yo naH prachodayaat. The last three are actually Gayatri mantra, the first two are additions. Gayatri chandas should have 23 letters only and not 24. Hence it should be vareNyam not vareNiiyam. Only during homam the 24 syllable-mantra is used. Gaayatri mantra, like any other mantra, is chanted in three ways: uccha, manda, maanasa japa. Uccha is loud and audible to people around (could be disturbing to others – I found ready made cassette recorder that plays continuously the gaayatri mantra – the cassette gets all the punyam. I find the playing the mantra on cassette is more a nuisance, since people who put that tape do not pay attention either to the shabda part or to the meaning part – when one plays that cassette, then one should be serious, observe pin-drop silence and meditate on the
mantra, otherwise it is more a noise pollution using the sacred mantra). manda or upamshu japa is chanting with lip movement, audible to only to the person who is chanting and not to others. Maanasam, is purely mental with no lip-tongue- or throat movement involved. During the maanasa japa, mind cannot afford to think anything else. In the case of uccha and manda japa, one can be chanting mechanically, while mind may be running all over the world. Hence, of these three, the maanasam japa is supreme, the next is manda and the last is uccha; this is true for all mantras including gaayatri. Causing nuisance to others by putting ready made tape loud may contribute punya to the recorder, but sin to the one who is responsible for the nuisance. Spirituality does not involve hurting others, manasaa vaachaa karmaNaa, mentally, verbally or by action. While chanting, we are not supposed to hold on to the sacred thread or yagyopaviitam. It is sufficient to hold
on to the mind. Imagination of the deity is done before japa, and not during japa. During the japa, attention should be on the mantra, either concentrating on the shabda or sound, or on the meaning or artha. Shabda itself is supposed to be sacred for the chanter if it is done correctly. When one is contemplating on the meaning, then shabda is of secondary importance.
Meaning of the mantra: The first two are addition to the mantra and therefore are not part of gaayatri; the first two parts are: first is – Om!- part and the second is bhuurbhuvassuvaH – the vyaahRiti part. The rest is the gaayatri. Om! kaara is glorified in the scriptures – it is said even the sound is very purifying – Brahmaji initiated the creation after uttering two sounds – Om! and atha! Om!-kaaara is the best name for the Lord. Gita says: Om tatsaditi nirdesho brahmaNastrividhaH smRitaH| -Om!, tat, and sat – are three ways Brahman is known. Because of this Om is known as praNava – meaning ideal for the Lord. This is explained as follows: praNava means prakarsheya nuuyate, specially exalted because 1. Om is ekaaksharam – one syllable – Lord is also one. 2. Om is aksharaH (one letter) – Brahman is aksharam (indestructible). Philosophical significance of Om is extensively discussed, particularly in Mandukya Up. Om has also the
meaning as that which comes down to protect – avati or rakshati, iti Om. This meaning is applicable to both the sound and the Lord.
VyaahRiti mantra – is also auspicious sound irrespective of the meaning. There is vyaahRiti mantra upaasana discussed in the shikshaavalli of Tai. Up. These three mantras have been uttered by the Brahma – Brahmanaa vyaahRitaa iti vyaahRitiH, like Om-kaara. The second meaning is visheShena aasamantaat harati paapaani iti vyaahRitiH – That which removes all the sins if it is uttered with devotion by a person. It is a great purifier when uttered. From the point of meaning of vyaahRiti mantra, bhuuH bhuvaH suvaH – it involves three lokas which are manifestations of the Lord. Therefore, the simple meaning for the first two parts of gaayatri is – I remember Om, the Lord, who manifests in the form three lokas, bhuuH, bhuvaH, suvaH.
From Vedantic point, Om! represents nirguNa turiiyam, the unqualified Brahman, and bhuuH, bhvaH, suvaH represent the qualified or saguNa Brahman, vishva, taijasa, praajnaH, respectively. Hence together with Om, they represent the four paadaas of Brahman. Thus from the point of meditation the meaning is – I remember the nirguNam Brahma who alone is manifesting in the form of saguna vishva-virat, saguna taijasa-hiranyagarbha, saguNa praajna-IswaraH (the paired terms represent micro-macro aspects of waking, dream and deep sleep states from the point of vyashTi or individual jiiva, and samashTi or total cosmos– Ref. MaanDukya & kaarika).
Gayatri mantra: First we will provide the general meaning of the mantra. It is an invocation of suurya devata or sun-god. According to this, mantra in anvaya form is– yaH naH dhiiyaH prachodayaat savituH devasya tat vareNyam bhargaH dhiimahi. Dhiimahi means we meditate upon. vareNyam bhargaH sacred, adorable, brilliant or effulgent. We meditate upon that which is the most sacred or effulgent devasya savituH – the sun god. We meditate on that whose effulgence alone enlivens (pracodayaat) or energies our intellect (dhiyaH). Hence we meditate upon that sacred effulgent Sun God which activates all our intellects. We need to go Gita for reference to this meaning –
yadaadityagatam tejaH jagat bhaasayate2khilam|
yacchandramapi yacchaagnou tat tejo viddhi maamakam||
The light and the energy in the sun belong to Me, says Krishna. Hence you can look upon the Sunlight in the early morning as pratyaksha or direct symbol of the Lord. Source of every light in one way or the other comes from the Sun. Without the Sun no life can get energized. Glory of the sunlight is said in Gita:
gaamaavishya ca bhuutani dhaarayaamyahamojasaa|
puShNaami chouShadhiiH sarvaaH somo bhuutvaa rasaatmakaH||
It nourishes everything on the earth; the plants and the beings, charaacharam, movables and immovables. Here the brahmachaari-student is interested in – dhiimahi – meditating on the sun-god to nourish his intellect just as He nourishes all the beings on this earth.
Vedantic meaning: Here dhiimahi means we meditate upon – indicates the nidhidhyaasanam – tat bhargaH vareNyam – referring to sat chit ananda swaruupam. We meditate upon the sat chit ananda swaruupam – on what – savituH devasya – of the Lord – IswaraH – tat padarthaH – IswaraH – We meditate upon the sat chit ananda swaruupam of the Lord. This meaning is arrived as follows: Here the word savituH – means that which procreates the universe – suuyate iti savitaa – Lord says maayaadhyakshena prakRitiH suuyate sa charaacharam| Suu means to procreate. Savitaa means that which is creator of the universe – primarily the material cause – upaadaana kaaraNam. Next – devasya – that which is effulgent or chetana swaruupam – intelligent principle, that is, nimitta kaaraNam. Hence Lord is invoked both as the material and intelligent cause. Hence savituH devasya – implies Lord both as intelligent and material cause of the universe.
In – tat savituH –the implied meaning (vaachyaartham) of the word – tat is: tat refers to Ch. up – 6th Ch. tat tvam asi – starting from sadeva soumya idam agra asiit –ending upto aitadaatmya idagam sarvam, tat satyam – hence tat refers to sat swaruupam. tat bhargaH vareNyaH – bhargaH means that which is light or effulgent. That which is capable of removing darkness – hence the implied meaning is chaitanya swaruupam. Darkness also stands for ignorance. It is ignorance of objective world also ignorance of one’s own self – or muula avidya. It, in the form of vRitti or thought, removes the darkness of ignorance. Objective knowledge takes place in the form of vRitti or thought. Every thought as we discussed before is nothing but existence or tat or sat in the attributive form representing or imaging the attributes of the objects outside. Hence, as existence, or tat, it provides the basis for the vRitti or thoughts of the objective
world. Since the vRitti is revealed by the light of consciousness or savituH devasya by the process of reflection, when one shifts the attention to that light of reflecting consciousness, one can gain the knowledge of the truth. Thus it removes both the ignorance centered on the objective world as well as the primordial ignorance centered on the self. Hence it removes the samsaara caused by ignorance. VareNyam – means that which is worth choosing by all; it is – varaNa yogyam. That which everybody chooses is happiness or ananda swaruupam. Hence vareNyam means, it is Ananda swaruupam or puurNatvam or fulfillment. This is one purushaartha that is common to all. Hence tat means sat swaruupam, bhargaH means chit swaruupam and vareNyam implies aananda swaruupam – hence tat bhargaH vareNyam implies sat chit ananda swaruupam – hence we are meditating on the sat chit ananda swaruupa Brahman. Meditation here means recognition by my mind that the
saakshii swaruupam as the very basis for the whole universe of objective and subjective world.
Now we note the grammatical transition in the mantra where it shifts from sat chit ananda swaruupam Brahman to saakshii swaruupa aatma in the mantra. It starts with the neuter gender Brahman and the mantra comes to masculine gender aatmaa – Yah is masculine gender and refers to aatma, while tat refers to neutral gender Brahman. Thus we have mahaavaakya embedded in the mantra with the change in the gender. Thus the meaning of the mantra is -
We meditate on that all pervading sat chit ananda swaruupam which is the cause of the universe, which is also behind our intellect as saakshii swaruupam or kshetrajna swaruupam, as knower of all fields. Such a change can be also noted in the Tai. Up ananda valli – where it starts with Brahmavidaapnoti param .. first defining Brahman and switching to aatma as tasmaat vaa etasmaat aatmanaH aakaaShaH sambhuutaH indicating oneness of Brahman and aatma. It can be viewed as the all-pervading Brahman – as though entered into jiiva – anupraviShTa ruupaH - as aatma or soul – this is the implied meaning of yaH. Thus we have – That Brahman who is the material-intelligent cause or creator of this universe is the same as -I am- is now in the form of the self -Yah – as witnessing consciousness or saakshii swaruupam – aatma. Thus the mahaavaakya, tat tvam asi, is imbedded in the mantra. Next – naH dhiiyaH – all our intellects – or that which is involved
in all the knowledge process where we have discussed before the perceptuality condition that the existence and the consciousness get united for me to be conscious of the existence of all objective knowledge- prachodayaat – be illumined. Saakshii illumining directly the intellect as chidaabhaasa and chidaabhaasa indirectly illuming the world of objects. Thus jnaana prakriya or process of how knowledge takes place is also indicated.
Thus, according to this interpretation tat savitur vareNyam bhargo devasya dhiimaH indicate Brahma chaitanyam, dhiyoyona prachodayaat indicate aatma chaitanyam – dhiimaH –meditation on the implied mahaavaakya or identity relation – as tat tvam asi. This idea is actually contained in the famous tai. Up. mantra also in the bRiguvalli – sa yaschaayam puruShe, yaschaasaavaaditye, sa ekaH. Comparing with gaayatri, sa yachaayam puruShe – is dhiyoyonaH prachodayaat, yaschaasaavaaditye is tat savitur vareNyam bhargo devasya dhiimahi – sa ekaH - the abhedena dhiyaamaH – we meditate on the oneness. Thus gaayatri meaning from Vedantic angle is simply – tat tvam asi –mahaavaakya, and therefore gaayatri dhyaanam becomes nidhidhyaasanam – hence gayatri is recommended for all. It contains the essence of Madukya, Taittireya and ChanDogya Upanishads.
My prostrations to Swami Paramarthanandaji for enlightening me on the essence of gaayatri mantra.