The gayatri mantra embodies the collective wisdom of the entire Vedic revelation. Found in the Rig Veda (3.62.10), the gayatri mantra takes its name in part because it is written in the gayatri meter (twenty-four syllables divided into three lines of eight syllables each). But gayatri also means “she who protects the singer” (from gai—“to sing,” and trai—“to protect”). Thus, gayatri is a name for the Divine Mother, she who protects her children and leads them toward self-realization. The gayatri mantra reads:

Tat savitur varenyam
bhargo devasya dhimahi
dhiyo yo nah prachodayat

When the mantra is recited in meditation, however, an additional line is added at the beginning. This line contains the sound Om, followed by three short sounds called the maha vyahritis (the “great utterances”: bhur, bhuvah, and svah). Thus the complete mantra as it is used in meditation is:

Om bhur, bhuvah, svah
tat savitur varenyam
bhargo devasya dhimahi
dhiyo yo nah prachodayat

The Chhandogya Upanishad explains the significance of the first line. It tells us that once Prajapati, the Lord of the Universe, contemplated the nature of the three worlds—earth, sky, and heaven—and through intense concentration he was able to discover the essential guiding force of each: agni (fire) governed the earth; vayu (the vital force) governed the sky; and aditya (the sun) governed the vault of heaven.

Once more Prajapati applied his intense concentration to these three “seed” sounds, or guiding forces, and obtained their essences: from fire he was given the verses of the Rig Veda; from the vital energy he was given the Yajur Veda; and from the sun he was given the Sama Veda.

He applied his concentration once more, now to the three Vedas themselves, and from the Rig Veda he obtained the syllable bhuh; from the Yajur Veda the syllable bhuvah; and from the Sama Veda the syllable svah. Thus the three maha vyahritis are the essence of the Vedas, the seeds of fire, vital energy, and the sun—as well as the seed sounds of the earth, sky, and heaven.

Finally, Prajapati focused on these three vyahritis together, and through intense concentration he obtained a single, pure sound, the syllable OmOm, it is said, “is all this.”

The next two lines of the gayatri mantra venerate the concept of solar light, energy, purity, transcendence, illumination, and compassion (the sun shines for all). They read:

tat savitur varenyam
bhargo devasya dhimahi

This translates as: “We recall within ourselves and meditate upon that wondrous Spirit of the Divine Solar Being.”

The final line (dhiyo yo nah prachodayat) changes the tone. It makes a request—a petition for inner clarity and intuitive awareness. “Guide us,” the mantra asks. The essence of this final line is contained in its first and last words. The final word, prachodayat, means “may he guide, lead, direct.” The first word, dhiyah (dhiyo), may mean simply “thoughts,” but, more important, it refers to the mind’s higher faculty and intuitive vision. The mantra asks that the finest force of the mind, its intuitive capacity, be guided by “that wondrous Spirit of the Divine Solar Being.” Thus, the complete translation of the gayatri mantra is:

Om. In each of the three planes of existence, we recall within ourselves and meditate upon that wondrous Spirit of the Divine Solar Being; may he guide our inner vision.

Gayatri is a prayer as well as a mantra. As a mantra, it is a set of sounds used by meditators to realize a higher state of consciousness—a state symbolized by the sun. As a prayer it petitions God for guidance. “Direct my mind,” it asks. Contained in this prayer is an elaborate exposition of spiritual philosophy. It describes the bhargah (the solar spirit), who is the essence of Savitri (the solar being), who is yet the inner identity of Surya (the sun). The gayatri as a prayer is a petition to tat (that) which is the infinite light of pure consciousness.

But what is this pure consciousness? The Vedas tell us that pure consciousness, which dwells in the highest heaven (and thereby pervades all), is also that which dwells in every human being. Consciousness is the light of awareness:

Now, the light which shines above in heaven, pervading all the spaces, pervading everywhere, both below and in the farthest reaches of the worlds—this indeed is that same light which shines within man.
—(Chhandogya Upanishad 3.13.7)

In its dual role as mantra and prayer, then, the gayatri both purifies the mind and invites the finest forces of the mind to awaken.

Written by: Rolf Sovik

Source: Yoga International


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