[Advaita-l] A perspective - 19

Kuntimaddi Sadananda ksadananda108 at gmail.com
Wed Feb 10 23:29:52 CST 2010

tat tvam asi and Gayatri mantra

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

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 has 24 letters but
during chanting it is done with 23 letters- 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

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-
– 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.

Hari Om!


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