An Initiation in to the Saastra
The Gaayatrii mantra is so profound in the meaning, that if you have studied the whole Vedas. This mantra appears in all the four Vedas: Rg, Saama and Atharva. It is a very potent mantra and has been chanted by people for ages. At the time of the investiture ceremony of the sacred thread (upanayanam) the boy is initiated to the Gaayatrii mantra. For him it is only a prayer, and he is given only a simple word meaning so that he knows what he is praying. This initiation into the Gaayatrii mantra opens up for the boy the mother lode of the spiritual wisdom the Vedas.
Preparing the Mind
Chanting a mantra helps you gain a certain insight into your mind. While chanting, you generally use the mind, and thus chanting reveals the ways of the mind. When you begin chanting a mantra, you discover that your mind is occasionally distracted from your intended activity, because the mind is used to mechanical thinking.
In mechanical, goal-less thinking there is no question of intrinsic distraction. One thought can lead to another thought, and yet another, and so on. For example, you see a car. You notice it is a Ford. A Lincoln like the one you used to have. You think of the places you went in that car, and so on. This is how a pattern of thinking evolves with reference to an object, and this continues until there is an external distraction. Then another pattern starts. The worst part of mechanical thinking is that it automatically gets into an undesirable thinking pattern. Even when you do not want to be sad, you become sad. You do not have any control over the way you think. So, you cannot really predict what is going to be the next thought. If you become aware of your thoughts, you can at least be conscious of what is happening. That requires a certain space between you and your thinking. Then you can perhaps direct your mind. You need not think yourself into sadness, frustration or anger. This would be very useful for an adolescent, and that is why mantra initiations take place at that age.
When I give my mind an occupation, like chanting a given mantra for a few minutes, I have made a commitment to myself as to what my next thought will be unlike in mechanical thinking. Because of this commitment, I know that the given mantra will be my next thought. If any other thought occurs and starts a chain of thoughts, it is clearly an infraction of the commitment. Once you have made a commitment, distraction becomes evident. To bring back the mind, Lord Krsna says in the Giitaa:
yato yato niscarati manascancalamasthiram
tatastato niyamyaitad aatmanyeva vasam nayet
"For whatever reason the mind which is unsteady and in a constant flux goes away, may one bring it back from there by restraint into the power of one's own self".
Thus, whenever the mind moves away from the object of contemplation, bring it back. That is also a part of meditation. Thus, deliberately, the mind is brought back.
The Three Meanings of the Word Om
Om is a beautiful one syllable word. In the Kathopanisad it is said:
sarve vedaaha yat padam aamananti
tapaamsi sarvaani ca yad vadanti
yad icchantaha brahmacaryam caranti
tat te padam sangrahena braviimi Om iti etat
"I tell you briefly of that goal which all the Vedas
with one voice propound, which all the austerities
speak of, and wishing which people practice Brahmacarya: It is this, Om."
The Gaayatrii mantra starts with the word Om. It is a name, abhidhaana, for the Lord. Abhidheya, what is implied by the name Om, is also the Lord. Here, the meaning of the name Om, the Lord, is the cause of the creation (jagat kaaranam). There are three approaches to arrive at this meaning.
Linguistic Meaning of Om
In the linguistic sense Om is a word from the Sanskrit language having its own root. It is derived from the root "ava" which is in the sense of raksanam, protection, and also sustenance. Therefore, "ava - man" means the one who protects and sustains this entire creation (jagat) by lending his existence and consciousness.
By the rules of Sanskrit grammar, the suffix "man" in the word "ava - man" loses the last vowel and what follows it, which gives "avam". Through vocalization process, "va" becomes "u". Further, "a" and "u" combine to form the diphtong,"o", finally yielding Om.
Super-Imposed Meaning of Om
This is where the Upanisads load a certain meaning upon " a "," u ", and " m ". It is super-imposed deliberately, like on a cloth you super-impose the entire constitution of the country and call it a national flag. Thus, here " a " implies your waking world - your physical world. The " u " is the subtle, thought world. The " m " is the unmanifest, causal state, as in dreamless sleep. The unmanifest, comes to manifest as a dream at the thought level. And when you are fully awake, it becomes completely manifest at the physical level. In the physical body you experience the physical world. Therefore, the totality of the physical world as the waker, the thought world as the dreamer, and the unmanifest world as the sleeper is " a - u - m ". This is you, the world and God, all in one.
Phonetic Meaning of Om
The manifest world (jagat) is seen as one; but severally, we can say it has many forms with corresponding names. Every form is the Lord's form and the name for that form is the Lord's name. If the Lord is all and you want to give the Lord a name, a name not in any particular language or alphabet, a name that is purely phonetic, that includes all the names that are there, what should you do?
In any language, when a person opens the mouth and makes a sound without any other effort, it is "a". When you close the mouth and make a sound it is "m". All other sounds in any language fall between "a"and"m". All the words in all languages are made up of letters and letters are, even if there is no script, are sounds. The one sound that represents all these sounds produced by the letters "a - u - m " is
Meaning of the Mantra
Om bhuurbhuva svah - Om is equated with bhuuh,bhuvah, swah. They stand for the earth, the beings, and anything beyond our comprehension. Thus, everything from the earth to beings and onwards to the unknown is called "bhuurbhuvasvah". Thus, the Lord, Om, is everything.
Tat saviturvarenyam bhargo devasya dhimahi - 'tat varenyam' the one that is most worshipful, the one that should be worshipped by you. Whomsoever you worship, that worship goes to the Lord alone. Even when you worship a particular deity, it is the Lord's aspect. 'bhargah', all knowing. 'savituh devasya', the sun, spotless and bright. The Lord is effulgent and all knowledge. And that Lord is the one upon whom we meditate or whom we pray to, 'dhiimahi'. We pray, with our heart and mind, to that Lord who is effulgent, all-knowing, all -consciousness and most worshipful.
Dhyo yo nah pracodayaat - 'dhiyah', the thoughts, the mind; 'nah', ours; 'yah', the one; 'pracodayaat', illumine or brighten. The meaning is; "May He (the Lord) brighten our minds." Note that not only do you pray for yourself but for others also. In order to live a peaceful life, a meaningful life, people around you also should be content. Otherwise there will be problems as you deal with them on a day-to-day basis.
The Pursuit for Maturity
The word 'pracodayaat' also has another meaning: 'to direct.' Thus, the meaning of the last line can be: 'May He direct our minds to the ways of thinking that will lead us to our own growth toward proper clarity and self-discovery'. Our whole life is determined by our own thinking. Clear thinking and good decisions are what make the life of maturity and growth. Life is nothing but a series of decisions. And those decisions have to come from a clear mind. Being prayerful brings clarity and His grace. Prosperity and such come whin right decisions are made. When you are invoking the all-knowing Lord ('bhargah'), you are invoking the knowledge. And when you understand Him to be bhargah , your mind becomes effulgent, brilliant, clear. There is nothing more fascinating than clarity. It is that clarity we invoke. This is the greatest blessing one can have. Thus, we pray 'May He lead our minds to right thinking'.
Om Tat Sat