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Gayatri Invocation

THE GAYATRI INVOCATION



Aum bhur bhuvah svah
tatsaviturvarenyam bhargo devasya dhimahi
dhiyo yo nah prachodayat. Om.

AUM. In all three worlds – terrestrial, astral,
and celestial – may we meditate upon the splendour
of that Divine Sun who illuminates all. May its golden
light nourish our understanding and guide us on our
journey to its sacred seat. OM.

 It is a very ancient and sacred teaching that the Gayatri, corresponding to Vach, consecrating the Light of the Logos in Sound, should only be invoked on behalf of universal welfare. In general, all those who have any attraction to spiritual ideas must cleanse their hearts and strengthen those feelings in them that are truly universal and limitless, even though they may not know in advance what limitless love is. They must be willing to move towards unconditional and boundless love. They must refuse to consolidate partial loves and blinding hates and especially those shadows of love which contribute to human sorrow and deception. In affirming true love they must show spiritual courage and kindle the light of daring in the heart. The more one attempts this, the more one can keep moving. There is no way in which one could really grow without repeatedly assisting in the disintegration of a limited equilibrium which worked at one time. Either one does it, or it will be done to one. If it is done from outside, it may happen slowly, but when it comes, one may collapse. Whereas, if one does it consciously, refusing to consolidate even the finest traits or the glittering simulacra of virtue, if one is willing again and again to take stock and rebuild one's self-conception, the more one will have a chance of bringing closer the inmost urges that are in line with the highly potent spiritual invocation of the Gayatri mantram, and of negating the familiar and latent elements of conditionality in one's nature.

 In many old cultures wisdom is often shown in cooperating with the seasons of nature and the cycles of time. Individuals may make some sort of inward affirmation of benevolence towards all that lives. If one simply enjoys the thought of being a friend to every living being, one could make discoveries about oneself and about the correction of habits, and then one can take stock like a craftsman. One can discern certain patterns and link them up to causes that are recognizable in certain mental states and thought-patterns. One may then counteract them, but in the process of doing this, one must recognize that it cannot be accomplished all at once. At the surface level people do not self-consciously mature in the manner in which everything in nature grows, giving time sufficient scope to do its own healing magic. Therefore impatience arises with impetuosity as the stimulus, resulting in inertia and defeatism. This is the loud assertion of mortality, and even those who have heard the sacred teaching of immortality may still bring to it something of the intensity and the frenetic nature of mortality. This is implicit in the human condition, the translation downwards from the higher to the lower, from the immortal to the mortal, from Duration to the language of Time. One has to penetrate these categories and see that in the indivisible hidden moment there is a mirroring of boundless Duration, that within the invisible atom there is boundless Space. This is the metaphysical basis of the Gayatri invocation to the Spiritual Sun. To be able to use this daily and especially in reference to human relationships, in reference to all one's obligations, in reference to one's dharmas and karmas, requires great wisdom.

 One must truly feel compassion for that in all human beings which represents inertia, stultification, coldness, disintegration and death. The major obstacles to growth, producing a stony and indifferent heart, are ignorance combined with inertia – tamas – leading to a repeated persistence in a restricted view of the world. One of the asymmetrical characteristics of the universe is that individuals can expand without limit, but personalities cannot contract without limit. One may contract to a point where one might even enjoy contraction, where one becomes habituated to the dingy, the cloudy, the chaotic and the claustrophobic. This is the sense in which many people, habituated to self-torture and self-torment, find that they cannot attach meaning to any language, and cannot give credibility to themselves with reference to the sacred. They may know the noblest teachings, but they bring to them a facile sort of analytical familiarity and a stale routine in their response. A point comes when they become cold, when the psychic fire has burnt itself out and the cool waters of wisdom wash over dead ashes.

 This has analogies with what goes on in the astronomer's universe. When a planet goes sufficiently far away from the sun – and there is a decisive difference between the parabolic movement of some bodies and the elliptical movement of others – it cannot keep pace at a certain level of intense, rapid, whirling motion around the powerful, incandescent centre. Then a point is reached when one of these bodies in its slow movement is expelled, going further and further away from the solar centre. It becomes cold because it enters into a state which must eventually culminate in a kind of disintegration or death, a tragic fulfilment of Nature's laws. There is an analogy between what takes place in reference to matter in the galaxies and what takes place within the solar system of the human form. The Atman is like the sun (in the Gayatri mantram) and all the other principles are like planets or comets in relation to it. It is possible that a person, though familiar at some level with a sacred teaching, especially the idea of immortality, may be constantly translating downwards in terms of what is dark and sombre. The person may after a point experience something comparable to an extreme coldness, an amazing lack of any spiritual vitality. Sometimes this can combine with an extraordinary versatility in acting out roles in the world, an atavistic skill in mimetics.

 The origin of this may be sought in one of two ways. Either in another life the person, having made considerable spiritual progress, may have been stymied and halted because of some deep-seated fear, pride or selfishness, and therefore there was a damage to the astral form which must reoccur in life after life until it is met by commensurate compassion, self-conquest and self-modification. But the person does not know this, though somewhere deep down he or she senses it. Or – and this is the general cause – it is the result of the gravity effect exercised by the sum-total of human weaknesses, stagnation and inertia upon anyone who, by the Light of the Logos, by the power of thought and the purity of sacred speech, tries, in the words of Jesus, to "Come out from among them and be ye separate." This is not easy. It is precisely when one tries to stand apart, as Arjuna found in the first chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, that one becomes acutely self-righteous because the weak can work through the virtues of the strong. One of the greatest causes, metaphysically, for the collective brake that eventually must work at individual levels as well, is self-righteousness. This is why the ancient teaching is, "Do not fancy you can stand aside from the bad man or the foolish man. They are yourself, though in a less degree than your friend or your master.... Therefore, remember that the soiled garment you shrink from today may have been yours yesterday, may be yours tomorrow." One cannot feel any different, any better than any being that is alive. Out of the very harshness of judgement or the ignorant attempt to separate oneself from even a Hitler, one will actually draw to oneself shadows of spiritual pride. To invoke the Gayatri mantram is truly to bid farewell to all self-righteousness. Self-righteousness is the illusory source of self-preservation – or what looks like it in the short run – but which in the long run is a barrier that sunders one from the whole of life.

The Voice of the Silence says, "Give up thy life, if thou would'st live." All the great Teachers have spoken in terms of eternal life versus what is thought to be life but which is really selfishness. One either lives in the immortal individuality that focusses the life of the universal or within the prison-house of the persona. A fundamental choice is involved in the Gayatri invocation and this is very much connected with the evolutionary processes of Nature. Physiologically, life is a losing race against death; every moment everyone is dying. Why, then, is there life in the physical body? Why is there homeostasis? Why is there resistance to the ocean of life and to all the forces of disintegration? This has to do with the power of cohesion, which involves the mind and its wakefulness. It involves the heart and its rhythms. But it also involves the spiritual will, an act of faith in one's purposefulness and in the meaningfulness of one's existence, in one's relevance to the human condition. To be able to find meaning and relevance from the largest standpoint, as in the Gayatri mantram, is from the beginning and also daily to say good-bye to ordinary conceptions of terrestrial life.

 No doubt a person who intones the Gayatri mantram will participate in the world, will go through the duties of life, will enter into relationships that involve sharing the concerns of others with all their limitations. In this very process a pilgrim may lose the thread and become forgetful, rather like a visitor to Plato's cave, unable to penetrate through the cacophony of sounds in the dark den where the shadows have acquired exaggerated significance, unable to stand apart from the false language of success and failure, honour and dishonour, of human beings who entertain worldly perspectives. This is precisely the risk that is taken by every pilgrim who consciously incarnates for a high and holy purpose. At the same time, one must recognize that in the process of incarnation one is going to forget. In that sense, as Plato taught, the whole of life is involved with the basic problem of remembering and forgetting. How much one forgets depends upon what one cares for and chooses to remember. What one remembers at a deep level must be instructive to the levels at which one may forget. Human beings need a variety of aids, such as writing down what is true and good and beautiful, what is enduring and unconditional. Connecting ideas with events in nature, with the rhythms and cycles of day and night, of sleeping and waking, with the various seven-year cycles in life as well as the seven-day week, one may begin to discover analogies and correspondences. It is as if one is constantly cooperating with the eternal memory of Nature (enshrined in the Spiritual Sun) and always overcoming, amidst the inevitable forgetfulness, the danger of forgetting what is important. Hence the daily invocation of the Gayatri.

 Wise disciples periodically renew the vow that they first took, continually summoning the golden moment of original awakening. If one thinks of the truest, most beautiful moment in one's life, when something was so real that one's whole being responded, it can be summoned repeatedly by the power of thought if one is not falsely convinced that it belongs to the past. Past and present have nothing to do with that which gives reality in consciousness to an idea. The individual must endow it with a sense of reality through the energy of meditation. Human beings become prisoners of the process of change and forget that the very capacity to endow reality springs from the timeless Self in man, and its pristine light of divine wisdom. The archetypal example of this may be found in the life of the Buddha. Even so great a being as Gautama Buddha knew before he took birth that to incarnate means to participate in the ignorance, pain and delusion of the world. It is also to risk much. It is said that the Buddha, having attained enlightenment and pondering the Bodhisattva path, looked upon the world and thought, "All human beings are like lotuses in a pond. There are those human beings, alas, very many, who, even if I remain in the world to show them the way to enlightenment, to the Spiritual Sun, will not listen. They are mired in maya and so much enjoy it that they are like lotuses still caught in the wet earth at the bottom of the pond, unable to rise to the light of the sun. There are human beings who are already like lotuses that have moved to the surface of the waters, opening out to the light of the sun, and who do not need me because they are able to bloom on their own. Why, then, do I have to remain in a body? For the sake of those, whoever they be, who are struggling in maya but wish and will to reach upwards. They need the assurance that they can do it. And for these I shall remain." Thus the AUM is enacted in word and deed.

 It is indeed possible to preserve an extraordinary, cool, wise, detached, discriminating and beautifully proportioned sense of purpose to one's life. The point of this compelling myth about the Buddha is that when, as Gautama, he goes through all his trials before his supreme enlightenment, when he encounters Mahamaya, the great tempter Mara, one of the temptations is – and it is also one of the temptations of Christ – the charge that his work will be irrelevant, that he will not succeed. Such pre-vision puts one on the plane which is above success and failure, enabling one to grasp the central logic of an incarnation. The Bodhisattva vow is voluntary, but because it is recorded in time, it can only do so much and no more to mitigate the sum of human misery. If there is a sufficiently long period of evolution and a sufficient number of souls, as well as many hazards and repeated failures over many lives, something like this must be true. Therefore, the wish of the Bodhisattva to come to the world is merely to make some small difference to the earthly scene. But what is small relative to numbers may be very great when seen in terms of time. The potent impulse released by a Buddha or a Christ twenty-five hundred or two thousand years ago is alive today and will reverberate thousands of years from now. It has a vertical dimension as well as lateral influence. It is a vibration that can be repeatedly picked up, and if it is picked up by some individuals here and there who are totally seized with it and transform themselves, then they in turn become very powerful magnets for other souls to do the same, all tapping the supreme source of strength, the Spiritual Sun.

 So mysterious, then, are the currents of Karma that much of what is called living is only on the surface of existence. It is perceived in terms of years and months and days, but this has application not even to the astral but to the physical form most of the time. It does not reveal the immortal saga of the soul, its immemorial pilgrimage through space and time, linked up to myriads of souls. One's conception of life must become so different, so universal, that in relation to that larger life one can consecrate a lesser life, but not the other way around. To become ensnared in the small, in ones's micro-conception of living, is to deny oneself an openness to a larger concept of life. One can test this every day and night. Negate each day and intone the Gayatri mantram before going to sleep. Repeat it as many times as one can, clearly and silently, and see if one can wake up with the mantram as one's first thought. Do this again and again through the week to see if one really can carry the vibration through deep sleep. To be able to do this is to know what it means to overcome the barriers between lives, the illusion of devachan, the debris of kama loka, to cut through the Mahamaya. To be unable to do it simply means that there is a great deal in oneself that is disconnected between the highest and the lowest. Instead of wallowing in a state of despair or panic, one should persist.

 The Gayatri invocation is an infallible means to self-transcendence. Sometimes one cannot use it as well as at other times, but even if it is not the first thought on waking, one can keep reminders for oneself. It is eventually possible to train the memory cells in every single part of each vesture, all of which have their own mode of registration, enlisting them all in the service of one's highest motivation rooted in a universal plane of creative ideation. If one partakes of daily meditation, experiencing a sense of Duration, then one can repeatedly transcend the boundaries of time and its compression into secondary causes and effects. One can let go every psychic preoccupation with external relations in visible space, and develop a deeper, noetic sense of what it is to live inwardly. Daily, replenished by the cool stream of insight that flows from the Spiritual Sun, one may actualize the Gayatri mantram with a deep resolve that will endure without wavering, releasing a mighty current of unacknowledged but incalculable benefit for the entire human family and indeed for all living beings.

 Feeling, while going about, that he is a wave of the ocean of Self: while sitting, that he is a bead strung on the thread of universal consciousness: while perceiving objects of sense, that he is realizing himself by perceiving the Self: and, while sleeping, that he is drowned in the ocean of bliss; – he who, inwardly constant, spends his whole life thus is, among all men, the real seeker of liberation.
 All this world, consisting of name and form, is only the particular manifestation (vyashti) of the universal Substance (viraj); it moves and knows all objects by virtue of the primal life (mukhya-prana) that inspires it. This Self like the sun, is neither the doer nor the enjoyer. Thus, directly realizing, does he that is full of knowledge and realization live his life, through incessant contemplation of the Supreme Self.
 Just as the one sun, independent of other objects, yet, by virtue of reflection in several waters, becomes many and has the same stability or motion as the medium reflecting it; so does the Supreme Self seem to be affected by properties by virtue of its reflection of all beings, high and low, but, when clearly realized, shines unaffected by those properties.
 The Supreme Self has three aspects, namely, the full, the self and the not-self, the first being the unconditioned Self, the second being that which is conditioned by the consciousness, and the third being a mere reflection, in the same way as space has three aspects in respect of water, namely, that which is inside and outside of the water, that which is conterminous with water, and that which is reflected therein. When the conditioned self is merged in the unconditioned, then the condition together with its consequences vanishes altogether.

SHANKARACHARYA

Hermes, December 1979
by Raghavan Iyer

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