IN this brief introduction to the Veda, we may present a few verses from the Rigveda, which is the principal Veda.
First, let us take the most famous verse known as the Gayatri mantra. Actually, all the mantras in the Veda, which are in the poetic meter Gayatri, are Gayatri mantras. There are many meters and the system of these meters constitutes an elaborate science, which is known as Chhanda Shastra. Among these meters, one is called Gayatri. Gayatri has three parts, each of eight syllables, or alternatively it has four parts, each of six syllables. The total number of syllables is 24.
Among numerous Gayatri mantras in the Veda, the following has traditionally become most famous; and, generally, when one is asked to recite the Gayatri mantra, it is this one that is recited. Every youth who is given yajnopavita (sacred thread) is taught, first and foremost, this wantra. It was composed by one of the great Vedic Rishis,
namely, Vishvamitra. This mantra is addressed to Savitri, who symbolises the highest creative light and power, which is at once all-comprehensive and perfect in each and every particular movement of manifestation. The mantra is as follows:
ॐ भूर्भुव स्वः।
तत् सवितुर्वरेण्यं भर्गो देवस्य धीमहि।
धियो यो नः प्रचोदयात् ॥
"Let us meditate on that blissful light of the all-comprehensive creative Savitri, so that he may direct our intellect (in all directions: the earth, the space, the heaven.)"1
Actually, the first four words, ॐ भूर्भुवःस्वः। are added to the main mantra that begins with तत्सवितुः and ends with प्रचोदयात् . ॐ is called pranava (iz.ko) which is conceived as the Divine seed of the cosmos, भूः, भुवः, स्वः are called vyahritis (divine prefixes). They refer to the earth (भूः) the space (भुवः) and heaven (स्वः) . A short commentary may be in order.
In the Vedic literature, the word ॐ is given supreme importance. The Vedic Rishis were great discoverers of the secrets of the universe. In their search for the original force of the manifestation of the universe, they discovered that that force is an original Sound and that sound, when heard, makes itself audible as consisting of three syllables अ, उ, म् (a, u, m).
This sound, they discovered, is imperishable and is as continuous as the universe. They also discovered that if this sound is repeated millions of times by any seeker, he will reach the state of the origin of that sound, which is the Supreme Reality itself. Not only that, the seeker will be able to vibrate with the power of manifestation and he will be capable in due course to manifest the divine consciousness
and will in all his activities.
Because of this discovery, the Rishis affirmed that the highest achievements of life can be realised with only one word, , provided one becomes concentrated on that word and attains a state where this word begins to repeat itself spontaneously in one's entire being, including mind, life and body.
All mantras are really manifestations of AUM, and one who masters AUM, begins to have revelations and realisations of other mantras also; he becomes himself the composer and the seer of mantras. This is one great truth discovered by the Veda, and in India, many have applied it in their lives and have attained great heights.2
We may now come to the next three divine prefixes, bhur, bhuvah, swah, भूः, भुवः, स्वः . These three words, when rightly and repeatedly pronounced, create a state of consciousness of immense wideness that covers in one instant the entire physical universe, symbolised by the word, bhur, भूः , the intermediate world of Life and Mind, symbolised by the word, bhuvah, भुवः and the higher world of Mind and Light and Home of creative forces, symbolised by the word swah, स्वः. In other words, the repetition of these three divine prefixes is designed to indicate to the seeker that he has to be as comprehensive as the totality of the physical, vital, mental and higher worlds.
There is also another important point. Normally, we only see the physical universe. But that is because we are confined to physical senses. The Vedic Rishis had, however, developed higher instruments of knowledge by means of which they were able to experience vital and mental worlds also. And, most importantly, they made a discovery of the faculties of revelation, inspiration and divine discrimination leading up to the truth-consciousness (which they called Rita-chit)
by means of which they discovered the universe called स्वः where only Truth can exist and vibrate, where error and evil or crooked consciousness get automatically dissolved. This was one of their supreme discoveries. With the help of this discovery, they could perceive our physical universe in an entirely new way and could deal with it also in a new way. They, therefore, laid down that those who want to enter into the practice of mantra must endeavour to perceive the physical universe with complex eyes, complex consciousness, with profounder depths and wider vistas, so that Rita-chit, truth-consciousness, would ulti- mately dominate the perception of the mental, vital and physical worlds. It is only there that the physical world will be perceived in its true truth, in the total perspective.
Let us now come to the main text of the Gayatri mantra.
It has three elements:
(i) It is addressed to the original light of creation, symbolised by Savitri;
(ii) It aims at inviting the power of that creative Light to enter into the seeker's being; and
(iii) It specifically selects one faculty, that of intellect, and expresses the aspiration that that faculty of intellect be impelled or directed by the original power of creativity, that is Savitri, which is the home of Truth-consciousness.
This means that the Rishi Vishvamitra (who has seen this mantra) was aware of the Original Creative light of Truth consciousness. He knew that this light could be effectively invited to enter into relationship with us, and that this mantra itself was the means of that invitation; and, finally, he had discovered that among all the faculties of human beings, the most important faculty was that of the intellect,
without whose aid, and without whose coming into contact with the creative Light, the human being could not be liberated from his present limitations so as to become a new being of Truth-consciousness.
We can see how many discoveries the Rishi had made before he could arrive at the formulation of this mantra. We can also see how much experimentation must have been made to apply the knowledge of his discoveries to arrive at this mantra, which is in itself the instrument of application of knowledge and means of practical achievement.
1.Varenyam is recited as vareniyam. This is for phonetic purpose and for completing the requirement of the metrical/musical rhythm.
2. It has been observed that it was this power of the mantra that acted powerfully when Swami Vivekananda uttered his famous words "Sisters and brothers of America" at the beginning of his address at the Chicago Parliament of Religions (September 11,1893), and produced incalculable effect on the audience.