Application - that is what 'Workings-days' are about!
We are now undertaking basic technical discourse on Vedanta. The text forming the basis of these posts is 'Kindle Life'. Please do reread previous posts using the labels 'Workings-days' or 'Kindle Life'.
Ch. 28 गायत्री मन्त्र /gaayatrii maantra.
In Western tradition, prayer is uttered with a view of supplication and request of the Lord. Mostly these prayers are driven by specifics of the individual or the community. There is only one 'set' prayer which all are expected to memorise and repeat on a daily basis. The Lord's Prayer which Jesus taught his disciples.
In Hindu practice, all prayers are taught prayers and have a formula of repetition. They are called as mantras. They still address the individual or the community needs, but are based upon the fact that every individual and every community, in the end, have the same needs and therefore standardisation of prayer is there. There is a positive to this in that there is nothing for which there cannot be found an appropriate mantra. Also, it eliminates the tendency to selfishness of 'free prayer'. One can certainly have a personal conversation with one's chosen face of God, but when it comes to prayer, there ought to be no ego involved. There can be negatives, in that prayer time becomes 'automated'; the lips can move but the mind can wander. It is also possible for those who are seen as the spiritual leaders to issue (or not) mantras in rather a controlling manner.
Mantras have been provided by the Rsis, men of intense wisdom who realised the deep and meaningful uses of such verses. Every mantra relates to one or other of the many faces of deity. It is considered that when one chants, one is keeping the mind focused on the presiding deity of that particular mantra and directed away from the small self. The number of repetitions of a mantra can have effects also; ten thousand times of japa can only bring a positive influence in the life of the japist. 108 is the auspicious number. 1008 for healing… and so on. Whenever japa of a mantra is undertaken, the murti of the presiding deity ought to be visualised. One of the ways any particular deity is invoked for a japa session is to use the meditation stanza ( ध्यान श्लोक /dhyaana shloka) which actually describes said deity. These mantras are known as gaayatrii. All deities have one. But of course, there is Maha-gaayatri, The Great Meter… gaayatri being a rhythm of chanting based on 24 beats.
The matter of mantras can be quite a contentious one. There are those who insist upon ritualism and formality with respect to the उपासन /upaasana (approach, the drawing near [to God]) part of the Vedas. The orthodox and traditionalists hold that japa must be accumulated, alongside the undertaking of certain rituals such as होम /homa (fire ceremony), तर्पण /tarpana (offering items to the deity), भिक्ष /bhiksha (providing alms to many), as all being part of japa. This is not a universal view, however. There is another school of thought that sincerity and faith are the core of japa-saadhana and that anyone with a pure intention in their heart, filled with Love, can equally as well perform and gain benefit from japa. Vedanta, and very specifically the Chinmaya Mission and other similar institutions, fall into the later category.
There are three types of mantra; for invocation of the lower powers of nature (wishing personal and individual satisfaction of a desire = tamaasik); for invocation of betterment (wishing personal but also community satisfaction based on acquisition - rajaasik); invocation for the good of all (knowing that this includes the individual making the supplication = sattvik). Here we see the triguna at play.
There is another classification, which is two-part; first, mantras that need only be chanted whether or not one understands their meaning; second those mantras which are of nature of invocation and therefore the content of the chant must be understood in order that the sadhak may keep full focus on the purpose and the presiding deity.
Vedic mantras are written in both prose style and poetic metre. The former are found in the Yajur-veda and the latter are found in the Rig-veda. (Those found in Saama-veda are more lyrical again and are the basis of praise in the form of hymns; the Atharva-veda is much more about ritual.)
Of all the mantras, the most powerful and the most significant is the single-syllabled " ॐ /OM" - the symbol itself has a name, which is प्रणव /pranava (of the breath).
There are innumerable writings on the significance of this one mantra alone! From Vedic times until now, the word OM has been taken as an aid to meditation - globally. It is accepted wholly as being Brahman, of being a means to reach Brahman, the logos (teaching and knowledge through use of words) and the interface between the meditator and Brahman. Through analysis of OM arose the स्फोट-वाद /sphota-vaada (philosophy of The Word). The universe we see is manifest form. Behind it stands the eternal and inexpressible - the sphota, manifest as logos. The eternal sphota, that through which all received names, is the creative power. It is the Brahman shaped via Maya which produced the sphota, the inexpressible word.