Monday is AUM-day; in search of meditation
For the next stage of our investigation on meditation, we are going to study - and practice! - japa as a means to tame the mind and we shall investigate the Gayatri Mantra.
To move further in understanding the setup to mantras - and in particular the Mahamantra - it is necessary to appreciate a little about the context of 'world' in Sanskrit. लोक /loka is the word commonly used to mean 'world', but it actually is more accurately about 'field of experience'. As life is not limited to the purely physical 'here and now' that we think we know, in Sanskrtam loka can also refer to any one of the fourteen 'fields of experience'; seven higher worlds and seven lower. Of these there are three lokas in which the ego-identity, our limited selves/current awareness, get to play out the cycle of birth, life, death, repeat.
_aU>laek/bhuuH-loka, which is the physical earth, the planet we 'know'
_auv>laek/bhuvaH-loka, which is the world next to the physical and closely connected with it. It is constituted of very subtle matter - we know it as the atmosphere or 'sky'
Sv>laek/svaH-loka, which is the 'heaven', as in the cosmos.
Above these three are a further four lokas through which the soul (still the individualised jiiva representation, which has yet to reunite with Brahman/ Self) may travel for its evolution;
mhlRaek/mahaH-loka, where it is said all great saints and sages go to reside on leaving their bodies
Jan>laek/janaH-loka, which is the residence of the sons of Lord Brahma the Creator
Tap>laek/tapaH-loka, the place of austerity for all deities
sTylaek/satya-loka - which may also be referred to as Brahma-loka - is that place of union, the world into which only the Realised souls may enter and thus become one homogenous Self.
Each of these realms may have sub-divisions according the nature of the experiences gained from being in them; for example one might be assigned to Indra-loka if there is to be experience of anger and battle and how to acquit oneself well in these matters; or one may find oneself in Chandra-loka, the place of the Moon, learning how to handle sorrows; or in the PitR-loka gaining experience of family matters. The jiiva can experience these things without necessarily being in the middle realms of bhur-bhuva-svaH… which is one of the ways Sanskrit philosophy explains how we can 'know' certain things without apparently having experienced them in this life. (A whole other field of enquiry!)
To balance, let us simply name the seven lower lokas;
Atl<laek/atalam-loka, ruled by Bala, son of Maya
ivtl<laek/vitalam-loka, ruled by Hara-Bhava (a form of Shiva)
Sautl<laek/sutalam-loka, ruled by Mahabali
Taltl<laek/talatalam-loka, the home of the great sorceress, Maya
Mahatl<laeek/mahaatalam-loka, the realm of the many-hood nagas (snake lords)
rsatl<laek/rasaatalam-loka, home of the enemies of all higher gods and goddesses
Paatl<laek/paatalam-loka, realm of the king of nagas, Vasuki, and the place of much enticement, visual riches and lures, sparkles and other such entrapments for the soul.
This is the context of 'world' to keep in the background of knowledge when entering into chanting of mantras. On grand occasions and in formal chanting mode, there is precursory chanting of the names of the lokas. For the general use of mantras, though, often they are dropped.
In the case of the Gaayatrii Mantra, we always include the vyaahRtis, the three key lokas. They are key to meditation upon the mantra, as they help to visualise the benefits to the jiiva from its chanting; it provides an objective 'something' to grasp onto as we seek to engage with the subjective. It helps also to connect that BhuH equates to jagratavastaaH (waking state), Bhur to swapnaavastaaH (dream state) and SvaH to shushuptaivastaaH (deep sleep state). All these of course fold back into AUM.