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.
In India, the Gayatri is initiated at a very early age; it is done during a ritual called 'upanayana'. In the Vedas we read of 'gayatri-diikshaa' - the discipline of gayatri. Diikshaa indicates the level of practice one must undergo in order that one may become fit for taking part in any ritual service. In strict terms, there are regulations about who can obtain this upanayana (drawing near) and when; a brahmana at five years, a kshatriya at six years and a vaishya at eight years, but no older than 16, 22 and 24 respectively. So important is this ceremony, it is considered almost as a second birth and thus those who have undergone upanayana are said to be 'dvija' - twice born.
At this time, each will also be initiated into the fourth line of the mantra - it is never a public thing. The line is for upanayana only and asserts an intimate subjective experience for the devotee, emboldening identity with the source in the 'that is this' level. This line has been always preserved as sacred and secret and is only available to full-time seekers and self-dedicated sannyaasins (renunciates).
You may have gathered there is a hint here that the mantra has become reserved for men and that too, within certain social groupings. However, it used to be that the mantra was freely chanted among all - including women. Women also had the upanayana and learned the Vedas, taught the scriptures and the mantras. It is society (as in male-driven culture) which withdrew that privilege. Nowadays, in advaita vedanta, no distinction is made between gender or societal standing. Indeed, there are writings within Sanskrit literature which indicate that there can be greater benefits from women chanting the mantra; men doing this japa benefit themselves, however, women performing this japa benefit all they Love, so their families and the wider community also. All who take up saadhana in jaana marg may take up this mantra japa also.
Worth noting, too, that the more people chanting this japa, the wider the net of Love which spreads. Get into it!