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.
For all intents and purposes, we have actually reached the end of teaching, as far as saadhana is concerned, for the mantra. However, as was stated earlier, learning the words, then the metre, then putting into practice, are all good and well, but fully comprehending and building one's relationship with the mantra in order to gain the most from it, is equally important. Therefore, these last few posts are about expansion of understanding, context and general knowledge.
Generally, the 'prescription' for daily worship (sandhyaa karma) always includes chanting of the Gayatri mantra. The text called ManusmRti advises; 'in the early dawn by doing this japa standing, one ends all sins committed during the night; and by doing this japa in the evening by sitting, one ends one's sins committed during the day.' The word sin is used because English is a tad limited; the lengthy translation for the concept of sin from Sanskrit is actually about all those lapses in sacred focus, agitations created by daily life, negative reactions and the tendency to not learn from mistakes. In other words, any time one does not have the Self in mind and the correction of ourselves towards attaining moksha, then we are living sinfully! What this does is instil a level of ego-discipline and that pays many dividends.
The term 'sandhya' refers to that point in the 24 hours when night and day blend - therefore there are two in any given day; dawn and dusk. Of course, any time of day is a good time to pray and meditate… but these are the times when there is likely to be least interruption, either exteranlly or internally.
For those in serious saadhana, it is said that Brahma-mahuurta is the optimum time in the morning; between 4:30 and 5am. In the evening, between 6pm and 7pm are advised. Again we look to ManusmRti for guidance; 'after rising and answering the calls of nature, after purifying (bathing), keep the mind from wandering hither and thither and sincerely perform the morning japa, standing on your feet, and repeating the mantra very slowly… in the evening, sit for japa and chant till the stars emerge.'
The Vedas also advise morning and evening practice. There we find the addition of standing in water for the morning chanting. This may be partly practical, as most folk would have had to go down to the rivers and lakes for ablutions and therefore, standing before the rising sun to perform this japa would have been quite natural. This is why you often see pictures of Hindus standing facing the sun with their hands raised, offering up their prayers, allowing water to fall from their hands after each repetition. (Note, the gayatri is but one in a series of advised morning prayers.) As the water drops, the saadhaka will say 'asaavaadityo Brahma' (the sun is Brahman) and makes pradakshinaa - turns in a circle to the right, as moving around the Lord… but the significance is that we are encircling the Self within us.
Another rule of thumb is to chant the morning mantra a minimum of eleven times (this being the lowest auspicious fraction from 108); however, at least three times and up to as many as you wish according to your personal saadhana requirements is also fine. For the evening, however, note that the mantra is ONLY to be chanted during the presence of the sun; therefore, if one is in darkness during the prescribed hours, other prayers may be made, but the gayatri must NOT be chanted in the dark.
A little of the 'mystery' will be told next week.