top of page

28.4 : AUM  and GAYATRI

[U = Upanishad(s)]


Om and GayatrI  are the  most important mantras for the religious and spiritual pursuit by a Hindu. Without an explanation and study of these two,  no understanding of the U.  or for that matter,  Hinduism, can be complete. The two are two gigantic pillars  that constitue the ultimate support of everything in Sanatana Dharma. The word Om consists of a triad of three sounds ( mAtrAs) ,namely the syllable ‘a’ (as the ‘u’ in ‘but’), the syllable ‘u’ (as the ‘u’ in ‘put’) and the syllable ‘ma’. This is why many texts in English using this word use the spelling ‘aum’ thus emphasizing the three mAtrAs which make up the word oM. The esoteric significance of these three mAtrAs and the myriads of connotations that they stand for are the subject matter of many a passage in the U., the Gita and other scriptures. In fact, a whole U. (though a very small one), namely, 

Mandukya U, devotes itself entirely to the explanation of the word oM. The U., for this very reason, has been termed the quintessance of vedanta. If a person cannot study all the hundred and odd U., it is enough for him to study Mandukya U. The first extant commentary on this U. was written by Gaudapada, before the time of Sankara and this commentary called mANDUkya-kArikA is still the earliest known systematic exposition of

the advaita point of view of vedanta. Its importance can be gauged by the fact that when Sankara wrote his commentary on the M.U, as he did for ten other U.,he merged the kArikA of Gaudapada with the U. and wrote a commentary on the kArikAalso.

Om is set forth in the U. as the object of profound meditation. Highest spiritual efficiency is attributed to it. Om is the only Ayatanam (resting place or support) to attain either the para brahman or the aparabrahman. Ch.U II-23: Om was discovered by Prajapati the Creator through meditation for the benefit of the world; It is the quintessance of the Vedas Our entire speech is pervaded by it just as a leaf is spread over by the ribs. As all leaves are held together by a stalk so is speech held together by AUM .Ideas and things are inseparable ; Words and ideas are also inseparable; you cannot have the idea of God  without the word which expresses God. But God is the basic fact of the universe; so what word represents Him should be the most basic, most natural and most co mprehensive of all sounds. Such a word is AUM.


A, as pronounced in THAT, is the root sound pronounced without touching any part of the tongue or the palate, M represents the last sound in the series pronounced with closed lips and the U rolls from the very root to the end of the sounding board of the mouth.Thus OM represents the phenonomenon of sound producing. Katha U II 15-17 extols Om as the highest goal of all religious striving. It is the imperishable support and best means for resting the mind. The best of minds can think of brahman without Om. The middle ones can superimpose the idea of brahman on the symbol Om and meditate on brahman. The inferior minds can worship brahman in the symbol Om that the word oM is the supreme prop (Alambana) to reach brahman, it is the one thing which is talked about by all the vedas and it is for this alone that the sages do penance and undergo austerities. It represents both the brahman with attributes and the brahman without .

Br.U V 1-1 marks Om as identical with Akasha-brahman . to serve as a means of meditation Mund.II.2.4 considers allegorically, Om as a bow and Atman as the arrow which is shot towards the target that is brahman. Who is to do this shooting? One who is free from the error of desire to enjoy external objects,

who is detached from everything, who has control over his senses

and has concentration of the mind. Just as the success of the arrow consists in becoming one with the target Similarly one should bring about the result consisting in one becoming one with the imperishable, by eliminating the body etc. being the Self.


Taittiriya U. says Omiti brahma; OmitIdaM sarvaM The word oM is the primeval word which stands for the entire universe permeated by brahman and therefore brahman itself. The three sounds that go to make up oM constitute, symbolically, the entire universe of words. For, as we just now said ‘a’ is the syllable with which one opens the mouth to speak any word

‘u’ is the syllable which allows the tongue all positions from palate to the lips

and ‘m’ is the vocal movement one makes to close the lips. Every sound which man can produce is between the extremes of ‘a’ and‘m’ and so, together with the intermediate stage of ‘u’ it represents everything words may represent.


 Esoterically, the ‘a’ stands for the first stage of wakefulness, where we experience in our gross body the totality of external experiences through our mind and sense organs. The ‘u’ stands for the dream state of sleep in which mental experiences are available, though erratically, by the mind which is the only thing awake, without the help of the external sense organs or the presence of the rationalizing intellect. The two kinds of experience, namely those of the waking state and of the dreaming state , contradict each other, in the sense that a man may experience hunger in a dream though he might have eaten in the waking state a few minutes earlier. In the state of deep sleep, represented by the sound ‘m’ there is no consciousness of any experience; even the mind has gone to sleep. But still there is an awareness after the deep sleep is over that one has been sleeping and that one was conscious of nothing. The M.U says that in the state of deep sleep the Atman which is always present, was witness to the sleep of the body since Atman is nothing but Consciousness, one was conscious of the state of Ignorance arising from deep sleep. It is this cognizance of Ignorance that makes us say, after the sleep is over,that ‘I was sleeping, totally oblivious of anything’.


It is the Atman which is present in the three states of consciousness, also in the state beyond the three states, namely the turIya (= fourth) state, i.e., the state corresponding to the silence that ensues after one has steadily pronounced oM. It is the state of no mAtrA, that is, amAtrA. In that state of silence consciousness alone is present and there is nothing else and therefore nothing to be cognized or conscious of. So when we recite oM, we are advised to meditate on this common substratum of all the three states of experience

during the silence that follows, merge in the Consciousness that alone persists as a substratum. That Consciousness is the Atman or brahman.

This is the symbolism behind the repeated insistence of the U. It is a reminder of our true state of Being.

Hence it is that the word oM is recited at the beginning and conclusion of every religious reading or prayer. It indicates that we emanate from brahman and finally dissolve into it . The soul which leaves the body in the midst of conscious oM recitation is said to merge into brahman itself, that is, attain mokSa. Meditation on Om is recommended for the yogi as a direct path to realisation. As the generality of human beings cannot realise the ultimate reality which is beyond all categories of time, space and causation, the M.U and its commentator, Gaudapada recommend the contemplation of the three sound symbols as the three states of man’s totality of experiences. Specifically, if one identifies the amAtra state of silence with the fourth state of experience and meditates on it without intermission, one realises one’s Self and ‘there is no return for him to the sphere of empirical life’.


The three-fold presentation of Reality, as sat, cit and Ananda  is also reflected in , the GAyatrI. The three lines of the GAyatrI mean, literally:


That – of the Originator – Most excellent;   

 Light – of God – Let us meditate;     

Intellects – He who – Our – May prompt.


The word savituH in the first line, which indicates 'Origin' or 'Birth', suggests Creation and makes it characteristic of the 'sat' or the 'satya' facet This line is a glorification of the Absolute. A glorification of a deity simply praises the Lord as Lord, does not ask for anything and does not do anything in the wake of that praise. The first line of the GAyatrI does simply this. The second line asks us to meditate as if it is the be-all and end-all of life. Yes, because the meditation itself gives the bliss, immanent in the Absolute Reality.  Meditation on the Absolute is communion with or worship of, the Divine. It is therefore the worship aspect of the mantra. It corresponds to the Ananda (or the ananta, infinite) aspect of the Absolute; because the very meditation of the Absolute is Bliss. Bliss is not something that you attain after you have achieved something as a reward from the Lord. To think of Him is Bliss! The use of the words dhiyah and pracodayAt  in the third line show that this line is indicative of the cit facet of Reality and is also the Prayer aspect of the mantra imbedded in the GAyatrI. It is the cit (Knowledge, jnAnaM) facet of the sat-cid-Ananda form or the satyam-jnAnaM-anantam definition of Brahman. It is significant that in this line it is the intellect that asks for the prompting of the Absolute and that is why this line is the cit facet.


A deeper inquiry into the meaning of the mantra will take us into the analysis of the state of sleep and our memory of it. In fact the sat-cid-Ananda form is our true nature, though we don't know it. The advaita Vedanta has this to say on sat-cidAnanda. When a man wakes from deep sleep it is natural for him to exclaim: I slept happily. Who is this ‘I’ that slept happily? It is not the mind,

because it was not active at the time when the ‘I’ was sleeping. It is not the one that recalls the happiness of the sleep, because it did not experience the happiness. Only the experiencer can recall the experience. The experiencer is the ‘I’ .


Actually the experiencer is the lower ‘I’, the false ‘I’. The real ‘I’, i.e., the higher ‘I’, simply watches the experience of the lower ‘I’.The real ‘I’ is the Immutable Reality. It does not go through any change or experience. But it always ‘watches’. It is the ‘sAkSi’ . It is the sat-cidAnanda Reality. The lower ‘I’ goes and ‘touches’ it, as it were, during deep sleep and this is an everyday experience for the lower ‘I’. That is why it is able to say ‘I slept happily’, after every awakening from deep sleep.


Here there are three assertions made, all rolled into one. The word ‘happily’ indicates there is an Ananda (pleasure, happiness, joy) which was experienced during sleep; it is actually a recall of the association with the Ananda of the real ‘I’. The word ‘I’ indicates the continuity of existence between the state of sleep and the state of waking. The word ‘slept’ indicates an awareness or the knowledge ( = cit) of sleep, the awareness belonging to the witness to the sleep, namely, the real ‘I’.


In dreamless sleep were we conscious or not.? We feel we were not conscious. But that is a feeling we have after waking from sleep. We do not do so in sleep itself. That in us which now feels that in sleep we were not conscious is our mind It was not present in our sleep and so it is natural for it to be ignorant of the consciousness there was in sleep. Not having experienced sleep it is unable to remember what it was like and makes mistakes about it. The state of deep sleep is beyond the mind. Consciousness was present then as consciousness. It is because of that consciousness we are able to say that we were not aware of anything then. In a dark room we are not able to see anything but still we have the awareness that we are not able to see anything; for this awareness no external light is necessary.But every day when we go to sleep we come back with the memory of a happy sleep,because we have gone and touched that true nature of us without our own volition.


Thus the three lines together, of the GAyatrI incorporate, in a sense, the three-fold universal practice of all Religion, namely, Glorification of the super-natural, Worship of the Supra-mental and Prayer to The All-mighty. The three lines represent the three different types of propitiation.  GAyatrI is spoken of in the Veda itself as the ‘mother of all Vedas’ -- chandasAm mAtaH. The essence of the Upanishads, is that Divinity is everywhere, it is that Divinity that energizes us into thought and action and it is only with the help of that eternal omnipresent Divinity that we may ever hope to have a discerning intellect with which we may see the effervescence of the Godhead that is inherent in the visible universe including ourselves – all this is built into this GAyatrI mantra of three quarters.


Ojo.asi  You are the essence of strength

Saho.asi  You are patience or the subduing power

Balam asi  You are physical capacity;  You are splendour

devAnAM dhAma nAmA.asi  Abode of Gods and their name

vishvamasi  insentient universe; vishvAyuH Full span of Life of all

sarvamasi   Every living thing ;

sarvAyuH Life span of all

abhibhUh   The vanquisher of all that is hostile to us

OM  The praNava.


 Gayatri is the Mantra of mantras; Essence of the Vedas therefore included in the Pranayama, an essential part of every religious ritual consisting of  Pranava, vyAhritis, Gayatri and Gayatrishiras. According to Manu  this composite formula is to be mentally repeated clearly and attentively thrice while the breath is retained within The seven vyahritis  denote the seven worlds created by Brahma. Pranava is added to each of them because  each vyahriti independently also stands for the Supreme .


You cannot separate Brahman from the material world because Brahman is both the material and the  efficient cause  (upadana + nimittakarana). Then the Gayatri mantra follows also headed by Pranava. This again shows that the Gayatri mantra  indicates the Supreme. This is succeeded by Gayatrishiras

bracketed by Pranava in the beginning  and the end.


When a person performs the prANAyAma  and concentrates his thought on this mantra, the latent spiritual tendencies in the depth of his being are awakened and he becomes fit for communion with the Supreme Reality and eventually he realises the spiritual goal The very word GAyatrI means that it protects those who chant it. Protecting here is for the sake of the Ultimate. Once the path to the Ultimate is protected, everything else is protected, not only of those who chant it but of the very neighbourhood, of the environment, of the world in which they live. Those who have had the privilege of being initiated into the mantra of the GAyatrI have the added responsibility of not allowing it to decay with them. Mantras have to be protected byrepeated chanting, and meditation on their meaning and significance. The japa and dhyaana on what GAyatrI stands for has been the cultural heritage of Sanatana Dharmaa In inspite of the fact that this responsibility has been allocated to only a small fraction of the total population  the power of the mantra is so great that it has been protecting the entire civilisation for mankind.


Can the Finite reach the Infinite? Vedanta says it can. The Infinite which is sat-cidAnanda can be reached by the finite human being if proper efforts are made by him. To reach the Infinite is the goal (Moksha) of all beings

Once the finite reaches the Infinite, there is no coming back to the finite state.

I.O.W, there is no more birth and death. This reaching has to be effected through a proper discipline of the mind. That which IS, by its very nature, is beyond time. Thinking by the mind by its very nature involves a sequence of points in time.µ thinking is finite; awareness sparked by this thinking is only of finite objects.It means therefore that in order to contact the infinite ,one must go beyond the thought process. That which is, has then to be taken hold of only by the non-action of the thinking function. The mind must be emptied of all its contents in order that its true nature – awareness – may be revealed.

At present it is always entangled with some thought so that awareness by itself is lost in that thought. The self disappears in that ego-thought nd the outer ‘I’ mistakes the object for the subject – irrespective of whether the object be the world outside or the thought inside. Thus the mind is the villain within oneself. The most villainous part of the mind is however, the ego. This is the source of all problems. In every one of our actions and thoughts, we have to watch this ego. And fight it to minimise its influence and carry on this internal struggle endlessly This is the Way. The vast majority of people may think of another way  They may think in a variety of other ways.


History has shown us again and again that the mass mind is very amenable to suggestion and regimentation. Mass mind can be influenced by appeals to lower instincts, narrow prejudices and baser instincts. It is this mass mind that has made religion a formal affair, a matter of routine and elaborate paraphernalia. Instead of experience it is blinded by dogmatic belief Instead of aspiring for spirituality it is blinded by scholastic learning It mistakes scholastic learning for spirituality; charitable work for Love We make enormous socio-economic efforts to improve our material uplift all that effort makes us only more and more outward looking and superficial We are thus  cut off from the only source of strength, peace and wisdom which exists in every one of us. These limitations and illusions of the mind have to be cast off. Only in the innermost depths of our consciousness can we realise the whole Truth in all its Perfection, Immanence and Transcendence.  The real life of man begins only when he transcends all his animal attributes and capacities, desires, emotions, concrete thoughts and physical needs and starts living in this (his own) higher level of being. There is no other Way, declare the scriptures. Constant chanting of the gAyatrI, in the manner of a disciplined japa and continuous meditation on its meaning will clear the way for us by consuming the accumulated dirt in our minds. This cleansing of the mind will result in a crystal-clear mind,Which means there is no mind at all;

for there is no thought, by the Grace of God, Only the Infinite Self is all there is.This is the way the Finite may reach the Infinite and then there exists only the Infinite; never more the Finite.

bottom of page