In one of the flights last year i took from Bangalore to Delhi i had a Muslim (very apparent) gentleman sitting next to me. He was very neatly dressed with formals suit and tie with a Urdu newspaper in his hand. It did not take more few seconds for me to figure out that I am going to have a talkative journey today.
I was reading one of the books on Yoga and i could notice that he was getting restless for a conversation and started off with pleasantries and quickly jumped to religion. While he was inquisitive about some aspects of Hinduism he was almost talking on a heckling tone about idolatry worship and other the aspects how Islam was superior to Hinduism.
I was trying hard to keep the topic away from religion and all efforts were in vain. Thankfully the crew started serving and we could take a break. After a few minutes of pause the discussions started again and this time on chanting and on Gayatri mantra, though his tone was little different – more genuine to understand why it was considered so powerful.
The lecturer in me was woke up and pounced on this opportunity and started off with the following questions. The next 60 minutes was a monologue from me without any interruption. The following is the blog version of the same with some additional details.
1. What are the different bodies we have?
2. What are the different levels of consciousness for a human being?
3. If word has the primordial power (as it is believed in most religions) then do you know what are the 4 stages of words?
4. What is mantra? What is the objective of Gayatri mantra? How does it link all the 3 aspects mentioned above?
5. Do you know why Namaz times are fixed and its 5 times in a day?
During all this i drew some parallels between Hinduism and Islam – based on what ever knowledge i had about Islam.
If you are interested in the philosophical aspects of Hinduism then answering questions 1 & 2 is very simple.
- We have 3 bodies Physical / Sthula, Subtle / Sukshma and Causal / Karana. The Sukshma sarira in turn has 3 sheaths / kosa – Pranamaya kosa, Manonmaya Kosa and Vignayana maya Kosa which are Etheric, Astral and Mental bodies respectively. Some may say its 5 adding it all.
- The 3 levels of Consciousness are Jaagrat / Awakened state, Swapna (Dream), and Sushpti (Deep sleep). There are 2 more states which we will not discuss now.
Before we go to question 3, lets dwell on the ritual around Gayatri mantra and the objective. Gayatri mantra is a part of the daily ritual called “Sandhyavandhanam” which offers prayers during 3 times a day… Dawn, Midday (noon) and at dusk. This is just as the same as in Islam but the Salah/ Salat is 5 times a day… Dawn (Fajr), noon (Dhuhr), After sunset (Maghrib), Afternoon (asr), Isha’a (After midnight).
I understand some sects of Islam do offer prayers only 3 times a day and not 5 but this is not the point i was trying to make.
Before doing Gayatri mantra, the physical and the Sukshma sarira are cleaned and prepared for the invocation. The ablution process is with water for the physical body and the pranamaya Kosa is cleaned with Pranayama (10 times)… before the invocation begins. This pranayama is very unique and shall cover this in one of the subsequent blogs.
Ablution process precedes every namaz where the physical body is cleaned. I am not aware of any cleaning the subtle body in Islam which is very unique to Hinduism and the offshoots like Buddhism.
- Every word has 4 stages according to Hinduism, Para (as a seed at the mooladhara level), Pashyanti (at the manipura level as vibrations), Madhyama (at the Anahata Level as an unspoken word) and finally as Vaikari (as the spoken word where we can hear the sound of the word). Now why is this so important a concept in prayers?
- In Lalitha Sahasranamam the goddess Lalitha is extolled as all the 4 stages…
“ Parapratyak chitirupa pashyanti paradevata
Madhyama vaikharirupa bhakta manasa hamsika .. 81”
- But what is to be stressed is the 3 states of consciousness, 3 stages of sounds and the 3 bodies we have are all interrelated and connected to each other. We will limit to this in this blog. This has not been understood well by many. The following is a representation of the interconnection…
Physical Body / Sthula sarira – Sound energy as Vaikari (Power of action) – Consciousness as Jaagrat – Awakened state - Conscious mind.
Sthula Sarira / Subtle Body – Sound energy as Madhyama (Power of knowledge) – Consciousness as Swapna – Dream state – Subconscious mind.
Karana Sarira / Causal Body – Sound energy as Pashyanti (Power of Will) – Consciousness as Deep sleep state – Nidra – Unconscious mind.
- Now lets look the objective of mantras, especially Gayatri Mantra and how it connects all.
- “Mananaat Dhyayate Mantraha”,which means Mantra is something which should be mentally recited and not audible. On the contrary all of Vedas, hymns and Slokas should be recited loudly. They should not be recited mentally. That’s the difference between Mantra and Slokas.
- But how does few words in a specific combination qualify as mantra? We can recite anything, why are other words / combination not powerful. This is explained as “Mananaat dhyayaat Dhrayate Mantraha” – Dhrayate means protects. So when it is recited it protects and offers what the person asks for. This is the qualification of Mantra.
- What is Gayatri Mantra?
Gayatri Mantra can cleanse and energize your body, mind and soul. But the key objective is the “Chitta Shuddi” which is purification of the mind. When you recite Gayatri Mantra the mind becomes pure. Once mind is pure the path to realize god becomes easy.
"Gayanti traayate iti gayatri." The mantra affects all three states of consciousness — jagrut or waking, sushupt or deep sleep, swapna or dream. It also affects the three layers of existence — the adhyatmik, adidhaivik and adibhautik. Traya also refers to the taapatraya or ailments or taapa that adversely affect the body, mind and soul. The body is often ravaged by physical ailments, the mind by negativity and restlessness in the soul. Gayatri Shakti, the energy or field of vibration enables one to transcend and be unaffected by the taapatrayas.
The Gayatri Mantra glides through the three states of consciousness joyfully, playfully, effortlessly and lightly, as though it were a song. When we 'sing through' something, it means it is not a burden for us. The Gayatri sharpens the intellect and polishes memory. The mind is like a new mirror. Just as a mirror gathers dust and needs cleaning, so the mind becomes tainted with time, the company that we keep, the knowledge we receive and our latent tendencies. When we chant the Gayatri, it is like deep cleansing, so that the mirror, that is the mind, reflects in a better way. Through the mantra, the inner glow is kindled, the inner plane is kept alive.
Before thought becomes word, it is a subtle vibration, unexpressed, beyond the cognition of mind. When the mind is unable to 'cognise', it dissolves and moves into meditative space. This is how mantras enable one to transcend the mind and move into a state of meditation. It is not necessary to understand the meaning of the mantras to experience their benefits. For instance, even the sounds of laughter or weeping can cause a shift in our consciousness. Similarly, the energy field created by sound vibrations of mantras elevate our consciousness and allow us to be established in that serene, pure, infinite state of our Being.
In Vedic tradition, a child is first initiated to the highest knowledge —the Gayatri mantra, and only after that, does he receive other forms of education. The ideal time to chant the Gayatri is during the transitory hours of dawn and dusk — the time when it is neither dark nor light — such as when the night has passed and the day is yet to begin.
In these moments, the mind also enters an altered state of consciousness. The moments belong neither to the previous state nor to the next. It is the right time to focus on the Self instead of getting caught in changes or movement. In these hours, the mind can easily be confused; it can slip into inertia, lethargy and negativity or be elevated and move into a meditative state radiating positivity. Chanting the Gayatri mantra rejuvenates the mind and maintains it in an elevated and energized state. It is this energising from the source of radiance that is the essence of the Gayatri mantra whose shakti is nothing other than scintillating, lively energy.
- The answer to the question as to why prayers are fixed at certain timings synchronized with the movement of Sun is clear. Our consciousness is reflective of the position of the sun and during the transitory stages at Dawn and dusk, it is recommended that we don’t indulge in activities like eating, sleeping etc but get into a meditative state. This is a common feature among Islam, Buddhism and the vedic traditions. Many sects of Hinduism follow midnight prayers and meditation, this allows you to connect with the higher self. I am not sure about the significance of the afternoon prayers in Islam in this context.
- The power of chanting silently programs our subconscious mind with positive vibrations. This is the power of thought transforming to a “Madhyama” sound state and instead of it released physically as “Vaikari” is channeled to the subconscious mind.
- So Gayatri Mantra in short is a supreme science which understands our state of consciousness, different sheaths that we have, the impact of time of the day on our consciousness, the science of energy in words and the impact of the power of certain words during certain time of the day on our consciousness and the subtle body.
- Sandhyavandanam as a ritual cleans all our 5 bodies, purifies the chitta (Mind), programs the subconscious mind with positive vibrations. According to the wise this is a very powerful and secret weapon for the mankind and probably the only and last weapon per Vedic tradition left to mankind.
Now lets look for some parallels between Islam and Vedic tradition with a disclaimer that the objective is not to prove one superior over the other but to recognize the possibility of a common root in the distant past. This is purely based on my understanding and would stand corrected on feedback.
- There are seven conditions for a Namaz.
- Niyyat (intention) – This is the same as Sankalpa before any Vedic ritual affirming the intention to perform prayer, briefly state the objective and to prepare the body and mind to it. In fact no ritual in Hinduism starts without Sankalpa.
- Tahrima (To say Allah Akbar) - Saying of Allahu Akbar (Takbir) begins as hands leave ears and finished as they are folded under the navel. In Sandhyavandhanam and in Hinduism ears have a very special significance. Since it always hears / supposed to hear Vedas, ears are always considered eternally and very pure. After doing each Pranayama it believed that the carbon-di-oxide exhaled would have contaminated the hand / fingers of the individual and hence after each Pranayam the person touches the ears to clean his hand.
- Qiyam (Standing)
- Qiraat (Recitation of Quran by mouth gently)
- Ruku (To bow)
- Sajda (Prostration)
- Qa'da-i- Akhira (Last sitting)
- All the above are also part of the Sandhyavandam prayers but physical purification, pranayama, Gayatri Japa preceeds this stage.
- The mental recitation of Gayatri mantra and the special pranayama to calm the mind and to prepare the mind for Gayatri mantra is very unique to vedic tradition.
- I understand the Namaz is compulsory from the age of 7, which is when most Hindus (Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas) are supposed to initiate their kids into Upanayanam after which Sandhyavandhanam becomes compulsory.
- But what is significant in Gayatri Mantra is that you pray for mental purification. Simply put “O! supreme being we meditate on your light. Guide our intellect in the right way”. There is no subservience but pray Gayatri as a mother for blessings. I am not sure about the exact meaning in the Quran verses and the context.
The other parallels are not so evident but has similarities…
Vedic injunction of Panchmahayagna (five times daily worship Panch-Maha-Yagna) which is part of the daily Vedic ritual prescribed for all individuals. I am not sure when and where this was lost.
Ablution in Islam also has references in the Vedic injunction “Shareer Shydhyartham Panchanga Nyasah”.
Four months of the year are regarded as very sacred in Islamic custom. This aligns with the Chaturmasa, which means 4 months which is the duration that Vishnu sleeps. it starts from Ekadasi, Asadha 11 (July) and ends with kartika Ekadesi (November).
The alignment of most of the festivals with the 3rd / 11th phase of the moon is strikingly evident in Hinduism and Islam.
After all this the next 15 minutes of the flight was silent and peaceful so that i can concentrate on my book. As we departed our ways we exchanged a meaningful look and went our ways.!
Some of the aspects discussed above is read from books and not realized or experienced directly by me. But what i can vouch for is the power of Pranayama technique which precedes Gayatri Japa to calm the mind and the deeper states of silence you experience during and after the Gayatri Japa. Both cannot be explained but to be experienced.
The beauty is, this experience is open to all of us and it demands nothing extraordinary to be there!…
As the wise say, “Satyam Param Deemahi - May we meditate on the Supreme truth….”
1. If you are interested, I suggest you read this which offers a very good explanation http://www.veda.harekrsna.cz/encyclopedia/vedicsound.htm
2. You may be interested in the following blog too:
3. The picture below was of great interest to me and some of you may find it useful now or later…