vande guru-paramparAm
An Essay on mantra
A mantra is a vedic hymn, sacrificial formula, a mystical verse or an incantation. In general, it connotes any sacred chant or formula having the power to secure the blessings of God, when lovingly and reverently repeated. One warning has however to be mentioned. One has to respect the rule that no mantra would be efficacious unless it is learnt orally from a guru, (Go to Essay on GURU, if you like)
who has himself that
mantra-siddhi. By mantra-siddhi, one means that the mantra has sufficiently been meditated upon and repeated by the person concerned that the deity of the mantra has been realised by the person. The number of times required for this mantra-siddhi varies from mantra to mantra. Very often it goes into several hundreds of thousands. The word mantra in Sanskrit means 'that which protects by being meditated upon'. (mananAt trAyate iti mantrah). This protection by the deity of the mantra does not devolve on you until you have sufficiently identified yourself with the mantra, heart and soul. Only such a person can be a guru for that mantra. The mantra itself is considered as the embodiment in sound of some specific deity or supernatural power. So taking the mantra by oneself without a guru is disrespect to the mantra itself and therefore doubly, a disrespect to the mantra-devatA (= the deity of the mantra).
Yes, in that sense, the Hindu mantras are exclusive, no doubt. But that very fact connotes the sacredness of these mantras. A nuclear power, for instance, cannot be in the hands of every one. It has to be in the hands of those who will use it only for peaceful purposes. To wish to use such a force on the physical level is to assume the role of God and to satisfy unrestrained egos, positive or negative. Even a Visvamitra misused the power that he got from Gaayatri, the Queen of all mantras, more than once and that was why he took so much time and went through several hurdles before he was recognised. One has to be equipped for it, by self-sacrifice, by personal undertaking of suffering for the sake of the good of the others, by a personal attitude of renuciation to the pleasures of the world and by a total feeling of dedication to the cause of the good, the noble and the Cosmic Ecology.
Why is Gaayatri the Queen of all mantras?
The three lines of the Gaayatri mean, literally,

That - of the Originator - Most excellent;
Light - of God - Let us meditate;
Intellects - He who - Our - May prompt.
The essence of Hinduism, namely 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 Gaayatri mantra of three quarters. The very word Gaayatri 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 Gaayatri have the added responsibility of not allowing it to decay with them. Mantras have to be protected by repeated chanting, and meditation on their meaning and significance. The japa and dhyaana on what Gaayatri stands for has been the cultural heritage of the Hindus. In spite 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 much that it has been protecting the entire civilisation for mankind. It is not necessary that every one of the population has to chant it. Those varnas, however, who had the privilege and responsibility defaulted on the maintenance of this privilege by failing to live up to their responsibilities and have trampled the Gaayatri under their feet. Many of this privileged section, particularly the brahmins, have gone therefore in evolution far below those that did not have the privilege but only did the chanting of the names of God. For the same reason, many God-men of modern times have opened out the Gaayatri to all those who are interested.
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February 25, 1999
Copyright V. Krishnamurthy