Ahymsin Newsletter: Yoga is Samadhi

125,000 Gayatris

by Joanne Sullivan (Divya)

July 25-29, 2015: 125,000 Gayatris are offered.

125,000 Gayatri: The Recitations Begin

The physical form of Swami Veda Bharati was offered to Ma Ganga at a quiet ghat in Haridwar on the 17th of July 2015. The period from the 25th to 29th of July 125,000 silent Gayatri recitations were offered in the SRSG Meditation Hall by 12 priests. Many people joined in. The Gayatri mantra has many faces and is a sacred rite of purification. First and foremost, it is a lifting of the veil.

It is difficult to describe the force field in the Meditation Hall. Everything is very orderly and shining, but more than that, an intention is alive that signals a momentous task. This gesture of unified intent is filled with shraddha. It is a strong act of faith. There is no question that the task is in the process of being accomplished and will be fully accomplished. The feeling in the hall is very strong, mysterious and focused. It is as if something very holy and alive has tied it together tight. Nothing extraneous can get in and not one drop can leak out.

Where Exactly Am I at This Moment?

Swami Veda said “Nothing in the traditions of India is ever studied except within the cosmological context….Where are my place and position in the universal order?” (p. 6, Introducing Mahabharata Bhishma, by Swami Veda Bharati)

Any prayers or sacred rites commence with stating the time and place from the vastness of cycles of time and place to this specific moment by this particular river. It can take as much as 20 minutes to lay this foundation and it is an important part of the sankalpa, the resolve undertaken with any observance.  This is how the offerings begin.

Who Is in Attendance?

Swamis, priests, and many who love him are gathered in the SRSG Meditation Hall.

I wander out into this no man’s land to meet him. I imagine him saying:

You were with me in Varanasi when it was Banaras and so many other places. You and you and you---- all my children will always be with me.

I imagine that the One-who-is-us-all and all the abiding angels of every religion hold us. A garland of red roses and marigolds is placed over the photo of Swami Rama.

Swami Ritavan Bharati, whom Swami Veda has named in his will, is the Ashrama Pramukha, spiritual head of the ashram. Swami Ritavan bows before each priest and offers each one a yellow and red mala bag as he places a tikka on the forehead of each man. Sacred threads are tied on the wrists as each is bound and blessed. Others also receive this thread which binds them to this 5-day gesture for eternity. It is good to be here.

There are 3 yantras of red and gold and flames at the images of Swami Rama and of the hands of Swami Veda. The many flowers represent the element space and remind us that everything arises and is folded back into the akasha, the great space. Water plays a preeminent role too as water is placed in spoonfuls and as flowers are dipped in water, then placed on the yantras, one by one. No gesture is complete without touching the flower or the various elements to the hand of Swami Ritavan and other swamis at his side. There is a sense that there is no random gesture, that every move has an intention and a resolve.

Context: In the Forest of Eyeblinks

Nimesha, an eyeblink, is a moment in time so the Forest of Eyeblinks is the forest of moments in time. This is where we are. Swami Veda wrote about this in Introducing Mahabharata Bhishma. This slim volume contains so many gems. I hope that you can get your hands on it if you haven’t already read it.

Swami Veda writes that the poet Ugra-shravas tells the Mahabharata story to 88,000 rishis who have gathered to preserve their aeons of knowledge for the coming Dark Ages. The war is over. There are few survivors. Krishna has left the body and the Kali Yuga has begun. These hidden rishis have been instructed to withdraw from the field of vision of ordinary people. They are nonetheless real and present.

I wonder if thousands of hidden sages are present at these Gayatri recitations.

Swami Veda’s translation of this enclave of 88,000 rishis reads:

In the Forests of Eye-blinks
Sages sit still listening,
Listening to the rustle of aeons….

Thought-birds are silent,
Limb-twigs do not creak….

And swans are the steeds of celestial vimanas*
That land in stillness clearings where
Sages sit listening.

In the Forest-of Eye-blinks is heard
The epic of ages:
All mega-million pages.

Thousand verses to a page
the page is a leaf rustling;
Verse-rustle, a Brahma’s life span
In the Forest of Eye-blinks
(Where sages are sitting still),
Sitting still,

*Vimanas- Beings of other worlds “came and visited the earth…in vimanas…celestial chariots.”

Gayatri Preliminaries

Upon entering the Meditation Hall, one observes 12 small rugs placed in a rectangular pattern before the altar and, in the center, places for Swamis Ritavan, Tattwananda, Prashant, Prayagiri and Uttamanand. It is difficult to tell you what I see. I will not say I do not see it but this is nothing that a snapshot would show.  To say that it is a hallowed space is insufficient.  It feels like the Lords of so many mantras are present. There is such a strong ambience. But how many times can you use the word mysterious in one article? May I say it again? It is mysterious.

Before the mantra practice begins, the Guru Brahma prayer is uttered. Thus, as Swami Veda once told us, once you invoke the Guru presence:

The meditation seat you sit down on is no longer your seat; it is the seat of the Guru. Sometimes perchance in your presence or in your absence the Guru might come and sit on that seat and charge it and make it sacred for you.

(from Gayatri in the Year of Sanctity, a lecture byDr. Usharbudh Arya July 16, 1990)

Even before that, the priests and swamis do the nyaasam. Each part of the body is silently sanctified with mantras called the matrikas, the “Little Mothers.” Bhola Shanker Dabral explained to me that nyasas are not only a purificatory rite, but that you yourself, the one doing the practice, become a devata, a being of light.

Akhandamandala and other important mantras are intoned. The Mahamritunjaya mantra is chanted and the living vibration of this protector goes out in mercy to all-- those physically present or not.

Uh-oh. My logic sensor is sounding a warning. I argue with myself, if the dust of the Chernobyl Power Plant disaster traveling the globe is believable, why is it so far-fetched to believe that prayers, the living divine, can travel realms far and near?

The Gayatri Invocation

The invocation opens a door to a sacred passageway.Before the recitation of any mantra it is traditional to state the name of the sage to whom the mantra was revealed, the form of God presiding over the mantra, its meter and the purpose of the mantra japa. In our tradition, as Swami Veda has said, the purpose is most often for moksha, liberation, and for the pleasure of the guru. It happened too fast for me to hear but based on Swami Veda’s earlier words, the priests most likely said something like:

Om  Asya  Shree-Gaayatree-Mahaa-Mantrasya
Vishvaamitra  Rishih  Savitaa  Devataa.

Anushtup  Chhandah  Guru-Preety-Artham
Moksha-Saadhane  Viniyogah

Or in English:

“Om….  Om….  Om….
Of this great Gayatri Mantra, the Maha Mantra, 
the Rishi (the Sage) is Vishvaamitra, 
the Divine Aspect is Savitri, (the Lord of the Spiritual Sun),
the same one that shines in the Heavens that also dwells in me and that I am);
the meter is Anushtup.
The refrain that follows me everywhere.
I surrender this practice of the mantra for the pleasure of the Guru Lineage,
as the sadhana for spiritual  liberation.”

Who Is the Mantra?

In 1990, Pandit Usharbudh Arya (later Swami Veda Bharati) gave a lecture before initiating a year-long practice of Gayatri among his many students. He said, “What can I do in gratitude to my Guru but give you love in this form.” (From Gayatri in the Year of Sanctity (1990-1991), Usharbudh Arya, July 16, 1990).

He went on to say:

In the mantra tradition we speak of Mantra …[as] the sonic body of the Divine Being.   Most traditions think of luminous bodies... bodies made of light that the shining ones have…. [The] Divine Ones … also [have] a sonic body, not light alone …. [The] sound of your mantra is the body of the divine presence.  Of these, Gayatri is said to be the Mother….

Here is one translation Swami Veda gave of the Gayatri mantra:

Om. In Earth, Sky and Heaven,
I do meditate on, and sustain in myself,
the beautiful brilliance of God 
who shines in the splendor of the sun.

Nonetheless, Swamiji once said that the many layers of meaning of a mantra should be taken in all at once---rather than dwelling on the translations of the individual words, that a mantra goes beyond lexical meaning.

After Swamiji left the body, I reread his book on Bhishma. I was taken with a passage which illuminates not only the Mahabharata, but perhaps also sheds light on the nature of mantra, the many layers of meaning, the audience of a mantra and who exactly is being called.

Swamiji wrote that the core text of the Mahabharata was 8,800 verses, but that the total number was 6 million verses. He went on to say:

Of these six million verses, three million are taught in the world of the Devas, one and a half million in the world of the Pitris [the ancestors], one million four hundred thousand are taught in the world of the Gandharvas, one hundred thousand are taught to the mortals on this earth.

As I read this, I thought of Om Bhur Bhuvah Svah, --Earth sky and heaven-- of the Gayatri mantra. Could a similar principle apply with mantras---that a mantra resonates, invokes, calls and receives the shakti of many layers, of many worlds or aspects alive in the cosmos and in each person? The Tantra Shastras speak of the individual as a microcosm of the universe:

What is here is elsewhere. What is not here is nowhere.

If this is true, it makes a strong case for Swamiji’s admonition to go beyond the translation of, the individual parts of a mantra to the whole and to let the mantra as a unified field, as a living being, sink in deeply. At the silent recitation of the Gayatri there is definitely a presence.

The Daily Schedule, 25th – 29th July

The normal ashram schedule with early morning and evening prayers, and an hour of silent meditation at 7:30 a.m. and at 5:45 p.m. continues. There are these additions in the Meditation Hall during these 5 days:

  • 8:30 am puja
  • 10-12 pm silent Gayatri japa
  • 3-4:45 pm silent Gayatri japa
  • 4:45 pm arti and ashirvada --powerful chanting by the priests, blessings and offerings of     fire, fruit, flowers and sweets
  • 8:00 pm a video of Swami Veda in the Meditation Hall

At the Fire, July 28th

On the morning of the 28th of July, instead of silent recitations, we all gather in the big yajnashala, the fire hut. This is the Gayatri homa with the 125,000 repetitions near completion. The priests have completed all but 10% of the 125,000 Gayatri recitations and the remaining 10% will now be offered into Agni, the living, breathing sacrificial fire. The fire rises high and this event is one of blazing light and absolute ekagrata, one-pointed mind. It is the pure light/sound force of mantras. The force field is filled with shakti. If it had been a person, one might say that this is a being whose eyes and ears are the sound body of sheer light.

I arrive at the fire in confusion and sorrow and very soon am uplifted and feel the cosmic import of this event. I believed before that Swami Veda was fully united with his master. But that feeling is stronger now. There is no longer a guru and a disciple. There is only pure light and the sonic body of sacred sound that creates a world. This yajna is a world all its own and a seed.

The Purnahuti, July 29th

At 6:30 a.m., many who love Swami Veda gather for the final offering of all 125,000 Gayatri. It felt like one more last farewell---there is no farewell. The conch is sounded. Ancient prayers invoke the presence that seemed and still seems to never leave Swami Veda Bharati. Incense, bells, fruits, flowers, flames ---and water blessed beyond what we call water. The driving cadence of the priests’ chanting in total unison is powerful. Each gesture, each syllable—no miss—handed down for perhaps thousands of years. It almost sounds like a great swarm of bees in a steady, building rhythm, yet each syllable uttered with reverence and joy. I hear the sankalpa uttered again. I hear “Brahmaleena Swami Ved Bharati…Sodashi….Gayatri…Shiva Sankalpam astu….om apavitra (the purification)….Gurur Brahma….Om shantih! Shantih! Shantih! All 125, 000 Gayatri recitations have been offered into Agni, the sacred fire, and the Guru.

Pictures by Jay Prakash Bahuguna






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