CHAPTER 8 – Gayatri Mantra
Continues…..Let us look at the mantra itself:
The work AUM is a threefold word, although when vocalized, it is a single sound. It can be divided into three sections: ‘a’, ‘u’, and ‘m’. The Upanishads and Vedas have given various meanings to these three sounds. One of the frequently encountered interpretations is that ‘a’ represents creation, ‘u’ preservation, and ‘m’ destruction or the transformation of something old into something new. The last can only happen by starting afresh with ‘a’.
Even the manner in which the letters have been arranged is significant — of course, in the production of the sound AUM, the letters are coalesced. ‘A’ is the most easily produceable sound and is known in Sanskrit as akara. It is, in Sanskrit as in most languages of the world, the first letter of the alphabet. The next sound ‘u’ has to be rolled out from inside the mouth and over the tongue — by the nature of its production, its utterance can be extended or maintained for a longer period — and it represents the middle state of preservation. The sound ‘m’ can only be made by closing the lips and it means the last stage of a full cycle. To produce a new sound, the mouth has to be opened again. That is, ‘m’ symbolically brings to an end what the mouth began with.
Apart from this symbolic, physiological representation, Aum has various other interpretations. In one, ‘a’ stands for sattva and Brahma, ‘u’ for rajas and Vishnu, and ‘m’ for tamas and Shiva; this again is a modification of the earlier one. Another interpretation is that ‘a’ is akar or form, the earth element; ‘u’ is the upward moving air element, and ‘m’ is the void.
Of Of all the interpretations, the one that has the highest philosophical import is mentioned in the Chandogya Upanishad, and in greater detail, in the Mandukya Upanishad. The Mandukya says that ‘a’ is our waking state, wherein we normally recognize the world using our senses and mind. We live in the world and enjoy and suffer as we undergo different experiences. As a state of consciousness, as mentioned elsewhere, it is the jagrata awastha. It entails, therefore, that ‘u’ used in this mantra represents the dream state or swapna awastha and the sukshma sharira, the subtle body. Finally, ‘m’ represents sushupti, the deep sleep state or the karana sharira, the causal body. The utterance of Aum is not abrupt as in an angry snort. It leaves, as it were, a contrail of humming known as the ardha matra. This is similar to the sound which continues after a gong has been struck. This represents the Turiya awastha.