Gayatri mantra is considered as the most important and sacred among the mantras . The material and spiritual benefits that it bestows are immense. Yet it is a pity that the educated persons of today do not realize its supreme importance. In fact, a sort of vertical split is witnessed in the society in such matters. One category of people having received modern education tend to accept only those things that pass the touchstone of logic and reasoning. They have a cynical attitude about all that is ancient simply because they are ancient. On the other hand, the other category thinks that in matters spiritual and religious logic and reason have no place and that these are matters of faith only. This dichotomy is unfortunate as well as false. To hold that reason and faith are diametrically opposed to each other betrays a lack of correct understanding of the ancient beliefs and systems. Indeed, there is place for both in it. This can be comprehended through numerous examples. Here we will try to explain and establish this point in the context of Gayatri mantra.
Gayatri mantra is a very compact mantra having three parts. That is why it is called tripada . Its simple meaning is - “We behold the illuminating brilliance of Lord Savita (Sun). May He inspire our minds into the righteous path.” It is significant to note that in the last part of the mantra "dhiyo yo nah prachodayat " there is a prayer for buddhi or intellect and not for any material thing. The sublimity of human life lies in the upliftment of intellect. If human mind is able to get inspiration from the dazzling radiance of a divine power like sun-god, it can acquire all kinds of riches and resources. Not only worldly gains but even the spiritual progress is conditional upon the mind receiving the right kind of inspiration. Even the atheists base their rejection or acceptance on the strength of reason; that is to say, the mind is an essential element and determinant even in their scheme of things. Thus the non-believers and cynics too cannot differ with a prayer that seeks this universally accepted and esteemed ‘intellect’. Concepts of heaven, salvation and the like are not such sundry matters as can be experienced by everyone. Hence the atheists do not believe in them. Possibly, to overcome this very difficulty, the ancient seer of Gayatr imantra included in it the prayer for a thing with which nobody can have any dispute.
In Gayatri mantra, the term dhiyah or buddhi has been used in the plural sense – connoting ‘many kinds of intellect’. It is a misconception that the Hindu systems of philosophy are concerned only with the spiritual or the non-worldly. Many persons neglect the material or worldly aspects of the life under this wrong impression. The term dhiyah contradicts this widely held belief. Gayatri mantra seeks the enhancement of all kinds of intellect, not simply the spiritual intellect but also the physical, economic, administrative, etc. The Upanishads contain many names – bhootvidya (the science of spirits),manusyavidya (the science of humans), the science of rashis, the science of nakshatras (stars and planets),janvidya, etc. These miscellaneous nomenclatures suggest multiple kinds of intellect.
Just as the superiority of intellect is beyond dispute, so is the superiority of sun-god in all ages. Even those who do not look upon the sun as a divine entity must necessarily accept its intrinsic relationship with the cycle of life and the sustenance of all activities and phenomena in this world. If the sun remains hidden behind the clouds for a few days, the air becomes impure and diseases spread. Without the sun, there will simply be no life.
As a man thinks, so does he become. This is the law of nature. The sun symbolizes brilliance and infinite energy. He is also the deity of Gayatri mantra. Psychology and other mind related sciences have established that those who contemplate upon such a source of brightness, will themselves become bright. It stands to reason therefore that remembrance of this supreme divine power will act as the medium through which mankind will progress. One must have no doubt about it at all.
Gayatri mantra has often been recommended by many as a mantra for solo recital. But a closer scrutiny of its meaning indicates otherwise. The plural words like dhimahi (“we contemplate”) and nah (“our”) reflect the underlying spirit of collective chanting. Solo recital is of course not harmful, but even during this type of japa , the reciter should have the intrinsic feeling that he is a constituent part of the broad society and not a separate entity.
There is another widespread misconception in public. It is that only a very elaborate and strictly prescribed manner of mantra recital gives any benefit while a casually done japa produces harmful effect. This impression is wrong. Markandeya rishi says, “In whatever manner Gayatri japa is done, it purifies the interior and fulfills all desires. If however the japa anusthana is done in the proper and prescribed way the benefits are simply indescribable.” This means that even for a person engrossed in the daily grind of life it is very easy to derive the benefit of this mantra. Upliftment of the mental and intellectual level of the society is a great need of the time. Gayatri mantra being targeted precisely at this enhancement should therefore be valued and practiced by the modern neo-educated too.