Grant us Awareness: Satya Sai Baba’s Universal Prayer
by Vijaya Rajiva on 14 Jan 2022 17 Comments

Of late there has been an attack on Hindu tradition by questioning the relevance of surya namaskar during the practice of Yoga. The argument seems to be that it encourages idolatry, in this context, the worship of the sun, rather than the worship of the Creator. The question of the physical benefits of Yoga is a separate but relevant question, but here we shall attempt to link the worship of the sun in the chanting of the Gayatri mantra to a philosophical/spiritual question.


Gayatri Mantra, the oldest of the Hindu mantras, occurs in the Rig Veda (Book 3.62.10) and is considered to have been composed by Rishi Viswamitra. It has been commented upon down the ages by sages, saints and philosophers, and remains the central mantra of Hindu ritual and worship.


The commentary by Sri Satya Sai Baba in his lecture A Universal Prayer makes it clear that the Gayatri mantra is a prayer to both the Transcendental Creator (Unmanifest) and the Immanent Creator (Manifest). Hence, the worship of Savita (sun) is worship of the Creator, whether in its aspect as Unmanifest (Transcendental) or in its aspect as Manifest (Immanent). The lecture is followed by the chanting of Gayatri by Sri Satya Sai. It is freely available on the internet. The lecture is titled A Universal Prayer because it includes all humanity.


This interpretation is philosophically significant because it removes the negative and pejorative use of the word ‘idolatry’ once and for all in the hostile misrepresentations of the Vedic tradition. While Sri Satya Sai is more focused on the phrase ‘a universal prayer’ to describe Gayatri (as being applicable to all humanity) it is also useful to bring out the philosophical dimensions of his interpretation.


Many are familiar with the valuable work done by the Satya Sai inspired movement in the social field (establishment of state of the art hospitals for the poor, provision of potable water in villages, establishment of institutions of higher learning), but it is useful to understand the philosophical implications of his lecture on the Gayatri mantra.


In its broadest sense, the interpretation can be placed in both a cosmological and a humanistic context. The cosmological context can be understood while considering some of the recent work by astrophysicists and astronomers. A recent example is The End of the Universe by Geraint Lewis (Royal Institute, 1918, readily available on YouTube).


Here, Lewis undertakes an hour long presentation of the future of the universe, based on our knowledge of its origins (popularly known as the Big Bang theory). At the conclusion of this remarkable tour de force, one is left with the profound philosophical/religious implications of the continuous cycle of creation and destruction known to the Vedic tradition.


In the Satya Sai interpretation of Gayatri mantra as a heavenly prayer one gets both the cosmological and humanistic interpretation in the worship of Savita, the sun, of which later. But first here is the text of the Gayatri that Sri Satya Sai chants:

“Om bhur bhuva, tat savitar varanyam, bhargo devasya dhimahi, diyo yo na prachodayat”

[“Om, earth, atmosphere, heavens, that Savitur shining bright, grant us awareness”]


The profound significance of the mantra lies in its multidimensional meaning. While it can be chanted as a hymn to Savitur (Sun), as presiding deity of our universe, including earth, atmosphere and heavens, is also points (according to Sri Satya Sai) to the three dimensions of materiality, energy and most importantly, of “continuous, integrative, constant awareness”. This awareness, of course, is Consciousness, the moving principle of whatever exists (according to Vedic tradition).


Historically, says Sai, the Vedic Rishis realised that the Sun (Savitur, Savita) is the source of all life. They came to the conclusion that it is the Immanent expression of the Transcendental Consciousness. Hence, the Yajna, the ritual offering to the Sun was a way to reach that Transcendental Consciousness. Hence, the importance of Gayatri mantra and Satya Sai’s description of it as a universal prayer.


Satya Sai points out that we humans are also that Consciousness. The five sheaths that envelope the human body and which he calls five Life Principles, are the material body, the energy body (prana), the psychological sheath, the mental sheath, and the continuous, integrated Consciousness or Atman.


What is the significance of the Sai interpretation? It can be divided into 3 segments:

-        The Transcendental Dimension

-        The Immanent Dimension

-        The Human Dimension.


I] The Transcendental Dimension:

This is Pure Consciousness, the realm of the Unmanifest. He uses the Upanishadic word Brahman, but also the popular word Bhagvan, God. All are Consciousness and are beyond space and time.


II] The Immanent Dimension: the world of the Manifest, which includes all living beings and non-living entities.


The world of living beings is described by Sri Satya Sai as Pañcamukhi (one with five faces). For this reason, Gayatri is often called the Mother of the Vedas. Gayatri is the five-faced Goddess, the five Life Principles. They are:

1. Annamaya, the food we eat and everything the body consumes.

2. Pranamaya, the energy of the living body.

3. Manomaya, the mental aspect of the living body.

4. Vijnanamaya, the intellectual, psychological, philosophical, spiritual aspect.

5. Atma, the constant integrated awareness (alternately described by some as soul, spirit)

The five sheaths are a gateway to the final path to the Transcendental Dimension.


An important addition that Sri Satya makes is the incorporation of the four Upanishadic Mahavakyas, the four sacred utterances, into his thinking:

1. Brahman is Consciousness (prajnanam brahma)

2. You are that (tat tvam asi)

3. This Atma is Brahma (ayam atma brahma)

4.  I am Brahma (aham brahmasmi)


In the immanent position of Pañcamukhi, Gayatri provides not only awakening but sustenance also. In addition to the description of Brahman as Consciousness (Chit), Satya Sai invokes the Hindu tradition of Brahman as Sat (that which exists), and that which is Ananda (Joy, Bliss). He also uses the formula Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram. Hence, the Immanent Brahman is joyful and blissful. The immanent world is joyful and blissful, auspicious and beautiful (Shivam, Sundaram).


Similarly, like many of the great Hindu saints and sages, he also used the word Love to describe both the Transcendental Brahman and the Immanent Brahman. He was fond of saying: God is Love and you are that also. That is your inner nature.


Gayatri then, as Mother of the Veda, has three names: Gayatri, for the world of sense, Savitri for energy and Sarasvati, for knowledge (word). Gayatri is often referred to as Pañcamukhi, since each of the phrases of the mantra beginning with Om are an aspect of the Immanent Brahman.


III] The Human Dimension:

For humans the Immanent dimension is particularly significant because it underscores the unity of all being. Hence, too, the importance of Satya Sai’s social philosophy and his message to all humans to engage in social service. There is a further significance to the linking of the Unmanifest Brahman and the Immanent, since the manifest world is then to be cherished, valued and engaged with. The unity of being calls for the awareness of other beings, and attention to their welfare, even while it does not preclude the enjoyment of the immanent world.


This, of course, is the central motivation of the Seva work enjoined on all, not merely his devotees, and his own social programs. It is also in keeping with the Vedic injunction of Yajna for the needy.


In speaking about humans, Satya Sai in various speeches and writings (Collected Works, in Telugu, translated into English) sends the message of the unity of all beings and the need to love all. “LOVE ALL, SERVE ALL” is the logo, front and centre of the various Satya Sai Baba Ashrams.


He points out that all religions extol love as the central connection between man, God and fellow beings. Devotees believe that his next appearance (avatar) will be Prem Sai.


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