Why this book? A simple answer might be because it is needed. A more elaborate answer points at my own fascination and struggle with the subject. Let me explain.
Throughout the years of my spiritual practice, I have felt a deep yearning gradually arising in my heart to understand and apply the teachings of our glorious sampradaya. Once, sitting next to a godbrother while both of us were chanting our diksa-mantras, I noticed that he needed much more time to finish his gayatri than I did. He also seemed to relish his practice to a degree I had neither seen nor myself felt. Being determined to discover his secret, I took him aside after he had finally come to the end of his mantras, and he mercifully told me many details about the gayatri-mantras. This information had simply been unknown to me before this conversation. But this incident awoke my eagerness to research this field.
For a long time I collected quotes and various other material about gayatri, and gradually the world of the divine mantras began to reveal a few of its secrets to me. I also noticed, however, that the more I learned, the more obliged I felt to seriously apply the knowledge I had gained.
I must admit that I was forced to learn to concentrate on my mantras the hard way, by the path of mistake and correction. A time came in my life when my intense traveling schedule left me negligent toward chanting gayatri at the proper times and places or with the proper pronunciation and meditation. Finally, one evening when I sat to "meditate" on the mantras, my mind overcome with distraction, I realized sadly that the mantras had left me. Although I had always dutifully chanted them, I had done so with out affection or taste and they were simply gone.
Yes, they were gone. In their place I was left with the empty shells of the mantras. I felt like a hungry man holding empty nutshells while watching others enjoy fresh nuts.
Reform was inevitable. I studied my notes, prayed intensely, collected more material, practiced more sincerely, and finally, the mantras returned, hesitatingly at first, like a person who has been hurt who watches from a distance before daring an approach. Eventually, they came closer.
In 1968, Srila Prabhupada, the founder-acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, awarded brahmana initiation to a few of his Western disciples at their recently opened Boston Radha-Krsna temple Over the remaining nine years of his life, Prabhupada would give the mantras of brahmana initiation - including the brahma-gayatri and other mantras he had received from his guru, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura-to many more disciples worldwide. These spiritual aspirants had shown themselves committed to the regimen of daily devotional practice and avoidance of the unfavorable habits Prabhupada had defined.
To give brahmana initiation was a big step, one not without risk to Prabhupada's reputation among his godbrothers and other Vaisnavas in India. Willing to take that risk, Prabhupada saw it as the logical and necessary move toward making "Krsna consciousness" a reality beyond the shores of India, among people who had not been born into brahmana families. Brahmana initiated devotees could begin to learn and practice the process of arcana formal worship of Krsna in his murti (sacred image consecrated according to standard pancaratrika procedures), as in thousands of Indian temples. With brahmana initiation, devotees could pursue the finer aspects of krsna bhakti practice and thus deepen their devotion. They would also be able to become increasingly qualified as priests and teachers in Krsna's temples for the growing congregation of Vaisnavas and Vaisnavis worldwide.
As Prabhupada's initiated disciples cross the threshold of middle age into old age, and as new generations of Vaisnavas come forth, all feel the need to better comprehend his legacy. If Vaisnava culture is to take root in the West and carry on indefinitely, surely individual practitioners need to have a thorough understanding of their adopted tradition in all its nuanced details so that they can imbibe it in their personal lives and devotional practice.
Imagine you are on pilgrimage. You enter a remote forest and discover a large and beautiful temple. It is old, but well preserved. It seems uninhabited. No one appears to be worshiping here anymore, and you feel free to enter the building and walk around at your case. Soon you find yourself absorbed by the complexity of halls, doorways, attractively furnished rooms, flights of stairs, beautifully arranged garden groves, and other amazing and sometimes bewildering details.
After some time you feel that your initial curiosity has been satisfied. Slightly exhausted you sit down to rest. As you look around, you see more and more detail. Your mind again becomes captivated by the urge to explore. So many new and unknown things are waiting to be discovered! Excited, you jump to your feet and continue your investigation.
But somehow you feel insecure, bewildered, confronted as you are by an overwhelming variety of impressions. You begin to feel the need for an expert guide, someone well-versed in the history of this ancient place who can introduce you to the stories of the former Deities and their worshipers, someone who can explain the architecture, artwork, and meaning and use of the various rooms. Only then will you feel you know something about this place.
A similar experience may occur on pilgrimage to the sacred realm of the gayatri mantras. What in the beginning, after having received your mantra diksa, appears to be just another aspect of your sadhana, develops into a complex subject as soon as you sincerely dive into a deeper understanding of gayatri. The scriptures provide so many explanations, and thus there are many aspects of it to consider and so many fine details to discover - that you can only make sense of it by accepting the help of an expert guide.
To illustrate this point, let us look at the sacred syllable om, the beginning of the brahma-gayatri-mantra. From Bhagavad-gita we learn that ont is non different from Brahman and that by chanting it one can attain the spiritual world. And as Krsna later explains, om has to be chanted at the beginning of each performance of sacrifice, charity, and penance in order to attain the Supreme. Yet on the highest level, om- as a combination of the letters a, u, and m-represents Krsna, Radharani, and the jiva soul. But that is not all. We hear that the sacred syllable om includes all the Vedas. Moreover, the Upanisads explain that the whole creation has emanated from om.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
Children’s Books (39)
Brahma Sutras (85)
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