Morning and evening, dawn and dusk, keep time for us, reminding us of the passing moments and calling us to make a journey back to ourselves. Thus, the Vedas sing, “O pair of divine powers, Dusk and Dawn, come near… Like two boats, take us across.” Among yoga practitioners these morning and evening transitions have long been used for meditation. In ancient times, for example, seekers rose early, bathed, performed their rituals, and silently recited mantras. In the evening the day’s fatigue was washed away with another period of meditation. This pattern of morning and evening practice persists even now. In Sanskrit, the word sandhya indicates a juncture, and for this reason the meditation process performed in the morning and evening junctures of the day is called the sandhya meditation. There are many ways to practice this, some dating from the Vedic times, and portions of these practices continue to be observed throughout modern India and other parts of the world. In this way, elements of devotion and introspection are woven into the daily lives of millions. And since morning and evening practice is uplifting to the mind and heart, new students of yoga find nourishment in it as well. At the heart of many sandhya rituals is the gayatri mantra. Like the light of the early morning sun, which sweeps away the darkness of the night as it illumines the landscape, the gayatri mantra is purifying and enlightening. It is said that it embodies the collective wisdom of the entire Vedic revelation. :: The Three Worlds :: The gayatri mantra is found in the Rig Veda (3.62.10) It takes its name in part because it is written in a meter called the gayatri meter: twenty-four syllables divided into three lines of eight syllables each. But the word gayatri also means “she who protects the singer” (from gai, to sing, and trai, to protect). Thus, Gayatri is a name of the Divine Mother, she who protects her children and leads them toward self-realization. The gayatri mantra reads: tat savitur varenyam bhargo devasya dhimahi dhiyo yo nah prachodayat When the mantra is recited in meditation, however, an additional line is added at the beginning. This line contains the sound Om, followed by three short seed sounds called the three maha uyahritis (“great utterances”): bhur, bhuvah, and svah. Thus the complete mantra as it is used in meditation is: Om bhur, bhuvah, svah tat savitur varenyam bhargo devasya dhimahi dhiyo yo nah prachodayat The Chhandogya Upanishad gives us a sense of the significance of the three vyahritis and the sound Om. It explains that once Prajapati, the lord of the universe, contemplated the nature of the three worlds: earth, sky, and heaven. (These three “worlds” also represent the three planes of existence: mantra, energy or prana, and mind). Through intense concentration Prajapati was able to discover the essential guiding force of each: agni (fire) governed the earth; vayu (the vital force) governed the sky; and aditya (the sun) governed the vault of heaven. Once more Prajapati applied his intense concentration to these three guiding forces and obtained their essences: from fire he obtained the verse of the Rig Veda; from the vital energy he obtained the Yajur Veda; and from the sun he obtained the Sama Veda. He applied his concentration once more, now to the three Vedas themselves. From the Rig Veda he obtained the syllable bhuh; from the Yajur Veda the syllable bhuvah; and from the Sama Veda the syllable svah. Thus the three vyahritis are the essence of the three Vedas, the seeds of fire, vital energy, and the sun-as well as the seed sounds of the earth, sky, and heaven. Finally, Prajapati focused on these three vyahritis together, and through intense concentration he obtained a single, pure sound, the syllable Om. Om, it is said, “is all this.” :: Vedic Symbols :: The spiritual themes of the Vedas are transmitted through tangible symbols that represent an intangible reality. And through these symbols the Vedic seers (rishis) venerate the sun, the moon, wind, fire, and rain; they universalize such human archetypes as mother, daughter, sister, brother, and father; and they recognize human inventions like the pot, the door, and the wheel as expressions of universal truth. Put another way, the Vedas tell us that the cosmos in which we live is the intangible highest reality itself-but veiled. We see only a portion of the whole. The cycles of the day, the turning of seasons, birth and death, planting and harvesting, all are outward displays of this reality. Just as a first view of the ocean awakens a sense of wonder at the apparent limitlessness of the earth’s waters, so with every dawn and dusk, every birth and death, the mind overflows momentarily with wonder at the unseen whole. Thus it is said: Three fourths of the Divine Person ascends above, One fourth manifests again here. Thereafter it spreads everywhere Into both the animate and inanimate world. Rig Veda 10.90.4 :: The Cosmic Ritual :: A finely tuned mind is capable of knowing this reality, but such a mind must be able to see intuitively and go beyond the outward forms of things. When this has been accomplished through tapas (self-discipline), the seer is capable of presenting the facts of everyday experience to others as a kind of doorway into the interior meaning of life. The Vedas are just such a doorway a revelation of the infinite reality as it appears in the immensity of this very cosmos. But the Vedas do not oversimplify, nor did the seers of the Vedas underestimate the complexity of things. They recognized that the symbols of reality are ever shifting and may overlap. During the day, for example, light is the product of aditya (the sun), while at night it is product of agni (fire). So aditya and agni are described as brothers. Similarly, the power of illumination is symbolized both by light in the cosmos and intelligence within the human personality. So the word “light” may mean both the sun’s light and the power of intelligence. Thus the highest reality is not limited to a particular symbol, or personified by any single force of nature. It is not the sun god, the moon god, or the god of lightning that are eulogized in the Vedas. These are only the “priests” of a cosmic ritual, an ongoing ceremony that takes place directly before our eyes in the form of the universal rhythms of life. We are all, gods and man, part of this ritual; each has a role to play. In the following verse, the Vedas describe the sun’s role in that cosmic ceremony: His golden arms the Solar Being has extended Skillfully toward the sacrifice. Like a well-trained young priest, he lets the melted ghee drip From his hands onto the airy space. Rig Veda 6.71.1. Here the rays of the sun are likened to priestly arms and hands pouring golden offerings of ghee (clarified butter) into a ritual fire. The air is filled with the golden hue of these offerings. This great cosmic ceremony proceeds continuously, and all the forces of nature play some role in it. The ritual progresses within the individual, too. There is a well-known saying, “As above, so below,” meaning that the forces at work in the cosmos are the very same forces that shape the lives of the creatures abiding in it. In the individual person, “the Self is the chief of the ritual, the power of discrimination [buddhi] is his wife, the Vedas are the priests, the ego is the subordinate priest, and the mind is the officiating priest. The body is the altar.” (Pranagnihotra Upanishad 38.40) In the universe (the macrocosm) as well as in the individual person (the microcosm), the ritual ceremony of life evolves. Ultimately, through yoga, we fully internalize the ceremony, and this heralds the experience of Self-realization.