Who really knows how long humans have been drawn to melody to focus the mind, to commune with one another, and to, perhaps, offer up their voices to something bigger than themselves? We do know that sometime around 2000-1500 B.C.E., the lyrical, life-affirming hymns of the Vedas began to be composed. The Ṛg Veda is a compilation of hymns of praise and prayer to a group of deities personifying nature (wind, water, sun, fire, sky, earth, sound, etc…) And the Sāma Veda contained chants or songs to be performed at Soma rituals.
These early writings and hymns held a reverence for nature and her rhythms and cycles that contains an inherent, soul-catching beauty that taps into something raw within us. They speak of natural forces and elemental powers, and the beauty of the rain and the sun and fire and the wind and the dark of night, as well as the brightness of the day.
The Upaniṣads (most of which were composed between 800 and 200 B.C.E.) offered a path of turning inwards and a subsequent recognition that the true, eternal, pure self (ātman) is one with Brahman (Brahman—not to be confused with the Brahmin priests). Brahman, itself, is an all-pervading reality, the substratum of existence.
The Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad (3.2.2), in beautiful imagery, tells us: “What is luminous, what is subtler than the subtle, in which are centered all the worlds and those that dwell in them, that is the imperishable Brahman.”
Perhaps the most well known mantra is the praṇava mantra, or Oṃ, which is mentioned repeatedly in the Upaniṣads. The Muṇdaka Upaniṣad (2.4) describes “taking the syllable aum as the bow: one’s self is the arrow. Brahman is spoken of as the target of that. It is to be hit without making a mistake. Thus one becomes united with it as the arrow (becomes one with the target).” Oṃ, or Aum, also describes the states of consciousness: waking, dreaming, deep sleep, and the turiya state. The turiya state is the transcendent background of consciousness, beyond all the others, where connection with the infinite might be possible.
V.14.3 The Sacred Gāyatrī Prayer “The earth, the sky, and heaven (make eight syllables.
Of eight syllables, verily, is one foot (line) of the Gāyatrī. This one foot of it is that.
He who knows the foot of the Gāyatrī to be such wins as far as the three worlds extend.
Bhu is the earth. Bhuva is the atmosphere. Svar is the heavens.
Gāyatrī is a verse of the Ṛg Veda. “Tat savitur vareṇyam, bhargo devasya dhīmahi, dhiyo yo naḥ pracodayāt: We meditate on the adorable glory of the radiant sun; may he inspire our intelligence.”
Om bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ
Tat savitur vareṇyma
bhargo devasya dhīmahi
dhiyo yo naḥ pracodayāt
Om asatomā sad gamaya
Tamaso mā jyotir gamaya
Mṛtyor māmṛtaṃ (ma amṛtaṃ) gamaya
From the unreal lead me to the real.
From Darkness lead me to light.
From death lead me to immortality
Gamaya—lead me there
Tamas- heaviness, darkness
Saha nāv avatu
Saha nau bhunaktu
Saha vīryaṃ karavāvahai
Tejasvināv adhitam astu
Aum śāntiḥ, śāntiḥ, śāntiḥ
May we be protected.
May we enjoy each other.
May we work together uniting our strength
for the good of humanity.
May our learning be luminous and purposeful.
May we never hate one another.
May there be peace, peace, and perfect peace.
pūrṇam adaḥ pūrṇam idam,
pūrnāt pūrṇam udacyate
pūrṇasya pūrṇam ādāya
That is full (or whole, or perfect); This is full (or whole or perfect). The fullness (or wholeness or perfection) comes out of the full (wholeness, perfection). Taking the fullness (or wholeness or perfection) from the fullness (or wholeness or perfection), the full (or whole or perfect) remains full (or whole or perfect).
Om tryambakam yajāmahe sugandhim puṣṭi-vardhanam
urvārukam-iva bandhanān mṛtyormukṣīya māmṛitāt
From the Rig Veda, a chant for freedom from the attachments that bind us, also often chanted for healing.
Closing Chant (Mangala Mantra)
svasti prajābhyaḥ pari pāla yaṇtāṃ
nyāyena mārgeṇa mahīṃ mahīśaḥ
gobrāmaṇebhyaḥ śubham astu nityaṃ
lokāḥ samastaḥ sukhino bhavaṇtu
Om śāntiḥ, śāntiḥ, śāntiḥ
May we recognize the divine in our abundance
May our leaders rule the world with law and justice
May we always have the right to worship and study freely
May all beings be happy and free
Peace, peace and perfect peace
guru brahma, guru viṣnu
guru devo māheśvara
taṣmai śri guravē namaḥ
An offering to our teachers—to the force of creation, to the force of destruction,
to the force of preservation, to the supreme guru who is everywhere and in everything. I offer my salutations and efforts.