ॐ भूर्भुवः स्वः तत्सवितुर्वरेण्यम्
भर्गो देवस्य धीमहि धियो यो नः प्रचोदयात्।
om bhūrbhuvaḥ svaḥ tatsaviturvareṇyam
bhargo devasya dhīmahi dhiyo yo naḥ pracodayāt |
Om, the cause of everything, the earth,
the space in between and the worlds above.
That (Lord) is the one who is the most worshipful.
We invoke that effulgent, all knowing (Lord).
May (the Lord) set our minds in the right direction.
I could pray for anything, power, fame, money, job, house, etc. O Lord, give me this, and this, and this…This would be endless and changing all the time. It is fine and we can pray for all these. But is there any prayer which would be more fundamental, that would encompass everything? One thing I can ask for that would take me all the way? Yes, it is prayer for clarity of thinking. Why?
Because life consists of situations we have to face. In every situation of my life, I have to make decisions. Life is thus nothing but a series of decisions. With reference to my desires and actions, what to pursue and what to leave aside? What should be my priorities? What is the basis of my choices? Sometimes things are not so clear, there are grey areas and I can get confused. With reference to results of actions/situations, how to know the difference between the situations where I can bring a change, using my will and effort, and the situations I cannot change and have to accept, or simply learn from?
One of the meanings of Gayatri mantra is therefore: ‘May the Lord brighten our minds and make us think properly; may we have clarity of thinking, may You help us come out of our confusion and subjectivity, so we can make proper decisions in our lives.’ Once one has that clarity, that objectivity, one can live life fully, in an effective and intelligent manner.
Word to word meaning (by Swami Dayananda Saraswati):
Om – The name of the Lord, the one who sustains, protects this world and is a source of all blessings.
bhūrbhuvaḥ svaḥ – what is this Om ? It is manifest in the form of everything. Om is bhūḥ, the earth, Om is bhuvaḥ, above the earth and Om is svaḥ , all what is beyond the scope of our perception, whatever is unknown to us.
The Lord is in the form of all these three worlds; Om sustains, pervades, and permeates everything. Nothing in the universe is separate from the Lord. All that is here is the Lord.
dhīmahi – we pray to, invoke. The prayer is in the first person plural. Why? Because our well being as individuals depends upon the well being of others. So this prayer includes all people around us.
tat vareṇyam – That Om, tat, who is vareṇyam , the most worshipful, the one to be invoked, whose blessing is to be sought
devasya savituḥ – devasya, an effulgent being, like the shining sun, savituḥ, which is free from darkness (ignorance), and is thus all knowing.
We can also say devasya , the effulgent being who is in the form of savituh, the sun. The sun stands for the solar system and by extension to all galaxies, stars, quasars, black holes, etc., the entire cosmos.
ya ḥ bhargaḥ naḥ dhiyaḥ pracodayāt – yaḥ bhargaḥ, the one who is resplendent, who burns darkness, confusion and ignorance – pracodayāt, may this Lord brighten, set in proper direction – naḥ dhiyaḥ, our minds
Gayatri has other deeper meanings which open up when one begins to study the Upanishads and the Gita. I mentioned briefly a few of them in the word by word meaning. The nature of the Lord who is invoked is quietly introduced in the first part of the prayer. As we saw, all that is here is manifestation of all knowledge and all power which is the cause of the universe.
The word vareṇyam also means that the Lord must be chosen by you, chosen to be known by you. The truth is that Isvara is me and that equation, I have to choose to understand. The prayer then becomes a prayer for knowledge, for gaining clarity in understanding this oneness. ‘Let me dwell upon, contemplate upon the nature of Isvara, the cause of the universe and myself. Let me see clearly the essential non difference between Isvara and me, like wave (the individual) and ocean (Isvara) are nothing but water (limitless consciousness and existence).’
Know more with two articles in this blog:
Some links to Vedanta, Being alive to what is
 The equation ‘You are that’, the cause of the universe
 The equation ‘You are that’, the nature of ‘that’
 Article in pdf format, The vedic vision of God
 Maturity & Knowledge, The individual and the total