ब्रह्मार्पणं ब्रह्म हविः ब्रह्माग्नौ ब्रह्मणा हुतम् ।
ब्रह्मैव तेन गन्तव्यं ब्रह्मकर्मसमाधिना ॥
Brahmarpanam brahma havir
Brahmagnau brahmana hutam
Brahmaiva tena gantavyam
Many a time during my school days, this mantra (chant) used to sound in the background as we prepared to have lunch. It seemed especially long on the days when I knew my mother had packed something special – for there was not just the joy of having it, but also of sharing it with my friends. The true meaning of the chant – though it was duly provided in our school diary – was lost on me.
Back then, I used to wonder why we had a prayer for everything under the sun.
We had a morning prayer session, sometimes a chapter of the Bhagavad Gita before lunch break followed by the one I mentioned above, and prayers in the evening after class, during which most of us would be in a hurry to pack our bags. During the brief time that I was a student of Sanskrit, we had a prayer before that class as well invoking Goddess Saraswati – the patron of knowledge and arts. Not to mention other mantras that our teachers used to recommend we practice chanting.
Growing up, I felt these were too many. I couldn’t even remember half of them, and those that I remembered thanks to countless repetitions, I didn’t quite know what they meant.
The years went by, I graduated and went on to other places, and these practices slowly faded away from my mind. I never lost my fascination about the workings of the world, so I delved into books – fiction, non-fiction, even some pseudoscience – just for the fun of it.
When I came across the Law of Attraction and the power of gratitude, it seemed like such a brand new and original idea to me – why had no one ever told me of this before? I knew there was truth to it. Gratitude is a powerful thing.
Even so, this knowledge remained mostly theoretical.
Recently, I re-read the phenomenal book, Life of Pi – a ray of hope in the times we’re facing now. Pi’s struggles as a castaway are detailed over many chapters. His difficulty to find food, fresh water and basic amenities – all reminded me of how we take our comforts for granted. How difficult life would be without the things that are provided to us daily – electricity, food, water, clothes, shelter. And what of the many things we get for free? The air we breathe, the sunlight, the trees and the ground beneath our feet?
It was then that I realized why we had a mantra revering ‘everything under the sun’. In fact, most cultures have some variation of practicing gratitude.
I admire my Muslim friends who do their namaz faithfully – what a beautiful way to be reminded, at different times in the day, of something that is greater than us. The Christian practice of saying grace before having a meal and their general emphasis on gratitude itself is refreshing. Drawing from the knowledge I have of religions as a whole, I feel there will be a gratitude practice in every faith.
Many of the ideas that I felt were New Age were in fact a part of tradition – though mainstream religion might have lost touch with the essence of these practices.
Going down the memory lane, I remember a teacher telling us to touch the ground with our fingers and thank the Earth, first thing in the morning. Her point was that we walk upon the ground all day, and never contemplate the weight that it bears – what a thankless job Planet Earth has, now that I think of it.
Another teacher used to advise us to touch our parents’ feet every morning (traditionally, a common form of showing respect towards elders) – it is important to be grateful for one’s relationships, and as children, we were always under the shelter of our parents. Each parent, I feel, would have tried to do that job as best they can.
I found many more parallels as I thought about the guiding words from The Secret and everything I had been taught since childhood. And I concluded that my teachers, my parents, my school and my tradition at large was trying to inculcate in me, though perhaps unknowingly so – a culture of gratitude.
Here is a translation of the mantra that I opened this post with:
The whole creation being the gross projection of Brahman, the Cosmic Consciousness itself; the food too is Brahman, the process of offering it is Brahman; it is being offered in the fire of Brahman. He who thus sees Brahman in action, attains Brahman. (ref. Satya Sai Baba)
Food is precious – the plate of food in front of you has undergone much to present itself to you in that form. Starting from being a seed, that was planted and nourished by the Earth and the farmer and the weather, that was then harvested and transported over miles perhaps, passed through vendors, before being cooked into something nourishing and filling. Surely, to take a few seconds of time to thank and respect everything that went into this plate of food is well deserved.
It is easy to forget these details in the hustle of everyday life. We’re too busy to even take care of our own bodies and minds.
But now that we have no choice but to slow down and reflect, this is something worth thinking over.
The quality of our thoughts dictate the quality of our feelings, the quality of our feelings manifest as our levels of satisfaction with our days, and our days in turn build our lives.
Perhaps our ancestors knew this and perhaps that’s why they personalized the forces of nature – it is much easier to thank something that you establish a personal relationship with.
I’m not glorifying everything our ancestors did, but they got many things right. Nor is it practical to recite mantras every minute of the day, but it won’t hurt to show gratitude for the things that we take for granted every day.
Because in the end, everything is connected.
Our lives are what they are not just because of the people and circumstances in our immediate vicinity. It is also facilitated by the blessings and efforts of many whose names we don’t even know, of forces of nature that are beyond our control.
What better way to acknowledge this great interdependence than with a heart full of gratitude?
ॐ असतो मा सद्गमय ।
तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय ।
मृत्योर्मा अमृतं गमय ।
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥
Om Asato Maa Sad-Gamaya |
Tamaso Maa Jyotir-Gamaya |
Mrtyor-Maa Amrtam Gamaya |
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||
Lead us from the unreal to the real
Lead us from darkness to light
Lead us from death to immortality
Peace, peace, peace!