Catholic Christmastime and Hindu Meditation

By: Spencer Crawford

December 22, 2014

This is a reflection on my experience as a Catholic student at a Hindu puja service run by Georgetown’s Hindu Student Association (HSA), where I consider the significance of chanting the Gayatri mantra during this Christmas season.   

Bhur Bhuvah Svah
Tat Savitur Varenyam

Bhargo Devasya Dheemahi
Dhiyo Yo nah Prachodayat

We started the service by chanting “All that was, all that is, and all that will be": the word Om. The weighty implication of this word signifies numerous beliefs to Hindus. I experienced a profound metaphor in the act of chanting Om. In a chant, it is possible to distinguish numerous, discrete voices with varying pitches and volumes, yet this cacophony of voices heard in unison punctuates only one Om. It is one thing, yet it is everything. The invocation of Om denotes a time to meditate and reflect. All over the world Hindus worship in countless ways and in many languages, yet in all of these varying voices, all intonate the same Om. The word acts as a connecting thread, one in which I felt a part during its incantation. In the rhythmic chanting, I felt similarly to how I feel when we chant the Nicene Creed or say the Lord's Prayer at Mass. However, the simplicity and universality in chanting Om gave me more time to reflect than I normally can during my own form of Catholic prayer. 

I found this type of meditation to be particularly powerful because an invocation for reflection by chanting Om is an invitation to take an active step back from the business of our everyday lives. There are many translations to the Gayatri mantra provided above, and one of them is the following: “O thou existence Absolute, Creator of the three dimensions, we contemplate upon thy divine light. May He stimulate our intellect and bestow upon us true knowledge.” The mantra serves as a reminder of who the absolute is and a call for this absolute to assist in subsequent reflection. For me, I contemplated what small moments in all of the everyday business really meant, to see what moments stood out to me. And, importantly, to realize what moments did not. 

I used this time of introspection to consider the real gifts given to me during the busy Christmas season. During exam time, it is easy to lose sight of the broader scope of my education in all of the stress and deadlines. Looking at recent violent attacks in Peshawar, Pakistan, I have come to realize how lucky I am to even be able to attend school safely. My education is about so much more than my transient worries of unit labor requirements in economics or mechanisms of cellular repair in biology. True knowledge will be finding a broader, worldly context that demonstrates how strained relationships between different people and groups affect so many disputes that we see today. These questions may never be answered, but consistent examination is a necessary part in the search for answers. The rhythmic chanting of Om and this Gayatri mantra provided me the much-needed reminder to take this step back and appreciate the gifts of my education and my friends’ openness about their faiths. 

I believe that Georgetown provides a unique campus environment that encourages such reflection and interfaith dialogue to happen. Ex Corde Ecclesiae (On Catholic Universities) issued by then-Pope John Paul II,  states “in inter-religious dialogue [a Catholic University] will assist in discerning the spiritual values that are present in the different religions.” Given this commitment by Georgetown, it should come as no surprise that one of my best friends is Hindu, initially because of our conversations about our different faiths. The influence of Ex Corde Ecclesiae can also be seen in the Makom Center, a worship space shared by the Hindu and Jewish communities at Georgetown. This shared space very literally expresses a commitment to a collective religious dialogue on the campus of the world’s oldest Catholic and Jesuit university. My next post will explore the dynamic and consequence of what it means for students of different faiths to share the same worship space and what Georgetown can do to best support students and the role faith plays in their lives.  

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Catholic Christmastime and Hindu Meditation