OM, the Mantra and the Use of Mantra in the Integral Yoga

The ancient Mandukya Upanishad describes OM in considerable detail as the sound-body of the Universe: “OM is this imperishable Word, OM is the Universe, and this is the exposition of OM. The past, the present and the future, all that was, all that is, all that will be, is OM. Likewise all else that may exist beyond the bounds of Time, that too is OM. All this Universe is the Eternal Brahman, this Self is the Eternal, and the Self is fourfold.” (Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Mandukya Upanishad 1-2, pg. 319)

Modern day scientists, attempting to capture the sounds of the universe and the planet have recorded the vibratory patterns of the planet as well as the ‘big bang” of the creation of the universe, and converted them into sounds and one can identify the vibration of OM when listening to them. OM, as the Rishis indicated, is the characteristic sound of the universal creation in its entirety.

Chanting of OM can bring about a calming and focusing influence that is palpable. Crowds of angry, fearful or upset people have been brought to a state of calm through initiation of a chant of the word OM. All contrary feelings or emotions can be brought under control through proper attention to OM.

In terms of the sadhana of the integral yoga, the use of a mantra is, like every other tool in the toolkit, something that should be applied at the right time, in the right way, under the right circumstances. It is not a tool to be used all the time, and to use it correctly, it must be done with attention to its significance and the proper intonation to create the vibratory pattern that creates the coherence of energy that is being sought.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “OM is the mantra, the expressive sound-symbol of the Brahman Consciousness in its four domains from the Turiya to the external or material plane. The function of a mantra is to create vibrations in the inner consciousness that will prepare it for the realisation of what the mantra symbolises and is supposed indeed to carry within itself. The mantra OM should therefore lead towards the opening of the consciousness to the sight and feeling of the One Consciousness in all material things, in the inner being and in the supraphysical worlds, in the causal plane above now superconscient to us and, finally, the supreme liberated transcendence above all cosmic existence. The last is usually the main preoccupation with those who use the mantra.”

“In this yoga there is no fixed mantra, no stress is laid on mantras, although sadhaks can use one if they find it helpful or so long as they find it helpful. The stress is rather on an aspiration in the consciousness and a concentration of the mind, heart, will, all the being. If a mantra is found helpful for that, one uses it. OM if rightly used (not mechanically) might very well help the opening upwards and outwards (cosmic consciousness) as well as the descent.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Love and Devotion, Mantra and Japa, pp. 165-167

The Principle Behind Mantra and Japa

Everything we experience is based on vibrations that impinge upon us and bring about a response in the substance of our being. All matter is created by energy, which consists of vibratory waves. All energy is created by consciousness, which provides the specific impulse of vibration to be created. This principle is recognised throughout the world. The New Testament of the Bible starts with a statement to this effect: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Succinctly put, this recognises the essential nature and power of vibration.

The use of Mantra and Japa is based on this principle; namely, by tuning oneself to and repeating the “sound-body” of anything, we change the mental, vital and physical complex to vibrate in tune with that particular sound. Thus, repetition of a Mantra, particularly if we hold its meaning in our awareness, can create in us the state of consciousness that is the essential nature of the name, word or chant chosen.

Practitioners of yoga have found that repetition of a mantra can help align the vibratory patterns of the mind and life energy in such a way as to overpower and eliminate contrary forces and to bring about a state of calm, focused awareness and receptivity. A state of coherence is developed. This has been validated through scientific study of the effect of vibration, words and sounds on water, by Masaru Emoto, reported in his book Hidden Messages in Water. He subjected water to various sounds, vibrations, mantras and photographed the patterns of the water when frozen. Harsh and disharmonious sounds yielded very disorganized patterns, but sounds that represented higher vibratory states created incredibly well-organized, complex and beautiful patterns. Similar work has been done by recording the aura of individuals chanting various mantras. The aura took on a well defined and energetic pattern when recorded during these sessions. Similarly, rocks that had been in temples were compared to rocks found somewhere in nature. Those rocks subjected to years of constant prayer, uplifting song and mantra in the temples exhibited a strong and organized energetic radiation, while rocks that were not subjected to these sounds were dull without energetic radiation in evidence.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “The word is a sound expression of the idea. In the supraphysical plane when an idea has to be realised, one can by repeating the word-expression of it, produce vibrations which prepare the mind for the realisation of the idea. That is the principle of the Mantras and of Japa. One repeats the name of the Divine and the vibrations created in the consciousness prepare the realisation of the Divine. It is the same idea that is expressed in the Bible: ‘God said, Let there be Light, and there was Light’. It is creation by the Word.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Love and Devotion, Mantra and Japa, pp. 165-167

The Three Syllables of Udgitha

Sri Aurobindo translates Chhandogya Upanishad, Chapter One, Section Three, Verses 6-7:  “Thereafter verily ye shall worship the syllables of the Udgitha saying Udgitha and Prana is the first syllable, because one riseth up with the main breath and Speech is the second syllable, because they call Speech that which goeth forth and food is the third syllable, because in food all this Universe is established.  Heaven is the first syllable, the middle air is the second syllable, earth is the third syllable.  The Sun is the first syllable, Air is the second syllable, Fire is the third syllable.  The Samaveda is the first syllable, Yajurveda is the second syllable, Rigveda is the third syllable.  To him Speech is a cow that yieldeth sweet milk — and what is this milking of Speech?  — even that he becometh rich in food and the eater of food who knoweth these and worshippeth the syllables of Udgitha saying lo even this is Udgitha.”

Just as OM can be understood by the individual letters and the symbolic word as a whole, so also Udgitha (OM) is broken down into its component parts to be understood both in its part and as a whole.  In order to express both an outer and an esoteric meaning, the Rishis of the Vedic times went to the root significance of words and syllables.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “The words udgitha and udgayati are words in instance.  … in Veda the preposition is still living and joins its verb or separates itself as it pleases; therefore it keeps its full meaning always.  In vedanta the power of separation is lost, but the separate force remains.  Again the roots gi and ga in classical Sanskrit mean to sing and have resigned the sense of going to their kinsman gam; but in Vedic times, the sense of going was still active and common.  … udgitha meant ascension as well as casting upward the voice or the soul in song.  When the Vedic singer said ud gayami, the physical idea was that, perhaps, of the song rising upward, but he had also the psychical idea of the soul rising up in song to the gods and fulfilling in its meeting with them and entering into them its expressed aspiration.”

He continues:  “This then is the meaning of the Upanishad thta OM, the syllable, technically called the Udgitha, is to be meditated on as a symbol of the fourfold Brahman with two objects, the “singing to” of one’s desires and aspirations in the triple manifestation and the spiritual ascension into the Brahman Itself so as to meet and enter into heaven after heaven and even into Its transcendent felicity.”

Sri Aurobindo has elsewhere described the symbolism of the heavens, mid-world and earth as representing the manifestations of mind, life and body.  With this key, the various terms defined herein can be understood.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Chhandogya Upanishad, pp.349-366

Understanding the Middle Breath as Udgitha, OM.

Sri Aurobindo translates Chhandogya Upanishad, Chapter One, Section Three, Verses 3-5:  “Thereafter verily ye shall worship Vyana the middle breath as Udgitha.  For when one breathes forth it is Prana, the Main Breath, and when one breathes down it is Apana, the lower breath.  Now this which is the joint and linking of the main breath and the lower breath, is Vyana — and Vyana, it is Speech.  Therefore ’tis when one neither breatheth forth nor breatheth down that one giveth utterance to Speech.  But Speech is the Rik — therefore ’tis when one neither breatheth out nor breatheth in that one uttereth the Rik.  And Rik it is Sama — therefore ’tis when one neither breatheth out nor breatheth in that one chanteth the Sama.  But Sama it is Udgitha — therefore ’tis when one neither breatheth out nor breatheth in that one singeth Udgitha.  Hence whatsoever actions there be that are of might and forcefulness as smiting out fire from the tinder or leaping a great barrier or the bending a stark and mighty bow, it is when one neither breatheth out nor breatheth in that one doeth these.  And for this cause ye shall worship the middle breath as Udgitha.”

Prana is recognised both the primary force in the manifestation, as well as the primary breath in the individual being.  In order to distinguish different internal actions, this Prana is denoted by different names based on the function it takes on in the body.  Vyana, the breath-pervasor, is the link between Prana and Apana, the main breath and the lower breath.  These verses focus on Vyana as the link between these other forms, and point out that Speech and chanting the verses of the Veda, and concentration on any intense function occur while one is holding one’s breath.  Holding the breath is a function of Vyana as it spans the gap between the inward and the outward breath.

If we observe ourselves closely, we note that whenever we concentrate intensely on anything we tend to hold our breath.  Many exercises in Pranayama include extended conscious control of the breathing with “holds” introduced between the intake and expulsion of air.  These holds can be of considerable length and are considered essential to gaining control over the movement of energy in the consciousness and the activation of the energies of the various chakras.  Note that pranayama practices by those without training or guidance can lead to severe disturbances to the health and wellness of the being, the body-mind complex, so it is important to understand the functions and the consequences of any actions taken in this regard.  What we are looking at here are the natural activities of the body and the breath when any strenuous focus or effort is undertaken, which shows us the role of the middle breath in moderating the link between body, vital force and mind.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Chhandogya Upanishad, pp.349-366

Worshipping OM as the Eternal Manifesting in the World as Prana

Sri Aurobindo translates Chhandogya Upanishad, Chapter One, Section Two, Verses 7-9:  “Then the Gods worshipped OM as this which is Breath in the mouth and the Demons rushing against it dashed themselves to pieces; as when an object striketh against firm and solid rock, it dasheth to pieces upon the rock.  And even as an object hurling against firm and solid rock dasheth itself to pieces, so he hurleth himself upon destruction whose desireth evil against the Knower or whose doeth him hurt; for the Knower is as that firm and solid rock.  With this Breath one cogniseth neither sweet scent nor ill odour, for it hath flung Evil from it.  Whatsoever one eateth with this or drinketh, thereby it cherisheth the other breaths.  At the end and last when he findeth not the breath, the Spirit goeth out from the body; verily he openeth wide the mouth as he goeth.”

The “breath in the mouth” symbolically represents Prana, the original energy of the Eternal that manifests the universe.  While the breath in the nostrils is one of the subsidiary sense functions and thus, can experience both “good” and “bad” scents, the breath in the mouth is independent of this sense function.  The Eternal, worshipped as OM, in the form of its energy of manifestation is impervious to the action of fragmentation, division, individual desire which is what underlies the action of the demons called “evil” and thus, represents the true fulfillment of the aspiration of the higher forces in the evolutionary creation.

When this “breath” is present, there is life in the body and when it departs, then the body dies and disintegrates back into its constituent elements.

The “Knower” of this breath resides in the status of the Brahman and thus is not able to be misled or drawn out from his knowledge of the Eternal; thus making him impervious to the action of the demonic energies of the fragmented view of the lower nature seeking its own self-aggrandisement as if it is separate from the Oneness of the universal creation.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Chhandogya Upanishad, pp.349-366

The Struggle Between Good and Evil in Human Psychology

Sri Aurobindo translates Chhandogya Upanishad, Chapter One, Section Two, Verses 1-6: “The Gods and the Demons strove together and both were children of the Almighty Father.  Then the Gods took up for weapon OM of Udgitha, for they said, ‘With this we shall overcome these Titans.’  The Gods worshipped OM as Breath in the nostrils; but the Demons came and smote it with the arrow of Evil; therefore it smelleth both alike, the sweet scent and the evil odour.  For it is smitten through and through with Evil.  Then the Gods worshipped OM as Speech; but the Demons came and smote it with the arrow of Evil; therefore it speaketh both alike, Truth and Falsehood.  For it is smitten through and through with Evil.  Then the Gods worshipped OM as the Eye; but the Demons came and smote it with the arrow of Evil; therefore it beholdeth both alike, the fair to see and the foul of favour.  For it is smitten through and through with Evil.  Then the Gods worshipped OM as the Ear; but the Demons came and smote it with the arrow of Evil; therefore it heareth both alike, that which is well to hear and that which is harsh and unseemly.  For it is smitten through and through with Evil.  Then the Gods worshipped Udgitha as Mind; but the Demons came and smote it with the arrow of Evil; therefore it conceiveth both alike, right thoughts and unlawful imaginations.  For it is smitten through and through with Evil.”

The symbolism of the gods and the titans is tied to the internal focus and direction of the being, the force of impulsion of the individual either towards light, growth and advancement, increase of knowledge and oneness with the Eternal, or towards self-aggrandizement, egoistic fulfillment of desire and the darkness of the unenlightened vital nature.  The gods express their aspiration through focus on OM.  When this is applied, however, to the instruments of the manifestation, the sense organs and the mind, this focus is generally overwhelmed by the demands of the physical and vital nature.  This is called being “smitten with Evil”.  Evil in this sense is not a moral judgment, based on some specific social mores, but a description of the focus and direction and limitation of the being which tries to achieve its separate fulfillment from the rest of the creation of which it is a part and partial expression, in other words, a false or “unlawful imagination”.

This describes the difference between “good” and “evil” and the complexity of human nature with both an outward and downward urge and an upward and inward aspiration.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Chhandogya Upanishad, pp.349-366

The Significance of OM for the Seeker of Brahman

Sri Aurobindo translates Chhandogya Upanishad, Chapter One, Section One, Verses 9-10:  “By OM the triple knowledge proceedeth; with OM the priest reciteth the Rik, with OM he pronounceth the Yajur, with OM he chanteth the Sama.  And all this is for the heaping up of the Imperishable and by the greatness of It and the delightfulness.  He doeth works by OM who hath the knowledge, and he also who hath it not; but these are diverse, the Knowledge and the Ignorance.  Whatso work one doeth with knowledge, with faith and with the secret of Veda, it becometh to him more virile and mighty.  This is the exposition of the eternal letters.”

The references to the sacrificial chants of the Rig-veda, Yajur-veda and Sama-veda have, once again, a two-fold purpose.  The outer purpose is to explain the significance of OM in the rituals, the inner purpose is to remind the seeker that all of these actions are based in and founded upon the Eternal Brahman.

There is a debate then as to whether rote effort done in ignorance has the same result as a similar action done with knowledge.  The Vedic Rishis clearly indicate that knowledge makes the work more powerful and fruitful of result.  Either way, the power of OM is operative, as it is the Eternal Brahman.  We can see this in everyday work-life.  Some people work at a job as a mechanical or rote process and they tend to “get the job done” but do not grow or advance quickly as a result.  Others may undertake the same job, but with an intention and insight to understand its principles of action and apply them.  These individuals turn the job into a growth opportunity and advance more swiftly along the way.  Similarly, anything undertaken with ignorance of its action and goal is subject to deviations and errors that can mitigate to a great degree the end result.  By applying knowledge and insight, the result can come more directly.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “This then is the meaning of the Upanishad that OM, the syllable, technically called the Udgitha, is to be meditated on as a symbol of the fourfold Brahman with two objects, the ‘singing to’ of one’s desires and aspirations in the triple manifestation and the spiritual ascension into the Brahman Itself so as to meet and enter into heaven after heaven and even into Its transcendent felicity.  For, it says, with the syllable OM one begins the chant of the Sama-veda, or, in the esoteric sense, by means of the meditation on OM one makes this soul-ascension and becomes master of all the soul desires.  It is in this aspect and to this end that the Upanishad will expound OM.  To explain Brahman in Its nature and workings, to teach the right worship and meditation on Brahman, to establish what are the different means of attainment of different results and the formulae of the meditation and worship, is its purpose.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Chhandogya Upanishad, pp.349-366

OM, the Syllable of Assent and Fulfillment of Humanity’s Desires

Sri Aurobindo translates Chhandogya Upanishad, Chapter One, Section One, Verses 7-8:  “He becometh a gratifier of the desires of men who with this knowledge worshippeth OM the eternal syllable.  Now this OM is the syllable of Assent; for to whatsoever one assenteth, one sayeth OM; and assent is blessing of increase.  Verily he becometh a blesser and increaser of the desires of men who with this knowledge worshippeth OM the eternal syllable.”

OM is the symbol and the sound-body of the Eternal.  When one worships OM, one is worshiping the Eternal and there is a union of the devotee with the object of devotion, thus bringing about knowledge by identity.  When one is identified with the Eternal, both the unmanifest and the manifest, everything that exists comes within the purview of that seeker.  It is thus that all things become possible to such a one as this.

Desire is a force of propulsion in the universal creation.  It is the creative impulse and the seeker who has become one with the Eternal Brahman thus supports and helps drive forward the universal creation.  The Rig Veda calls desire “the primal seed of mind”.

The desires of humanity are actually the driving force of the progressive evolutionary stream within which we grow, achieve and exceed our current limitations.

There is a truth, of course, to the idea that even individual desires or gratification can be sought, and received, as wherever the attention is turned with concentration, the force moves to bring that about.  The seeker of the Eternal becomes one with the Eternal.  The seeker of worldly satisfactions can receive those along the way as well.  Everything is accessible to the seeker who has become one with the Eternal Brahman through concentration on OM.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Chhandogya Upanishad, pp.349-366

The Union of Speech and Breath in OM

Sri Aurobindo translates Chhandogya Upanishad, Chapter One, Section One, Verses 4-6:   “Which among things and which again is Rik; which among things and which again is Sama; which among things and which again is OM of the Udgitha — this is now pondered.  Speech is Rik, Breath is Sama; the Imperishable is OM of Udgitha.  There are the divine lovers, Speech and Breath, Rik and Sama.  As a pair of lovers are these and they cling together in OM the eternal syllable; now when the beloved and her lover meet, verily they gratify each the desire of the other.”

The Rig-veda is considered to be like the leaves of the eternal Ashwattha tree with its roots above and its branches and leaves below.  On an exoteric basis it manifests the fruits of the created universe.  Speech is the power that manifests through differentiation of sounds, as the sound-body of each thing manifests that thing.  .  “In the beginning was the Word” exemplifies this concept.  The Sama-veda represents the breath.  The word translated as ‘breath’ is Prana.  Prana is the force of creation in the universe.  Speech relies on Prana, as Prana utilizes speech to create the manifestation.   The Sama-veda consists, over 90%, of hymns of the Rig-veda, set to melodic singing or chanting of the Riks.  Thus, there is an intimate interrelationship between the Rig-veda’s hymns and the Sama-veda’s chants.

Modern day researchers have begun to explore the psycho-physical effects of the chanting of the Rig-veda or the Sama-veda.  In one experiment, Maharishi International University determined that chanting of Sama-veda actually was able to increase the temperature, viewed by thermal imaging, of the primary chakra centers in the body.  Others are studying the vibrational frequency of what is called the Solfeggio scale, popularized in the Gregorian chants, and the impact on the body and opening of new capabilities.  We have yet to fully understand the esoteric impact of the chanting of the Vedas.  Traditionally their role in the sacrificial rites of the Hindu tradition is quite well-recognized.  Those who experience the chanting or singing first-hand are clearly impacted by the experience.  Many have had what appear to be openings of new understanding, new energy, new aspiration, new spiritual directions when they are immersed in this chanting in a deep and abiding way.  The Rishis clearly had an esoteric sense behind their teachings, not just the external result of a sacrifice.  The dual meanings behind the words is also likely amplified by a dual sense to the recitation that occurs.

OM is the sound-body of the Eternal, which manifests through the joining of Speech and Prana to create the forms out of the Eternal’s own body.  OM has the ability to take one beyond the manifested to the unmanifest, as well as integrating the two into the oneness that they actually represent.

 

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Chhandogya Upanishad, pp.349-366

OM: the Highest and Most Essential Essence of Things

Sri Aurobindo translates Chhandogya Upanishad, Chapter One, Section One, Verses 1-3:  “Worship ye OM, the eternal syllable, OM is Udgitha, the chant of Sama-veda; for with OM they begin the chant of Sama.  And this is the exposition of OM.  Earth is the substantial essence of all these creatures and the waters are the essence of earth; herbs of the field are the essence of the waters; man is the essence of the herbs.  Speech is the essence of man, Rig-veda the essence of Speech, Sama the essence of Rik.  Of Sama OM is the essence.  This is the eighth essence of the essences and the really essential, the highest and it belongeth to the upper hemisphere of things.”

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “The Chhandogya, we see from its first and introductory sentence, is to be a work on the right and perfect way of devoting oneself to the Brahman; the spirit, the methods, the formulae are to be given to us.  Its subject is the Brahman, but the Brahman as symbolised in the OM, the sacred syllable of the Veda; not, therefore , the pure state of the Universal Existence only, but that Existence in all its parts, the waking world and the dream self and the sleeping, the manifest, half-manifest and hidden, Bhurloka, Bhuvar and Swar, –the right means to win all of them, enjoy all of them, transcend all of them, is the subject of the Chhandogya.  OM is the symbol and the thing symbolised.  It is the symbol, aksaram; the syllable in which all sound of speech is brought back to its wide, pure indeterminate state; it is the symbolised, aksaram, the changeless, undiminishing, unincreasing, unappearing, undying Reality which shows itself to experience in all this change, increase, diminution, appearance, departure which in a particular sum and harmony of them we call the world, just as OM, the pure eternal sound-basis of speech shows itself tot he ear in the variations and combinations of impure sound which in a particular sum and harmony of them we call the Veda.”

In the Vedic view of things, there is an upper hemisphere of pure Existence-Consciousness-Bliss that is the true source, continent and basis of all that manifests.  The image of the tree with its roots above and its branches and leaves below characterises this upper hemisphere as the most essential, the source of the world and all its forms.  OM is the sound-body of this highest essential truth.  By worshiping OM the worshiper becomes one with this highest truth of existence, which transcends all, contains all and embodies all that exists.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Chhandogya Upanishad, pp.349-366