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

Prana and the Sun of Knowledge

Sri Aurobindo translates Chhandogya Upanishad, Chapter One, Section Three, Verses 1-2:  “Thereafter concerning the Gods.  Lo yonder burning fire in the heavens, worship ye Him as the Udgitha; for the Sun riseth and singeth his bright hymn unto the peoples.  Yea he riseth, and darkness is slain and its terror — therefore shall he be a slayer of the terror and the darkness, he who thus knoweth.  Breath and the Sun are one and alike — for the one is heat and the other is heat, and they call Breath the mover and the Sun too they call the mover and also the mover that returneth upon his paths they call him — therefore ye shall worship both the one and the other as Udgitha.”

The Upanishads are closely related to the Veda and claim to be the “secret of the Veda”.  The Chhandogya Upanishad, one of the most ancient of the Upanishads, aligns closely to the Veda in its use of the vedic symbolism.  In his Secret of the Veda, Sri Aurobindo reveals the dual nature of the Vedic symbols.  There is an external sense that hides the inner, esoteric meaning of the teachings from those who are not prepared for the inner realisation.  The sun, in its esoteric sense, represents the light and power of consciousness.  Sri M. P. Pandit compiled statements of Sri Aurobindo in Vedic Symbolism.  The Sun is described as “The Godhead of the supreme Truth and Knowledge and his rays are the light emanating from that supreme Truth and Knowledge.”  “The Sun is the master of the supreme Truth — truth of being, truth of knowledge, truth of process and act and movement and functioning.  He is therefore the creator or rather the manifester of all things — for creation is outbringing, expression by the Truth and Will — and the father, fosterer, enlightener of our souls.”

We can see now how the Sun is equated with Prana, the force of creation in the universe.  Udgitha is OM, the syllable of the Eternal, both in its transcendence and in its manifested aspect.  The light and power put forth by the Eternal to manifest, and illuminate the worlds is that OM, Udgitha.  The light of knowledge removes the darkness of ignorance.   Terror arises from ignorance of the Oneness of creation, the darkness of consciousness that lets the individual believe it is separated from that Oneness.  The Taittiriya Upanishad reminds us “But when the Spirit that is within us maketh for himself even a little difference in the Eternal, then he hath fear, yea, the Eternal himself becometh a terror to such a knower who thinketh not.”  The Sun symbolises the illumination that overcomes the sense of separation with the knowledge of unity; thus, it overcomes the terror of the darkness of ignorance.

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