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Om: The Sound of Cosmic Resonance

Posted by Yogendra Nath Yogi on May 16, 2011 at 7:44 AM

Sudhakar S. Dikshit By the sound Om one proceeds upward and attains rest in the soundless. This is the goal, this is immortality, this is union, this is happiness. Just as a spider that climbs up its own thread reaches free space, so also one who meditates rises up by repeating Om and reaches ultimate freedom.

(Maitri Upanishad, 6:22)

The unmanifest Brahman,2 awakening into the self-awareness of I AM, manifested itself through the mighty explosion of the primordial atom and the cosmos came to be. Shankaracharya’s3 commentary on the Brahma Sutras4 says that “The sound created by the explosion of the primordial atom gave rise to the causal, subtle and gross forms of the universe.” And since then innumerable forms–causal, subtle and gross–are reverberating ceaselessly with cosmic vibrations in an awesome multiplicity of notes–tonic, supertonic and harmonic–converting the universe into a sort of orchestra of trumpets, trombones, cymbals, conches and numerous other musical instruments known and unknown, causing what the ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras called “music of the spheres.”

Beyond the earth, far far beyond, a majestic music is being played continuously by the gravity forces, called the “interplanetary harmonics” by astronomers. The heavens are not vacant and silent, but full and vibrant with a mystic melody comprising planetary chimes as well as the plaintive song of atoms, unknown to us and unheard by us. And unheard by us is even the strident crescendo of the universal orchestration in which galaxies, stars and planets whirl around perpetually in spirals, cycles, whorls and vortices causing incessant resonance, as if from some invisible kettledrum, similar in pitch and sonority to the clang and boom of the damaru5 of Lord Shiva6 during his frenzied cosmic dance. This unheard, dynamic vibrato is recognized in the Vedas as the sound-vehicle of the power of Brahman permeating the cosmos as the forces of creation and destruction. It is designated as the Shabda Brahman, that is the Ultimate Reality in its aspect of sound. The Yoga Shiksha Upanishad says: “That indestructible transcendent vibrating sound is Shabda-Brahman.” In the Bible also Shabda, the Word, has been identified with God. Says the Bible. “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God.”7

No cosmic sound can be heard by man’s naked ears. Scientists have found that the sound emanating from planets is pitched twenty octaves below man’s hearing, while the song of the atom is sung a complementary twenty octaves above it, leaving us “musically midway” between the trebles and basses of the micro and macro-cosmic worlds. But the electronic ears of the sensitive seismographs have recorded sound waves travelling outward as expanding spheres of compression through the rock and magma of the earth. And scientists using high power antennas have detected in space a micro-wave musical sound coming constantly from all directions. But all these sounds remain unheard by man.

However, the unheard cosmic sounds, the symphony of Shabda-Brahman, was heard by the Vedic8 seers in their spiritual trances and is enshrined in the Upanishads9 as the syllable Om, the first and foremost of all the mantras,10 which they identified with Brahman, the ultimate reality. In the Katha Upanishad, Yama, the lord of death, while enlightening Nachiketas about the nature of the eternal reality says: “The word which all the Vedas extol, towards which all asceticisms point, in quest of which men live disciplined lives, that will I tell you: that is Om.”11 The supreme importance of Om has been dwelt upon in the Mundaka, Prashna, Maitri and other Upanishads also as well as in the Brahmanas.

The syllable Om is formed of three letters A, U, and M in a single sound Om–A and U combining together to make the sound O and M, which prolongs the O in a nasal resonance. Oooommmm–a sound like millions of bees humming together in chorus, perhaps more like the resounding reverberation produced by some colossal top whirling round and round at tremendous velocity.

Om is the primordial sound (nada) symbolizing the cosmic process; it is the primordial word (shabda, vak) symbolizing Brahman. Though held in the highest esteem, it is a word which says nothing, for it means nothing. It is not a prayer to God, nor a symbol of any sacramental value. It is just a word, just a sound that synchronizes with the symphony of the manifestation of the unmanifest Brahman. Repeated utterance of Om in a spirit of dedication integrates man with Brahman, because it is concentrated reality, made word and sound. Uttering of Om is identifying oneself with the cosmic resonance and thereby reentering the source from which one emerged. Om is the quintessence, the seed-syllable of the universe. It is the acme of man’s quest for Brahman.

However, the efficacy of the mantric12 power of Om emanates not only from its sound vibrations, but also from the inner attitude of the speaker; his spiritual purity and his freedom from worldliness. You cannot dye in a bright color a dirty garment with stains of grease and grime. It has to be thoroughly cleansed first. Unless one turns away from the outside world of objects of allurements, one cannot step into the inner world of all-embracing consciousness. Mere mechanical uttering of Om repeatedly can be of no avail, unless it is accompanied with a single-minded dedication and a firm faith that the Brahman who permeates the entire creation, and also resides in the innermost recesses of man, will be revealed through Om meditation.

Mantra is the sound-body of consciousness. It is the operative energy that connects the objective and subjective aspects of reality through the union of mind (manas) with word (vak). But it is not just an utterance; it is much more. It is the harmonic function, starting from the unmanifest and appearing as manifest, and then returning to the source in a reversible action of cyclicity. Just as in the outer space waves of sound are produced by cosmic movements, so in the space within man’s interior (chidakasha) waves of sound are produced by the utterance of Om, which are in tune with the cosmic resonance.

Manifestation of the Ultimate Reality takes place through the vibrations of Shabda Brahman, for vibration is an expression of energy and the action and interaction of vibrations produce all the phenomena on many different planes. Each particular vibration produces perception of a corresponding note in consciousness. Therefore, particular states of consciousness can be brought about by initiating particular kinds of vibrations. Of the fifty-two letters in the Devanagari [Sanskrit] script each letter has in it the seed of a particular vibration and each letter can act as an embodiment of the basic eternal power. Letters in Sanskrit are called akshara, the eternal; they are sound symbols of the eternal reality. Om is indeed the eternal vehicle of spiritual power.

The sound of Om is particularly supercharged with transcendental atmic13 force, since it is vibrant with the cosmic resonance, which is constant, continuous and self-propelled. Sri Aurobindo observes that “Om is the mantra, the expressive sound-symbol of Brahman Consciousness.…The function of a mantra is to create vibrations in the inner consciousness, that will prepare for realization.…The Mantra leads towards the opening of consciousness to the sight and feeling of One-consciousness in all things–in the inner being and the supraphysical worlds and the causal plane.”

The Maitri Upanishad mentions two aspects of Brahman, the higher and the lower. The higher Brahman being the unmanifest Supreme Reality which is soundless and totally quiescent and restful, the lower being the Shabda Brahman which manifests itself into the ever-changing restless cosmos through the medium of sound vibrations. The Upanishad says that “Two Brahmans there are to be known: one as sound and the other as Brahman supreme.”14 The process of manifestation is from soundlessness to sound, from noumenality to phenomenality, from perfect quiescence of “being” to the restlessness of “becoming.” This process can be reversed through Om meditation and the aspirant, like a spider that “climbs up its own thread,” can go back from the sound to the soundless, from phenomenality to noumenality, from the restlessness of the “becoming” to the perfect quiescence of “being.” Through Om he can arrive at the source.

The grand idea of the unmanifest Brahman becoming manifest and its perfect quiescence converting into restlessness is beautifully portrayed in a poetic elaboration of an aphorism of the Brahma Sutra, worded lokavattu lilakaivalyam, being Aphorism 33 of Pada 1. The poetic version of this aphorism has been reproduced at length by Dr. Bhagwan Das in his book, entitled Essential Unity of All Religions, without mentioning the name of the poet who composed the poem. I cannot resist the temptation of quoting a few lines from it as they are germane to the subject under consideration.

In the vast ocean boundless, fathomless,

A giant billow surges; in the immense

Sleep of the Infinite, Eternal space

There is a stirring, and a central point

Of whirling, vibrant restlessness doth rise;

From restful Brahman restless Brahman is born.

Om is the sound vehicle of Shabda-Brahman. As a Mantra it has the power to arouse sound waves and vibrations. By vibrations is not meant the undulating gross sound that is heard by the ears. The spiritual efficacy of Om is based not on the gross sound, but on the subtle sound, which is heard, not by the ears but by the heart, which is uttered not by the mouth but by the mind. Lama Anagarika Govinda in his famous book Foundations of Tibetan Buddhism while eulogizing Om says: “Om is the quintessence, the seed-syllable (bija mantra) of the universe, the universal force of the all-embracing consciousness.”

He asserts that the sound Om surcharges the innermost being of man with vibrations of the highest reality, destroying in the process all the artificial limitations that he has imposed upon himself through his petty egoistic self. Om is the primordial sound of the timeless reality which vibrates in all creation, including man, from the time manifestation of the cosmos came to be. It is the eternal rhythm that reverberates within us all the time, though unknown to us.

When Om-consciousness deepens after prolonged practice its sound ceases to be audible and merges into the stillness of the higher Brahman, the ultimate reality.

There are a few treatises in which the cardinal points of Om meditation, called the Nada Yoga, are discussed. They mention four types of sound, among which the grossest is named vaikhari, that is the audible sound heard by the human ears. It is the least effective spiritually, since it is closest to the material plane. For attainment of the Brahman Consciousness only the subtler varieties of sound can prove effective, the subtlest of them, known as para, being the ultimate step leading to the merger of the aspirant’s soul with the Supreme Reality. Two of the lesser known Upanishads, named Nadabindu and Hamsa, have thrown abundant light on the process of Om meditation. The Nadabindu Upanishad says: “Being indifferent towards all objects, he who has controlled his passions should continuously concentrate upon the sound which dissolves the mind.…the sound proceeding from Pranava (Om) which is Brahman itself.”

This Upanishad exhorts that the sound of Om is of the nature of effulgence; that mind exists so long as the sound exists, but when sound is absorbed in the soundless Brahman, mind is dissolved finally and irrevocably. The state of self-realization is now reached. Through sound the soundless Brahman has been revealed, the din and darkness of worldly life is ended for ever and silence now prevails, the eternal silence in which the sound, spirit and matter merge together losing their separate identities. This is a state of luminous consciousness, a new life–simple, pure, limpid and dynamic which defies all description.

 


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