Pranava Yoga Meditation
The supreme master of yoga, Gorakhnath, said this: “He who aspires to any attainment without the practice of yoga meditation cannot succeed in hundreds of years” (Gorakh Rahasyam 4). Meditation is the process of centering our awareness in the principle of pure consciousness which is our essential being. In this way we will never lose sight of our real identity. That is why Lalla Yogeshwari used to sing:
My teacher spoke to me but one precept.
He said unto me, “From without enter the inmost part.”
That to me became a rule and a precept.
And therefore naked began I to dance. (Lalla Vakyani 94)
Divesting herself of all thoughts and impressions, external and internal, Lalla entered her eternal Self, and thus “naked” began to dance the dance of inner bliss that is the nature of the Self. As the Gita says: “Only that yogi whose joy is inward, inward his peace, and his vision inward shall come to Brahman and know Nirvana” (Bhagavad Gita 5:24).
Normally we lose awareness of our true Self through consciousness of external objects. Since we are habituated–if not actually addicted–to objective consciousness, we can use that very condition to our advantage. Rather than disperse our consciousness through objects that draw us outward, away from the source of our being, we can take an object that will have the opposite effect, present it to the mind, and reverse our consciousness.
Such an object must have two qualities:
- It must be something that can continue to be perceived even in the most subtle areas of our awareness, and
- it must be something whose nature it is to turn our awareness inward and draw it into the most subtle depths of our being. Therefore it must be an object that can accompany our questing consciousness inward, not being transcended when the mind and senses are gone beyond.
That object is Aom. By sitting with closed eyes and letting the mind become easefully absorbed in experiencing the inner repetitions of Aom we thereby directly enter into the state of consciousness that is Aom, the state of consciousness that is Brahman the Absolute.
Sound and consciousness are, practically speaking, the same. Since the individual spirit (jivatman) and God (Paramatman) are essentially one though not the same, we can conclude that Aom, repeated within the mind in japa and meditation, will produce the consciousness of both Atman-Selves and restore their lost unity.
Meditation is the process of restoring our consciousness to the center–our eternal spirit-Self–and keeping it there so our evolution will proceed exactly according to the divine plan without any more delays or deviations. Here are some statements of the upanishads regarding meditation.
“This Self, deep-hidden in all beings, is not revealed to all; but to the seers, pure in heart, concentrated in mind–to them is he revealed” (Katha Upanishad 1:3:12).
“Wise, self-controlled, and tranquil souls, who practice austerity and meditation, attain by the path of liberation to the immortal, the truly existing, the changeless Self” (Mundaka Upanishad 1.2.11).
“With mind illumined by the power of meditation, the wise know the Self, the blissful, the immortal” (Mundaka Upanishad 2.2.7).
“This Effulgent Self is to be realized by meditation and by superconscious vision” (Mundaka Upanishad 3.1.5).
“In meditation the Self is revealed” (Mundaka Upanishad 3.1.8).
“By the rightly meditative, the Self is fully known” (Mundaka Upanishad 3.2.4).
“One who knows, meditates upon, and realizes the truth of the Self–such an one delights in the Self, revels in the Self, rejoices in the Self” (Chandogya Upanishad 7:25:1, 2).
“Knowledge of the Self is gained through meditation” (Swetashwatara Upanishad 1:15, 16).
Knowing this, Lalla Yogeshwari also used to sing: “An ascetic [yati] wanders from holy place to holy place to seek the union brought about by visiting himself” (Lalla Vakyani 36).
Paramatman and jivatman
Why are there so many yoga methods? It is because of differing diagnoses of the root problem of human beings. Buddha said that it was important to ask the right questions to get the right answers. In the same way we must know the real problem of humanity if we are to formulate the solution. If we accept secondary problems as the primary ones our answers will be secondary ones and unable to clear up the fundamental problem whose solution will bring about the solution of all other troubles. For example, our problem is not that we do not know one of the symbolic forms of God mistakenly called “gods,” or an avatar or master. Our problem is that we do not know and experience our individual being (jivatma) within the Cosmic Being (Paramatma).
The root cause of our ignorance and its attendant miseries is forgetfulness of our true Self–and God, the Self of our Self. Since the two are really one, it follows that our meditation must consist of that which is common to both the Self (atman) and the Supreme Self (Paramatman). And that is Aom.
Yoga is a very real union of the Absolute with the relative in a divine alchemy that erases all difference between jivatman and Paramatman while ineffably retaining it. Therefore our yogic practice must be an invocation of both the Absolute and the relative, of Shiva and Shakti. This is accomplished through Aom. We are moving toward union every time we intone Aom with the inhalation and exhalation, for inhalation and exhalation are Shiva and Shakti. Within the context of yoga the inhalation is the descent of Shiva and the exhalation is the ascent of Shakti.
This sacred syllable is spelled out as Aom, but It is usually written in the ideogrammatic forms:
Aom is pronounced “AhOm,” Ah merging seamlessly into Om to form a single word. The A is pronounced like the a in father and palm. The O is pronounced like the long o in the Italian or common American manner–as in home and lone. (In England, Canada, and parts of the American South, the long o is sometimes pronounced as a diphthong, like two vowels jammed together: either like “ay-oh” or “eh-oh.” This is not the correct manner of pronouncing the O, which should be a single, pure vowel sound.)
Aom is more effective if it is mentally intoned–that is, mentally “sung” on a single note (the pitch does not matter–whatever is spontaneous and natural). This makes the repetition stronger and of deeper effect, because intoning Aom unifies the mind and naturally concentrates it.
The three letters of the single syllable should be intoned in equal length–AAAOOOMMM–at least approximately. There is no need to be overexacting about this. It will come in time automatically.
The way to receive the benefit of a mantra is japa, the continual repetition-intonation of the mantra. In this way the invoker is constantly imbued with the power and consciousness inherent in the mantra. It is best to intone Aom mentally, silently, and to intone it throughout all your waking hours–not just during meditation.
Whenever we intone Aom we align and link our consciousness to our spirit-soul with its innate potential, and with its Source the Divine Spirit and Its powers.
Basic Pranava Yoga Meditation
Breath and sound are the two major spiritual powers possessed by us, and here is how they are combined for Pranava Yoga meditation.
AOM is a word consisting of three letters or sounds: A, O, and M. It can be pronounced as two syllables, Ah, and Om, but after some time you will find they merge seamlessly to form a single syllable, all three letters being intoned equally: AAAOOOMMM in a prolonged manner in time with the breath.
1. Sit upright, comfortable and relaxed, with your hands on your knees or thighs or resting, one on the other, in your lap.
2. Turn your eyes slightly downward and close them gently. This removes visual distractions and reduces your brain-wave activity by about seventy-five percent, thus helping to calm the mind.
3. Breathe naturally. Your mouth should be closed so that all breathing is done through the nose. This, too aids in quieting the mind. Though your mouth is closed, the jaw muscles should be relaxed so the upper and lower teeth are not clenched or touching one another, but parted.
Be aware of your breath naturally (automatically) flowing in and out as you breathe through your nose. Your breathing should always be easeful and natural, not deliberate or artificial.
4. At the same time be easefully aware of the Thousand-petalled Lotus, the Sahasrara Chakra, of your brain.
5. Now in a very quiet and gentle manner begin mentally intoning (“singing” on a single note) Aom once throughout each inhalation and once throughout each exhalation. Fit the intonations to the breath–not the breath to the intonations. If the breath is short, then the intonation should be short. If the breath is long, then the intonation should be long.
Make sure the A, O and M last the same amount of time when intoned: Aaaaoooommmm. Don’t torture yourself about this–approximately equal is good enough, and in time your intonations will automatically occur in the right manner.
Also, your intonations of Aom should begin when your inhalations and exhalations begin and end when they end. Here, too, approximately is sufficient. In this way your intonations should be virtually continuous, not with long breaks between them. That is: AaaaoooommmmAaaaoooommmmAaaaoooommmm, rather than Aaaaoooommmm…Aaaaoooommmm…Aaaaoooommmm…Aaaaoooommmm. Here, too, approximately continuous is sufficient.
6. Pranava Yoga meditation basically consists of mentally intoning Aom in time with the breath, feeling that they are taking place in the Sahasrara. So for the rest of your meditation time keep on in this manner. Let your awareness become fully absorbed in the mentally intoned sound of AOM. No need to pull or push the mind–it will naturally come to rest in the sound. Just let the mind relax and sink or melt into it.
7. In time your inner, mental intonations of Aom may change to an even more mellow or soft, subtle form, even to an inner whispering that is almost silent, but Aom is always fully present and effective, and you will still be intoning Aom in your intention. You may find that your intonations of Aom move back and forth from more objective to more subtle and back to more objective. Just intone in the manner that is natural at the moment.
8. In the same way you will find that your breath will also become more subtle and refined, and slow down. Sometimes your breath can become so light that it almost seems as though you are not breathing at all, just thinking the breath.
9. Without any strain, remain easefully aware of the Sahasrara–which will occur automatically after a while. However, as you meditate, at different times you may become aware of one or more areas of your brain or body. Thoughts, impressions, memories, inner sensations, and suchlike may also arise during meditation. This is all right when these things come and go spontaneously, but keep centered on your intonations of Aom in time with the breath as though they were occurring in the Sahasrara.
10. If you find yourself getting restless, distracted, “fuzzy,” anxious or tense in any degree, just take a deep breath and let it out fully, feeling that you are releasing and breathing out all tensions, and continue as before in a relaxed and easeful manner, without strain.
Before going on to the complete form of Pranava Yoga meditation, take some time to familiarize yourself with the above instructions because they contain the practice you will be following throughout the day when not sitting in meditation. Once you understand them through careful application, you will be ready for the complete form.
Complete Pranava Yoga Meditation
Tuning the Sahasrara
The placement of the letters in the aura of Jesus in De Laudibus Sanctae Crucis points us to a method which becomes the bedrock foundation of Pranava Yoga meditation.
In the yoga tradition of India there is a practice known as “assigning the letters” of a mantra (word or formula of spiritual power) to certain power points in the body that are linked with the subtler, spiritual levels of the yogi. In this way the whole being of the yogi is activated and integrated for his spiritual practice.
In Pranava Yoga meditation we attune the Sahasrara by affecting three points: 1) the center of the right side of the head at the level of the point between the eyebrows (the “third eye”); 2) the center directly opposite on the left side of the head; and 3) the point at the top of the head in the center (the crown of the head). These three points are “hidden in plain sight” in Christian art which depict Jesus with the three bars of the cross in his aura. Here is the process.
- Sit upright with closed eyes and mouth, breathing naturally as already described.
- As you inhale, intone A (ah) at the first point, then O (oh) at the second point, and M (mmm) at the third point, giving approximately equal time to each, spreading them throughout the duration of the breath. Then, as you exhale, do the same, in the same order. It may take some practice to get the intonations equal and distributed throughout the time of inhaling and exhaling, but it should quickly become second nature to you, so you can do it without even having to think of it. This inhalation-exhalation process is one unit of the preparation practice. It is subtle but effective, so you need do only do it once and the proceed to the next step:
- Breathing naturally, as in the Basic Pranava Yoga meditation instructions intone Aom in time with the inhalations and exhalations. Do this for twelve complete breaths–inhalation and exhalation–making twenty-four intonations in all. You can keep count of the breaths by moving your thumb along the lines of your fingers.
- Repeat Steps Two and Three alternately throughout your meditation time.
It will help to use beads to keep count in this practice. For example, you could string one larger and twelve smaller beads together and do Step Two on the larger bead and Step Three on the smaller ones over and over. Or you could make a string of several segments of one larger and twelve smaller beads.
At the end of your meditation time, keep on intoning Aom in time with your breath, gently aware of the Sahasrara, as you go about your various activities. If sometimes you cannot intone in time with your breath, then intone Aom over and over like the tolling of a bell until you can resume intoning with the breath. If you feel the need, sometimes do a single Sahasrara Tuning and return to the Basic practice of intoning Aom in time with your breath. Let your intuition be your guide.
Also, when sitting down outside meditation you can do the Complete process of Sahasrara Tuning and Breath Intoning even with your eyes open (or closed if convenient).
Some reflections on this practice
The intonations of A awaken and strengthen the right brain, O awakens and strengthens the left brain, and M unifies the whole brain, the sahasrara or Thousand-petalled Lotus of the yogis, orienting it upward.
Even the most basic texts on yoga give information about three major passages (nadis or nerves) in the spine whose function determines greatly the character and success of yoga practice. They are known as ida, pingala and sushumna. The ida controls the downward and outward flow of the life force, the pingala controls the upward and inward flow of the life force, and the sushumna controls the flow of life force upward into the sahasrara and its diffusion throughout it for awakening and strengthening of higher consciousness. From this viewpoint, all phenomena within the total person that are of a positive polarity are “pingala” and all phenomena of a negative polarity are “ida” in nature. When positive and negative unite and are transmuted into a state transcending them, that is “sushumna.” So ida, pingala and sushumna are three modes of function and therefore three modes of consciousness as well.
What is not explained is the fact that the subtle life energies or prana flow throughout the various bodies through tens of thousands of channels (nadis), each of which functions in synchronization with one of those three spinal passages. So ida, pingala and sushumna are modes of subtle energy behavior and function. In Pranava Yoga meditation the three centers of intonation and their respective sounds correspond with these three: A stimulates the pingala function of the right brain, O the ida function of the left brain and M the sushumna function centered at the Brahmarandhra (Gate of Brahman) in the crown of the head which unites them both. Intoning these three sounds at the three points in the head accomplishes everything, rendering work with the spinal nadis unnecessary.
This simple little practice is of immeasurable effect and spiritual value. Practice will prove it.
The yoga of the Bhagavad Gita
The Bhagavad Gita is the pinnacle of Indian philosophy and yoga. This small book, consisting of only seven hundred verses of four lines each, covers every aspect of dynamic spiritual life. It is a lifetime study, imparting life-giving knowledge, including instruction in meditation. In the opening verses of the fourth chapter Krishna tells Arjuna that “this imperishable yoga… is the supreme secret” (4:1-3).
First the yogi sits in an upright posture, “holding the body, head and neck erect, motionless and steady, gazing at the tip of his nose and not looking around” (6:13). Not that he makes himself cross-eyed! He simply turns his eyes down slightly and closes them.
Next, he breathes through his nose–not his mouth–in a completely natural and spontaneous manner, in this way “equalizing the inhalation and exhalation, moving within the nostrils” (5:27), easily calming and refining the breath.
Then, through the practice of Sahasrara Tuning, “having placed his vital breath [prana] in the head, established in yoga concentration, uttering Aom, the single-syllable Brahman, meditating on Me,” (8:12-13) the yogi meditates upon the Supreme.
And the ultimate result he also tells. “Thus, continually disciplining himself, the yogi whose mind is subdued goes to nirvana, to supreme peace, to union with Me” (6:15).
Finally he gives the purpose of this:
“At the hour of death, he who dies remembering Me, having relinquished the body, goes to My state of being. In this matter there is no doubt.
“Moreover, whatever state of being he remembers when he gives up the body at the end, he invariably goes to that state of being, transformed into that state of being.
“Therefore at all times remember Me with your mind and intellect fixed on Me. Without doubt you shall come to Me.
“With a mind disciplined by the practice of yoga, which does not turn to anything else, to the divine supreme Spirit he goes, meditating on Him” (8:5-8).
Can it be that simple and easy? Yes, because it goes directly to the root of our bondage which is a single–and therefore simple–thing: loss of awareness.
Now let us look at the various components of our Pranava Yoga practice so we can understand it fully.
The place for meditation
It will be most helpful to your practice if you have a special place exclusively for meditation. Your mind will begin to associate that place with meditation and will more easily enter a quiet and peaceful state when you sit there. If you can set aside an entire room for practicing meditation, or even a large well-ventilated closet, that is good, but just an area in a room is adequate. The important thing is that the area be devoted exclusively to your meditation.
Your meditation place should be as quiet as possible. Do not play music or other kinds of sounds during your meditation, as that definitely interferes with your entering the Silence and perceiving the subtle forms of Aom. As a rule earplugs are not recommended for the practice of meditation since you can become distracted by the sensation of pressure in the ears, or the chirping, cricket-like noises that go on all the time in the ears, or the sound of your heartbeat. But if you need them, use them. Your place of meditation should ideally be a place where you can most easily forget outer distractions, but if it is not, you can still manage to practice meditation successfully.
It should be softly or dimly lighted. (Full darkness might tend to make you go to sleep.) It is also good to turn off any electric lights, as their pulsation–even though not perceived by the eyes–affects the brain waves and subtly influences the mind, holding it to the level that corresponds to the rate of pulsation. If you like having a candle or wick lamp burning when you meditate, they should be a kind that does not flicker.
The room should be moderate in temperature and free from drafts, both cold and hot. It is also important that it be well ventilated so you do not get sleepy from lack of oxygen in the air.
Some yogis like to burn incense when they meditate. This is a good practice if the smoke does not irritate their lungs or noses. Unfortunately, most incense, including that from India, contains artificial, toxic ingredients that are unhealthy. Two excellent kinds of incense are the Auroshika brand made at the Aurobindo Ashram in India and the Resin-on-a-Stick incense made by Fred Soll Incense in the United States. Sandalwood, frankincense, and rose fragrances have particularly high vibrations.
It is good to keep some sacred symbols or imagery in your meditation place–whatever reminds you that God is present.
For meditation we sit in a comfortable, upright position. This is for two reasons: so we will not fall asleep, and to facilitate the upward movement of the subtle life force called prana, of which the breath is a manifestation.
It is important that our meditation posture be comfortable and easy to maintain. Though sitting upright, be sure you are always relaxed. Yoga Sutra 2:46 says: “Posture [asana] should be steady and comfortable.” The Yoga Vashishta (6:1:128) simply says: “He should sit on a soft seat in a comfortable posture conducive to equilibrium.” Shankara comments: “Let him practice a posture in which, when established, his mind and limbs will become steady, and which does not cause pain.” Here relaxation is the key for Yoga Sutra 2:47 says: “Posture is mastered by relaxation.”
There are several cross-legged postures recommended for meditation. They are the Lotus (Padmasana), Perfect (Siddhasana), Auspicious (Swastikasana), and Easy (Sukhasana). You will find them described in books on Hatha Yoga postures. I especially recommend Yoga Asanas by Swami Sivananda of the Divine Life Society, as it is written from the perspective of spiritual development and also gives many hints to help those who are taking up meditation later in life and whose bodies need special training or compensation.
If you can sit in a cross-legged position without your legs going to sleep and making you have to shift them frequently, that is very good. Some yogis prefer to sit on the floor using a pillow. This, too, is fine if your legs do not go to sleep and distract you. But meditation done in a chair is equally as good. Better to sit at ease in a chair and be inwardly aware than to sit cross-legged and be mostly aware of your poor, protesting legs.
If you use a chair, it should be comfortable, of moderate height, one that allows you to sit upright with ease while relaxed, with your feet flat on the floor. There is no objection to your back touching the back of the chair, either, as long as your spine will be straight. If you can easily sit upright without any support and prefer to do so, that is all right, too, but be sure you are always relaxed.
If you have any back difficulties, make compensation for them, and do not mind if you cannot sit fully upright. We work with what we have, the whole idea being to sit comfortably and at ease.
Put your hands on your thighs, your knees, or in your lap: joined, separated, one over the other–whatever you prefer. The palms can be turned up or down. Really it does not matter how you place or position your hands, just as long as they are comfortable and you can forget about them. There is no need to bother with hand mudras as they are irrelevant to Pranava Yoga practice.
Hold your head so the chin is parallel to the ground or, as Shankara directs, “the chin should be held a fist’s breadth away from the chest.” Make a fist, hold it against your neck, and let your chin rest on your curled-together thumb and forefinger. You need not be painfully exact, about this. The idea is to hold your head at such an angle that it will not fall forward when you relax. Otherwise you will be afflicted with what meditators call “the bobs”–the upper body continually falling forward during meditation.
Meditation is not a military exercise, so we need not be hard on ourselves about not moving in meditation. It is only natural for our muscles to sometimes get stiff or for some discomfort to develop. Go right ahead and move a bit to get rid of the discomfort.
Some yogis prefer facing east or north to meditate, but it has been my experience that in Pranava Yoga it simply does not matter what direction I face. Yet, you might want to experiment on your own.
Whatever your seat for meditation–chair, pillow, pad, or mat–it will be good if it can be used only for meditation. This will pick up the beneficial vibrations of your meditation, and when you sit on it your mind will become calm and your meditation easier. For the same reason some people like using a special shawl or meditation clothing or a robe when meditating. If you cannot devote a chair to your meditation, find some kind of cloth or throw that you can put over the chair when you meditate and remove when you are done.
If we lie down for meditation we will likely go to sleep. Yet, for those with back problems or some other situation interfering with their sitting upright, or who have trouble sitting upright for a long time, it is possible to meditate in a reclining position at a forty-five-degree angle. This is a practice of some yogis in India when they want to meditate unbrokenly for a very long time. (I know of two yogis who meditated throughout the entire day this way.) There may still be a tendency to sleep, but we do what we can, when we can. Here is the procedure:
Using a foam wedge with a forty-five-degree angle–or enough pillows to lie at that angle, or in a bed that raises up to that angle–lie on your back with your arms at your side, or across your stomach if that is more comfortable. Then engage in the meditation process just as you would if sitting upright.
When you are ill or for some reason unable to sit upright you can meditate in this way.
Alternating positions in meditation
Those not yet accustomed to sitting still for a long time, or those who want to meditate an especially long time, can alternate their meditation positions. After sitting as long as is comfortable, they can do some reclining meditation and then sit for some more time–according to their inclination.
Relaxation is the key to successful meditation just as is ease and simplicity. We need to be relaxed in both body and mind to eliminate the distracting thoughts and impressions that arise mostly from tension.
It is only natural that you will find your mind moving up and down–or in and out–during the practice of meditation, sometimes being calm and sometimes being restless. Do not mind this at all; it is in the nature of things. At such times you must consciously become even more calm, relaxed, and aware–“lighten up” in the most literal sense. As already said, when restlessness or distractions occur, take a deep breath through your nose, let it out, relax, and keep on meditating.
It is also natural when we begin turning our awareness inward that we will encounter thoughts, memories, various emotions, feelings, mental states, and other kinds of experiences such as lights, sensations of lightness and heaviness, of expansion, of peace and joy, visual images (waking dreams), and such like. None of these should be either accepted or rejected. Instead we should calmly continue our intonations of Aom. The inner sound of Aom and the states of consciousness It produces are the only things that matter, for they alone bring us to the Goal. We should never become caught up in the various phenomena, however amazing, entertaining, pleasant (or how inane, boring, and unpleasant) they may be, and be distracted from meditation. Experiences must not be held on to, nor should they be pushed away, either. Instead we should be quietly aware of them and keep on with meditation so in time we can pass far beyond such things. This is relaxation in attitude.
Also, feelings of boredom, stagnation, annoyance and inner discomfort may be the resistance of negative energies which will be cleared away by meditation as we persevere, and should not be taken seriously.
Never try to make one meditation period be like one before it. Each session of meditation is different, even though it will have elements or experiences in common with other sessions.
Do not be unhappy with yourself if in meditation it seems you are just floating on the top rather than “going deep.” That is what you need at the moment. Keep on; everything is all right. Remember: Aom is not just intelligent, It is Divine Intelligence, and whatever is best for you to experience is what It will produce, either late or soon–but always at the perfect time.
It is important in meditation to be relaxed, natural, and spontaneous–to neither desire or try to make the meditation go in a certain direction or to try to keep it from going in a particular direction. To relax and be quietly observant is the key for the correct practice of meditation.
Yet, correct meditation practice is never passive or mentally inert. At all times you are consciously and intentionally intoning Aom. It should be easeful and relaxed, but still intentional, even when your intonations become more gentle and subtle, even whisperlike or virtually silent.
Closed mouth and eyes
Breathing through the mouth agitates the mind, so keeping your mouth closed and breathing only through the nose has a calming effect.
So also does closing your eyes, for by closing your eyes you remove visual distractions and eliminate over seventy-five percent of the usual brain wave activity.
At the beginning of your meditation gently turn the eyes slightly downward without strain, then close them, relax and forget about them. If they should turn further downward or even upward at times, that is perfectly all right, just as long as it is spontaneous and without strain.
Sound is the basis of all that “is,” and the way to the realization of the All That Is, including our true Self and the Supreme Self, God. “By sound one becomes liberated [Anavrittih shabdai]” (Brahma Sutras 4.4.22). Sound is Consciousness itself. Sound–mental sound–joined to the breath is the beginning, middle, and end of our meditation practice. Consequently, listening to and experiencing the effects of our inner intonations of Aom is the heart of our meditation practice.
Inwardly listening to the mental intonations of Aom is the major key to success in meditation. It is essential that we become centered in the etheric levels of our being, from which sound arises, and this is done by inwardly intoning Aom and listening to those intonations. During meditation, whatever happens, whatever comes or goes, relax and keep listening to your inner intonations of Aom. It is the sound of Aom that accomplishes everything. And by listening to it you become totally receptive and responsive to it so it can work Its transforming purpose to the maximum degree.
If things do not feel or seem to be going right, it may mean that you are not fully listening to the sound of Aom, but your attention is somewhat divided. At such times I have had everything feel and go right immediately when I relaxed and easefully centered my awareness totally on the sound of Aom.
Shabda and Nada
Shabda and nada are both usually translated in yoga texts as “sound” and in many philosophical texts are used interchangeably, but in yogic usage they have a very important distinction. Shabda is sound of any kind made by any means proceeding from any medium–for example, the sound made when a drum is struck or when an object falls to the floor. Shabda encompasses the entire range of natural sounds, including the inherent sound-vibration of physical objects and processes. Nada, however, is very specialized. It is sound emanated by Divine Impulse, sound that comes directly from Universal Consciousness with no intermediate stages or secondary causes. In a very real sense Nada is the Voice of God. According to the yogis, Aom is Nada in this precise, technical sense. It is, therefore, the Voice of the Self.
Putting the awareness on mere shabda–which includes the sounds of the chakras and other inner sounds, even though they emanate from very subtle levels–leads only to their relative source and not to Reality. Only that which comes directly from the Source will lead to the Source, and it must be a dual source, both the Absolute and the relative, Brahman and the jivatman. And that is Aom.
Prana and Mahaprana
In the lesser levels of the individual and the cosmos, prana moves as the force of life, but in the higher levels Mahaprana moves as the unalloyed Divine Life, one aspect of which is Aom. Because of this, repetition of Aom both lifts the yogi up to and invokes the Mahaprana, enabling the yogi to truly live the Divine Life.
As just explained, there are two kinds of sound: ahata (shabda) and anahata (nada). Ahata occurs “in nature,” but anahata is Divine Sound (Divya Shabda) and is spiritual, conveying spiritual opening and insight. Such is Aom. Aom japa opens the yogi to the inflow of Mahaprana and increases the inflow the longer it is practiced.
The entire realm of manifestation is really nothing more than an infinite variety of sound, variations of a single Sound that is the origin and ending of all other sounds. That Sound is Aom, the basic resonant frequency of the entire field of existence: “Verily, the Syllable Aom is all this, yea, the Syllable Aom is all this” (Chandogya Upanishad 2.23.3). “Aom: this Syllable is all this” (Mandukya Upanishad 1).
It is the keynote of the consciousness that is our true Self: “The Self [atman] is of the nature of the Syllable Aom.… Thus the Syllable Aom is the very Self. He who knows It thus enters the Self [Supreme Spirit] with his self [individual spirit]” (Mandukya Upanishad 8, 12). “Meditate on Aom as the Self” (Mundaka Upanishad 2.2.6).
And since we and God are one, it is the keynote of Divine Consciousness as well. “Aom is Brahman, the Primeval Being” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 5.1.1). “That [Aom] is the quintessence of the essences, the Supreme, the highest” (Chandogya Upanishad 1.1.3). “Aom is the Supreme Brahman” (Svetasvatara Upanishad 1:7). “Aom is Brahman” (Taittiriya Upanishad 1.8.1).
Aom, then, is the entire focus of our meditation. “One should meditate on this Syllable [Aom]” (Chandogya Upanishad 1.1.1). “Meditate on Aom as the Self. May you be successful in crossing over to the farther shore of darkness” (Mundaka Upanishad 2.2.6). And since It has no intellectual meaning, Its repetition helps us in getting beyond the chattering mind.
I. K. Taimni has this to say regarding Aom, the Pranava:
“The first and most effective means which Patanjali prescribed for overcoming the distracted condition of the mind is the japa and meditation of the Pranava. He calls the Pranava the vachaka of Ishwara. What is a vachaka? A vachaka is a name which has a mystic relationship with the vachya–the entity designated–and has inherent in it the power of revealing the consciousness and releasing the power of the individual for whom it stands. Such a vachaka is Aom. It is considered to be the most mystical, sacred and powerful mantra by the Hindus because it is the vachaka of Ishwara, the Greatest Power and the Supreme Consciousness.
“It may seem preposterous to the ordinary man not familiar with the inner side of life that a mere syllable can carry hidden within it the potential power which is attributed to it by all yogis, and references to which are found scattered through the sacred scriptures of the Hindus. But facts are facts and they are not at all affected by the ignorance and prejudices of people who disbelieve in them. Who could have believed fifty years ago that a mere neutron moving among a number of uranium atoms could produce an explosion powerful enough to blow up a whole city? Anyone who understands the theory of mantra yoga and the relation of vibration with consciousness should be able to see that there is nothing inherently impossible in the idea of a mystic syllable possessing such a power. Besides, we should remember that the facts of the inner life with which Yoga deals are based upon experience no less than the facts of Science.”
In his commentary on the Yoga Sutras Shankara puts it very simply: “Through Aom the Lord is met face to face.” And even further: “When the yogi has understood the identity of Aom and Brahman he attracts the grace of the supreme Lord through Its repetition and meditation.” And finally: “Meditation is setting the heart on the Lord Who is designated by Aom and brought into the mind by It.”
Now this is very important: When we want to swim in the ocean, we do not dive into a particular wave, but into the ocean itself. A wave, being only a manifestation on the surface of the ocean, must be left behind if we are to sound the depths of the ocean. If we stay with the wave, we will remain as separated as the wave is from the ocean. If we “ride” the wave like a surfer we will find ourselves being thrown onto the shore and out of the ocean. It is the same with meditation on names and forms–whether of gods, avatars or liberated masters. We need to dive down where name and form cannot go. This is the only way to get beyond unreality, darkness, and mortality. We must meditate on the Self–not on external beings or forms. As Sri Ma Sarada Devi said: “After attaining wisdom one sees that gods and deities are all maya” (Precepts For Perfection 672). Sri Ramana Maharshi said: “Since the Self is the reality of all the gods, the meditation on the Self which is oneself is the greatest of all meditations. All other meditations are included in this. It is for gaining this that the other meditations are prescribed. So, if this is gained, the others are not necessary. Knowing one’s Self is knowing God. Without knowing one’s Self that meditates, imagining that there is a deity which is different and meditating on it, is compared by the great ones to the act of measuring with one’s foot one’s own shadow, and to the search for a trivial conch after throwing away a priceless gem that is already in one’s possession” (Collected Works, section 28). The upanishads, Gita, and Yoga Sutras know nothing of meditating on “gods” or “ishta devatas”–only on Aom, for only Aom is our Self.
Since we must realize the individual Self (jivatman) and the Supreme Self (Paramatman)–we do japa of Aom which includes both. In effective meditation it is essential that the mantra and the Self of the yogi should be actually one–the mantra must proceed from the Self. The Shiva Sutras say: “If the mantra is kept separate from the repeater of the mantra and its goal, one cannot attain the fruit of the mantra” (Shiva Sutras 1:4). The divine Self is both the origin and the goal of Aom.
Aom is expanding outward in waves from the core of the cosmos. The same is happening with us. From our atma Aom is being impulsed outward. By coming into alignment/synchronicity with the atmic impulse through the intonations of Aom, we can return to our true state of being.
We mentally intone Aom in japa and meditation, “singing” it on a single note, because this unifies the mind and enables our awareness to turn inward steadily and surely. Further, intoning the sound makes it easier to be aware of and to hold on to. If the breath is short, then the intonation should be short. Remember: if the breath is long, then the intonation should be long.
Once more: Make sure the A, O and M last the same amount of time when intoned: Aaaaoooommmm. Don’t torture yourself about this–approximately equal is good enough, and in time your intonations will automatically occur in the right manner. Also, your intonations of Aom should begin when your inhalations and exhalations begin and end when they end. Here, too, approximately is sufficient. In this way your intonations should be virtually continuous, not with long breaks between them. That is: AaaaoooommmmAaaaoooommmmAaaaoooommmm, rather than Aaaaoooommmm…Aaaaoooommmm…Aaaaoooommmm…Aaaaoooommmm. Here, too, approximately continuous is sufficient.
As we go deeper in meditation our perceptions of the inner sound of our mental intonations of Aom become increasingly subtle. At first they may be more like ordinary sung speech, but they will progress to become more and more soft until they become a kind of “whispering” and in time can be actually silent–a kind of silent movement–very much like when we silently mouth words instead of speaking them aloud.
When we intone in a most subtle, virtually whispered, or silent, way we still think of Aom as being intoned, and mentally intend to intone, even if we do not inwardly hear or sense the difference. And our intonations, however subtle, should never be weak or tenuous.
It is important to let your intonations of Aom change as they will. They may naturally and spontaneously move back and forth from more objective to more subtle and back to more objective. As a rule the gentle or whispered or silent form of intonation is more effective than ordinary mental intonation as you will experience for yourself.
The voice in the silence–subtle sound
Meditation on Aom is the true way to enter into Silence. Meditation is such a simple practice because the mind must be made simple to reflect the simple (i.e., unitary) God. The mind must be made blind, deaf, and mute in the inner silence. This is a great secret: we cannot attain to silence by mere absence of words or thoughts. Instead, we must find the Silence that lies at the heart of Aom. We must attain the silence at Its core. This is a great Mystery. Only he who is adept in meditation is truly keeping silence.
“And Elijah arose, and went unto Horeb the mount of God. And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said unto him,…Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice” (I Kings 19:8-12).
Wind, earthquake, and fire–but God was not in them. Then there was silence, yet in the silence there was a voice. “A still small voice” means that silent (still) subtle (small) impulse which is the very root of “word” and therefore Word itself. The New King James Version gives it as “a delicate whispering voice.” The Greek Septuagint has “the voice of a gentle breeze,” evidently keeping in mind that the Holy Spirit is the Breath of God and often manifests as wind. The Slavonic text renders it “the wafting of a silent light.” This, too, is appropriate, for the Holy Spirit is also Light. Actually, it cannot be at all expressed in human terms, for it is far beyond the senses and ordinary experience. But however it might be described, it is the voice of God coming through the pure spirit that is our true essence.
“Still small voice” refers to the subtle sound of Aom experienced in deep meditation. It may even be translated “a silent sound,” for in deepest meditation the intonations of Aom become whisper-like and even silent while yet remaining in their integrity. That is, they do not stop, but remain in a form that is perfectly silent and still–more like a soundless mouthing of the Syllable. The subtle intonations of Aom may even become more like a silent act of will or ideation (conceptualization) of the repetition of Aom.
As a rule the gentle or whispered or silent form of intonation is more effective than ordinary mental intonation. The Pranavic stream can become as light and subtle as the movement of air produced by the wings of a butterfly. This is a mystery, but you will experience it for yourself.
Even in daily japa, we should keep our awareness deep in the subtle sound of Aom. The breath is necessary to lead us into the depths of the sound, which is why we join our intoning of Aom to it.
Simplicity and subtlety of practice
The simpler and more easeful the yoga practice, the more deeply effective it is. This is a universal principle in the realm of inner development and experience. How is this? In the inner world of meditation things are often just the opposite to the way they are in the outer world. Whereas in the outer world a strong aggressive force is most effective in producing a change, in the inner world it is subtle, almost minimal force or movement that is most effectual–even supremely powerful. Those familiar with homeopathic medicine will understand the concept that the more subtle an element is, the more potentially effective it is. In meditation and japa the lightest “touch” is usually the most efficient. This being so, the simple subtle intonations of Aom are the strongest and most effective form of mantric invocation.
An incident that took place during one of the crusades illustrates this. At a meeting between the leaders of the European forces and Saladin, commander of the Arab armies, one of the Europeans tried to impress and intimidate Saladin by having one of his soldiers cleave a heavy wooden chair in half with a single downstroke of his broadsword. In response, Saladin ordered someone to toss a silk scarf as light and delicate as a spider’s web into the air. As it descended, he simply held his scimitar beneath it with the sharp edge upward. When the scarf touched the edge, it sheared in half and fell on either side of the blade without even a whisper as he held it completely still. Such is the power of the subtle and the simple. This being so, the simple, subtle intonations of Aom are the strongest and most effective form of mantric invocation.
It is important, then, to keep in mind that often when things seem “stuck” in meditation and not moving as they should, or when the mind does not calm down, it is often because we are not relaxed sufficiently and are not allowing our inner intonations of Aom to become as subtle as they should be. For the subtler the intonations, the more effective and on target they are.
Even so, I do not mean to give you the impression that your inner intonations of Aom should become feeble or weak in the sense of becoming tenuous–only barely within your mental grasp, and liable to slip away and leave you blank. Not at all. The inner sound of the intonations may become subtler and subtler, but they do not at all become weaker–only gentler and more profound.
Breath and sound
The breath is a dominant factor on all the planes of existence. It is necessary for the vitalization and functioning of all vehicles of consciousness, physical or superphysical. It possesses the essential qualities of both energy and consciousness and is thus able to serve as an instrument for their actions and reactions on each other.
Although we tend to think of attention as merely a state of the mind, the opposite of inattention, it is really a great psychic force. Quantum physics has discovered that when a human being sets his attention on anything, that object is immediately affected to some degree–so much so that a scientist can unintentionally influence the result of an experiment, however controlled the external conditions may be. Thoughts are indeed things, but attention is the fundamental power of thought. Buddha gave great emphasis to the effect of sati–attention–in meditation.
As we calmly fix our awareness on the breath and the sound of Aom, they become increasingly refined. The breath becomes gentler and easeful, often slowing down until our breathing becomes as light as the breeze of a butterfly’s wings, and so does the internal sound of Aom become soft and whisperlike, even virtually silent. Since it is natural for them to become increasingly refined as you observe them, you need not attempt to deliberately make this happen. Your attention and intonations of Aom will automatically refine them. As we become more and more aware of the subtle forms or movements of the inner breath and sound, it automatically happens that the breath movements on all levels become slower. This is the highest form of pranayama–cultivation of the breath. All authentic yoga practice involves the breath to some degree, because the breath truly is life (prana).
The purpose of being aware of the physical breath is to enable you to become aware of “the breath of the breath,” the inner movement of consciousness that manifests as the physical breath. The more attention we give to the breath, the subtler it becomes until it reveals itself as an act of the mind, not the body, and finally as consisting of mind-stuff (chitta) itself and Aom as the consciousness behind the breath. Both breath and sound, like an onion, have many layers. In the practice of Aom meditation we experience these layers, beginning with the most objective, physical layer and progressing to increasingly subtle layers, until, as with an onion at its core, there are no more layers, but only the pure being of the Self.
The breath and sound become increasingly refined as we observe them, and as a result our awareness also becomes refined. Our attention focused on the breath and Aom causes their potential to manifest in the way sunlight causes the petals of a flower to open.
We ourselves are waves in the ocean of Consciousness and Sound. We are Aom. So in Aom Yoga practice, especially when we experience the permutations of the subtle sounds of Aom, we are actually experiencing ourselves. The more we meditate, the higher and higher and further and further we penetrate into the Infinite Consciousness of which we are an eternal part. That is our point of origin, and the subtle vibrations of Aom will take us back there.
Breath and brain
The yogis knew ages ago what Western science took a long time to realize. In the fourth century an anatomist named Oribasius said that the brain literally moves in harmony with respiration. In 1690 a researcher named Slevogt published a book in which he said the same. But the mystic Emmanuel Swedenborg wrote about this as both a physical and a metaphysical phenomenon in his Oeconomia Regni Animalis which contains a section titled De Motu Cerebri. That was in 1741, and in 1750 J. Daniel Schlichting, a physician of Amsterdam, declared that at each expiration the whole brain becomes elevated or expanded, while during inspiration it subsides and collapses. He showed that this motion is due neither to the contraction of the dura mater, nor to a pulsation of the sinuses or of the arteries, but is an intrinsic motion of the entire mass of the brain; that this motion continues during the whole existence of life, and that it is rendered possible by an empty space between the cranium and the brain.
In light of this we see why the yogis regarded the breath with amazement and awe, considering it to be a key to higher states of consciousness. In modern times it has been demonstrated that every cell of the body is affected by the breath, that the entire body expands and contracts in a virtually imperceptible manner in time with inhalation and exhalation. The breath, then, is a major factor in the physical, mental and spiritual alchemy of yoga.
Practical benefits of meditation
Here are four scientific reports about the practical benefits of meditation:
1) “Everyone around the water cooler knows that meditation reduces stress. But with the aid of advanced brain-scanning technology, researchers are beginning to show that meditation directly affects the function and structure of the brain, changing it in ways that appear to increase attention span, sharpen focus and improve memory. One recent study found evidence that the daily practice of meditation thickened the parts of the brain’s cerebral cortex responsible for decision making, attention and memory. Sara Lazar, a research scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital, presented preliminary results last November that showed that the gray matter of twenty men and women who meditated for just forty minutes a day was thicker than that of people who did not.…What’s more, her research suggests that meditation may slow the natural thinning of that section of the cortex that occurs with age” (How to Get Smarter, One Breath At A Time, Lisa Takeuchi Cullen. Time, January 16, 2006, p. 93).
2) “In a study published in the journal NeuroImage, researchers report that certain regions in the brains of long-term meditators were larger than in a similar control group.
“Specifically, meditators showed significantly larger volumes of the hippocampus and areas within the orbito-frontal cortex, the thalamus and the inferior temporal gyrus–all regions known for regulating emotions.
“‘We know that people who consistently meditate have a singular ability to cultivate positive emotions, retain emotional stability and engage in mindful behavior,’ said Eileen Luders, lead author and a postdoctoral research fellow at the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging. ‘The observed differences in brain anatomy might give us a clue why meditators have these exceptional abilities.’
“Research has confirmed the beneficial aspects of meditation. In addition to having better focus and control over their emotions, many people who meditate regularly have reduced levels of stress and bolstered immune systems. But less is known about the link between meditation and brain structure.
“The researchers found significantly larger cerebral measurements in meditators compared with controls, including larger volumes of the right hippocampus and increased gray matter in the right orbito-frontal cortex, the right thalamus and the left inferior temporal lobe. There were no regions where controls had significantly larger volumes or more gray matter than meditators.
“Because these areas of the brain are closely linked to emotion, Luders said, ‘these might be the neuronal underpinnings that give meditators the outstanding ability to regulate their emotions and allow for well-adjusted responses to whatever life throws their way.’” (PhysOrg–May 13, 2009. Source: University of California-Los Angeles)
3) “People who meditate grow bigger brains than those who don’t. Researchers at Harvard, Yale, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found the first evidence that meditation can alter the physical structure of our brains. Brain scans they conducted reveal that experienced meditators boasted increased thickness in parts of the brain that deal with attention and processing sensory input.
“In one area of gray matter, the thickening turns out to be more pronounced in older than in younger people. That’s intriguing because those sections of the human cortex, or thinking cap, normally get thinner as we age.
“‘Our data suggest that meditation practice can promote cortical plasticity in adults in areas important for cognitive and emotional processing and well-being,’ says Sara Lazar, leader of the study and a psychologist at Harvard Medical School.
“The researchers compared brain scans of 20 experienced meditators with those of 15 non-meditators. Four of the former taught meditation or yoga…the rest worked in careers such as law, health care, and journalism.…During scanning, the meditators meditated; the others just relaxed and thought about whatever they wanted.
“Some had been doing [meditation] for only a year, others for decades. Depth of the meditation was measured by the slowing of breathing rates. Those most deeply involved in the meditation showed the greatest changes in brain structure. ‘This strongly suggests,’ Lazar concludes, ‘that the differences in brain structure were caused by the meditation, rather than that differences in brain thickness got them into meditation in the first place.’
“Since this type of meditation counteracts the natural thinning of the thinking surface of the brain, could it play a role in slowing–even reversing–aging? That could really be mind-boggling in the most positive sense” (PhysOrg–January 31, 2006. Harvard University. William J. Cromie).
Another report on this study in the New Scientist, titled “Meditation Builds Up the Brain,” says that “meditating actually increases the thickness of the cortex in areas involved in attention and sensory processing, such as the prefrontal cortex and the right anterior insula.
“‘You are exercising it while you meditate, and it gets bigger,’ she [Sara Lazar] says.…It is further evidence, says Lazar, that yogis ‘aren’t just sitting there doing nothing.’”
4) “There was a study reported at the American Geriatric Association convention in 1979 involving forty-seven participants whose average age was 52.5 years. It found that people who had been meditating more than seven years were approximately twelve years younger physiologically than those of the same chronological age who were not meditating” (Gabriel Cousens, M.D., Conscious Eating, p. 281).
Joining Aom to the breath
“Speech and breath are joined together in the Syllable Aom” (Chandogya Upanishad 1.1.6). The breath and Aom arise from the very root of our being, the spirit. Joining Aom to the breath extends Its transforming vibrations throughout the entire range of our being. It also unites the different aspects of our being and begins more effectively and rapidly evolving us, returning us to the Source–but now transformed.
“The breath is continually sounding ‘Aom’” (Chandogya Upanishad 1.5.3). We join intonations of Aom to the breath because on the subtle levels it is always producing the sound of Aom. The spirit-Self breathes Aom. So by consciously joining Aom to our breathing we link up with our spirit-consciousness and enter into it. Further, when the habit of intoning Aom with the breath is established, the simple act of breathing will cue the mind to maintain the intonations.
Aom should be intoned once throughout each inhalation and once throughout each exhalation because there are two poles or subtle currents within the causal realm that make the sound of Aom as they move outward and manifest as inhalation and exhalation. In a sense there are two Aom’s–positive and negative, yin and yang–which together produce the projection of the cosmos and the individual’s manifestation therein. So the two Aom’s affect the two sides of the yogi’s being. Ultimately they are one, and by his joining of Aom to his breath, each breath moves him onward toward the goal of Divine Unity. “To reach It is said to be the greatest of all achievements. It is my highest state of being. Those who reach It are not reborn” (Bhagavad Gita 8:21).
This is necessary because in all relative beings the prana-breath has become corrupted and confused, binding the spirit rather than freeing it. The prana-breath has gotten out of phase, out of tune or off key–out of alignment with Aom, the original Keynote of the universe. By intoning Aom in time with his breath, the Aom yogi takes charge of his prana-breath, realigns and repolarizes it, restoring it to its original form and function. In this way he sets himself squarely in the upward-moving stream of evolution and accelerates his movement within it.
Again: we breathe through the nose, not the mouth.
Making the two into one
We are speaking of “the breath and Aom,” but in reality they are the same thing. The breath is not just a stop and go light, used merely to let us know when to intone Aom. The breath is a form, a manifestation, of Aom. So are all things, but the breath is the closest to pure Aom since it takes its existence directly from Aom without any intermediate phase. In Pranava Yoga we intone Aom in time with the breath so the two will remerge and become one, restoring their eternal unity.
It is important that the breath and Aom be perfectly integrated. That is why the intonation of Aom should begin with the breath movement–whether inhalation or exhalation–and end with its cessation. We need not exaggerate this and turn our meditation into a torment of anxiety, but reasonable care should be taken.
Cultivating consciousness–true spiritual experience
The Shiva Sutras say: “If the mantra is kept separate from the repeater of the mantra and its goal, one cannot attain the fruit of the mantra” (Shiva Sutras 1:4). Although the practical focus of our attention in meditation is our intoning of Aom in time with the breath, we must also be aware of the effects the practice produces. For the goal of meditation is perfect awareness of the spirit within Spirit, and our meditation experiences are steps in the ladder taking us onward/upward to the supreme Goal. We experience subtler and higher levels of awareness until we reach the Highest. We are not obsessed with meditational phenomena, but we are keenly aware of them. We need not analyze them, only observe them in a calm and relaxed manner, understanding that they come and go and are not to be held onto, but perceived like the signs on a highway indicating our position and where we are going. Actually, we are indifferent to them as phenomena, but intent on them as messages from the spirit and evidences of the transforming power of Aom.
Our intention in meditating is to center our awareness permanently in the consciousness of who we really are–in the spirit whose nature is itself pure consciousness. We center or merge our awareness in the breath and Aom because they arise directly from the atman and will lead us into the consciousness which is the Self.
Long before reaching the level of human birth and after, sentient beings are immersed in a chain of never-ending experiences, many of them absolutely illusory. Yoga philosophy goes further and says that all experiences are delusions. Some, such as hallucinations, have no objective reality at all, and other experiences may be based on some degree of actuality, but our misinterpretation of them turns them into delusions as well. “Maya” is not outside us, but an interior condition.
The yogi’s fervent aspiration is to experience the Real, the Truly Existent (Sat) which we call Brahman, the Paramatman. So immediately he is confronted with the crucial question: What is true spiritual experience? This must be answered lest he wander in this and future lifetimes through delusional experiences he mistakes for realities. Since yoga deals with the mind–the major source of illusory experience–the yogi is very susceptible to mistaking the unreal for the real, just as he was before becoming a yogi. The masters of yoga have given us clear information as to the nature of real spiritual experience.
When Gorakhnath asked Matsyendranath: “What is the abode of knowledge [jnana]?” the Master replied: Consciousness [chetana] is the abode of knowledge” (Gorakh Bodha 21, 22). Shankara defines correct meditation as “meditation established in the perception of the nature of Spirit alone, pure Consciousness itself.” Yoga Sutra 3:55 tells us: “Liberation is attained when the mind is the same as the spirit in purity.” That is, when through meditation we are permanently filled with nothing but the awareness of pure consciousness, liberation is attained. “That is the liberation of the spirit when the spirit stands alone in its true nature as pure light. So it is.” This is the conclusion of Vyasa. Pure consciousness alone prevails. True spiritual experience, then, is the experience of pure, unalloyed consciousness that is the nature of spirit and Spirit, of the individual and the cosmic Self.
The root cause of our ignorance and its attendant miseries is forgetfulness of our true Self–and God, the Self of our Self. Since the two are really one, it follows that our meditation must consist of that which is both Self (atman) and Supreme Self (Paramatman). And that “one thing” is Aom. It is awareness of our inner intonations of Aom that enables us to become centered in our true Self. Sri Ramana Maharshi said: “The Ekakshara [Aom] shines for ever in the heart as the Self.” And: “Earnest seekers who, incessantly and with a steady mind, repeat ‘Aom’ will attain success. By repetition of the pure ‘Aom’ the mind is withdrawn from sense objects and becomes one with the Self.”
True spiritual experience is the non-dual experience of Spirit. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad says: “When there is duality, as it were, then one smells another, one sees another, one hears another, one speaks to another, one thinks of another, one knows another. But when everything has become the Self, then what should one smell and through what, what should one see and through what, what should one hear and through what, what should one speak and through what, what should one think and through what, what should one know and through what? Through what should One know That owing to which all this is known–through what should one know the Knower?” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2:4:14). The Chandogya Upanishad tells us: “Where one sees nothing but the One, hears nothing but the One, knows nothing but the One–there is the Infinite. Where one sees another, hears another, knows another–there is the finite. The Infinite is immortal, the finite is mortal” (Chandogya Upanishad 24:1).
The atman-Self is never anything but consciousness, yet it, like God, has extended itself outward as the many levels of our present state of being. Unlike God, we have lost control over just about everything, and by becoming absorbed in experience of our external being have caused it to take on a virtually independent existence, dragging us along with it. Conversely, by keeping ourselves centered in pure awareness, the witnessing consciousness that is our real Self, we will begin the process of turning all those levels back into pure spirit. “Behold, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Only yogis say such things, and only yogis realize their full meaning.
Yoga is the fundamental clearing of our consciousness. As Saint Paul directs: “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). It is the renewal of our original consciousness regarding which Jesus prayed: “O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was” (John 17:5). For before the world was we consciously knew that we were one with God, part of Infinite Being.We need a return to that which we had “when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:7).
It is our practice of yoga that is the divine leaven that expands our consciousness into that perfect state that is the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven. “Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened” (Matthew 13:33).
The solar path of liberation
“The sun is verily Life…. That very one rises up who is Life, who is identified with all creatures, and who is possessed of all forms. This very one, that has been referred to, is spoken of by the mantra: ‘The realizers of Brahman knew the one that is possessed of all forms, full of rays, endowed with illumination, the resort of all, the single light (of all), and the radiator of heat. It is the sun that rises–the sun that possesses a thousand rays, exists in a hundred forms and is the life of all creatures’” (Prashna Upanishad 1:5, 7, 8).
All plant, animal, and human life on this planet depends upon the sun. It is the subtle powers of sunlight which stimulate growth and evolution. Sunlight particularly stimulates the activity of the higher centers in the brain, especially that of the pineal gland. Even in the depths of the earth a sensitive man can tell when the sun rises and sets above him. The sun truly awakens us in the deepest sense. As the germinating seed struggles upward toward the sun and out into its life-giving rays, so all higher forms of life reach out for the sun, which acts as a metaphysical magnet, drawing them upward and outward toward ever-expanding consciousness. Sunlight is the radiant form of Aom, so the sun initiates the entire solar system into Aom. Human beings are solar creatures, therefore to intone Aom is natural to them.
When the individual comes into manifestation on this earth he passes from the astral world into the material plane by means of the sun, which is a mass of exploding astral energies, not mere flaming gases. And when the individual has completed his course of evolution within this plane, upon the death of his body he rises upward in his subtle body and passes through the sun into the higher worlds, there to evolve even higher or to pass directly into the depths of the transcendent Brahman.
To ensure that this will take place, the Aom Yogi practices the japa and meditation of Aom, for the Chandogya Upanishad tells us that Aom and the sun are identical in essence, “for the sun is continually sounding ‘Aom.’” (Chandogya Upanishad 1.5.1) That is, the energy of the sun is a manifestation of Aom. Scientists have only recently discovered this phenomenon. On page 16 of the July 2004 issue of National Geographic we find this: “Bubbles the size of Texas cover the sun’s face…. Called granules, the short-lived cells of plasma carry heat to the surface through convection, the same way water boils in a pot. The rise and fall of granules creates sound waves, which cause the sun to throb like a drum every five minutes.”
Aom yogis intone Aom in time with their breath because the solar energies and the breath are intimately connected, for the upanishad further tells us that “the breath is continually sounding ‘Aom’” (Chandogya Upanishad 1.5.3).
The Taittiriya Upanishad says: “He who is the Self in man, and he who is the Self in the sun, are one. Verily, he who knows this truth overcomes the world; he transcends the physical sheath, he transcends the vital sheath, he transcends the mental sheath, he transcends the intellectual sheath, he transcends the sheath of the ego. …He who is the Self in man, and he who is the Self in the sun, are one” (Taittiriya Upanishad 2:8:1; 3.10.4).
Our life depends on the light of the sun, so it is also a manifestation of the power of Aom. The japa and meditation of Aom aligns us with the solar powers that are Aom and thereby greatly increase our life force and the evolution of all the levels of our being.
Pranava Yoga prepares us for the Great Departure. As the Chandogya Upanishad also says: “Even as a great extending highway runs between two villages, this one and that yonder, even so the rays of the sun go to both these worlds, this one and that yonder. They start from the yonder sun and enter into the nadis. They start from the nadis and enter into the yonder sun. …When a man departs from this body, then he goes upwards by these very rays or he goes up with the thought of Aom. As his mind is failing, he goes to the sun. That, verily, is the gateway of the world, an entering in for the knowers, a shutting out for the non-knowerss” (Chandogya Upanishad 8.6.2, 5).
The solar rays do not just flow into this world, they also draw upward through the sun and beyond. In the human body the process of exhalation and inhalation is related to solar energy, and much of the solar power on which we subsist is drawn into the body through our breathing. Which is why Giri Bala (see Autobiography of a Yogi, Chapter Forty-Six) employed a special form of breathing to live without eating. The solar rays do not just strike the surface of our body, but penetrate into the nadis, the channels in the astral body that correspond to the physical nerves. Just as the electrical impulses flow through the physical nerves, the subtle solar life force, or prana, flows through the subtle nadis and keeps us alive and functioning. And as we have already seen, the breath, as it flows, is always sounding Aom. The breath, then, is a vehicle for the solar energies that produce evolution, and we increase its effect through the japa and meditation of Aom.
The continual intonation of Aom, both in and outside of meditation, conditions our subtle levels so that at the time of death we will be oriented toward the solar powers and can ascend upon them–especially if we continue our intonations of Aom even after the body has been dropped. Those intonations will guarantee our ascent into the solar world. Those who have imbued themselves with the Pranavic vibrations will enter through the solar gate, whereas those who have not done so will be shut out by it and compelled to return to earthly rebirth.
“At the time of departure from this world, remember Aom, the Lord, the Protectors” (Yajur Veda 40:15). Whatever we think of most during life we will think of at the time of our death. This is affirmed by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita (8:5-10): “At the hour of death, when a man leaves his body, he must depart with his consciousness absorbed in Me. Then he will be united with Me. Be certain of that. Whatever a man remembers at the last, when he is leaving the body, will be realized by him in the hereafter; because that will be what his mind has most constantly dwelt on, during this life. Therefore you must remember Me at all times, and do your duty. If your mind and heart are set upon Me constantly, you will come to Me. Never doubt this. Make a habit of practicing meditation, and do not let your mind be distracted. In this way you will come finally to the Lord, Who is the light-giver, the highest of the high.” And the Prashna Upanishad (5:5, 7): “If he meditates on the Supreme Being with the Syllable Aom, he becomes one with the Light, the Sun. He is led to the world of Brahman. He sees the Person that dwells in the body, Who is higher than the highest life. …That the wise one attains, even by the mere sound Aom as support, That Which is tranquil, unaging, immortal, fearless, and supreme.”
Those who continually invoke and meditate upon Aom during their lifetime will remember Aom at the time of death, and by means of Aom will ascend to the sun and beyond into the real Beyond.
The earth also “intones” Aom
Ten years ago, seismologists discovered that the earth emits oscillations that sound like “the ringing of a gigantic bell”–which is exactly how the yogis have said Aom manifests as the Anahata Shabda within the body in the region of the heart. Researchers say that this vibration creates “waves” on the planet’s surface in both up-down and forward-backward motions. In other words, our world is “breathing”–inhaling and exhaling–and intoning Aom, just as do we. So what could be more natural than the practice of Pranava Yoga?
Yoga Nidra–conscious “sleep”
The purpose of meditation is the development of deep inner awareness. The Yoga Vashishta (5:78), a classical treatise on yoga, speaks of the state “when the consciousness reaches the deep sleep state” known in Sanskrit as sushupti. The sage Sandilya in his treatise on yoga, the Sandilya Upanishad, also speaks of “the right realization of the true nature of the sound which is at the extreme end of the pronunciation of the syllable Aom, when sushupti is rightly cognized [experienced] while conscious.” Ramana Maharshi also spoke frequently of this yogic state known as yoga nidra–yoga sleep. Although it is described as “dreamless sleep,” it is much, much more, for there is a deepening of consciousness in this state that does not occur in ordinary dreamless sleep.
Regarding this Sri Gajanana Maharaj of Nasik said: “Not to see anything in dhyana [meditation] shows a state of concentration. When seeing is turned into non-seeing, then there is the real state of samadhi. The state of complete samadhi is like the state of death but it is a state of life after having conquered death. The state of sleep is also a kind of death and he really knows the secret of dhyana yoga whose sleep is nothing but samadhi.”
In deep meditation we enter into the “silent witness” state, experiencing the state of dreamless sleep while fully conscious and aware. When approaching this state the beginner may actually fall asleep. This is not to be worried about, for such is quite natural, and after a while will not occur. From birth we have been habituated to falling asleep when the mind reached a certain inner point. Now through meditation we will take another turn–into the state of deep inner awareness. Ramana Maharshi said that even if a yogi falls asleep while approaching–or in–yoga nidra, the process of meditation still continues. Yoga Nidra is the state of conscious sushupti–dreamless sleep–and yet much more, for then the awareness is gathered into the Chidakasha, the principle of pure consciousness in the Sahasrara, the Thousand-Petalled Lotus of the physical, astral, and causal brain. Then there is a deepening of consciousness that does not occur in any other state.
So when you have this “asleep while awake” state occur, know that you are on the right track–when it is imageless and thoughtless except for your intonations of Aom (for those should never stop). “Astral dreaming” during meditation is only that: dreaming illusion. Not that visions cannot occur during meditation, but it is easy to mistake dreams for visions. Therefore it is wise to value only the conscious sushupti experience in meditation, within which Aom continues to be the focus of our awareness. This is the true samadhi.
The “workings” of Aom
But there is another, seemingly contradictory, side to this. Yogash chitta-vritti-nirodhah. (Yoga Sutras 1:2) Patanjali here defines yoga as the stopping (nirodhah) of the modifications (vritti) of the mind (chitta). Superficially considered, this seems to mean merely being blank, without thoughts. If this were so, dreamless sleep would be yoga, and the more we slept the more enlightened we would become! Still, most yogis tend to think that in meditation no thoughts or impressions should arise–that if they do, the meditation is imperfect and reduced in value. But Aom is a transforming-transmuting force, and that implies change. And change is a process. So sometimes you will simply sit in the happy and peaceful silence of pure Yoga Nidra, intent on the sound of your subtle intonations of Aom, and at other times things will definitely be going on. Both are equally beneficial, for Aom knows what It is doing, and both may occur in the same meditation.
Meditation, then, is not just sinking down into silence and stasis, though that does happen in some meditation periods, but can be an extremely active state. As you meditate, on the subtle levels you may see, hear, feel, and be aware of a great many things–thoughts, visual impressions, memories, inner sensations, and suchlike. All of this is evoked by your practice, and nothing will be a distraction if you simply observe it in a calm and objective manner, keeping your awareness on the breath and intoning Aom in time with it.
Your interest should be in your intonations of Aom, yet you should be aware of what is going on. The key is to remain a calm observer and able to distinguish between the worthless antics of the lower mind and that which is being produced directly by Aom for your betterment.
The process of meditation takes place within the spirit-Self. At the end of life, having prepared ourselves by this practice, we shall ascend from the body into the realm of immortality. “Make a habit of practicing meditation, and do not let your mind be distracted. In this way you will come finally to the Lord, Who is the light-giver, the highest of the high” (Bhagavad Gita (8:8).
Spending hours in and out of meditation invoking Aom constantly produces the most profound changes in the meditator’s psychic energy system on the physical, astral, and causal levels. The union of the prana (breath) and the subtle vibrations of Aom produce dramatic repolarization of the consciousness and life force. Sensitive yogis will experience this along with a myriad other transformations.
The three elements of Pranava Yoga meditation
There are three components of Pranava Yoga meditation:
- being aware of the breath as it moves in and out;
- mentally intoning Aom in time with the breathing;
- listening to the inner, mental intonations of Aom and becoming absorbed in the subtle sound.
If in meditation we feel unsure as to whether things are going right, we need only check to see if these three things are being done and our attention is centered in them. If so, all is well. If not, it is a simple matter to return to them and make everything right.
Of the three, listening is the key to success in meditation. That is because if we center our attention in listening to the mental sound of Aom as we intone It, we become totally receptive to the effects of Aom and also cut off distractions–mostly by making us indifferent to them. Nearly every time that I just don’t “feel right” in meditation or it seems that things are not “going as they should,” the moment I remember to be focused on listening to–inwardly hearing–my inner intonations of Aom, everything straightens out and moves onward.
It is essential that we be centered in the etheric levels of our being, and this is done by intoning Aom and listening to those intonations. This is the Golden Rule of Aom meditation. During meditation, whatever happens, whatever comes or goes, relax and keep listening to your inner intonations of Aom. It is the sound of Aom that accomplishes everything. And by listening to It you become totally receptive and responsive to It so It can work Its transforming purpose to the maximum degree.
Success in Aom Yoga consists of going deeper and deeper into the subtle sound of the Aom mantra as we sound it within. It is the thread leading us into the center of Reality.
There are certain invariables–absolutes of practice–which we must be aware of and conform to in our meditations. They are:
- Aom never ceases. Never. We must not let passivity or heaviness of mind interrupt our intonations by pulling us into negative silence. That would be a descent rather than an ascent.
- In intoning, we must always give equal value to A, O and M. At least approximately so.
- We always intone Aom in time with the breath unless for some reason that is not possible. Then we intone Aom over and over like the tolling of a bell until we can resume joining it to the breath. At such times our intonations of Aom, like the breath to which we are linking them, should be virtually continuous, not with long breaks between them.
- Our mental intonations of Aom are gentle, quiet and subtle.
- We always meditate with closed mouth and eyes.
- Although at times our awareness may be drawn to particular areas of the body or brain–or even the whole body or the energy fields extending beyond the body–we calmly remain aware of the Sahasrara, letting things happen naturally..
- The focus, the center of attention, of our meditation is the sound of our mental intonations of Aom in time with our breath. In an easeful and relaxed manner we become absorbed in that inner sound. This is meditation; this is spiritual life. We center or merge our awareness in the breath and Aom because they arise directly from the atman and will lead us into the consciousness which is the Self.
It is traditional for some brief prayer to be made before and after meditation. Usually before meditation a simple prayer is made asking divine blessing and guidance. Then at the end another brief prayer is made giving thanks, offering the meditation to God, and asking divine blessing for the rest of the day. There is no set form, just words from the heart. This is not essential for Pranava Yoga practice, but those who are so inclined may find it beneficial.
Japa and meditation of Aom
Japa and meditation of Aom support each other. Continual japa of Aom during your daily routine will increase the effectiveness of your practice of meditation, and daily meditation practice will deepen the effect of your japa outside meditation. By the two wings of japa and meditation we ascend through Aom to the Highest That is Aom.
Commenting on the Yoga Sutras, Vyasa tells the Aom yogi: “It has been said: ‘After Aom japa, let him set himself in meditation, after meditation, let him set himself to japa. When Aom japa and meditation come to perfection the Supreme Self [Paramatman] shines forth.’” And Shankara, commenting on Vyasa’s commentary, says: “Meditation is setting the heart on the Lord Who is designated by Aom and brought into the mind by It. Yogis who are engaged in both japa and meditation attain one-pointedness of mind. After japa, which causes his mind to bow before the Lord, let him engage in meditation. When his mind becomes unwavering from meditation on the Lord, let him do japa of Aom, for japa leads to meditation. When japa and meditation of Aom come to perfection then the Supreme Lord [Parameshwara], the Supreme Self [Paramatman] Who stands in the highest place, shines forth for the yogi.”
When doing japa as we are engaged in other activities there is a profound effect, but we are not able to experience the effects of Aom nearly as much as we can while sitting in meditation. The meditation experience is absolutely essential for spiritual progress, just as japa is essential to ensure that meditation will be effective to the maximum degree.
Throughout the day–japa
Meditation is most effective, but its effects need to be sustained throughout the day by continuing to intone Aom in an easy and relaxed manner in time with the breath without any strain, just as you do in meditation. That is, Aom should be intoned constantly, throughout all activities, without break or interruption. Naturally this is difficult, even impossible to do, in the beginning, nevertheless it is possible in time. Immediately upon awakening in the morning the mental intonations of Aom should begin and should be maintained even after going to bed until falling asleep. Not only does this deepen your consciousness, it also enables you to obtain much more benefit from your sleep, and the intonation of Aom can occur even in sleep.
While speaking and unable to be intoning Aom (at least in the beginning), keeping your awareness centered in your brain/head will help to keep you “in tune.”
The two are one
Meditation and japa–sitting still and moving about–are to become the same thing: absorption in the inner Aom. In one there can be total absorption, and in the other it is necessary for the attention to be shared with the outer actions. But the interior process is the same. The difference is only in the degree of experiencing. Therefore meditation is not “engaged in” or “begun” as though it is something different from the totality of the sadhaka’s life. It is simply a seamless continuation. Until he sat, he shared his awareness with externalities. Now he continues to do just the same as before he sat to meditate–intoning Aom and listening to It sounding within–but now he is intent on that process alone. “In” and “out” of meditation are merely the difference between partial and total attention. When meditation is “over” things remain exactly the same interiorly, though once more the attention is divided between the inner Aom and the outer world.
Preparing for sleep
It is most helpful to do the japa of Aom until you fall asleep, for this aids in the development of inner awareness during the waking time and in meditation.
When you lie down to sleep or rest, lie flat on your back with your arms at your side, palms downward, and your legs out straight but relaxed, in the so-called Corpse Pose (Savasana). The feet need not be held straight up. Relax completely, with closed eyes. Do the normal process of meditation until you fall asleep. If you find that lying on your back is not conducive to sleep, then lie in any position in which you can be comfortable and relaxed.
If you awaken during the sleep period, keep on doing the same until you fall sleep again.
This practice is also helpful when you are ill, as it can aid the healing process.
“When you utter ‘Aom’ it travels not only all around the earth but throughout all space and eternity”–so said Paramhansa Yogananda. Thoughts do not cease the moment they pass from the conscious mind. They spread out around us, into our aura, the subtle field of biomagnetic and mental energies around our physical body, and then on into the surrounding creation, ultimately extending to the farthest reaches of the cosmos and then returning and striking back into our aura and mind. This is the process of mental karma. By continually doing repetition and meditation of Aom, we set up a continuous current of spiritual vibration that in time becomes a perpetual inflow of higher consciousness as it returns to us after having extended throughout creation and benefited all things and all beings therein. In this way we create the highest form of spiritual karma, uplifting and divinizing both ourselves and all that exists.
Furthermore, every thought is a wave or whorl that keeps vibrating in the very substance of our mind (chitta) and even–depending on how strong they were and how often they were repeated–into future lives. Aom, then, imbues us with Its divine light and power, counteracting the past habit of negative, foolish, or idle thoughts.
Therefore, throughout the day and night, whatever you are doing or whenever at rest, continually intone Aom mentally in time with the breath and center your awareness in the mental sound. Since there is no time when you do not breathe, this is really not hard.
Read the next chapter in Pranava Yoga: The Sahasrara
Pranava Yoga links:
Preface to Pranava Yoga: Yoga and Freedom
- The Word That Is God
- Pranava Yoga Meditation
- The Yogi’s Subtle Anatomy
- Breath and Sound in Meditation
- Points For Successful Meditation
- AOM in the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, and Yoga Sutras
- The Glories and Powers of AOM
- Afterword: It Is All Up To You
Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary
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