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 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), and the yogi “should practice yoga for the purpose of self-purification” (6:12).
The yogi sits in an upright posture: “Excluding outside contacts [closing his eyes],… holding the body, head and neck erect, motionless and steady” (5:27; 6:13).
A few verses previously he said: “At the time of death he who remembers me while giving up the body attains my Being–of this there is no doubt. Moreover, whatever he fixes his mind on when he gives up the body at the end, to that he goes [that he attains]. Always he becomes that [is transformed into that]. Therefore at all times remember me with your mind [manas] and intellect [buddhi] fixed on me. Thus without doubt you shall come to me. With mind made steadfast by yoga, which turns not to anything else, to the Divine Supreme Spirit he goes, meditating on him” (8:5-8).
Before the Gita, the Prashna Upanishad said the same: “What world does he who meditates on Om until the end of his life, win by That? If he meditates on the Supreme Being with the Syllable Om, he becomes one with the light of the sun, he is led to the world of Brahman Who is higher than the highest life, That which is tranquil, unaging, immortal, fearless, and supreme” (Prashna Upanishad 5:1, 5, 7).
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 the awareness of the divine Self and the Self of the Self, God.
Now let us look at the various components of our Om Yoga practice so we can understand its practice 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.
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.
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 Om. 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.
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, much incense, including that from India, contains artificial, toxic ingredients that are unhealthy. Two excellent kinds of incense made only of natural ingredients are Auroshika, and Nandita. Both can be ordered from Amazon.com.
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 Vashishtha (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. The Iyengar books on the yoga postures are excellent.
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 Om 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 Om 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. Then it 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 Om. The inner sound of Om 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 and allowed to influence us and even get us to end a meditation period to get away from them. Sometimes we perceive or experience negativity in some form because we need to realize that those things are buried in our subconscious, and meditation will automatically take care of them.
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: Om 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 Om. It should be easeful and relaxed, but still intentional, even when your intonations become more gentle and subtle, even whisperlike or virtually silent.
The sole purpose of the cosmos is evolution, and this is especially true of the human body. Though frequently mistaken for an obstacle or distraction by spiritual seekers, the body is a perfect evolution machine when its components are known and purified by the general elevation of the yogi’s consciousness. At the same time it is essential for us to not become lost in the complexity of the several energy systems that comprise the human organism.
In the twelfth chapter of Autobiography of a Yogi, Yogananda wrote about his guru Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri: “Master numbered many doctors among his disciples. ‘Those who have ferreted out the physical laws can easily investigate the science of the soul,’ he told them. ‘A subtle spiritual mechanism is hidden just behind the bodily structure.’” The spiritual alchemy of Om Yoga is a process by which the entire internal mechanism of the body (antahkarana) is also changed. By the transmutation of the yogi’s consciousness into higher and higher levels, the various subtle bodies are also transmuted simultaneously and automatically without him getting caught up in them and distracted from the heart of his sadhana: Om Japa-Pranayama. This is a most important thing to understand.
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.
The Bhagavad Gita speaks of the yogi “holding the body, head and neck erect, motionless and steady, gazing at the origin of his nose [nasikagram] and not looking around” (Bhagavad Gita 6:13). Disagreement has existed for centuries as to whether this means the yogi should look downward toward the tip of his nose or upward to between his eyebrows. Nasikagram means literally “the origin of the nose,” so it depends on where you consider the nose “begins”–at the point between the eyebrows or the tip of the nose. Actually both are correct, because in meditation the yogi’s eyes move up and down (usually imperceptibly) according to the processes going on in his subtle bodies. That is why earlier the Gita has described the yogi as “turning up the eyes toward the two brows” (5:27). Whatever is spontaneous is correct.
There are three kinds of mudras: hatha yogic, tantric and dhyana yogic. The hatha yoga mudras are body positions (asanas), the tantric mudras are hand and finger positions for both ritual and meditation, and the meditation (dhyana) mudras are eye positions. For example, in the miraculous photograph of Lahiri Mahasaya found in the first edition of Autobiography of a Yogi, the great yogi is demonstrating the eye position known as Sambhavi Mudra.
If you read much on yoga you must eventually come across the expression “Khechari Mudra.” Khechari Mudra is commonly thought to be the hatha yoga practice of extending the tongue and making it enter the post-nasal cavity. This is considered the sign of a yoga adept, but it is a hatha yoga practice that often just causes post-nasal drip and can render some people unconscious.
The real Khechari Mudra of the yogis is the simple, spontaneous turning up of the eyes in a gentle, unforced manner without any strain at all. This natural turning up of the eyes opens and activates the higher levels of awareness in the Sahasrara that are collectively known as the Chidakasha, the Ether of Consciousness that is the eternal, immortal spirit.
In Sanskrit, kha means the sky, space, or ether (akasha). Char means “to move.” So khechari means “sky walking”–moving in the etheric space that is the limitless basis of everything, the akasha that is consciousness itself–the Chidakasha. Khechari Mudra enables the yogi to be a khechara–one who flies in the Sky of Consciousness. For Khechari Mudra opens the “sky” of the Sahasrara, the Thousand-Petalled Lotus. Sensitive yogis can experience this. Letting this occur spontaneously, since during meditation the eyes move up and down according to the processes occurring in the subtle bodies, is the best. But there is no reason why in the beginning of your practice you cannot turn up the eyes intentionally in order to experience the effect. But I advise that once you realize its effects and understand its value, you allow it to happen spontaneously.
Khechari Mudra not only expands the yogi’s consciousness, it prepares him for the final exit from the body.
“He who meditates on the Seer, the Ancient, the Ruler, subtler than the atom, support of all, whose form is inconceivable and radiant like the sun and beyond darkness, at the time of death with mind unmoving, endowed with devotion and yoga power, having made the prana enter between the eyebrows, he goes to the Divine Supreme Spirit.
“That which the knowers of the Veda call the Eternal, which the ascetics free from passion enter, desiring which they live the life of brahmacharya, that path I shall explain unto you briefly. Closing all the doors of the body, confining the mind in the heart, drawing his prana into the head, established in yoga concentration, uttering Om, the single-syllabled Brahman, meditating on me, departing thus from his body, he attains the Goal Supreme” (8:9-13).
Being adept in Khechari Mudra through meditation, the Om yogi will be able to consciously leave his body at the time of death rather than being evicted against his will.
Yogananda and Khechari Mudra
You might be interested to know that during one part of his training with Sri Yukteswar, Yogananda had to keep his eyes turned up in Khechari Mudra throughout the day, with open eyes, yet had to fulfill all his ashram duties. One result was a lot of bruising from running into the sides of doorways. But in this way he learned by experience the effect of Khechari Mudra. He said in public talks that keeping the eyes downward leads to subconsciousness, keeping them straight ahead establishes in waking consciousness and keeping them upward leads to superconsciousness. In the 1936 BBC documentary he goes into samadhi by turning his eyes up in Khechari Mudra even though they remain open.
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 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 Om is the heart of Om Yoga.
Inwardly listening to the mental intonations of Om is the major key to success in meditation because listening to the mantra makes the yogi responsive to its vibrations. In that way the maximum benefit is gained. 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 Om and listening to those intonations. During meditation, whatever happens, whatever comes or goes, relax and keep listening to your inner intonations of Om. It is the sound of Om 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. The Om yogi should be totally absorbed in both the inner intoning and the inner hearing of Om.
If things do not feel or seem to be going right, it may mean that you are not fully listening to the sound of Om, that 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 Om.
As we go deeper in meditation our perceptions of the inner sound of our mental intonations of Om 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 Om 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 Om 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.
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 the wind blows. 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 exclusively 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, Om is Nada in this precise, technical sense. It is, therefore, the voice of the Self as well as the voice of God.
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 Nada which comes directly from the Source will lead to the Source, and it must encompass both the Absolute and the relative, Brahman and the jivatman. And that Nada is Om.
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 Om. Because of this, repetition of Om both lifts the yogi up to and invokes the Mahaprana, enabling the yogi to truly live the Divine Life.
Om is not the sound of the physical breath, but the sound (Nada) of the Mahaprana as it manifests as inhalation and exhalation. As just explained, there are two kinds of sound: ahata (shabda) and anahata (nada). Ahata occurs in nature, is material sound even when subtle, but anahata is Divine Sound (Divya Shabda) and is spiritual, conveying spiritual opening and insight. Such is Om. Only the proficient yogi whose perceptions have been refined can hear these true sounds (Sat Nada) during his practice. For Om Sadhana 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 Om, the basic resonant frequency of the entire field of existence: “Verily, the Syllable Om is all this, yea, the Syllable Om is all this” (Chandogya Upanishad 2.23.3). “Om: 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 Om.… Thus the Syllable Om 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 Om as the Self” (Mundaka Upanishad 2.2.6).
And since we and God are one, it is the keynote of divine consciousness as well. “Om is Brahman, the Primeval Being” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 5.1.1). “That [Om] is the quintessence of the essences, the Supreme, the highest” (Chandogya Upanishad 1.1.3). “Om is the supreme Brahman” (Shvetashvatara Upanishad 1:7). “Om is Brahman” (Taittiriya Upanishad 1.8.1).
Om, then, is the entire focus of our meditation. “One should meditate on this Syllable [Om]” (Chandogya Upanishad 1.1.1). “Meditate on Om 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 conceptualizing mind.
I. K. Taimni has this to say regarding Om, 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 Om. 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 Om the Lord is met face to face.” And even further: “When the yogi has understood the identity of Om 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 Om and brought into the mind by It.”
Om is expanding outward in waves from the core of the cosmos. The same is happening with us. From our atma Om is being impulsed outward. By coming into alignment/synchronicity with the atmic impulse through the intonations of Om, we can return to our true state of being.
Breath and sound
Breath and sound are the two major spiritual powers possessed by us, so they are combined for Om Yoga practice. Since Pranava can mean The Breath Word, it is very natural to intone Om in time with the breathing. The way is simple and easy and is often to be preferred.
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 Om, they become increasingly refined. Since it is natural for them to do so, you need not attempt to deliberately make this happen. Your attention and intonations of Om 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 Om as the consciousness behind the breath. Both breath and sound, like an onion, have many layers. In the practice of Om 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 Om causes their potential to manifest in the way sunlight causes the petals of a flower to open.
We are waves in the ocean of consciousness and sound. We are Om. So in Om Yoga practice, especially when we experience the permutations of the subtle sounds of Om, 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 Om 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.
Joining Om to the breath
“Speech and breath are joined together in the Syllable Om” (Chandogya Upanishad 1.1.6). The breath and Om arise from the very root of our being, the spirit. Joining Om 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 ‘Om’” (Chandogya Upanishad 1.5.3). We join intonations of Om to the breath because on the subtle levels it is always producing the sound of Om. The spirit-Self breathes Om. So by consciously joining Om to our breathing we link up with our spirit-consciousness and enter into it. Further, when the habit of intoning Om with the breath is established, the simple act of breathing will cue the mind to maintain the intonations.
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 and out of alignment with Om, the original keynote of the universe. By intoning Om in time with his breath, the Om 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. And since meditation is much easier when your nasal passages are open and clear, whenever they are stopped or stuffy, clear them by use of a NeilMed Neti Pot or NeilMed Sinus Rinse bottle, or similar devices. Some nasal inhalers also help clear the nasal passages. If for some reason your nose stays stopped or stuffy, then accept it and do your best. The benefit will still be great.
Lalla Yogeshwari on the Omkar Breath
Lalla Yogeshwari sang: “He who has recognized the Brahmarandhra as the shrine of the divine Self, he who has known the anahata [Om] borne upon the breath: his vain imaginings of themselves have fled far away, and he himself [recognizes] himself as a deva [god]. To whom else, therefore, should he offer worship?” (Lalla Vakyani 33). This covers a tremendous amount of ground in a very few words: the Sahasrara is the natural abode of the Self which is divine, and the dispelling of ignorance and the arising of Self-knowledge through Om takes place both in and out of meditation.
Then she continues: “He within whom steadfastly proceedeth in its upward course the Syllable Om, and naught but it, and for whom the breath forms a bridge to the Brahmarandhra, he bears in his mind the one and only mantra, and of what benefit to him are a thousand mantras?” (Lalla Vakyani 34). In this way she affirms the necessity of the rising of Om and the breath into the thousand-petalled lotus of the head and to the brahmarandhra, “the gate to God [Brahman].” Because of this she insists that Om is “the one and only mantra” for meditation, and says that a thousand mantras are of no benefit to him who knows to invoke Om, the word that is God, through japa and meditation.
Finally, she says: “I locked the doors and windows of my body. I seized the the thief of my vital airs [prana], and controlled my breath. I bound him tightly in the closet of my heart, and with the whip of the Pranava did I flay him” (Lalla Vakyani 101). The thief of our vital force, which includes the breath, is distraction and ignorance. Through Om we either discipline and bring under control the elements that can be corrected or expel those that cannot be corrected.
So to Lalla the combination of breath and Om was the path to salvation (moksha).
Within the yogic system the breath is considered an actual body within the material body. It is called the pranamaya kosha, the body formed of breath or prana. And working with it is known as pranayama. Pranayama can mean restraint of prana, and it can also mean control [yama] of the breath, but ayama also means length, expansion, and extension. Thus pranayama can also mean the lengthening, expansion, and extension of the breath as occurs spontaneously in Om meditation. For Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 2:50 says that pranayama is “external, internal or suppressed modification [of breath], and it becomes measured or regulated [paridrishto], prolonged [dirgha] and subtle or attenuated [sukshmah].” Sutra 51 says: “That pranayama which goes beyond the sphere of internal and external is the fourth,” that which directly relates to turiya or pure consciousness, beyond the three states of waking, dreaming, and dreamless sleep. Also, internal and external can refer either to: 1) inhaling and exhaling, 2) the outer breath accompanied by movement of the lungs, or 3) the internal movement of the subtle prana or breath that has no outer manifestation. It is our steady attention to the breath that is the practice of pranayama. For Shankara says: “Pranayama is caused by a mental activity deriving from a restraining effort inherent in the Self.”
Vyasa says that during meditation the breath becomes, “prolonged and light [fine or subtle].” In time a meditator becomes aware that there is an internal breath that is the support and stimulus of the bodily breathing. Behind that breath is an even subtler force, and so on back to utter stillness at the core of his being. It is the experiencing of all such subtle forms of breath that is pranayama. Through meditation we effect the inner pranayama and achieve the inner breathlessness that is a state of pure awareness.
There is more to this pranayama: “From that [pranayama] is dissolved the covering of light” (Yoga Sutras 2:52). The inner pranayama dissolves the veil which covers the light of the knowledge of the Self. Yet this veil is itself light, the light of subtle matter or energy, the substance of which the most subtle bodies are formed. They are the light that veils the ultimate Light. “The covering of light referred to in this sutra is obviously not used in reference to the light of the soul, but to the light or luminosity associated with the subtler vehicles associated with and interpenetrating the physical vehicle,” according to Taimni in The Science of Yoga.
Vyasa expands on this, saying: “It [pranayama] destroys the karma which covers up the light of knowledge in the yogi. As it is declared: ‘When the ever-shining [Self] is covered over by the net of great illusion, one is impelled to what is not to be done.’ By the power of pranayama, the light-veiling karma binding him to the world becomes powerless, and moment by moment is destroyed. So it has been said [in The Laws of Manu 6:70, 72]: ‘There is no tapas higher than pranayama; from it come purification from taints and the light of knowledge [of the Self].’” Subtle pranayama, then, is the direct way to dissolve karma and be free, for “it is karma by which the light is covered,” says Shankara. And both he and Vyasa explain to us that karma not only binds us to material experience, it also impels us to create even more karma and therefore more bondage in a self-perpetuating circle. But by yoga the karma “becomes powerless, and moment by moment is destroyed.” That is, the karmic seeds are roasted and rendered incapable of creating future experience or births and are ultimately completely annihilated. The more we meditate, the more karma is dissolved.
In a conversation regarding his instructions on breath observation given in the book Maha Yoga, Sri Ramana Maharshi remarked: “Pranayama is of two kinds: one of controlling and regulating the breath and the other of simply watching the breath.” The purpose of working with the breath is simple: “From that comes the dissolving of the covering of light and the fitting of the mind for meditation” (Yoga Sutras 52 and 53). When by this process the breath is refined, so also is the mind; and eventually so is the nervous system and the entire body. Since the body is a vehicle of the mind, this is a very important effect.
But the breath does not accomplish this on its own. It must be joined to intonations of Om. “Speech and breath are joined together in the Syllable Om” (Chandogya Upanishad 1.1.6). “Pranayama is accomplished by effortlessly breathing and joining to it the repetition of the sacred Om with the experience of its meaning, when the consciousness reaches the deep sleep state” (Yoga Vashishtha 5:78). In the light of this quotation from the Yoga Vashishtha, we see that by joining the repetition of Om to the breath the Om Yogi causes pranayama to go on perpetually throughout the day as well as in meditation.
Gorakhnath says in the Goraksha Sataka: “Knowledge of the breath is the great knowledge [mahavidya]” (46). In Om Yoga the breath is one of the keys to liberation. This is in contrast to those who consider the breath to be an obstacle to realization and the cause of restlessness. It is not the breath itself but the breath in a state of distortion and disharmony that produces the trouble. Certainly, without the breath nothing can be accomplished by the yogi. Correction of the breath through Om japa in time with it is an essential element of yoga practice.
This is why Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri, the guru of Paramhansa Yogananda, wrote in a song:
Pranayama be thy religion,
Pranayama will give thee salvation,
Pranayama is the Wishing Tree.
Pranayama is Beloved God,
Pranayama is Creator Lord,
Pranayama is the Cosmic World.
Control the little pranayama,
Become all-pervading pranayama,
You won’t have to fear anything anymore.
Regarding Om Japa-Pranayama, in his book Meditation on Om Swami Sivananda says: “This will raise your consciousness to a very high plane. You will become one with the Soul, the Atman.”
In the Bhagavad Gita the yogi is described as “equalizing the inhalation and exhalation moving within the nostrils” (5:27; 6:13), calming and refining the breath. The words translated “equalizing” are samau kritva: “making them the same.” That is, by encompassing the entire breath, inhalation and exhalation, in a single intonation of Om as explained in Chapter Four–making what is two into one. In this way, “drawing his prana into the head, established in yoga concentration, uttering Om, the single-syllabled Brahman” (8:12-13), the yogi meditates upon the Supreme. “With mind quieted, banishing fear, firm in the brahmachari’s vow, controlling the mind, with thoughts fixed on me, steadfast, he should sit, devoted to me. Always disciplining himself thus, the yogi whose mind is subdued goes to the supreme peace of nirvana, and attains to union with me” (6:14-15).
The value of Om Japa-Pranayama is especially in its ability to unify the breath as a manifestation of Om. Equally, it unifies the consciousness of the yogi, gathering it into awareness of the Self. And this is done by simply joining the intonation of O to the natural inhalation and the intonation of M to the natural exhalation, in this way joining the syllable Om to the complete breath. Furthermore, it effortlessly causes the subtle life force (prana) to continually rise upward into the head and enliven and awaken the Sahasrara chakra, the highest chakra. It also unites the physical and subtle (astral and causal) bodies, prevents loss and depletion of the subtle energies, and orients them toward the Sahasrara. As pointed out, it is important to keep the whole syllable, Om, in mind during your intonations: not O. M., but OM.
Om Japa-Pranayama removes all blockages in the subtle channels (nadis) of the subtle bodies, and causes the bodies themselves to vibrate to Om as their fundamental frequency. Just as Om manifests and pervades the physical, astral, and causal creation, so the vibrations of Om pervade all our bodies, awakening and evolving them. During the practice of Om Yoga, every atom in the yogi’s being on all levels, physical, astral and causal, is affected and glows with subtle light. As the process continues, they increase in brightness and begin to develop as a seed does when exposed to heat and light. Consequently we may experience these changes in meditation, but we should let awareness of them arise and subside spontaneously during the japa and meditation of Om. If we attempt to control or direct them we hinder and limit their effects.
More on the Sahasrara
The Sahasrara, the Thousand-Petalled Lotus of the astral brain, contains reflex points that control every aspect of the yogi’s physical, astral and causal makeup. Consequently the yogi’s attention is continually oriented toward the Sahasrara in Om Yoga practice. In the esoteric writings of both Hinduism and Buddhism we find references to “the jewel in the lotus.” The lotus is the Sahasrara and the awakened consciousness of the yogi is the jewel. As Blavatsky wrote in The Secret Doctrine: “Each of us has within himself the ‘Jewel in the Lotus,’ call it Padmapani, Krishna, Buddha, Christ, or whatever name we may give to our Divine Self.”
The Sahasrara Chakra is the place where individual consciousness and Cosmic Consciousness meet and are one. Everything is there. The individual complex of each person originates in the Sahasrara, and the Sahasrara itself is a map or miniature of the cosmos–physical, astral, and causal. It is the dwelling place of pure consciousness (spirit), both individual and cosmic. Consequently, liberation is experienced in the Sahasrara. The process of meditation takes place throughout the body, but predominantly within the Sahasrara since it is the seat of the spirit-Self.
It is the Paradise from which we fell into material consciousness and to which we must be restored through yoga. That is, the yogi’s entire consciousness becomes centered there. Gorakhnath described it as when “the current of consciousness comes to dwell in the Sahasrara lotus and is illuminated with the radiance of the Self.”
Through the Sahasrara the subtle energies of the higher planes flow into the brain and body, making it the origin and seat of all supernatural experiences and abilities as well as the point of communication with higher planes and higher consciousness.
Om and the chakras
There is no mention in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali of either chakras or kundalini. This is because the japa and meditation of Om through Om Japa-Pranayama raises the awareness of the yogi into the Sahasrara where the Nath Yogi tradition teaches the true, archetypal ida, pingala, sushumna and chakras are located, the other nadis and chakras in the body being reflections of them. Consequently, when the Sahasrara nadis and chakras are affected by Om Yoga practice, so are the subsidiary nadis and chakras which mirror them. The practice of Om Yoga includes and perfects them without any need for special attention to them or involvement with them.
Om is the special mantra of the Sahasrara, but the intonation of Om affects all the chakras in the brain and their reflections in the body simultaneously and brings them into harmony with one another and refines their energies. Om is the ruling mantra of all the aspects of our being. The japa and meditation of Om through Om Japa-Pranayama awakens, empowers, and perfects the entire mechanism of our physical and subtle makeup. This includes the elimination of those psychic snarls, whorls, blocks, and conditionings that are our karma. Those who through Om Yoga practice continually attune and merge their consciousness in this way will in time become totally identified with the individual spirit-Self and with the Supreme Spirit. This merging is the beginning of Cosmic Consciousness. “He who thinks of me constantly, whose mind never goes elsewhere, for him, the constantly-joined [yoked] yogi, I am easy to attain” (8:14).
The Chidakasha and the Sahasrara
Since we are essentially consciousness, authentic yoga deals directly with consciousness. And when we speak of consciousness we do not mean “consciousness of spirit,” as though spirit were an object and consciousness of spirit only a condition of awareness, but we mean spirit itself which is consciousness, the eternal subject.
In yoga treatises we frequently encounter the term “Chidakasha,” which means “the Space (Ether) of Consciousness.” This is the level of existence and consciousness so pure and subtle, so interwoven with Spirit, that it is indistinguishable from Spirit, which is why the yogis say that the spirit-Self dwells in the Chidakasha and is the Chidakasha.
The Bhagavad Gita says in the beginning of the fifteenth chapter that the entire field of relative existence is like a tree whose roots are above and whose branches and leaves are below in the material world. This is not only true of the macrocosm, but also of each one of us that are microcosms–reflections of the macrocosm. Our “roots” are in our brain, the Sahasrara, and our body, limbs, and senses are the trunk, branches, and leaves. The Chidakasha, the indwelling spirit of the Sahasrara is literally the taproot into the Infinite, the gateway of higher consciousness–both ascending and descending.
In the introduction to his book, Pranava Gita, Swami Pranavananda Giri, “the saint with two bodies” written about in Autobiography of a Yogi, sums up the whole purpose of our involvement with intoning Om to experience the Chidakasha: “The omnipotent inordinate cause is Paramatma. That Paramatma is within this body. The exact location of this Paramatma in the body and how the mind may be made to merge with It, has been determined by the yogis. Sadhakas have seen through their practice that this Paramatma, despite the fact that it is omnipresent, exists in the Chidakasha in a conscious form, and the Pranava is its expression.” The Chidakasha is the abode of our Self, the center-point of our incarnation in relative existence.
Awareness of the Sahasrara is spiritual consciousness itself. From the enlivened Sahasrara the sacred light and power of Spirit will flow into every cell of every level of our being. The Bhagavad Gita describes the yogi as “drawing his prana into the head, established in yoga concentration, uttering OM, the single-syllabled Brahman” (8:12-13). By intoning Om in time with the breath we activate literally thousands of channels in the physical and subtle bodies, causing the life force to spontaneously, effortlessly, flow upward into the thousand-petalled lotus of the brain (Sahasrara Chakra) and then merge into the Chidakasha, into the Divine Light within the Sahasrara that is the essence of Om, the Life-Giving Word, the Pranava.
If you like you can keep a general awareness of the Sahasrara both in and out of meditation, feeling that the breath and intonations of Om are taking place there. In this way you can keep centered in the Chidakasha state you experience in meditation.
“Urdhvareta” refers to a yogi in whose subtle energy system the pranas, the life energies, are predominately flowing upwards. Our immortal, eternal spirit abides in the Sahasrara united with God the Absolute Spirit–the finite with the Infinite. Through Om Japa-Pranayama the various forms of prana in the body flow upward into the Sahasrara and are spiritualized. Its practice is the key to becoming established in the Urdhvareta state.
The voice in the silence
Meditation on Om 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 Om. 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 all words 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 gentle 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 Om experienced in deep meditation. It may even be translated “a silent sound,” for in deepest meditation the intonations of Om 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 Word as already said. The subtle intonations of Om may even become more like a silent act of will or ideation (conceptualization) of the repetition of Om.
In Hebrew, “still, small voice” is demamah dakh kole. Demamah means quiet. It comes from damam which means “fade away.” Dakh means extremely small in the sense of something extremely subtle, and it also means something that actually makes a thing small or subtle: in this case our consciousness. Kole means both voice and sound, and interestingly has the connotation of singing or intoning.
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 Om. The breath is necessary to lead us into the depths of the sound, which is why we join our intoning of Om 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.
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 Om 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 Om to become as subtle as they should be.
I do not mean to give you the impression that your inner intonations of Om 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.
Making the two into one
We are speaking of “the breath and Om,” 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 Om. The breath is a form, a manifestation, of Om. So are all things, but the breath is the closest to pure Om since it takes its existence directly from Om without any intermediate phase. In Om Yoga we intone Om in time with the breath so the two will remerge and become one, restoring their eternal unity.
It is important that the breath and Om be perfectly integrated. That is why the intonation of Om 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.
True spiritual experience
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 Om because they arise directly from the Atman and will lead us into the consciousness which is the Self.
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. 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. Sri Ramana Maharshi said: “The Ekakshara [Om] shines for ever in the heart as the Self.” And: “Earnest seekers who, incessantly and with a steady mind, repeat ‘Om’ will attain success. By repetition of the pure ‘Om’ 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. Yoga is the fundamental clearing of our consciousness.
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 depend 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 sensitive people can tell when the sun rises and sets above them. 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 Om, so the sun initiates the entire solar system into Om. Human beings are solar creatures, therefore to intone Om 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 Om Yogi practices the japa and meditation of Om, for the Chandogya Upanishad tells us that Om and the sun are identical in essence, “for the sun is continually sounding ‘Om.’” (Chandogya Upanishad 1.5.1) That is, the energy of the sun is a manifestation of Om. 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.”
Om yogis intone Om 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 ‘Om’” (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 Om. The japa and meditation of Om aligns us with the solar powers that are Om and thereby greatly increase our life force and the evolution of all the levels of our being.
Om 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 Om. 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-knowers” (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. This 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 and causal bodies that correspond to physical nerves. Just as electrical impulses flow through the physical nerves, the subtle solar life force, the prana, flows through the subtle nadis and keeps us alive and functioning. And as we have already seen (Chandogya Upanishad 1.5.3), the breath as it flows is always sounding Om. The breath, then, is a vehicle for the solar energies that produce evolution, and we increase its effect through the japa and meditation of Om.
The continual intonation of Om, 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 if we continue our intonations of Om 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 Om, the Lord, the Protector” (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 time of death he who remembers me while giving up the body attains my Being–of this there is no doubt. Moreover, whatever he fixes his mind on when he gives up the body at the end, to that he goes [that he attains]. Always he becomes that [is transformed into that]. Therefore at all times remember me, with your mind [manas] and intellect [buddhi] fixed on me. Thus without doubt you shall come to me. With mind made steadfast by yoga, which turns not to anything else, to the Divine Supreme Spirit he goes, meditating on him. He who meditates on the Seer, the Ancient, the Ruler, subtler than the atom, Support of all, whose form is inconceivable and radiant like the sun and beyond darkness, at the time of death with mind unmoving, endowed with devotion and yoga power, he goes to the Divine Supreme Spirit.” And the Prashna Upanishad (5:5,7): “If he meditates on the Supreme Being with the Syllable Om, he becomes one with the light of the sun, he is led to the world of Brahman Who is higher than the highest life, That which is tranquil, unaging, immortal, fearless, and supreme.”
Those who continually invoke and meditate upon Om during their lifetime will remember Om at the time of death, and by means of Om will ascend to the sun and beyond into the real Beyond.
The earth also intones Om
Not so many 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 Om 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 Om, just as do we. So what could be more natural than the practice of Om Yoga?
Yoga Nidra–conscious sleep
The purpose of meditation is the development of deep inner awareness. The Yoga Vashishtha (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 Om, 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.
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 reaches 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. And 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 Om (for those should never stop). 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 Om continues to be the focus of our awareness. This is the true samadhi.
The workings of Om
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. But 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 Om 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 Om, and at other times things will definitely be going on. Both are equally beneficial, for Om 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 Om in time with it. Your interest should be in your intonations of Om, yet you should be aware of what is going on. The key is to remain a calm observer.
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. “At all times remember me, and fight with your mind [manas] and intellect [buddhi] fixed on me. Thus without doubt you shall come to me” (Bhagavad Gita (8:8).
Spending hours in and out of meditation invoking Om 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 Om produce dramatic repolarization of the consciousness and life force. Sensitive yogis will experience this along with a myriad other transformations.
Since meditation is based on sound, next to the mechanics of Om Yoga practice, listening to the sound of our mental intonations is the key to success. That is because if we center our attention in listening to the mental sound of Om as we intone it, we become totally receptive to the effects of Om and also cut off distractions, mostly by making ourselves 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 Om, everything straightens out and moves onward.
It is essential that we be centered in the etheric levels of our being from whence sound arises, and this is done by intoning Om and listening to those intonations. This is the Golden Rule of Om meditation. During meditation, whatever happens, whatever comes or goes, relax and keep listening to your inner intonations of Om. It is the sound of Om 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 Om Yoga consists of going deeper and deeper into the subtle sound of the Om mantra as we sound it within. It is the thread leading us into the center of Reality. If during meditation we feel unsure as to whether things are going right, we need only check to see if these 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.
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 Om Yoga practice, but those who are so inclined may find it beneficial.
Responsiveness to yoga practice
We cannot lessen the innate effectiveness of Om Yoga, but we can certainly lessen or even prevent our responsiveness to it and the effect it will have on us. The bodies, physical, astral, and causal, are the vehicles through which the individual evolves during the span of life on earth, and must be taken into serious account by the yogi who will discover that they can exert a powerful, controlling effect on the mind. If wax and clay are cold they cannot be molded, nor will they take any impression. If molasses is cold it will hardly pour. It is all a matter of responsiveness. Only when warm are these substances malleable. In the same way, unless our inner and outer bodies are made responsive or reactive through right diet, right personal morality (yama and niyama) and the japa and meditation of Om we will miss many–if not most or all–of the beneficial effects. Hence we should do everything we can to increase our response levels, to ensure that our physical and psychic bodies are moving at the highest possible rate of vibration and are functioning in harmony at the maximum level, and with perfect polarity and interaction between them.
Throughout the day: japa
Meditation is most effective, but its effects need to be sustained throughout the day by continuing to intone Om in an easy and relaxed manner in time with the breath. This should be without any strain, just as you do in meditation. That is, Om 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 Om 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 Om can occur even in sleep.
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. You can also place your arms and hands in another position if you prefer. If you find that lying on your back is not conducive to sleep, then lie in any position in which you can be comfortable. Relax completely, with closed eyes. Do Om Japa-Pranayama until you fall asleep. If you awaken during the sleep period, resume the japa until you fall sleep again. This practice is also helpful when you are ill, as it can aid the healing process.
In time you can be intoning Om even while speaking to others.
Japa and meditation of Om
Om Japa-Pranayama is both Om japa and Om meditation, and they both support each other. Continual japa of Om 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 Om to the Highest that is Om.
Commenting on the Yoga Sutras, Vyasa tells the Om yogi: “It has been said: ‘After Om japa, let him set himself in meditation, after meditation, let him set himself to japa. When Om 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 Om 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 Om, for japa leads to meditation. When japa and meditation of Om 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 Om 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.
Meditation and japa, sitting still and moving about, are to become the same thing: absorption in the inner Om.
“When you utter ‘Om’ 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 Om, 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 into future lives, depending on how strong they were and how often they were repeated. Om, then, imbues us with its divine light and power, counteracting the past habit of negative, foolish, or idle thoughts.
Om is the Thought, the Word, of God that through constant intonation enables the yogi to know his Self as God. “Om is Brahman. Om is all this. He who utters Om with the intention ‘I shall attain Brahman’ does verily attain Brahman” (Taittiriya Upanishad 1.8.1).
Therefore, throughout the day and night, whatever you are doing or whenever at rest, continually intone Om 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 difficult with some practice.
Read the next chapter in Om Yoga: Points For Successful Meditation
Om Yoga links:
Preface to Om Yoga: The Physics of OM
- The Word That Is God
- OM in the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, and Yoga Sutras
- Om Yoga Meditation
- Understanding the Aspects of Om Yoga Meditation
- Points For Successful Meditation
- Foundations of Yoga
- Afterword: It Is All Up To You
- Appendix One: The Glories and Powers of Om
- Appendix Two: Breath and Sound in Meditation
- Appendix Three: Practical Applications of Om
More on OM Yoga:
Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary
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