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Chapter One in Soham Yoga: Yoga

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Yoga is a Sanskrit word that means “to join.” Yoga is both union and the way to that union. What do we join through yoga? First, we join our awareness to our own essential being, the spirit whose nature is pure consciousness. In yoga philosophy this is known as the Atman or Self. Next, we join our finite consciousness to the Infinite Consciousness, God, the Supreme Self (Paramatman). In essence they are eternally one.

The individual Atman-spirit (jivatman) originally dwelt in the consciousness of that oneness. But through its descent into the material world the spirit lost both its awareness of the eternal union and the capacity to manifest it on a practical level. Through yoga the lost consciousness can be regained and actualized in the yogi’s practical life sphere.

Regarding this, a yogi-adept of the twentieth century, Dr. I. K. Taimni, remarks in his book The Science of Yoga: “According to the yogic philosophy it is possible to rise completely above the illusions and miseries of life and to gain infinite knowledge, bliss, and power through enlightenment here and nowwhile we are still living in the physical body…. No vague promise of an uncertain postmortem happiness this, but a definite scientific assertion of a fact verified by the experience of innumerable yogis, saints, and sages who have trodden the path of yoga throughout the ages.”

Since rational thought precedes rational action, we should begin with the philosophical side of yoga.

Yoga philosophy

The basic text of the Yoga philosophy is the Yoga Sutras, also known as the Yoga Darshana. In contrast to other philosophical systems, Yoga is a philosophy which stimulates its investigators to engage in a practice (yoga) through which they will experience and demonstrate its truth and worth. What begins as theory develops into practice which culminates in realization. Yoga is philosophy, discipline, and experience–a revelation of consciousness.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna the teacher tells Arjuna the student: “Truly there never was a time when I was not, nor you, nor these lords of men–nor in the future will there be a time when we shall cease to be” (Bhagavad Gita 2:12). We are eternal beings, without beginning and without end. Originally we were points of conscious light in the infinite ocean of Conscious Light that is God–gods within God. And so we still are, for it is not possible to be outside of Infinity. Yet we are also here in this ever-changing world, the experience of which blinds us to the truth of our immortal life within God. As Blavatsky wrote in The Voice of the Silence: “Heaven’s dew-drop glittering in the morn’s first sunbeam within the bosom of the lotus, when dropped on earth becomes a piece of clay; behold, the pearl is now a speck of mire.” Each one of us is a dew-drop of heaven, but for countless life-cycles we have forgotten that.

God the Lord–Ishwara

In the Yoga Sutras the word for God is Ishwara–the Lord, Ruler, Master or Controller possessing the powers of omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience. It is toward this Ishwara that our life is to be directed if we would attain perfection in yoga. In Yoga Sutra 1:23, Patanjali says that samadhi, the state of superconsciousness where absoluteness is experienced, is produced by Ishwarapranidhana–the offering of one’s life to God. This is not merely dedicating our deeds and thoughts to God, but consciously merging our life in the greater life of God and making them one. Yoga is the way to accomplish this.

Since yoga is a practical matter, we need some workable, pragmatic understanding of the nature of God. For how will we seek and recognize him if we have no idea who he is? Patanjali supplies us with exactly the kind of definition we need: “Ishwara is a particular spirit who is untouched by the afflictions of life, actions [karma] and the results and impressions [conditionings] produced by these actions” (Yoga Sutras 1:24).

A particular Spirit. God is a special, unique, conscious Being–not just abstract existence. God is a particular Spirit in the sense that God can be distinguished from among all other things or beings.

Untouched. Though Ishwara is within all things and all things are within him, yet he stands apart. This is stated several times in the Bhagavad Gita: “Know that [all] states of being proceed from me. But I am not in them–they are in me.… [This world] does not perceive me, who am higher than these and eternal” (7:12-13). “[I am] sitting as one apart, indifferent and unattached in these actions” (9:9). “[I am] outside and inside beings–the animate and the inanimate–incomprehensible because of its subtlety, far away and also near” (13:15). “All beings dwell within me, but I do not dwell within them” (9:4).

God is unique in the sense that he is Ekam Evam Advityam Brahman–the God who is one, only, without a second. He is not one of many, nor is he even one of two. He is one in every sense of the term. God is neither conditioned nor confined in any manner. Therefore he is not touched or tainted by the afflictions or faults of life (relative existence), in contrast to us who live within them as though they were the air we breathe and the basis of our existence. Nor is Ishwara bound or in any way conditioned by actions; therefore he is ever unchanging.

It should be noted that Ishwara is considered to be male in contradistinction to the divine creative power–Prakriti or Shakti–that is female. Consequently Ishwara is referred to as “he.” Brahman the Absolute is referred to as “it” because Brahman transcends such dualities as male and female, positive and negative. Since the English word “God” almost always implies Ishwara, in this book God will be referred to as “he.”

Infinite Consciousness: Omniscience

God is the essence and the apex of consciousness, so Patanjali further says: “In him is the highest limit of omniscience” (Yoga Sutras 1:25). Commenting on this, Shankara says: “The all-pervading mind of the supreme Lord is in simultaneous contact with every object.” The omniscience of God is total and absolute, for in truth God is Omnipotence, Omniscience, and Omnipresence.

In this sutra Patanjali introduces a significant fact, for he does not just say that omniscience (sarvajña) is in God, but that the seed of omniscience (sarvajña bijam) is in him. Within God is the seed or potentiality of omniscience for those who are united with him through their practice of yoga. Omniscience is not just objective knowledge, but infinity of consciousness–the Being of God himself.

The two Selfs

The age-old question asked along with “Who is God?” is “Who am I?” The true “I” of each sentient being is the spirit-Self. But there is more. God is the Self of the Self as the ocean is the “self” of every wave. The illumined know that they are the immortal Self whose ultimate Self is the Immortal Itself. We are spirits within Spirit, in a wondrous way both ourselves and Brahman, both finite and infinite.

“Two birds, companions [who are] always united, cling to the self-same tree. Of these two, the one eats the sweet fruit and the other looks on without eating. On the self-same tree, a person immersed [in the sorrows of the world] is deluded and grieves on account of his helplessness. When he sees the other, the Lord who is worshipped and his greatness, he becomes freed from sorrow” (Mundaka Upanishad 3.1.1-2).

The key

Meditation is the key to knowledge of both the Self and the Self of the Self. Knowing one, both are known–so say the sages.

Dr. I. K. Taimni, in The Ultimate Reality and Realization, says this: “It is only when the realization of being a pure spirit or atman has been attained that it is possible to achieve the final goal of union of the atma with the Paramatma, the Supreme Spirit which exists eternally beyond the manifested universe and from which the manifested universe is derived. When this final realization has been attained and union of atma with Paramatma has been brought about there is not only a complete sharing of consciousness between the two but also of the infinite Power which is inherent in the Universal Consciousness.… It is necessary to distinguish between the powers which are acquired on the realization that he is a pure spirit or atma and those which are attained when he is able to destroy the last vestige of egoism and his consciousness becomes united with that of Paramatma. The former, though tremendous in some respects, are still limited, while the latter which are really the Powers of the Supreme Spirit are infinite and can manifest through the center of consciousness of a Self-realized individual because there is fusion of the individual consciousness with the Supreme Consciousness and the channel between the two is open.”

God and gods

We are gods within God, finite spirits within the Infinite Spirit. But what is spirit? Yoga philosophy tells us that spirit is consciousness. We are eternal consciousnesses, each of us individual and distinct. Yet we are more. Each of us takes our being from God as the wave takes its existence from the ocean.

God is the eternal root, the ground, of our being, our greater Self. We are not God, but in some ineffable manner God is us–the Self of our Self, the Spirit of our spirit. God is all, and we are the parts, each of us possessing an eternal and irrevocable distinction. That is why Krishna told Arjuna: “There was never a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor any of these kings. Nor is there any future in which we shall cease to be” (Bhagavad Gita 2:12).

“There are two selves that drink the fruit of Karma in the world of good deeds. Both are lodged in the secret place [of the heart], the chief seat of the Supreme. The knowers of Brahman speak of them as shade and light” (Katha Upanishad 1:3:1).

God and creation

God, the infinite Spirit, is pure consciousness, but has extended or emanated himself as the cosmos: physical, astral, and causal. “Brahman, indeed, was this in the beginning. It knew itself only as: ‘I am Brahman.’ Therefore it became all” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1:4:10). This seemingly dual nature of God as Light and Power, as Consciousness and Matter, has puzzled the minds of even the wise.

God, the Original Being, projects himself as the ever-changing dance of creation, as the evolving Light that is the cosmos. God projects the creation, evolves it, and withdraws it back into himself in a perpetual cycle. The creation can be thought of as God’s body–that God becomes incarnate in creation again and again. And as parts or reflections of God we do exactly the same through our personal reincarnation.

There is a law that governs the place and kind of our embodiment. That law is karma, the principle of exact and inevitable reaction to our own actions and mental states, resulting in a seemingly endless domino effect of continual birth and death. Yoga offers us the possibility of evolving our consciousness and ending this chain of embodiments by the awakening-transformation from time and mortality into eternity and immortality.

And us…

All conscious beings have existed eternally within the Being of God, one with him, distinct though not separate from him. Rooted in the infinity of God, they have within themselves an innate impulse to transcend their finitude and attain the boundlessness of their Origin. This is impossible, since they are as immutable as God, the only infinite being. They can become godlike, but they cannot become God. Yet the urge for transcendence is part of their nature. (See Robe of Light.)

The solution to this dilemma is simple. The individual consciousnesses cannot alter their natural state of finitude, but they can come to share and participate in the infinite consciousness of God. Even though they cannot become infinite themselves, they can experience the infinity of their divine Source, just as a psychically sensitive person can experience the thoughts and feelings of others without becoming them. In the same way, spirits can evolve to experience the consciousness of God while remaining in their naturally limited state. They do not become God the Absolute, but they enter into that Absolute Life and are one with it.

As Shankara explains in his Yoga Sutra commentary: “When the light of several lamps appears simultaneously, it cannot be made out which is the light of which.” Consequently, liberated spirits experience the infinite Being of God–infinite consciousness–as their own being. Krishna has described it this way: “Know this, and you shall not again fall into delusion. By this you shall come to see all creation in your Self and then in me” (Bhagavad Gita 4:35).

When the spirits are unshakably established in that consciousness the goal has been attained. All they need do is develop the capacity for such a state of awareness. This is done by learning to fully experience the state of existence of a being completely different from themselves while retaining the awareness of their true identity. They can put on the costume of a consciousness utterly different from theirs, and not just experience that other mode of consciousness, but become able to function as that other kind of being.

Evolutionary creation

To enable the spirits to enter into this process, God breathes forth his own Self as the Power from which is manifested all the realms of relative existence, from the most subtle worlds of perfected beings to the most objective worlds of atomic matter. They can then enter into relative existence by taking on coverings, or bodies, of varying grades and patterns of vibratory energies. They descend into this material world and begin working their way up the ladder of ever-evolving forms and consciousness. Beginning with forms whose scope of consciousness is vastly less than theirs, they work their way upward, entering into higher and higher levels of awareness until they can surpass their original breadth of consciousness and begin to partake of a life of awareness much beyond their own. This then culminates in their developing the ability to share in the Divine Consciousness itself.

In the intervals between embodiments the spirit spends time in the astral regions where awakening and growth also take place. (This is best explained in the forty-third chapter of Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda.) Upward and upward they evolve until their capacity for awareness is developed to such a perfect state that they can experience and participate in God’s all-embracing consciousness, thenceforth to live in his infinity.

As Shakespeare wrote, “all the world’s a stage” with the individual spirits wearing their body-costumes and playing their karmic parts. Just as actors begin with small parts and progress to bigger roles by demonstrating their skill in those smaller parts, so also do the spirits advance to higher and more complex forms of existence and consciousness, at last returning home to God. The Sufi poet, Rumi, wrote:

A stone I died and rose again a plant.
A plant I died and rose an animal;
I died an animal and was born a man.
Why should I fear? What have I lost by death?

As man, death sweeps me from this world of men
That I may wear an angel’s wings in heaven;
Yet e’en as angel may I not abide,
For nought abideth save the face of God.

Thus o’er the angels’ world I wing my way
Onwards and upwards, unto boundless lights;
Then let me be as nought, for in my heart
Rings as a harp-song that we must return to him.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, one of many great Americans whose belief in reincarnation is overlooked, wrote in his poem, The Chambered Nautilus:

Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!
That is the purpose of creation and our place in it.

The religion of Yoga

The Nath Yogi Gorakhnath, considered the greatest yogi in the history of India, wrote: “By birth I was a Hindu, but through maturity I became a Yogi.” It is commonly said that Yoga is not a religion. But since religion is derived from the Latin word religere, which means “to bind back,” and yoga means “joining,” practically speaking yoga is the only religion. The many systems of dogmas and doctrines are by their very nature not really religions at all, and in most instances are systems of superstition–either by the nature of their ideas or practices or by the attitudes of their adherents toward their beliefs and disciplines. Only when Yoga and Self-realization are the matrix around which a philosophy has been formulated for their furtherance is it worthy of our consideration. Other philosophies only produce confusion and distraction from the goal.

Regarding this, in his commentary on the twenty-second sutra of the Kaivalya Pada of the Yoga Sutras, Taimni says: “The student will have noticed that in the ideas set forth in the above pages no effort has been made to link up the facts of Yogic philosophy with doctrines which are considered to be religious. But this does not mean that there is no relation between them. In fact, a religious man can see, if he studies the subject of Yoga with an open mind, that all the ideas of Yogic philosophy can be interpreted in religious terms, and the consciousness which the Yogi seeks to uncover within the folds of his mind is nothing but that Supreme Reality which is commonly referred to as God. God is recognized by every religion with any philosophical background to be a Mighty Being whose consciousness transcends the manifested Universe. He is considered to be hidden within every human heart. He is supposed to transcend the mind. Basically, these ideas are the same as those of Yogic philosophy. The main difference lies in the assertion by Yogic philosophy that this Supreme Reality or Consciousness is not merely a matter for speculation or even adoration but can be discovered by following a technique which is as definite and unfailing as the technique of any modern Science. Yoga thus imparts a tremendous significance to religion and places the whole problem of religious life and endeavor on an entirely new basis and it is difficult to understand how any religious man can reject its claims without giving them due consideration.”

It is yoga alone which reunites the consciousness of the individual to its infinite source, restoring the lost unity. Earlier I quoted a paragraph from I. K. Taimni’s book The Science of Yoga about the purpose of yoga, but omitting his preceding words regarding the relation of yoga to religion–or rather, their difference. Here they are now, for I think you will find them relevant:

“The Orthodox religious ideal which requires people to be good and moral so that they may have a happy life here and hereafter is really a concession to human weakness and the desire to prefer the so-called happiness in life to enlightenment.

“In this respect the philosophy of yoga differs fundamentally from most of the orthodox religions of the world which offer nothing better than an uncertain and nebulous happiness in the life after death. They say in effect ‘Lead a good life to ensure happiness after death, put your faith in God and hope for the best.’ According to yogic philosophy death no more solves your spiritual problem than night solves your economic problem. If you are poor you do not expect on going to bed that your economic problem will be automatically solved next day. You will have to get up the next day and begin where you left off the previous night. If you are poor economically you do not expect to get rich overnight and if you are poor spiritually, bound by illusions and limitations of all kinds, you cannot expect to become enlightened [by simply being reborn] or, if you do not believe in reincarnation, in the vague and unending life which is supposed to follow death.”

Yoga is the way we answer for ourselves the prayer:

Lead me from the unreal to the Real.
Lead me from darkness to the Light.
Lead me from death to Immortality.

The Conscious Universe

The ancient yogi-sages of India directly experienced the truth that the entire universe is a manifestation of divine consciousness–of God. All creation is really spirit, not matter at all. More to the point, it is the infinitely complex and perfect thought of God. Just as we create worlds and live in them when we dream or daydream, in the same way the cosmic dreamer is dreaming the cosmic dream of this evolutionary creation, and we are dreaming our personal dream within it. Therefore it all has a meaning and a purpose and is absolutely perfect and consistent with itself. We must keep this in mind at all times, but especially when considering our life-dream within the greater dream.

As yogis aspiring to infinite consciousness through the self-evolution produced by our yoga practice, we should understand every step of the way, and this requires a comprehension of the specific laws governing our presence within creation and our way out of relativity back into the Absolute.

The two oldest Upanishads on Soham

The Isha and the Brihadaranyaka are the oldest of the Upanishads, giving us the earliest record of Soham that we know.

The Isha Upanishad concludes with four mantras that are to be recited by a dying person to ensure his ascension to the solar world upon leaving his body. (These mantras are also recited by those who attend the cremation of the body.) The sixteenth mantra says: “O Pushan, the sole seer, O Controller, O Sun, offspring of Prajapati, spread forth your rays and gather up your radiant light that I may behold you of loveliest form. I am that Purusha [Spirit-Self]: I am Soham” (16). (The Sanskrit text is: Yo sav asau purushah; soham asmi.) At the core of every sentient being Soham exists as the Self–is the Self. Soham asmi literally means “I Am That I Am,” which is exactly what God told Moses was his Name (Exodus 3:14; Soham: I am that; Asmi: I am).

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (5.15.2) repeats the identical words. It earlier says: “In the beginning this [world] was only the Self [Atman], in the shape of a person. Looking around he saw nothing else than the Self. He first said, ‘I am Soham [Soham asmi]’” (1.4.1) Thus Soham is the “first speaking” of the Absolute Itself: the expression of the knowledge and knowing of the Self. As said earlier, Soham is the Name (Embodiment) of the Primeval Being, the Self of the Universe and the Self of our Selfs. Soham is the Consciousness of Brahman and of the Self of each one of us. We, too, are Soham.

In the section of the Yoga Sutras (1:27) dealing with Ishwara, the Supreme Lord, Patanjali makes this statement: Tasya vachakah pranavah–“His vachaka is the Pranava.” Although universally believed to refer to the holy monosyllable Om, “Vachaka” means speech, speaking or spoken form, and “Pranava” means Life, Life-Giver and Breath Principle–the Breath Word. Integrating this with the Brihadaranyaka verse we see that the Pranava, the Breath Word, is Soham. For “he first said: ‘Soham.’” Ishwara “speaks” Soham as the inner foundation of the universe, as the evolutionary life force within the cosmos and every individual being. Soham is the Self of the Universe and the Self of our Selfs.

Patanjali continues regarding Soham: “Its constant repetition and meditation [is the way]. From it [result] the disappearance of obstacles [to enlightenment] and turning inward of consciousness” (1:28-29). Soham is the Breath and Life Word. We invoke our lower self when we simply say “I [aham]” but we invoke our higher, divine Self when we say “Soham,” joining it with the breath.

The Adi Pinda

From eternity there has existed in the depths of Brahman and every spirit-Self potential for expansion and manifestation. When the time for expansion/manifestation is to begin, this potential awakens and comes into play, at first only internally. Although it is internal it is symbolically called a pinda, a body, known as the Adi Pinda, the Original Body. Actually it is not really a body, a kosha or sharira, but a foreshadowing, a kind of blueprint, of what will in time manifest as the causal, astral and material body of the cosmos. Further the Adi Pinda is the source of all other bodies or individual existences. It is also the eternal link and meeting-ground between the transcendent and the phenomenal planes of existence–between the Transcendent Spirit and Its phenomenal cosmic self-manifestation.

According to Akshaya Kumar Banerjea in Philosophy of Gorakhnath, the Adi Pinda has five elements that are actually five forms of spiritual consciousness: Paramananda or supreme bliss; Prabodha or Manifestation; Chidudaya or Self-arising of Transcendent Consciousness; Prakasha or Illumination; and Soham Bhava. (See Philosophy of Gorakhnath for a more complete analysis of the Adi Pinda.)

Soham Bhava: the beginning and the end

A Brief Sanskrit Glossary defines bhava: “Subjective state of being (existence); attitude of mind; mental attitude or feeling; state of realization in the heart or mind.” Soham Bhava is an eternal element in the essential being of both God and each one of us. Though essentially consciousness, it is also the original (and originating) potential of both the cosmos and each individual sentient being. At the beginning of creation, it becomes an internal movement within Brahman, a stirring, a fecundity, the seed of relative existence, though itself beyond relativity.

Soham Bhava is the Original Face which is reflected in each individual spirit. The Soham Bhava is itself Self-knowledge, the Atmajnana. This is because Soham Bhava is the pure consciousness of the Self: Atma Chaitanya. It is the Self whose essential nature is Consciousness. Therefore Soham Yoga is the direct means to Self-realization.

The Soham Breath

To realize its own potential the Soham Bhava becomes the Soham Breath within all. The Rig Veda says that in the beginning the One “breathed breathlessly.” The Soham Breath is the archetypal breath within God and within all beings and is the uniting principle of the Supreme Being and individual beings.

The Soham Breath is itself Yoga and Yogi. On the cosmic level it is the root or seed that is the beginning of all things, the Holy Breath, the Agia Pneuma, the Holy Spirit, the Holy Light, from which all things proceed and into which all things are ultimately resolved. It is the Primal Breath within all beings that enables them to manifest, evolve and return to their Origin. Throughout eternity Soham is the unfolding story of every one of us, including God. Soham is the root of the breath, the life within each sentient being, ripened and changed from potential to actual, the impulse that is both creation and entry into creation, that which expands and evolves until it manifests in many stages from most subtle to most objective as the physical breath.

First it is the force that impels the individual onto the path that leads into involution (relativity), into experience and identity with increasingly complex forms of manifestation; and it is also the impulse that moves the spirit onto the path of evolution–of growth out of relativity. Second, it is the beginning of duality: a vast chain of constant cycling between two poles–negative and positive–that makes relative existence possible, both as evolving consciousness and evolving organism.

The spirit travels along the path of involution until it reaches the experience of self-awareness and self-reflection (self-analysis) within a human body sufficiently developed to permit and produce that awareness. Then it begins the path of evolution back to infinity. Of course, the two paths are really one; it is only a matter of the direction being taken. The point where involution becomes evolution is a kind of watershed or continental divide. All this is a direct production of the original breath, the Soham Breath which takes place both macrocosmically and microcosmically. This has a profound yogic significance, as the dedicated Soham yogi will perceive.

In yogic treatises we find it stated over and over that the breath is the essence of our existence. Prana means both life and breath in Hinduism and Buddhism. In fact, the word Atman (Self) comes from the root-word at, which means “to breathe.” Other religions also use the same word for both spirit and breath: in Judaism, ruach; in ancient Greek religion and Eastern Christianity, pneuma; in ancient Roman religion and Western Christianity, spiritus which comes from spiro, “I breathe.”

Soham Bhava is the root and Soham Breath is the flower. “So” is the inhalation and “Ham” is the exhalation. In the original stage, “So” produces the inhalation and “Ham” produces the exhalation. But after a few stages along the path to relativity, inhalation produces “So” and exhalation produces “Ham.” Then in the heights of evolution things go back to the original mode. For the breath itself is an extension-manifestation of Soham.

Total and simultaneous effect from the beginning

From the beginning of our yoga practice we must work in the physical, psychic and spiritual levels at the same time. This of course requires the appropriate methodology, and not just a bundle of theories. It is essential to begin purifying and evolving our total makeup, physical, astral and causal, from the very first. Otherwise no lasting change can be effected by us.

Some methods start at the top and work downward, like drilling for water or oil. Until the bottom is reached nothing much really happens, though there can be a lot of phenomena throughout. Other methods start deep down and work upward, like water or oil breaking up through the earth as in a “gusher.” But the yogi has to wait and wait for the result. In both approaches the yogi has to wait for the end. But from the beginning Soham sadhana works throughout the yogi’s entire makeup, physical, astral and causal. It does not move either up or down, but rather expands outward, increasing to the final limits. From the very beginning the Soham sadhaka experiences Reality which continues to expand until perfect realization is attained.

Discovering Yoga

The ancient yogis of India found after intense and extensive self-examination that the mind, the instrument of the spirit-consciousness, was fundamentally affected by two factors, breath and sound, and that all other elements were quite secondary to these two things. Investigating the breath in its subtler and subtler (higher and higher) levels, they found that breath and sound were inseparable, really two manifestations of a single factor: an impulse that came directly from the spirit-Self. In the highest level they found that the breath is a unitary-yet-dual impulse manifesting in a circular motion or pattern that is single yet possessing two halves which appear in the body as two parallel movements: inhalation and exhalation.

They further discovered that the root impulse of inhalation makes the subtle sound of So, and the root impulse of exhalation makes the subtle sound of Hum (written as Ham in Sanskrit). Since all creation is the thought or ideation of God, meaning is inherent in everything, including the breath: “That [So] I am [Ham].” In this way every living being is perpetually intoning Soham (“Sohum”) at the core of their being, saying: I AM THAT–the spirit-Self which is a divine part of the Divine Infinite. Since Soham is eternally flowing within us without volition it is known as ajapa japa: automatic, involuntary repetition.

No matter how many ages we wander in forgetfulness of our divine origin and nature, we are always affirming “I am That” without ceasing at each breath. But we have lost the awareness of that sacred thread of inmost knowledge and are now wandering without direction or discernment. But by mentally intoning Soham in time with the breath–So when inhaling and Ham when exhaling–we consciously take hold of the thread and begin moving in the right direction.

Through constant, silent mental repetition (intonation) of Soham in time with their breath, those primeval yogis united their outer and inner consciousness and will. In this way they brought their physical, astral and causal bodies back into alignment with the evolutionary vibrations of Soham, for Soham is the keynote of the evolving universe. Repeating it in a constant flow turns the mind inward and produces spiritual awareness in an ever-increasing degree, in time putting us in touch with the cosmos as well as our Self and God. And that is what this book is all about, for this tradition has been handed down even until today, though often obscured and nearly lost.

The religion of yoga is the way to restore the original evolutionary pattern on the individual level, enabling the yogis to go from darkness to the light of God which will fill the horizon of their consciousness completely in the realization-experience that is the ever-increasing awareness of God as the prime reality and our individual spirit as a divine atom of that divine light, drawing on the infinite life for its finite life. Since God is our own inmost reality, through Soham japa and meditation we will become increasingly ourselves until we become fully-realized gods within God. That is the glory of yoga. The experience of separation from God is an illusion, but the experience of union with God through yoga is reality. Soham is the force that impels us ever onward and upward.


Yoga is based on the science of spiritual sound, or mantra. A mantra is a series of sounds whose effect lies not in an assigned intellectual meaning, but in an inherent sound-power that can produce a specific effect physically or psychologically. The word mantra itself comes from the Sanskrit expression manat trayate which means “a transforming thought,” that which produces an objective, perceptible change. When joined to the breath, Soham is the supreme mantra of Self-awareness and Self-knowledge culminating in liberation.

For a mantra to produce its effect it must be pronounced correctly. Soham is pronounced like our English words So and Hum. The short a in Sanskrit is pronounced like the u in up or hunt, so we say “hum” even though we write it as “ham.”

It is most important to pronounce the O correctly. It should be 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.

The same is true of the U in ham (hum). As already pointed out, it is pronounced like the u in up or hunt–not like the u in truth or push, as is done in parts of Great Britain.

A mantra is most 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 unifies the mind and naturally concentrates it.

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. So whenever we intone Soham in time with the breath, we align and link our consciousness with its origin: both our spirit and Divine Spirit.

God is the guru of all

Without any doubt it is greatly beneficial to have a personal teacher (acharya) who can instruct the aspirant in meditation practice and answer any questions that might arise. But the true guru of every one of us is God.

“The Lord dwells in the hearts of all beings” (Bhagavad Gita 18:61). Dwelling in the hearts of all, God empowers and guides the questing souls. Gorakhnath, the greatest of all yogis, asked his teacher, Matsyendranath: “Who is the Primal Guru [Adiguru]?” And Matsyendranath answered: “The Eternal Beginningless One [Anadi] is the Primal Guru” (Gorakh Bodha 21-22). He continued: “Realization of that Guru gives us immortality” (Gorakh Bodha 24).

Since God is eternal, it is from him that all knowledge has come, especially the revelation of spiritual truth. And as we have just seen, that Guru’s first utterance was “Soham” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.1). As Vyasa observes: “His purpose is to give grace to living beings, by teaching knowledge and dharma [righteousness].” “There is no other but God to give the teaching which is a boat by which they can cross over the sea of samsara, and he teaches knowledge and dharma to those who take sole refuge in him.… For all the kinds of knowledge arise from him, as sparks of fire from a blaze or drops of water from the sea,” says Shankara. This does not mean that qualified spiritual teachers are not helpful to us, but dwelling in the hearts of all God continues to be the Guru of questing souls. All others are really only teachers (acharyas), valuable though they may be.

Yogiraj Shyama Charan Lahiri Mahashaya wrote to a student regarding the guru: “No one does anything; all is done by God. The individual [that seems to be the guru] is only an excuse; remain abidingly focused on that Divine Guru; in this is blessing.”

Swami Yatiswarananda, Vice-president of the Ramakrishna Mission, wrote to one of his students: “We bring the message of the guru of gurus.… please turn to him for light and guidance, for peace and blessedness.… The Lord, the guru of gurus, alone can give us the shelter, the illumination and the bliss we need.”

Sri Ramakrishna himself said: “Satchidananda [Existence-Consciousness-Bliss] alone is the Guru; he alone will teach” (1.2.8; also: 4.2.1, 5.1.2, 5.5.1). “There is no other Guru except Satchidananda. There is no other refuge but him. He alone is the ferryman who takes one across the ocean of relative existence” (1.12.8). “The more you will advance, the more you will see that it is he who has become everything and it is he who is doing everything. He alone is the Guru and he alone is the spiritual ideal [ishta devata] of your choice. He alone is giving jnana, bhakti and everything” (4.26.2). “Do you pray to Satchidananda Guru every morning? Do you?” (4.9.2).

These citations are taken from the Majumdar translation of The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. From Nikhilananda’s translation: “‘I am a guru…’–that [thought] is ignorance” (p. 307.). “A man cannot be a guru” (p. 616). “If somebody addresses me as guru, I say to him: ‘Go away, you fool! How can I be a teacher?’” (p. 633). He was also fond of a devotional song addressed to God, which said: “Thou art my ever-gracious Guru” (p. 207).

God is the guru of humanity because he has implanted in us the Soham mantra. In the depths of our being, God is perpetually stimulating–actually teaching–Soham as the agent of the spirit’s evolution and perfection. In this way God is the guru of each one of us. The aspiring yogi can then feel safe and assured, for God will be his guru, just as he has been for all the enlightened throughout the ages. “He is guru even of the ancients,” affirmed Patanjali (Yoga Sutras 1:26). In the sixth edition of Paramhansa Yogananda’s Whispers From Eternity, on page 263 there is this declaration-vow to God: “Thou art my Guru-Preceptor; I am Thy disciple.”

Divine discipleship

The first American disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda was Dr. M. W. Lewis, who perfectly assimilated the wisdom imparted to him by Yogananda. In a talk given in San Diego, California, in 1955, he said these inspiring words:

“To me the real meaning and understanding of discipleship is that a disciple, a true disciple, is ‘one who follows God.’ Many times the Master said that. In spite of his realization and his oneness with God, which he had and does have now, he said when leaving Boston, ‘Never mind what happens to me. That Light which you see is far greater than I am. That is God himself.’ And so, there is only one Guru, and that is God, and the greater the saint, if we can classify them that way, the surer they are to say, ‘I am nothing, God is all.’ And so, the Master said that. God alone is reality. He is with you. He is the One Great Guru. And the Master was most humble, because the more you realize there is One Reality, God himself, the more humble you become, because the ego cannot stay. If you have realization of God, the ego has left.

“And so, realize: who may become a disciple? Anyone; anyone who knows the Presence of God, and follows God. Master often said that someone said to him in India, ‘I hear so-and-so is your disciple in America.’ he said, ‘They say so.’ And seeing the confusion on the face of the inquirer, he said, ‘I haven’t any disciple. They’re all disciples of God.’ How wonderful that is. And so, just realize, he who knows God may be called a disciple. Now that means you must have contact with God. There must be a relationship between you and God, an understanding, a realization that God is in you, you are in God, there is one consciousness–God alone. Now if you have that, you may be called a disciple.”

(Dr. Lewis himself was the disciple spoken of in India.)

You are also the guru

All spiritual life is self-initiated from within; we are both guru and disciple as Krishna and Arjuna symbolize in the Bhagavad Gita. Ultimately the yogi must be guided by the Divine from within his own consciousness. The God-illumined mind becomes our guru. “The mind is itself guru and disciple: it smiles on itself, and is the cause of its own well-being or ruin,” wrote the great poet-saint Tukaram (Tukaram’s Teachings, by S. R. Sharma, p. 19). He also wrote: “The guru-disciple relationship is a sign of immaturity” (ibid., p. 20) “The mind will eventually turn into your guru,” said Sri Sarada Devi, the consort of Sri Ramakrishna (The Gospel of the Holy Mother, p. 340). Swami Brahmananda, a major disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, said: “Know this! There is no greater guru than your own mind. When the mind has been purified by prayer and contemplation it will direct you from within. Even in your daily duties, this inner guru will guide you and will continue to help you until the goal is reached” (The Eternal Companion, p. 120).

Yogiraj Shyama Charan Lahiri Mahashaya wrote to a student regarding the guru: “Guru is the one who is all; guru is the one who is merciful. You are the guru within yourself” (Garland of Letters (Patravali), Letter 45). In Purana Purusha by Dr. Ashoke Kumar Chatterjee it is recorded on page 224 that Yogiraj made these two statements: “I am not a guru. I do not hold the distinction of ‘guru’ and ‘disciple.’” “The Self is the guru… the immortal, imperishable guru.”

The great fourteenth-century yogini, Lalla Yogeshwari, sang about finding her inner guru, her Self:

With passionate longing did I, Lalla, go forth.
Seeking and searching did I pass the day and night.
Then, lo, saw I in mine own house a learned man [pandit],
And that was my lucky star and my lucky moment
when I laid hold of him. (Lalla Vakyani3)

This is the authentic viewpoint of the yogi. Devanath, a renowned yogi-saint of Western India, wrote in one of his hymns: “I alone know that I myself am the guru and also the disciple.”

One of the greatest yogis of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was Paramhansa Nityananda of Ganeshpuri. He stated that attaching oneself to a human guru was the trait of a second class aspirant, and desiring initiation was the trait of a third class aspirant. (See the Chidakasha Gita, section 89).

Another teacher

According to Vyasa there is another teacher: our yoga practice itself. He says: “It is yoga that is the teacher. How so? It has been said: ‘Yoga is to be known by yoga. Yoga goes forward from yoga alone. He who is not careless [neglectful] in his yoga for a long time, rejoices in the yoga.’”

The experience gained from yoga practice itself teaches us the reality and value of yoga. But even more, it opens our intuition and enables us to comprehend the inner workings of the subtle levels of our being and the way to its mastery. Yoga truly becomes our teacher, revealing to us that which is far beyond the wisdom of books and verbal instructions. Moreover, it is practice of yoga that enables us to understand the basis and rationale of its methods and their application. The why and wherefore of yoga become known to us by direct insight.

In his commentary on Yoga Sutra 2:28 Vyasa says: “From practicing yoga, illusion [ignorance] is destroyed and perishes. When it is destroyed, there is manifestation of right vision. In proportion to the practice done, illusion is dispelled. In proportion to its destruction, the light of [spiritual] knowledge increases correspondingly. This increase is an experience of increasing refinement [subtlety] up to the realization of the true nature of the purusha [spirit].” The Yoga Vashishtha says it clearly and truly: “God consciousness is not achieved by means of the scriptures, nor is it achieved by the grace of a teacher. God consciousness is only achieved by your own subtle awareness.”

When Gorakhnath asked: “Who is the guru that leads to the goal?” Matsyendranath told him: “Nirvana itself is the guru that leads to the goal.” That is, the liberated condition of the Self, though presently buried beneath the debris of lifetimes of ignorance, is itself the inspirer and guide to the revelation of our eternal liberation.

Nevertheless, it is virtually impossible to find the Goal without at least basic advice and guidance from someone with experience. Self-awakened yogis such as Sri Ramana Maharshi are those who attained realization in a previous birth.


It is commonly believed that an aspiring yogi must be empowered for yoga practice through some kind of initiation or transference of power. There are many exaggerated statements made about how it is impossible to make any progress, much less attain enlightenment, without initiation. But the truth is that Brahman has already initiated us into Soham and is always maintaining the presence, the flow, of that mantra within us. Soham Yoga is based squarely on the eternal nature and unity of the jivatman and the Paramatman, and is the demonstration of the eternal, single nature of God and man.

Next: Chapter Two: The Practice of Soham Yoga Meditation

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Chapters in the Soham Yoga, the Yoga of the Self:

Introduction to Soham Yoga
Soham Yoga: Its Theory and Practice

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