The sages of primeval India never wrote down their higher spiritual teachings, but kept them locked in their memory, only to be imparted to those that proved their worthiness to receive them. The flaw in this is obvious, because memory can be faulty, and someone can die without passing on the oral teaching, so it becomes lost. Therefore after a while this wisdom was written down, but often in a cryptic way. Sometimes symbols were used, even in parables that seemed to be pious stories but were really expositions of esoteric principles–often of yogic practices. Taoist texts, especially those on “alchemy,” are often totally symbolic. On occasion “blinds” were used: words or phrases that stood for other words or phrases. According to Blavatsky this was not uncommon in both Hindu and Buddhist texts. Because of the passage of centuries and even millennia, there is really little hope of positively proving which stood for what. But I would suggest that in the very old scriptures, such as the twelve major Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita, Om may sometimes (though not always) be a blind for So’ham, being an extraction of the two major letters in the So’ham mantra: O and M. An examination of the relevant verses will show that this is not impossible if we substitute So’ham for Om.
“So’ham is…the Veda which the knowers of Brahman know; through it one knows what is to be known” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 5.1.1). “Veda” literally means “knowledge.” A fully self-realized person knows: “I am That”–So’ham.
“Speech [vak] and breath [prana] are joined together in So’ham” (Chandogya Upanishad 1.1.6). Speech and breath are the sole components of So’ham Yoga, that is why it is also called the Pranava, the Breath Word.
“The sun is continually sounding ‘So’ham’” (Chandogya Upanishad 1.5.1). This is especially relevant to the section in Chapter Three: “The solar path of liberation.”
“The breath is continually sounding ‘So’ham’” (Chandogya Upanishad 1.5.3). As we have seen, the master yogis agree that this is so.
Speaking of the final exit of the soul from the body, the upanishad 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 So’ham. 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).
In the Katha Upanishad we find profoundest teachings on the true Self and its destiny. The inquirer asks to be taught the Transcendent Reality. The answer he receives is this: “I will tell you briefly of that Goal which all the Vedas with one voice propound, which all the austerities speak of, and wishing for Which people practice discipline: It is So’ham” (Katha Upanishad 1.2.15). As said before the Goal is the knowing: “I am That”–So’ham.
“So’ham, indeed, is the Lower Brahman; this is, indeed, the Higher Brahman. Anyone who, meditating on So’ham, wishes either of the Two [aspects], by him that is attained” (Katha Upanishad 1.2.16). The “lower Brahman” is the individual Self as an eternal part of Brahman, and the “higher Brahman” is the Supreme Self, the Totality of Being. Both are realized through So’ham sadhana.
Logically, then, the upanishad concludes: “This is the best means [of attainment and realization]; this means is the Higher and Lesser Brahman. Meditating on So’ham, one becomes worthy of worship in the world of Brahman” (Katha Upanishad 1.2.17).
“So’ham: this is all this [relative existence]. All that is past, the present and the future, all this is only So’ham. And whatever else there is beyond the threefold time, that too is only So’ham” (Mandukya Upanishad 1). So’ham is the essence, the embodiment, of both relative and absolute Consciousness.
That being true, the upanishad then says: “The Self [atman] is of the nature of So’ham.…Thus So’ham is the very Self. He who knows it thus enters the Self [Supreme Spirit] with his self [individual spirit]” (Mandukya Upanishad 8, 12). By means of So’ham, the eternal wave merges into the eternal Sea.
The Mundaka Upanishad speaks further on meditation.
“Taking as the bow the great weapon of the Upanishads, one should place in It the arrow sharpened by meditation. Drawing It with a mind engaged in the contemplation of That [Brahman], O beloved, know that Imperishable Brahman as the target. The So’ham is the bow: one’s self, indeed, is the arrow. Brahman is spoken of as the target of that. It is to be hit without making a mistake. Thus one becomes united with it [Brahman] as the arrow becomes one with the target. He in Whom the sky, the earth, and the interspace are woven, as also the mind along with all the pranas, know Him alone as the one Self. Dismiss other utterances [mantras]. This is the bridge to immortality. Meditate on So’ham as the Self. May you be successful in crossing over to the farther shore of darkness.” (Mundaka Upanishad 2.2.3-6)
“Satyakama, son of Shibi, asked [the Rishi Pippalada]: ‘Venerable Sir, what world does he who meditates on So’ham until the end of his life, win by That?’ To him, he said: ‘So’ham, O Satyakama, is verily the higher and the lower Brahman. Therefore, with this support alone does the wise man reach the one or the other.’…If he meditates on the Supreme Being [Parampurusha] with So’ham, he becomes one with the Light, the Sun. He is led to the world of Brahman. He sees the Person that dwells in the body, Who is higher than the highest life.…That the wise one attains, even by the mere sound ‘So’ham’ as support, That Which is tranquil, unaging, immortal, fearless, and supreme” (Prashna Upanishad 5:1,2,5,7). Again we see the essential connection between So’ham and the sun.
“As the form of fire when latent in its source is not seen and yet its seed is not destroyed, but may be seized again and again in its source by means of the drill [a pointed stick whirled to produce fire for the Vedic sacrifices], so it is in both cases. The Self has to be seized in the body by means of So’ham. By making one’s body the lower friction stick and So’ham the upper friction stick, by practicing the friction of meditation one may see the hidden God, as it were” (Svetasvatara Upanishad 1:13,14).
“God is So’ham, out of Him proceeds the Supreme Knowledge” (Svetasvatara Upanishad 4:17). That is, the consciousness of God is manifested in So’ham.
“He who utters ‘So’ham’ with the intention ‘I shall attain Brahman’ does verily attain Brahman” (Taittiriya Upanishad 1.8.1).
The supreme sage, Vyasa, in order to give us a complete picture of the upanishadic wisdom as well as the way to apply it in our life so we may attain the same vision of the sages who authored them, wrote the Bhagavad Gita based on the instructions given by Krishna to Arjuna on the eve of the Great Indian (Mahabharata) War on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Speaking from his perspective as the Infinite Being, enumerating his major manifestation-embodiments, Krishna says: “I am So’ham” (7:8). “Among words I am So’ham” (Bhagavad Gita 10:25).
What to “do” with So’ham is then outlined by Krishna: “Engaged in the practice of concentration, uttering So’ham—the Brahman—remembering Me always, he…attains to the supreme goal. I am easily attainable by that ever-steadfast Yogi who constantly and daily remembers Me” (Bhagavad Gita 8:12-14).
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
The Yoga Darshan (Yoga Sutras) of Patanjali is the prime authority on yoga outside the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita. Here are its words on God and yoga:
“Ishwara [God] is a particular Purusha [Spirit, Person] Who is untouched by the afflictions of life, actions, and the results and impressions produced by these actions. In Him is the highest limit of omniscience. Being unconditioned by time He is teacher even of the ancients. His designator [vachaka, spoken form] is the Pranava.”
Though it is usually considered to mean Om, “Pranava” literally means “the Breath Word,” and that is So’ham, the sound-essence of the breath.
He continues: “Its japa and meditation is the way [or: should be done]. From it result [come] the disappearance of obstacles and the turning inward of consciousness. Disease, languor, doubt, carelessness, laziness, worldly-mindedness, delusion, non-achievement of a stage, instability, these cause the distraction of the mind and they are the obstacles. [Mental] pain, despair, nervousness, and agitation are the symptoms of a distracted condition of mind. For removing these obstacles [there should be] the constant practice of the one principle [the japa and meditation of So’ham]” (Yoga Sutras 1:24-32). In this context we understand this verse from the Svetasvatara Upanishad (2:8): “The knower of the real nature of Brahman that is identical with the Pranava [Soh’am], after keeping his body erect, by holding the three parts [the chest, the neck, and the head] in an upright posture, placing all the organs of perception and action along with the mind in his heart, should cross all the formidable streams [of samsara] with the ferryboat of the Pranava [Soh’am]” (Svetasvatara Upanishad 2:8).
That completes the picture. We need only heed the instruction: “Having known what is said in the ordinance of the scriptures, you should act here in this world” (Bhagavad Gita 16:24).
Read the next chapter in So’ham Yoga: Appendix Two: So’ham Yoga and the Bible
Chapters in So’ham Yoga: the Yoga of the Self
Preface to Soham Yoga: Yoga and Freedom
Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary.
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