HYP IV. 100
anahatasya sabdasya dhvanit-ya upalabhyta
dhvaner-antargatam jneyam jneyasya-antargatam manah
manas-tatra layam tad-visnoh paramam padam
One hears the un-struck sound (anahata shabda); the quintessence of the sound is the supreme object. On hearing that, the mind becomes one with that object of knowledge and is dissolved therein. This is the supreme state of Union with the Self. Translation: — Austin Sanderson
According to Indian spiritual teachings, God first created sound (Nada). In the beginning of the cosmic cycle, the Absolute (Paramatma) whispered the divine sound vibrations into the mind of the creator (Brahma) and from that sound, the creator manifested our awareness of existence through consciousness, chit shakti or mind energy. Our minds became aware of our being and our vibrational energy within. Later, in time as we know it, the great rishis while in deep meditation heard (sruti) that same sound vibration resonating from within. The sound that the rishis heard was the sound of AUM or OM, “the primal sound of the Divine in its essential manifestation.”
The word AUM is not directly mentioned in the earliest hymns of the Rig-Vedas, but is mentioned in the other Vedas and Upanishads. In the earliest Vedic period, the word AUM was kept secret from regular people outside the Brahmins (priests) because of the caste system and AUM never sung or spoken in public because of its intense divine connection; nor was it used in public rituals such as the Yajna (ancient fire rituals). It was used in meditation by the Brahmins and passed from Guru to disciple during mystical initiation rites within their caste. Because AUM was not used directly, some early Upanishads referred to AUM indirectly as ungita (the unsound). The Shukla (white) Yajur Veda is the earliest to openly use the sound of AUM in its hymns, but some scholars suggest that this may be a later addition to the text. It is found in many Upanishads composed after the Rig-Veda period: for example, in the Mandukya Upanishads.
The Mandukya Upanishads openly discuss the meaning of AUM. After the sound of AUM was heard publicly, it became the most sacred mantra for Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Zoroastrianism. The sound of AUM has always been a part of the Yogic tradition — yogis being rebellious and at times going against the rules of the Brahmin class — and it has now been incorporated into what some refer to as the “New Age” movement in modern times. Some believe that the Judeo-Christian amen (so be it) has its roots in the sound of AUM.
Modern science has determined that the universe was created by sound vibration. In recent years, science has described the creation of the universe and its sound as a “great pipe organ” expanding and contracting. This contraction formed planets, stars, and galaxies. Therefore, all beings great and small are created from this sound vibration. Humans have the capability of representing everything in the universe with words and also with sound vibrations. Deeper insight into this mystic sound, AUM, reveals that it is composed of four sounds combined into one. Human vocal organs start with the throat and end with the lips. “A” is produced in the back of the throat; “U” in the center of the mouth; “M” by the lips. AUM is a symbol of all words. Therefore, the visible and invisible universe can be represented with AUM. The fourth sound is the silence between the AUMs. We often forget the lack of sound, but silence is a deep profound sound unto itself. God is present in the entire universe and symbolizes non-dualism, the idea that the universe and all its multiplicity of life are from and united in that Absolute reality that is God.
The symbol of AUM combines three curves, a semicircle, and a dot:
1. The large double curve (A) is the waking state (Jagrat). In this state, the consciousness is turned outward, which is the majority of human consciousness;
2. The second curve off to the right side (U) denotes the dream state of sleep (Swapna) or subconscious state;
3. The third curve at the top (M) is deep sleep (Sushupti), the unconscious state;
4. The dot (Turiya), the fourth conscious state, is samadhi (ecstasy, bliss, Self-realization), beyond the three normal states of human consciousness. The Turiya is the bindu, or “power-point” of AUM. This fourth state is the unutterable, soundless silence that follows AUM, non-verbal, empty yet full.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali state, “taj-japas tad-artha-bhavanam,” which is translated as, “By chanting AUM, one realizes the meaning of AUM” (translation: Jivamukti Yoga Chant Book). In the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna tells Arjuna, “giram asmy ekam aksaram,” or, “Of all the words, I am the sacred sound of AUM.”
Hatha-Yoga-Pradipika, IV 100, informs the sadhaka (practitioner) that, by hearing the inner sound of AUM in deep concentration or meditation, the sadhaka connects with the source of that sound. How in our very noisy modern world are we to connect to this primal sound? It may be hard to view unwanted sounds around us as the Nada of God. The goal is to not judge the sounds, but go deeper into them, plugging into the sound of AUM that is within us. That deep connection to the inner sound AUM is found in the silence of meditation, the fourth sound, the emptiness.
I was introduced to nada yoga by Sharon Gannon and David Life founders of Jivamukti Yoga: They speak about overcoming outward noise in their book Jivamukt Yoga – Practices for Liberating Body and Soul
“You will hear a sound. Once you hear it, don’t classify it, don’t judge it, go into the sound. Listen for the sound within the sound. Keep going into each sound that you hear. Hear the sound inside your head that is most dominant. Let all other sounds go. Listen to that inner sound. Allow it to fill your entire consciousness, until your attention merges with that sound.” Going deeper and deeper, the sadhaka (practitioner) will reach the innermost Nada, the sound of creation, the sound of God, the sound of unity.
Austin K. Sanderson, Urban Sadhu