Tantra - Science of Sound
by Roohi Saluja
Beej MantraMeditation and Mantras by Swami Vishnu-Devananda explains the significance of the following beej mantras:
• Haum: In this mantra, Ha is Shiva and Au is Sadashiva. The nada and bindu mean that
How does sound affect us? Try this. Close your eyes and imagine screeching cars, blaring horns and hooting train carriages. What do you feel? Your pulse quickens, heartbeat races and blood seems to be gushing towards the heart. Now change the scene. Imagine the sound of water gushing gently over the pebbles, and a thousand anklets beating against the soft wind, in tune with the flowing stream. At once, a calm, serene feeling takes over, lulling your senses to a soft awareness. This is the magic of sound.
Vedic scholar and author Dr David Frawley in Ayurveda and the Mind argues that there is a background sound pattern to our consciousness. It may be a song we have just heard, or the sound bytes from a painful or pleasurable event. Some movement of sound is always going on inside us. Like rhythm in music, it determines the rhythm of our consciousness. Furthermore sound is the vehicle for emotion, which we can either reinforce or release. We sing with joy, shout in anger, cry in sorrow and groan in pain. Thus each emotion corresponds to a particular kind of sound, and intensified emotions usually demand stronger sounds.
Seed of Matter
Besides sight, no other human sense is as cultivated and evolved as the faculty of sound. In fact, ancient scriptures document the creation of the entire universe as a dance, a symphony with multiple melodies orchestrated in singular harmony. The Bible mentions this as the ‘Word’ principle: "In the beginning was the Word, the Word was God and the Word was with God." Fascinatingly enough, Tantra identifies this ‘Word’ as the Shabda-brahman—the sonic Absolute that is the Ashabda-brahman, soundless Absolute stepped down to the level of shabda—cosmic sound. This Shabda-brahman is the great cosmic wavelength experienced as God.
According to Tantra, in the beginning was Shakti—the unmanifest cosmos that floated like an egg in the silent, motionless Void, and in which was concentrated the seed power of all universe. A primal shudder (Shabda-brahman) disturbed the slumbering equilibrium of Shakti, and aroused the rajas (active principle) to carry out the creation of the manifold universes. Consequently, Shakti split into two aspects of magnetic force—bindu and nada, positive (male) and negative (female) forces respectively. Just like the Shiva-Shakti union that is the groundwork of Tantric philosophy, the bindu and nada are a duality in separation.
The universe then unfolds and expands like a rosebud. The vibrating mass of energy keeps differentiating and expanding as wavelengths. By the fifth differentiation, energy is evolved on the gross plane, with the creation of 50 articulate sounds (varnas), corresponding, according to Tantric texts, to the 50 skulls worn by Kali. These sounds then enter various permutations creating forms. Owing to this reproductive capacity, Tantra identifies these 50 alphabets as ‘matrices’ (matrika), literally ‘little mothers’. These alphabets are further divided into 16 vowels (feminine/Shakti principle) and 34 consonants (male/Shiva principle). Stepping down generations, these primal sounds have suffered fragmentation and disintegration, but mantras remain their closest approximation till date, revealed to the ancient sages in Sanskrit syllables. ‘K’ and ‘Ksh’, the first and the last consonant, correspond to alpha and omega, and together form akshar—the eternal vibration. Similarly, ‘A’ and ‘Ha’, the first and last vowels, with the addition of ‘M’, representing the life force, comprises ‘aham’ (I), the entire divine consciousness.
This ancient sonic wisdom has a scientific explanation in the Quantum Theory that argues that matter is never inert, but in a state of constant motion—continuously dancing and vibrating, much like the tandava (cosmic dance) of Shiva that explains life as a rhythmic interplay of birth and death, creation and destruction. Also, the Shiva-Shakti principle of duality in separation is invoked in the Quantum Theory. The latter expounds that the cosmos cannot be decomposed into independently existing units, rather it’s an intricate web of relations between various parts of a unified whole.
Nature of Mantra
Mantra is explained as a mystical energy encapsulated within a sound structure. Every mantra contains in its vibrations a certain power. Tracing the etymology, one discovers that the word ‘mantra’ is composed of the verbal root ‘man’ (to think) and suffix ‘tra’ (instrumentality). Thus mantra is literally ‘instrument of the mind’. According to another traditional etymology, mantra gets its name from providing protection (trana) for the mind (manas).
Swami Veda Bharati in his book Mantra and Meditation speaks of the mantra as an "extra factor" that cultivates, cultures and purifies the mind, making its perceptions sharp and concentrated. It draws to itself the energy that is ordinarily going into helpless, disorderly personality patterns, and reshapes and returns it to the faculties of the mind in a freshly created order. This is reverse of cosmic evolution where everything proceeds from the unconscious, unmoving and unknowable to the conscious, moving and the knowable.
If you are wondering how a simple sound, syllable or word can exert such potency on the human mind, then you need to remember that mantra is not part of human language; it is not just a simple sound but a concentrated expression of Shakti. Its study is akin to the study of psycholinguistics. Ancient seers identified each syllable with a corresponding mental energy. Swami Nikhilananda, Acharya at the Chinmaya Mission Centre, New Delhi, says, "Human consciousness has the inherent quality of spanda (the infinite cosmic vibration) which can be evoked by awakening the power of the mantra." This is also called ‘mantric consciousness’ (mantra-chaitanya) that goes beyond the audible sound to the psycho-spiritual power itself. It is often argued that a mantra without a ‘consciousness’ is like any other sound.
Tantra describe this power of human consciousness as kundalini-shakti—the super-intelligent force sustaining body and mind through the agency of life energy (prana). Tantric texts beautifully portray the awakening of the kundalini as the rising of the coiled serpent, the divine power that lies dormant in every human being, and is aroused and pulled upward through the chakras, the psychic centers of the body. Georg Feuerstein explains, "When the kundalini leaves the bottom chakra (Muladhara), it gathers the fundamental energies captured in the four letters inscribed in the four petals of the Muladhara lotus. It then proceeds to the second chakra, where it gathers the six letter energies, proceeding to the third chakra, and so on. Finally, the letter energies of the Ajna chakra are dissolved into the transcendental seed point (Om) together with the chakra itself. When all 50 letters of the basic sounds (varnas) are thus dissolved, enlightenment occurs."
According to the Tantric sound model, there are at least three levels at which sound exists: Pashyanti—Word-principle as a pure vibration known only to the intellect, Madhyama—Word-principle as a psychic state, and Vaikhari—Word-principle as the spoken word. Beyond these is the transcendental level of the Para-Vac, which is the Supreme Speech—Shakti in perfect union with Shiva.
Mantra in Action
The intricate workings of mantras on the human psyche can be understood by dealing first with what Tantra calls nada. Swami Veda Bharati explains, "Nada [in Tantra] is the principle of sound that is not differentiated.…It is expressed in Indian music by the presence of a drone instrument such as the tanpura…In the background of this music, there must remain the undifferentiated monotone of a drone like that of an ooooommmmm…From birds chirping, to the cosmic rays racing through space…to supernovae exploding, to ants crawling—if all these sounds were simultaneously recorded, there would be only one single sound: ooooommmmm. The drone of that monotonic cosmic sound is the background against which every instrument of the orchestra of the universe plays…It is that line which runs above all the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, joining them."
Nada is not a part of dhvani (external sound). Dhvani instead arises as a projection of nada. The latter may be called the sound of consciousness from which the consciousness of external sound develops. An ordinary word is dhvani that may be arbitrarily replaced by another sound.
For instance, ‘water’ can be replaced by pani, without changing the implied object. But nada is the internal sound that has no substitutes. Nada is divided into inner sonar vibrations called mantra, which may be produced externally in the manifest sound of dhvani. At this stage, mantra is in the form of syllables and words that appear no different from the ordinary language.
However the true meaning of a mantra resides in the powerful experience of reciting it, which cannot be envisioned in its translation. Says Tantra practitioner Lorain Chopra, "During the japa, the whole body vibrates and all other sensations go numb. It’s a beautiful, sensuous feeling that purifies and elevates your entire being to a higher level."
Sounds similar to a hypnotic musical performance. So the obvious question arises—why mantra? Why not music? Says Swami Veda Bharati, "Listening to music, one is still dependent upon dhvani… whereas in the practice of a mantra one is immediately in tune with the source of music in the inner consciousness.
"Secondly, in listening to music one hears a series of sounds…this cannot be strictly called meditation because there is not one single object on which the mind is concentrating, as in the case with mantra."
Releasing Mantric Energy
The mantra is a powerhouse. Like an atom, it contains within itself cosmic vibrations. Until one attunes to this subtle power, going beyond the realm of language and dualism, one cannot understand the mantra as Shakti-bindu. Concentrating on this bindu blasts open the consciousness, transporting it to a different plane of existence. But how can concentrating on a single point lead to such enormous expansion? I found the answer in Swami Veda Bharati’s Mantra and Meditation. Draw a circle and mark its center as a dot. The movement of energy in this is in both directions: from the central point to the circumference (suggesting expansion), and from the circumference to the center (suggesting contraction). It is this two-way movement that constitutes cosmic movement. The Tantric tradition identifies this center as the bindu that is always motionless, sending forth conserved but radiant energy into the outer rim, causing the rim to move. This is how the energy concentrated in the beej mantra pervades the entire body from which it is withdrawn again into the core of the mind. Only when all the energies are concentrated at a single point of consciousness does the expansion (bhedana) occurs.
Thus the beej mantras are undisputedly the most potent of all mantras. They are combinations of letters that represent the relationship between the kundalini and Supreme Consciousness. The beej mantras belong to language and although they seem meaningless, each one of them has an inner mystical implication. The highest of the beej mantras is Om, referred to as the primordial sound or the Shabda-brahman. Aum, as it is sometimes written covers the threefold human experience: A is the first sound that the vocal apparatus utters, M is the last, and U is the middle range. Together these three encompass all sound, and from these all other sounds emerge.
Tantric texts document a tradition of mantra recitation in which either Shiva or Shakti is predominant—in the former, Shakti asks Shiva to reveal His nature; in the latter, Shiva asks Shakti to reveal Her nature. The revelation of this nature means a comprehension of Tantra—the grid of consciousness in the macro and micro cosmos. Each Tantric mantra has a corresponding energy-control map (called yantra or mandala) that traces the energy waves as they flow in the cosmos. An aspirant meditating on Tantric mantras is also expected to concentrate on its equivalent yantra.
In case of each Tantric mantra, the practitioner needs to know its rishi (seer), devata (deific power), channdas (rhythm), svara (accentuation), prayogya (application), beej (seed power), shakti (a fraction of itself that expresses its power), kavacha (armour), kilaka (recitation of which prevents the mantra’s power from moving away from the practitioner) and nyasa (the process by which various sounds in the mantra are identified with the energy in particular limbs).
Sound Versus Silence
If sound is the basis of all creation, what is silence? Swami Nikhilananda responds, "Silence is zero-sound. It’s like darkness that is zero-light. Human consciousness is constantly thinking, or in sonic terms, is constantly experiencing vibrations at multiple levels. When thoughts subside and the mind comes to rest, silence begins. This is the state of meditation—the state of not thinking, of shifting the awareness from the outside to the self. For a beginner, the process begins with thinking, with concentrating on the external surroundings so as to know what awareness means. As the process continues, one reaches the pinnacle, where sounds cease, and the seeker glimpse silence."
This process can best be explained yet again through music. As the scale tapers upwards, the pitch sharpens till there comes a zero-point when sound ceases and you glimpse the beauty of silence. Thus sound is not antagonistic to silence, but they together form a unity in separation, like the Shiva-Shakti principle. From silence comes sound that again subsides into stillness.
Subject: email@example.com - 27 December 2007
this article is highly inspiring & paramountly divulges on the relevance of our vedic scriptures ,besides the potent contribution our vedic seers & scholars
by: abhilash braroo
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