Monday is AUM-day; in search of meditation
For the next stage of our investigation on meditation, we are going to study - and practice! - japa as a means to tame the mind and we shall investigate the Gayatri Mantra.
There are three types of mantras;
Those that invoke the low powers of nature (taamasik)
Those that excite and manifest might and power (raajasik)
Those that lead to spiritual experience (saatvik)
All these fall under a further classification;
Those that need only be chanted without necessarily knowing or understanding their meaning
Those that are invocational and require the devotee to know and understand their meaning in order to focus correctly.
Further, mantras may be written in prose form (yajus, or 'Yajur', veda), or in poetic metre (Rk, or 'Rig' veda).
Of all the mantras, the most powerful and significant one is the single-syllabled incantation called à[v/pranava - this is the OM. There are endless writings on the importance and value of this apparently simple mantra. So profound is the effect of OM that it is recognised globally, even if not understood. No matter what one's background, listening to the vibrant sound of the chanting of OM has a pacific and rejuvenating effect. So deeply, so efficiently does OM wield its unifying and universal power, in most cases any explanation or exploration of its depths is not required.
However, for the ardent student of spirit, to truly rise through the transcendent ranks, it is imperative to make this investigation. Little by little, all the Sanskrit texts introduce and expand upon the nature and purpose of OM.
Pranava is the first breath, the first sound. Think. In every alphabet, the first letter is "A" (or it's approximation). It is the first sound a baby makes. Not because it knows or understands 'a', but because it is a sound which happens simply by exercising one's breath against the substance of the body called the vocal chords. In the same way, when the Universe first came into being, ether and substance rubbed against each other and the first ever sound began… "A"… Just as a baby starts to shape its lips and begins to understand it can alter sound, so the birthing Universe expanded its substance and the ether relaxed somewhat… "U" … Then, as a baby learns that closing its lips and still breathing it can make further sounds, so the settling Universe grew stiller and more formed… "M"… As a baby stops for a moment pondering the noise it has just made, so the Universe knows also that from which it came, that which is beyond sound… "Turiiya"… essential silence.
AUM was the first triputi - grouping of three. The A stands for Brahma, the creator ("Father", U for Vishnu who sustains creation "Son", M is for Shiva who ensures everything turns full circle and returns to source ("Holy ghost"). Birth, Life, Death. In AUM/OM we find that the Rsis of the far distant past, sitting in their high Himalayan meditation seats, 'heard' the birth of the Universe, they 'heard' its background sound (something modern science is only just catching up with) and they understood the physics of the Universal creative process. They also were able to perceive that before all the noise and bluster, there was a silence, a peace which passeth all understanding.
There is a verse in the vedas;
Prajapati vai idam agra asit
Tasya vak dvitiya asit
Vag vai paramam Brahma
"In the beginning was Prajapati, the Brahman with whom was the Word, and
the Word was verily the Supreme Brahman."
Does this look familiar? It is very important for those of us of Christian background to understand and accept that Yeshu, whilst absent for some fourteen years from His home, was on a 'yaatra', a tour of spiritual purpose, and had learned a great deal whilst he was away. Much of His teaching echoes Vedantic philosophy. That His disciple John clearly listened well is evident in the use of this phrase in the gospel attributed to him; "In the beginning was The Word and The Word was with God and The Word was God". Remembering that the Sanskrit teachings pre-date the Christian era by at least as many centuries again and possibly three times the timeline, one cannot study them without returning to the later words of Christ and reading with fresh and delighted heart. Gurudev was once challenged as to his teaching Hindu scriptures to non-Hindus. His response, "I do not seek to make Hindus of Christians but to make them better Christians!"
Take time to be clear here and do not confuse the use of Brahma (a name for 'God') and Brahman, the name necessarily we must give to that which is nameless, the essential silence from which the word arose, the peaceful conscious kernel of Existence in which the thunder of the Universe erupted. Note also that 'pranava' literally means 'pervasive breath', thus it is acknowledged that no life can exist without it.
OM is all-pervasive and those who come into awareness of it never lose it. We shall explore more next week.