Adventures in Advaita Vedanta, the philosophy and science of spirit. We are one you and I; are you curious why?..


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Grab The Vibe

Hari Om
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.

Delving into linguistics for a brief moment, let us discuss the concept of S)aeq/sphota. The most succinct explanation of this idea is that it is the 'essence of meaning distinct from sound'. If we can grasp the sphota within a sound, we gather a meaning far beyond the utterance of that sound and entirely separate from any imagery (lettering) attached to it. Think about music which touches you in parts of your being which has nothing to do with the act of hearing itself - the effect generated is the vibration set up within you in response to the sound heard. This is sphota.

Many languages have this potential - we all know about the 'power of speech', but tend to think of it as being based upon the words and dictionary meanings. Yet, if we have sat before a speaker of worth, that speaker may actually be using the simplest of language, but be imbuing it with meaning which comes from within them - or beyond them. They are a conduit for the energy of meaning. The vibration has to be  'just so'. It is this very thing which can split an audience, because the receiver also has to be attuned and open to the possibilities being presented. Those who are, will find themselves thinking on wider implications than were presented in the speech - those who are not will wonder what all the fuss is about!

Every now and then, though, will come along a speaker who somehow reaches a greater number of listeners. More than the words, there will be the timbre of the voice, the feeling and emphasis used, the engagement with the audience. The same simple speech given by three different speakers will have three different effects.  This is the nature of sound and has little to do with the words themselves. The same words presented (pronounced) differently will have differing results.

Sphota, then, whilst a purely Sanskrit concept, is actually something with which we are all familiar! It is, in part, sphota within language which aids communication when we travel in foreign places and do not speak the local tongue. Essence of meaning can be conveyed in many ways.

Thus, coming back to what we mean when we talk about the sphota in relation to OM, it is, in the simplest of terms, the vibration. (Still not completely accurate, but sufficient for our purposes here.) Sanskrit is a language ripe in sphota - particularly important when it comes to mantras. When we say our prayers, in the Western tradition, we are relying on the words almost entirely - with perhaps some emotion behind them - because we have externalised communication so much and are engaged (through our ego) with a desire for outcome. In mantra prayers, though, there is an in-built vibration which helps us to let go of our ego and surrender to the process of prayer without emotion or expectation of any kind.

What is more, there is a mantra for almost every contingent in life. Western tradition does have some 'set prayers' (note that we are talking about the individual seeker here, not formal service in places of worship), a prime example being the Lord's Prayer and in the Catholic church there are set prayers to certain saints (mimicking the Sanskrit tradition); but for the person who has some angst about this or that, or who wishes to give thanks and praise in a particular way, it is mostly left up to them to use whatever words they have at their disposal.

For the Hindu, though, there will be a specific mantra for the occasion. In this way, mantras might almost be considered scientific formulae, or for the more romantically-minded, as 'spells'. They have been tried and tested over millennia and are still used today.

Of all the mantras available, the shortest and, potentially, the most powerful is the single-word OM. It's essence cannot be ignored, even by those who never grew up in the tradition. OM chanting has become popular the world over.

It may be wondered how OM came to be the representative of the 'thought' from which the Universe became manifest…


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Hari OM
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