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Sanatana Dharma

The Omkara

A talk I delivered at the Yoga Society in November of 1988:
Thanks for inviting me. I love your Yoga Center and consider it an honor to speak with your students.

Om Namah Vasudevaya!

As requested, I would like to discuss, in an easily understandable way, the concept of Primordial Sound, the Omkara. The chanting of the Omkara is not generally understood in the West. Many people chant it, some regularly, however the deeper significance of this great bija or "seed mantra" is not generally appreciated.

In order to accomplish this, we will discuss the holy sound "Om" and how it's utterance may be applied to personal practice or sadhana. Having done this, we will discuss its applications to consciousness studies and spiritual realization with regards to the four levels of consciousness, that being vaishvanara, taijasa, prajna and turiya.

Finally, it will be my intention to demonstrate how anyone can apply the Omkara to their existing quest for spiritual development in order to achieve the desired goal, Self-realization, enlightenment, or God consciousness according to individual dharma and marga of the person.

The benefits of utilizing the Omkara are immense. Never again will you rely on someone else's vision of reality. Through mindful recitation of this ancient mantra anyone can tap into the Life Force of the universes and attain inner peace, joy and knowledge. In short, like Moses, Jesus, the Buddha, Guru Nanak, Lao Tsu and other realized souls, each of us has within us the ability to perceive the Truth and thus be the Master of our own lives. As Guru Ram Dass said, bite your finger nails and you will be eating Guru alive!

Karma, Dharma and Marga may deal the hand, but you will know how to wisely play the cards!

When hearing talk about the sound vibration Om many people in the West think of nude hippies sitting in circles, holding hands, and chanting as they contemplate their navels. I'm happy to have been one of those hippies at various times in my life! But the Omkara is much more than that.

To be honest, when I first began to chant the Omkara it was just another "trip," a novelty to be experienced. With practice however, I began to realize that there is much more to it. I experienced consciousness raising as my awareness become more keen. Things I had always taken for granted began to demand a second look. As a result of this, I began asking questions about the mantra, how does it work? Why does it work? What makes this sound so different from all others? In my quest I read countless books, sat with many swamis and other holy people and gradually developed a real taste for its sweet nectar. The omkara isn't simply another sound or vibration. I came to understand that it is the primal sound upon which all others are based.

As you will see, there is a clear science behind the mantra and as practice will demonstrate, its results are sweeter than the best gulab jamun!

Om is the said to be the most ancient of all Indian mantras or sound vibrations. It is called the mula, or bija the seed mantra, in that all other mantras are based to some degree on it (such as Om Rama, Om Bhur Bhuvaha Svaha, Om Mani Padme Hum and so on.

According to that ocean of nectar the Sri Brahma-samhita, Om is the sound manifestation of Sri Vishnu. By uttering it properly one enters into direct communion with God. The bliss of Turiya, which I will discuss shortly, is seen as the experiential presence of Sri Vishnu. For the non-theist, Om is described as the primordial emanation of nirguna brahman into saguna, which is to say, through it, the Unmanifested Totality becomes manifest experientially. According to the Mandukyopanishad, which is a treatise on the Omkara, Om is the primal manifestation of nirguna brahman. All existence, both imminent and transcendent, is identical to the Omkara. In other words, the Unmanifest Reality is first conceived through the Omkara. When Om manifests, it takes on the physical forms of individualized matter. Technically, this existence is known as Prakriti.

So then, the Om Vibration is the foundation of all matter.

Again, the bija or seed essence of Prakriti is Om. Since matter, according to the Sanatana Dharma, is only a dense form of the sound or sabda Om, through informed knowledge of the mantra one can vitalize matter and ultimately transcend it. Hence Om is the key to all power and realizations.

The Mandukyopanishad explains that there are four 'quarters' or aspects of an individual. These manifest through the four states of consciousness. These are listed as follows:

The Omkara

Individual/Microcosmic Universal/Macrocosmic
Waking State
Vaishvanara or Vishva

=Physical condition

='A' of AUM

=Cosmic manifestation
Dream State

I=Mental condition

='U' of AUM

=Universal Mind
Sleep State

=Intellectual condition

='M' of AUM

=First Cause or God
The transcendental state which permeates
all others. Basis of self-consciousness.
Sum total of the lower three states
and therefore both the fourth quarter
and the whole
=OM as a soundless, single syllable.
Unified consciousness is thus conceived as achintya bhedabheda (i.e. Inconceivable and simultaneous oneness and difference), while the supreme Godhead is achintya bhedabheda tattva, the very embodiment of inconceivable oneness with and difference from the created or manifest qualities. The nature of this inconceivableness is the Omkara.

Our waking consciousness, the level of awareness in which we spend most of our awake time, is known as Vaishvanara. You will doubtless understand that the first state of consciousness corresponds to the physical condition and the 'A' in AUM, when it is composed of three distinct letters or sounds (AUM).

In Devanagari script (the written form of Sanskrit), Om is a single letter consisting of three distinct parts, A, U and M. This is reminiscent of the threefold divine nature of the Trimurti, or of Brahma, Visnu and Siva, and so one. Each of these three foundational vibrations correspond to a particular state of consciousness. When these three Vibrations are unified in Turiya, they become the single letter or sound vibration Om.

As consciousness passes through the lower states of awareness it remains in saguna, the manifest universe of duality. When consciousness transcends these states however, it merges with the Universal Consciousness or Mind of Turiya in nirguna, which is to say, in the unified state. This is the transcendental state which permeates all other conditions. Turiya is the basis and ground of self-consciousness. Achieving this state is Self-enlightenment or God consciousness. This is the sum total of the lower three states and is therefore both the fourth quarter and the Whole simultaneously, (as in Netti-netti or the en-Soph of the Jews). It is Turiya of which certain mystics of the East say that yin and yang become one in Tao. In the state of Turiya one transcends all material limitations and becomes one with nirguna brahman or is absorbed in absolute Oneness.

There is much debate about the nature of the Turiya state of consciousness. For instance does one maintain individual existence/awareness as Sri Ramanuja and Sri Caitanya and the Goswamis suggest, or is one so utterly merged with the Cosmic Whole that no individualization is possible, as Sri Shankara, the Buddha, and the Mayavadi contend. I will not go into this here, except to submit that for one who is so absorbed in this state of absolute bliss, known as Sat-chit-ananda, or eternity, knowledge and bliss, the question is surely moot.

There are of course many methods of meditation that utilize the Omkara. I would now like to offer one of them for your consideration.

Before I do however, I would like to mention something about the tradition from which the mantra comes down to us. The Bharata or Indian seers used the term "Sanatana Dharma" to describe their over all belief system. The name 'Hinduism' is a late product of Muslim origin. By referring to the teachings as the Sanatana Dharma or Universal Truth, the sages confirmed that the sacred mantras are not the possession of any nation, people or religion. They are for all the world, no, for the universes! As one practices the mantra therefore one should feel free to customize it in personal ways. For instance in India the Omkara is often joined to Sacred Names. When it is, it is known as nam-japa or recitation of the Holy Names. This is done by adding the mantra as a prefix or suffix, such as in "Om Namah Shivaya," "Om Namah Vasudevaya" etc. The mantra can be utilized to fit individual needs and practice. In the same way Christians could chant "Om Yeshua Y'shua Om" and so forth with no fear of causing offense. As is said, "Truth is One, the sages call it by different names." The method I offer now, therefore, is merely an example.

Sit in a comfortable fashion with your back basically straight and free from obstructions. Use a chair, a cushion, whatever works for you.

Now take a moment to look back up at the illustration. Don't worry about the Sanskrit terminology, simply get a feel for how the sound Om rolls off you tongue and through your mind.

As you begin take a comfortably deep breath, shake your arms and legs so as to allow yourself to relax completely. Your eyes may be open or closed. Don't force either extreme. Again, be comfortable. Don't concern yourself with established forms right now.

Now, gently focus your gaze on the tip of your nose (don't go cross-eyed!), just let your attention gently rest there. Don't force anything.

Now, softly, gently, begin to repeat the mantra, AUM... Ah Uu Mm... Ah Uu Mm... Just allow the sound flow through you, upwards from your inwards parts, rising, let it gently arise and escape through your mouth. Your throat can now feel the vibration flowing through, it is warm and soothing.

As you allow the mantra to flow from within, you begin to experience a peace, a sense of balance. Be aware of your surroundings, your Vaishvanara state of mind. In time you enter into the state of Virat on your way to universal harmony with the totality of being. Take your time. Just breathe.

As you continue to chant, the mantra flows serenely, effortlessly through you without thought or volition.

Allow your consciousness to float freely, harmoniously with the Omkara flow. As you experience your body becoming enlivened by the sacred flow, all pain and discomfort washes away, all dis-ease departs and you inwardly perceive Peace and Balance. Even now you experience yourself existing in a state of balance and inward harmony.

As the Omkara continues to flow through you, the sacred sound naturally, of its own accord, transforms into a more unified sound, as "Om" rather than "AUM". As it does you slip quietly, calmly, into the state of Taijasa where your awareness becomes one with transcendent awareness.

As the remaining mental images begin to subside your consciousness is quieted, your meditation becomes automatic. Outer and inward sounds fade calmly away. You lose all sense of material being. As a being of Light you are enraptured in the continuing sacred tone. This sense of peace is Ishvara, the presence of God. As you continue to drift on this sea of bliss nothing remains except the vibration deep within your consciousness, the gentle, almost inaudible Om which now chants itself without conscious effort or thought. Om simply is.

In time, as you return to waking consciousness do so gently, effortlessly. The four states must not be forced. Flow gently from one state of consciousness to the next, knowing that the warmth you feel is the arms of the Beloved.

Peace, Love, and Light!