I am preparing for a workshop in a couple of weeks: – “Experience OM” – so I’ve been contemplating Om quite a bit, and thought we would contemplate it together. In the course of preparation i have been doing some web research and found this from the NY Times, entitled: “Om, the Essence of the Rig Veda.”
OM, the Essence of the Rig Veda:
What can be more perplexing than the beginning of the Chandogya Upanishad? ‘Let a man meditate’, we read, or as others translate, ‘let a man worship, the syllable OM’. It may seem impossible at first to elicit any definite meaning from these words and from much that follows after, but it would be a mistake to assume [they are meaningless]. Meditation on the syllable OM consists in a long continuous repetition of that syllable with the view of drawing the thoughts away from all other subjects and thus concentrating on some higher object of thought for which the syllable is a symbol.
This concentration of thought, ‘ekagrata’, one pointedness, is something almost unknown to us… With the life we are leading now, with telegrams, reviews, pamphlets and books ever breaking in upon us, it has become impossible, or almost impossible, to arrive at that intensity of thought which Hindus meant by ekagrata…”
What’s the date on this article, shall we see? Maybe you guessed it is old. Its June 15th, 1879! And it was written by Max Muller, the great 19th century scholar of Indian civilization.
I was fascinated by this though: “with the life we’re leading now – with telegrams, letters, newspapers, reviews, pamphlets, and books ever breaking in upon us…” because it tells us that even a hundred years ago people were feeling overwhelmed with information, with verbiage, and with media. The din hasnt gotten any quieter, either! This, the cacophony of words, both external and internal, is the background and foreground of our lives. How can we manage and master the verbal barrage? Well, the ancients gave us meditation on the sound of Om as a technique for gaining ascendency over the comprehensive influence of language in our lives.
The thing about Om, (or AUM as it is more precisely spelled) is that it is the essence of all language, distilled into a single syllable. It represents all the phonemes that can be spoken, as it begins as the first sound that can be articulated in the very back of the throat – that is the letter “A,” then the sound passes across the palate and tongue – that’s “U” and culminates with the compression of the lips, the ultimate phoneme possible : “M.” Aum contains all words that can be spoken. It is the “Alpha and the Omega.” Om is the womb of human language. When we chant this sound, we are emulsifying, blending, all words and the concepts they contain into the fundamental power of a single vibration. If you do it, you will see that although the mind will continue to project its verbiage, what some call its ‘discursive thought,” the sound of Om will gradually override that and produce an astonishing, spacious and calming inner silence.
The philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism, which my Guru expounded brilliantly, gives us this aphorism:
“Jnana dhisthanam matrika”
“Matrika (the power of sound inherent in the letters of the alphabet) is the source of limited knowledge.”
Shiva Sutra 1.4
The sutra tells us that the source of our differentiating, dualistic awareness is the letters of the alphabet, human speech. Yoga philosophy, like most spiritual methodologies, ascribes tremendous power to words both as agents of bondage as well as of liberation. When our perceptions are not filtered through dichotomizing word constructs and concepts, we are simply Aware.
I think the Tantric philosopher who explains this doctrine of Matrika Shakti best is the enlightened sage, Dr Seuss, in the revered text, “The Cat in the Hat Comes Back.”
Remember, the Cat has created a stain, an indestructible, messy stain, and the children are beside themselves. So the Cat tells them that he can fix the problem with some helpers he keeps up in his Hat. And out come little cats “A” “B” “C” and all the rest, one for each letter of the alphabet. When these helper alphabet cats set to work, they make utter chaos! The stain is much worse, totally unmanageable! Complete anarchy. And do you remember how the Cat restored order? He said there was one cat left in his Hat, so small that he couldnt be seen, yet the most powerful of all. When that final cat is unleashed, everything goes back into harmony and balance. That final cat, in the story, is called “Vooom.” The Cat releases “VOOM” and the stain is cleansed, all the paths are swept clean, the alphabet cats return to their source in the Hat and pandemonium ceases. So it is a sound vibration, in fact a variation of the sound Om, that resolves the mayhem, cleanses the pathways, and reestablishes peace.
That story is a perfect illustration of the action of Matrika Shakti, the power of the letters of the alphabet to create a tower of Babel in our lives. Our life and all our concepts are governed and in constant flux due to the power of the Matrika Shakti. In fact the Matrika is vibrating though all our ‘nadis’, the subtle pathways of our energy body, creating strong conceptual chains that bind us. But Tantra declares that the power of speech which deludes and diminishes us is the same power that can be used to restore our apprehension of the truth of Oneness. This is the power of chanting Om.
For those of us rank beginners on this path, and i like to include myself in that company, lets consider more the subject of Om. Besides being an utterance that combines all utterances, Om is considered to be an all pervasive vibration creating the fabric of reality. This is not radically opposed to the Judeo-Chirstian origin myth of creation, positing Gods speech as the creative principle: “And God said, Let there be light.” and “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” Neither is Om opposed to our scientific creation story, the notion of the “Big Bang” – a cosmic explosion which set the universe in motion. In fact, two scientists, Penzias and Wilson, won the Nobel prize in 1978 for discovering a subtle hum, a vibration called “cosmic microwave background radiation,” that is spread throughout the universe! It is the left over sound of the Big Bang. This hum is isotropic which means that it’s evenly distributed consistently throughout the universe without gradation, so it’s all pervasive. One of names of Om is “Pranava”: the sound of prana, the universal energy.
The idea that vibration underlies and supports reality has been taken even further by cosmologists in string theory, the notion that subtly vibrating ‘strings’ are creating the fabric of the cosmos.
We dont have enough time here to speak of every mention of Om in the yogic texts and scriptures, but we can say that it is central and revered in the most ancient of those texts – the Vedas, in the Upanishads, in The Bhagavad Gita and especially in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra.