Mantra, Sound and Music

Let us venture into the mysterious and beautiful world of mantra, sound and music…

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Sound Life, Sound Existence

Let us venture into the mysterious and beautiful world of mantra, sound and music. At every moment we are surrounded by sound. It fills our ears and vibrates against and within our bodies. It comes from other human beings; it comes from animals and insects, from rivers and machines. From the six directions it manifests in wind and water, fire and earth. Our ears are filled at every moment with the music of existence and the mantra of being – but do we listen? Do we truly listen?

A koan is a Zen riddle or question that has, or seems to have, no answer. There is a famous koan: “If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?” In other words, if not heard, can sound be said to exist?” The question can be extended to all phenomena: If unperceived, can anything be said to exist?” It can even be extended to our awareness of life: “If I fail to perceive the music that surrounds me, do I really exist?”

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When the earth’s music moves us deeply, it is because we have heard in it something more than a noise. A mother hears her baby cry in the night… is it just a sound? No, to that mother it her very own life crying out voice of her child. Love, passion, joy and sorrow, consciousness and delight are all present in life and in life a constant symphony. We know this, but do we really hear it this way, when we walk down a city street or listen to a friend? Do you hear your life in the music of this world?

Music, sound and mantra can be employed in our spiritual practice to develop and expand our awareness. It has been so used for thousands of years. When our awareness is deepened we can become intimate with the inmost consciousness of our being. In that being we discover we really do exist and that there is not the thinnest membrane between ourselves and the universe! Now close your eyes and listen to the sound of these Tibetan bells. Listen with your whole awareness to the perfectly clear presence within the sound. Listen to it as it fills the room. Listen to the presence of sound as it slowly fades away. When you are listening, think of nothing else but listening, let the sound fill you as it does the room. As it fills you, it fills infinity, the earth and sky, the heavens and the cosmos beyond, but who is listening?

AUM Life, AUM Existence

We are not always fortunate enough to have Tibetan bells or a beautiful instrument to listen to… Do you believe that? You should never believe that, because you are the most beautiful instrument in the entire universe and its most celestial tone is always vibrating within you. This tone-sound is the mantra AUM. You are the manifestation of this mantra; you are nothing but the celestial sound AUM.

bali-hut

Now watch and listen to the video of “AUM” chanting. Now, chant with the video or on your own. Listen to the sacred sound of your own being. When the first vibration of AUM begins to form within us, we experience our being as it originally was coming into being. As the sound of AUM rises to its full pitch, we will feel our existence as fully established in the world. When we feel the sound of AUM fade to silence, we will feel ourselves fading, fading into the unmanifest and intangible root of our eternal being – the perfect silence that abides in the core of AUM. This is the high and wide, the deep and universal, seed sound of our existence. In truth all sounds are but an echo of AUM, all beings but the physical manifestation of AUM.

We can end our chanting, but we are always vibrating with the energy of AUM at a subtle level. Never stop listening to the music of your inmost existence. If you hear AUM within yourself, you will become refreshed, you will recover your clarity of mind, peace and harmony will returned to you, and a new confidence will magically energize your life. This is the power of AUM, the beauty of AUM, the divinity of AUM, and it is your power, your beauty and your divinity as well, for you are nothing but the celestial music of AUM manifesting in this world.

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Yoga Sutras – Om

When I meditate I always begin and end my practice by chanting Om…

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When I meditate I always begin and end my practice by chanting Om. It’s like stepping through a portal. I usually chant it several times until I really feel a strong connection/punctuation… I chant it externally. Then I chant it internally. The vibration in my throat stops but the vibration in my heart-universe continues.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, expounded upon by Swami Vivekananda (also see) in his book, Raja-Yoga, particularly addresses the use of the syllable Om in aphorism 27 (The word that manifests Him is Om.) and 28 (The repetition of this (Om) and meditating on its meaning [is the way]).

Tom on Harmonium

What is God’s name?

I find it interesting that try as we might, it is impossible to put a definitive name to ‘God.’ Every thought in the mind has a corresponding word, a symbol. Thought and word are inseparable. If the symbol (word) corresponds to the thing signified then we are assured that there is a valid relationship: the symbol can then conger the thought. However, many symbols, many words can represent the same thought.

Vivekananda posits that there might be hundreds of words for ‘God’ across the globe. But there must be some underlying generalization that can be distilled from all these names. There must be some common ground in all these names. That common name would then best represent them all.

Patanjali suggests the common ground is Om.

Notice a variety of ‘God’-names: God, Yahweh, Jehovah, Allah, Brahma, Shiva, Buddha… notice that each name contains the syllable, ‘Ah,’ closely corresponding to the first part of the pronunciation of the syllable Om (or AUM, Ahh-Ooo-Mmm). Speculating that someone from England might not recognize the Pakistani or Japanese word for ‘God,’ for example, never-the-less both might be familiar with Om and would recognize the underlying thought. It’s interesting to note that many ‘God’-names are preceded by adjectives to qualify them, like Personal God, Absolute God, Christian God, etc., limiters. Yet Om requires no qualifiers, having around it all significances.

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Repetition of Om and Meditation on its Meaning

Whether vocalized or silent, repetition of Om creates vibrational energy in our bodies, minds and in the universe. As we have already determined Om to be divine, Vivekananda equates chanting Om to be, “…keeping good company with the mind.” And he suggest that, “One moment of company with the holy builds a ship to cross this ocean of life: such is the power of association.” So we repeat Om and meditate on its meaning. Om is the foundational expression for ‘God’ in this context. It is an utterance without qualification. The more it is repeated, the more it is considered, the greater the association and, “Thus light will come to you; the Self will become manifest.”

Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda (Image via Wikipedia)

Vivekananda really pushes the idea of keeping good company, specifically, good company with the purity of ‘God’ by virtue of repetition and meditation. We all have the old scars and wounds. We each have within us the potential for the greatest good or the greatest evil. Keeping evil company (thought, word, deed, associations, etc.) is like picking an open wound. It will manifest as a festering lesion. Repetition and meditation on the meaning of Om will bring to the surface those perhaps latent good impressions and qualities and build a strong foundation for introspection and the destruction of obstacles, those negative qualities which hinder our spiritual growth.

Chanting Om is as foundational as is breath. Ujjayi breathing is simply chanting Om using only the breath, foregoing vibrating the vocal chords.

When I first began my yoga life I truly thought the breath work was kind of trivial and silly; such a simple, almost inconsequential thing. I really didn’t see any real practicality about it. Most studios I frequented rarely chanted Om at the beginning and ending of a class. It was only that I was a singer that it finally dawned on me that breath control was so vital a part of the practice. My ‘home’ studio, Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga Studio in San Diego, CA (my  employer) has always chanted Om at the beginning and ending of each class, one of several practices that endeared me to the studio.

Make the practice of chanting Om a daily endeavor.

Consider it’s meaning. Om is the unqualified expression of the divine. Let it spring forth from your heart as the first, the only and the last vibration… Be Om.

 

 

Featured image by MAMJODH, license.

 

 

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The Gayatri Mantra – An Ancient Mantra

The Gayatri Mantra is one of the most ancient and revered mantras in existence…

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The Gayatri Mantra is one of the most ancient and revered mantras in existence.

Om bhur bhuvah svah

Tat Savitur varen(i)yam

Bhargo devasya dhimahi

Dhiyo yo nah prachodayat

 

I lead a weekly Kirtan practice at Pilgrimage of the Heart yoga studio in San Diego. We’ve been practicing as a community for over five years and the Gayatri Mantra has become one of our staple chants.

As a Kirtan leader I enjoy exploring the deep meanings of the chants, which allows me to enter more deeply into the spirit and intent behind these beautiful utterances.

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The Gayatri Mantra first appeared in the Rig Veda, which was written in Sanskrit about 2500 to 3500 years ago. It is said that the sage Vishwamitra was given the Gayatri Mantra by the Supreme Being for his many years of reverence and meditation, to be shared with all humanity, so there is considered no earthly author.

It has also been said that Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha himself recited this mantra. (See The Light of Asia – Arnold, Book the First, page 7, Routledge)

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Chanted through the Ages…

The Gayatri Mantra has been chanted by trillions of people over the course of eons. Quite literally it is likely sung by a billion people every day, even today.

There is a wealth of commentary and opinion as to good translations of the chant. Googling Gayatri Mantra will generate numerous interpretations. The basic gist follows:

The word Gayatri refers to the meter of the verse. The mantra consists of three lines of eight syllables each. But wait. There are four lines! That’s because the first line isn’t actually a part of the mantra itself. Its a prefix.

The Great Utterance.

The first line is a mantra unto itself and is known as, “The Great (spiritual) Utterance” (mahāvyāhṛti).

It precedes many other mantras, is used universally or can be recited by itself. It is a great aligning and centering phrase and can be interpreted as aligning oneself to the earth, heavens and what lies beyond… Or, aligning with the material world, the world of mind and with the supreme spirit… The important idea is the alignment of one’s Self with the purest Unity.

The meaning…

The mantra itself begins with the word, ‘Tat’ which means ‘That’ and refers to the Supreme that defies any earthly description…

Savitur means Sun, but not the physical sun. More like the divine light of knowledge and discernment, the animating impetus for everything.

Varen(i)yam means adoration.

Next line: Bhargo Devasya Dheemahi means contemplation of the Divine, Illuminated Grace.

Last Line: Dhiyo Yo Nah Prachodayat means loosely, whose divine intellect/illumination our prayers/meditations are for/about…

As a leader of a kirtan practice, I found the original meter (three lines of eight syllables) to be somewhat cumbersome to arrange musically/lyrically for western interpretation. So, I broke from the original meter and formed lines as follows:

Om bhur bhuvah svah

Tat Savitur varen(i)yam

Bhargo devasya

Dhimahi dhiyo yo

Nah prachodayat

 

This arrangement allows for a chant that musically simple and beautiful, and easy to play and sing.

Here’s our version and a link to another version with the classic meter:

Our arrangement: Pilgrimage of the Heart Kirtan band

Classic arrangement: This is a beautiful version by Deva Premal.

It actually maintains the classic meter while running each ‘measure’

as 5 – 6 – 6 – 7 beats per line. Beautiful, but challenging for most to follow and sing with.

 

A must have…

What is important is that the mantra be chanted with the utmost of pure intentions and an appreciation for the profound implications of the scope of this chant. It is an outpouring of one’s heart to the Supreme and a recognition of the Divine Grace bestowed upon all creation and beyond.

If you have a chanting practice, The Gayatri Mantra is a ‘must have’ in your repertories.

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OM – A Mantra for Every Moment

A mantra is a sound or vibration that you can use to journey into the realm of meditation or find calm inside any moment. A mantra represents…

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A mantra is a sound or vibration that you can use to journey into the realm of meditation or find calm inside any moment. A mantra represents an aspect of the Highest, and each mantra has a special significance and inner power.

Vibrational Harmony

OM (AUM)  is said to be the soundless sound of the universe. Chanting OM helps us get into a vibrational harmony with the universe so it’s the ideal way to start and finish one’s yoga practice or meditation session. Om is also the perfect antidote to finding calm inside any stressful situation at home or work.

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Repeat A Mantra Every Day

“If you want quick results in your inner spiritual life, you should repeat a mantra every day without fail, for a least half an hour: fifteen minutes in the morning and fifteen minutes in the evening,” says spiritual yogi Sri Chinmoy.  “There can be no mantra more powerful than the mother of all mantras, AUM.”

If you want to get the best results, repeat OM every day. To learn more about the power of mantras, watch our De-Stress with Mantra video.

Chant: “Ommmmmmmmmm”.

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Jerry Seinfeld goes Transcendental

Transcendental Meditation – Watching the recent interview of Jerry Seinfeld talking about the power and significance of meditation…

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Transcendental Meditation

Watching the recent interview of Jerry Seinfeld talking about the power and significance of meditation, specifically a technique called Transcendental Meditation was very inspiring for me. The ability to stay calm amidst the storms of life lies behind the success and creativity of many acclaimed men and women. It was great to hear him talk about the importance of meditation in his life.

David Lynch

I first found out about Transcendental Meditation, started by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, in 1978 when I was 17 years old. I went to an introductory seminar with my mother who was a neurologist and my cousin who was an airline pilot. The seminar’s validation of meditation was rooted in in medical studies and was very convincing. Meditation works! These days, 35 years later, they are using MRI machines to show the power of meditation. David Lynch, the famous movie director, is a strong and vocal proponent of the technique.

I ended up connecting with spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy and found in his teachings and meditation techniques a path that resonated with me, although I have drawn inspiration from the Maharishi’s efforts to spread meditation globally. I once gave Sri Chinmoy an article about all that their organization was doing.

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Japa and Mantra

Transcendental Meditation is rooted in a meditation technique called japa, which is the repetition of a mantra. A mantra can be anything from a seed sound such as “AUM” to a phrase such as: “Let Thy will be done.” The mantra can be repeated in one of three ways: out loud, silently (inside one’s mind and heart) with the lips moving; and silently with the lips and tongue motionless.

Aum” also spelled “Om” is the universal seed sound and is recommended in the ancient books of meditation as the mantra which can bring about the highest level of spiritual experiences. Mantras can also be created by various other seed sounds such as Lam, Vam, Ram, Yam and Ham . Sounds can also be combined. The benefits and science behind the repetition of seed sounds, and also the word “one,” has been methodically explained and explored in the book: The Relaxation Response by Dr. Herbert Benson is a must read if you are interested in this type of meditation.

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At PYO.yoga we have videos that explain more about meditation and videos that lead you through the experience of chanting Aum.

–Sujantra

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Discover Kirtan… Find your voice

If you have listened to recorded Kirtan music, you might have a degree of appreciation for the genre…

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If you have listened to recorded Kirtan music, you might have a degree of appreciation for the genre and perhaps Kirtan’s serene soulfulness. But I tell you; Kirtan is meant to be experienced live! Kirtan is a participation practice. The whole scope of the practice will change for you when you are there participating.

Where can I go to sing?

Folks often say to me, “Where can I go to sing?” Or, more frequently, “Singing at Kirtan has freed my voice! Thank you.”

You could join a church choir. You might find a choral group if you are lucky… that’s about it. You have to audition. You need skills. What about the rest of us?

Kirtan is for everyone! All you have to do is show up. The ‘quality’ of your voice is not what matters. The creation and sharing of your heart-voice is the practice. Find your heart-voice!

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What really happens when I sing?

When we sing, we vibrate! Everything vibrates. From the smallest corpuscles to the songs of the celestial spheres, the entire universe vibrates. Vibration FEELS good. We are made to vibrate. And our voice is our mechanism, our gift. Couple your voice with a single, sacred thought. Take a deep inhalation, sing ‘Om’ (Aum) for a full breath. Feel your heart as your vibrational energy is transmitted through you, into the room, into the universe…

Find a Kirtan practice in your community.

Kirtans are popping up all over! Find a Kirtan practice in your community. Walk in. Be a part of it. Find your voice.

WATCH our Kirtan LIVE every Thursday at 8:15pm (Pacific) using the FREE Stre.am app for iOS and Android. Download the app, sign in and search for pilgrimagekirtan to connect with us. Become part of our world-wide community.

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