Friday, August 20, 2010

Meditation on Om and Mandukya Upanishad

Book Review: Meditation on Om And Mandukya Upanishad by Swami Sivananda
(Divine Life Society 1993 –originally 1941)

Since I sometimes practice in this Sri Sivananda tradition I thought it a good idea to actually read a book by the master himself. Swami Sivananda (1887-1963) was a famous Indian guru/spiritual teacher. He taught Yoga and Vedanta. His main student was Swami Visnudevananda who started several of the Sivananda Yoga Centers in North America. Yogi Hari and Leela Mata studied directly with Swami Visnudevananda for many years.

The method is the meditation on Om, the Omkara (Om syllable), called the Pranava in Sanskrit which means – to sound out loudly. The goal of this meditation on Om, or Pranava Yoga is Brahmajnana – or the knowledge of the Self.

The Sanskrit terms are quite heavy in this book which may make it confusing for those that are unfamiliar. The first part of the book after hymns is a description of the Infinite, Brahman, the Absolute, the Supreme Self, the Atman. Brahman is the Infinite. Maya is the Finite. Atman is covered by the five veils, or the five yogic sheaths (yogic bodies). Maya is neither real, nor unreal, nor both. It is not describable. “You cannot die because you were never born.” Isvara, the personal god, is Brahman seen through the veil of Maya. Vedanta teaches that the individual soul (Jivatman) is identical with the Supreme Soul (Paramatman) that is Brahman. Brahman is Om. “Om is the embodiment of the essence of the whole of the Vedas.”

One idea mentioned over and again in the introductory teaching is to use the power of Om to root out the samskaras (karmic imprints) and the vasanas (karmic energies). This is one of the points, he says, of Vedantic Sadhana. Om is the beginning of most mantras in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Bon, and Sikhism.

Still in the intro he then gives some information about some commentaries on the meditation on Om and some introductory information on the Mandukya Upanishad. He says it is the shortest Upanishad but also the most important. It is an extension/commentary of the Atharva Veda. He says that the Upanishad is difficult to understand without an informed commentary which he provides in this book. “This Upanishad gives the secret meaning of Om which is the name of Brahman. It gives an analysis of the three states of waking, dream, and deep sleep.” There is also the fourth state, the Turiya, which is Brahman.

Next he begins the philosophy of Om. “Om is formed by adding the letters A, U, M. ‘A’ represents the physical plane, ‘U’ represents the mental and astral planes, the world of spirits, all heavens, and ‘M’ represents all the deep sleep state and all that is unknown and beyond the reach of the intellect even in your waking.” He says to chant Om loudly several times (3,6, or 12) before meditation in order to dispel worldly thoughts and Vikshepa, or tossing of the mind. It is said in breathing that the sound ‘So’ is produced during inhalation and the sound ‘Ham’ is produced during exhalation. Removing the consonants you get ‘oam’ or Om. It is said that the consonants are dependent on the vowels. The consonants ‘s’ and ‘h’ are said to represent the names and forms of the relative Universe while Om is the unconditioned ultimate Reality. Apparently in Sanskrit A is the first letter and M is the last letter of the alphabet so the meaning can be similar to alpha and omega, or from A to Z. As AUM it is everything from beginning to end and everything in between and then some so it is regarded as the ultimate symbol. Om is said to be the all-pervading space, or akasa. In this way it is the matrix of sound itself. He describes Om as the womb of all sounds and words.

Curiously, he says to chant Om for one hour and to chant any other word for one hour and you will feel the difference. This is because of the connection of Om with what it represents, the Infinite Brahman. “There is a mysterious inscrutable force in Om. This force tears the veils, destroys desires, cravings and egoism and takes the aspirant to Brahman. It raises the Bramakara Vritti ( vritti is mental pattern) from the Sattvic mind,
anihiliates the Mula-ajnana (root ignorance) and helps the meditator to rest in his own Sat-chit-ananda (being-consciousness-bliss) Svarupa.” He says that, “Names and forms are inseparable. Thought and language are inseparable” This reminded me of mythology where gods come into existence when they are named.

He goes on to break down Om into its trinity nature as AUM and describe many correspondences attributed to the three letters such as the gross manifest, subtle manifest, and unmanifest states of Brahman; waking, dreaming, deep sleep (Om undifferentiated represents the transcendent 4th state); ‘A’ is Brahman, ‘M’ is Maya, and ‘U’ is the interaction between them; Brahma, Visnu, Siva; Sarasvati, Laksmi, Durga; Rajas, Sattva, Tamas; Sat, Chit, Ananda; Past, Present, Future; Being, Becoming, Non-being; Birth, Life, Death. There are quite a few others too and he says that all triplets are represented by Om.

Next is a description of the 16 states of conscious which are the waking, dream, deep sleep, Turiya state – these four are then combined, ie waking inwaking, dreaming in waking, etc. These are described like grades to be accomplished with characteristic realization-flavors of each state.

He goes on to describe various meditations on Om. Some are by identifying with the sound. Others are pranayama, working with the breath. There are Saguna (with attributes) and Nirguna (without attributes) methods. Trataka on Om – or using a visual depiction of Om as a meditation focus is covered. This practice is also common to most Mahayana Buddhist traditions in several countries. He says to practice for 3 months with a picture until one can mentally recall a very accurate image with eyes closed while mentally chanting Om and hearing all sound energy as Om. When one ceases to distinguish meditator from meditated there is Nirvikalpa Samadhi. He describes Saguna as concrete meditation with an object and Nirguna as abstract meditation without an object. Nirguna, or meditation on qualities is Vedantic sadhana.

Next he talks about Brahmakara Vittri. The manifestation of prana ranges from breath to thought (vritti). The method is to replace Vishaya vittri – the thought of sense-enjoyments with the thought of Brahman. The idea is to purify the mind of passion, anger, covetousness, infatuation, pride, jealousy, hypocrisy, intolerance, egoism, attachment, hatred, laziness, and torpidity. Then it becomes Sattvic, calm and pure.

He goes on to describe the 3 faults of the Mind: 1) Mala (impurities), 2) Vikshepa (tossing), and 3) Avarana (veil of ignorance). Impurities are removed by Upasana, or worship of the tutelary deity. Self-restraint is used to control the senses (presumably the preoccupation of the tossing). He also describes the four means of salvation: 1) Viveka – or discrimination between the real and unreal, 2) Vairagya (indifference to sense enjoyments), 3) Shadsampat – the sixfold virtues, ie. peace of mind, subjugation of the Indriyas (sense consciousnesses), power of endurance, satiety, faith, and one-pointed mind. 4) Mumukshutva (desire for salvation). During and beyond this practice one is instructed to make the aspiration practice of Aham Brahmasmi – or I am Brahman, or I am the Infinite Self. This is identification with Brahman, or setting the Brahmakara Vittri in place of the focus on sense enjoyments. This is Jnana Yoga. One may identify with the Infinite gradually for longer and longer periods. Eventually even the Brahmakara Vittri will fade as it is a means rather than an end. I am finding this explanation quite similar to Patanjali’s Yoga description – after all it is basically from the same tradition of Vedanta/Samkhya. He also mentions the famous mantra of the great Sikh Guru Nanak – Sat Nam Eck Omkar, or Real Name One Om.

Next are some songs and kirtans about Om and then he gets into a review of passages regarding Om in the Upanishads, the Smrtis, the Bhagavad Gita, Patanjali’s Sutra, and other texts. Here follow some highlights:

The Prasnopanishad describes the three Matras (measures) of Om. The first matra ‘A’ is associated with the Rig Veda and the wisdom of the earth plane. The second measure ‘U’ is associated with the Yajur Veda and the sky and lunar realm. Meditation on the whole syllable Om of three matras is associated with Sama Veda and the highest sun and the realm of Brahma, the Brahmaloka. Again Om is associated with ether/space/akasha which is the source of wind/air/prana. ‘A’ is yellow and rajasic, ‘U’ is white and sattvic, ‘M’ is dark and tamasic. Here is a pranayama technique from the Dhyanabinu Upanishad:

“Taking in air through the left nostril and filling the stomach with it, one should contemplate upon Omkara (Om symbol) as being in the middle of the body and as surrounded by circling flames. Brahma is said to be inspiration; Vishnu is said to be cessation (of breath) and Rudra is said to be expiration. These are the Devatas of Pranayama.”

The revealer/rishi of the Mandukya Upanishad is Varuna, the Lord of Waters, in the form of a frog. Anyone wanting liberation may study this Upanishad. Swami Sivananda comments that,

“... Om is the substratum for the illusion of speech. All is mere play of words. Ideas or thoughts are communicated through words only. Experiences are expressed through words only. Incidents are narrated through words only. Everything is held together by the string of speech, by the cord, rope, or thread of specific names. The world cannot exist without names or words. the world cannot run without names or words. Therefore, it is proper to say that ‘All is the word.’

He mentions the four Mahavakyas, or great sentences in the Upanishads:

1) Ayam Atma Brahma – This Atman is Brahman (from this Mandukya Upanishad)
2) Prajnanam Brahma – Consciousness is Brahman (Aitereya Upanishad of the Rig-veda)
3) Aham Brahmasmi – I am Brahman (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad of Yajur-veda)
4) Tat-tvam-asi – Thou art That (Thou art Brahman) (Chandogya Upanishad of the Sama-veda)

The four conditions of Atman are the four states: awake, dreaming, deep sleep, and superconsciousness. A soul or intelligence is given for each state who experiences that state. The dream and deep sleep states are only known through the waking state.

“During dream, the mind creates various kinds of objects out of the impressions produced by the experiences of the waking state. The mind reproduces the whole of its waking life in dream through the force of Avidya (ignorance), Kama (desire and imagination), and Karma (action).”

The mind perceives the mind in dream. The subtle dream world is said to be made of vasanas (karmic prana, habit-energies) in the form of Tejas (subtle fire, the essence of light) moving through the Nadis (pranic nerve channels). The senses are said to not be involved. The karmic prana is dissolved and re-ordered through the force of ignorance, desire, and action – into the dream. The experiencer of the dream is of the essence of light. Waking reality is consensual while dream reality is individual.

In deep sleep there is no mind and no ego but the veil of ignorance remains. The Jiva (individual soul ) experiences the bliss of cessation. This bliss is called Anandamaya – bliss behind the veil of ignorance (which separates Jiva from Brahman).The waking and dream states merge into the deep sleep state yet remain in a seed state. The Turiya state of superconsciousness is said to be indescribable in words. It is desribed by negative attributes: indescribable, inconceivable, incomprehensible, undefinable, unconditioned, non-dual. Turiya is Brahman. It is a substratum for the other three states, pervading them. It is Transcendental, Sat-Chit-Ananda.

‘A’ represents the waking state. ‘U’ represents the dream state. ‘M’ represents the deep sleep state. ‘M’ is both a measure (Matra) and the point at which the whole Omkara becomes one. ‘A’ and ‘U’ merge into ‘M’ as waking and dream merge into deep sleep and arise again through the door of deep sleep. “In Prajna (here the intelligence/soul of the deep sleep state) all things lose their identity, all become one.” The fourth and final matra of Omkara is the Ardhamatra which has no parts. It is called Amatra, without measure. The Ardhamatra is called, “ the indescribable vibration which is the essence of the whole.” It is identified of course with the Turiya state. Great book to ponder – good notes for me to read with meditation.

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