OM and Meditation


This is a translation of an upanishadic verse made by Gandhi when he was in prison:  “Even as the rivers giving up name and form rush joyfully down into the deep, even so the wise, joyfully giving up name and form are merged in God.”  There is a verse by Bhatrihari quoted by Swami Rama Tirtha under the heading ‘beautiful’, “O Mother Earth, Father Sky, Brother Water, Sister Wind, Sweetheart Light, here take my last salutation with folded hands, for today I am melting away into the Supreme, because my heart became pure and all delusions vanished through the power of your good company.”

These two verses speak of giving up name and form, of a return.  There is a very short work by Shankaracharya called Panchikaranam, ‘five folding’, which speaks of a putting forth of name and form and then liberation by resolving it.  There are only four short paragraphs or verses.  “OM.  The five great elements, each divided five-fold and their effect, which is everything, are called ‘virat’ and this is the perceptible body of the Self. Perception of objects by the senses is the waking state.  The Self taking itself as possessed of the perceptible body and the waking state is ‘vishwa’.  All this is the letter A of the syllable AUM.

“The five great elements before dividing five-fold are the subtle elements, their effect is the pranas, the senses, mind and buddhi.  This is all subtle matter called Hiranyagarbha.  It is the subtle body of the Self.  When senses are withdrawn, an idea born of an impression of the waking state appears as an object and this is called dream.  The Self taking itself as possessed of the subtle body and the dream impressions is called ‘taijas’ the brilliant.  All this is the letter U, the second vowel of AUM.

“The cause of the other two, ignorance of the true Self, but with a reflection of it, is called the unmanifest, which is the causal body of the Self.  It is neither being nor non-being, nor again being non-being; not separate, not non-separate, nor separate non-separate from anything; not without parts, not with parts, nor both of them.  It is to be removed by the pure knowledge of oneness of Brahman and Self.  When from the intellect all knowledge of waking or of dream is withdrawn by the causal self, the state is deep sleep.  The Self which takes itself as possessing both these, the unmanifest and the state of deep sleep, is called ‘prajna’.

“The A, the waking state and all its contents resolved into the U; the U, the subtle state into the M, the causal state; the M into OM.  ‘I am witness, pure consciousness alone by nature, not ignorance nor its effect.’  What then?  ‘Ever pure, aware, free by nature, bliss, non-dual.’  Samadhi is to abide in this state of non-difference, inner wisdom, ‘I am Brahman.  Brahman alone am I’.  ‘Brahman alone am I, supreme knowledge and bliss.  This I is Brahman.  I am the Self, Brahman and so [in] other sacred texts.  This concludes the Panchikarana text.”

This is a very brief summary of the holy philosophy put out by Shri Shankara.  We don’t have to discuss all the details, but in brief it is a creation, projection and then a resolution.  The great elements – this is the projection, not completely real, but from a conscious purposeful entity.  Our teacher says, “The united testimony of the ancient sages is that That, the Absolute, assumed a fractional manifestation as ‘This’ to us.  The ancients had no right to give this opinion and would never have done so, unless they had been quite certain of these facts in the world of no dimensions.  When God takes upon Himself the condition in which He is able to project Himself, He projects Himself first as ‘akasha’, shining space.  In Indian philosophy there are seven divisions of this, divided into the great space and the lesser space.  We cannot feel the vibrations of the great space by any instrument of subjective consciousness that we possess here and now.  Perhaps one day we may be able to do so, because the elements of subjective perception are being added to every fifty or a hundred years.  The evolution operating in the invisible worlds is quite different from that in our world.  From the light, ‘akasha’, comes air.  Hanuman, the disciple of Rama, the avatar, is called the son of the wind because he was conceived in the etheric realms, though born of woman,  Behold a great mystery in our own and other religions.

“Fire – from the air, fire.  The Greek myth of Prometheus, who brought down fire from heaven makes reference to the manifestation of fire on the higher planes.  On our own plane, human beings blindly try to create a coarser and lower thing called fire.  Fire has three aspects, that in which we see it blazing on the hearth, and also a latent one, and further, a metaphysical aspect.  We do not doubt the existence of the fire we see, but we do doubt the existence of its invisible aspects.  Yet it is fire in its metaphysical form which helps us in digesting our food, according to the ancient science.

“There is fire in the air, and from this fire is born water.  Perhaps science confirms this.  From water came forth the earth.  Scientific data confirmed this fact also.  God is the stage manager behind the scenes, the wirepuller and certain of his children are his instruments.  It is the duty of man through meditations, to perfect his character, to rise to heights of greater and greater impersonality, and above all else to manifest, ceaselessly, devotion to his maker.”

This is an account of creation and there are many in the upanishads.  Shri Shankara makes the point that it’s very important for the aspirant to liberation to study creation; but only on one main point, that creation comes from an intelligent creator, an intelligent projector.  He says this is the point on which all the other accounts agree.  There can be differences in detail, although he says in the end they are not differences; but the purpose of the accounts is to point to the fact that the world is created, is projected, by intelligence and according to a plan.  He makes this point again and again.  It’s not a blind chance; it is not indifferent; it is not unconscious, and we are expected to see this point.  There are, as our teacher says, some other facts which can be discovered by reading these accounts, but they are not the main point of the accounts.  Just as if we read the law cases of the Middles Ages we can learn a great deal about the social conditions of the time, but that was not the purpose of the people who compiled them.  They were illustrating the legal precedents and if we try to do a social study simply based on those accounts, we might find there were great gaps in them.

Shri Shankara says the ‘intelligent man’ – intelligence means to see the point, not to miss the point.  It doesn’t mean a very fine or developed intellect, it doesn’t mean skill with words.  There are some stories being constructed now about a junior officer who is supposed to have survived the Titanic disaster.  The Court of Enquiry said to him, “Didn’t you suspect the ship would go down, sailing so far north in an early spring with the icebergs coming loose?”  He said, “Oh yes.  I thought probably it would if we kept that far north.”  “Why didn’t you tell the captain?”  “Oh, I didn’t have the cheek – it might have ruined my career.”  “Well, that must have been terrible for you.  You couldn’t do anything.”  “I didn’t do nothing.”  “Well, what did you do?” “I made certain that the decks were kept absolutely clean.”

This is an example – there are many of these stories now, of missing the point.  Our teacher said that all of the activities of the world, if this main point of Yoga is missed, are trivial and in the end have no meaning.  People live in the world, but in the end the life is meaningless, unless this point is approached, unless there is an enquiry.  In this account of Shri Shankara, the commentor, Anandagiri, says about it that, although living in the projection, the yogi lives as, as it were, one who is sitting out, who is detached from it.  We can say, “Oh well, detached from it, that’s alright when you’re in a very comfortable country.  If there’s no Worcester sauce, you’re detached from that; but if it comes to a serious matter…”  The Chinese have a saying about this, about the necessities of life: “One bowl of food a day, he must eat; two is better; three is a luxury; four makes him ill; five kills him.”  They apply this to many things in life.  They say, “Yes, there’s a necessity, there’s a line of necessity, but beyond that it’s not merely unnecessary, but it’s positively harmful to live a life of luxury.

Then living in the world, the projection,  Shankara says, liberation begins when the man begins to seek for something beyond it.  “Where did this universe come from?  Is it real?  What is the Self?”  There are these texts which he gives: “I am Brahman, the supreme reality.  Brahman is truth, knowledge, infinity, supreme knowledge and bliss.”

It’s said of these texts, “Where’s the proof of them?”  “The statements are made,” said a Chinese disciple of the sage Daikaku, “but there is no outward sign of your liberated man, so where is the proof of it?”  He said, “This is an experience in the man’s own Self, not depending on some proof obtained from another.  If one’s own experience is not proof, what is?”

The account is given of the waking state which is defined by Shankara as when the objects of the senses are seen.  When objects are seen by the senses, this is the waking state; and the waking state consists of seeing the objects, which is the result of the great elements which have divided and combined.  Sureshvara’s commentary on this text says, “The individual knower must be meditated upon as the universal, so that all duality is removed.”  This is one of those vaguely uplifting statements that seem to be alright provided they’re not examined.  The individual identified with the universal – it seems to mean something and then when it’s examined, as the Chinese said, “It doesn’t mean anything at all.”  But Daikaku said it refers to an actual experience.  What would that experience be?

Swami Rama gives an account of it:  “When I give up this dream body, this feeling of duality, and open my spiritual eye, then the elements of the world become like my limbs.  The movements of nature become like the opening or shutting of my eyes.”  There are hundreds of such passages describing his experience in the physical world, it’s an extension of consciousness over the whole of the physical world.  He quotes a Vedic text of the sage Vamadeva whose experience was; “I am honey, I am the sun, I am the ancient sage Kakshivan.  I give the earth in charity to Manu, the first man.  I send the thundering clouds all over the world.  All the gods act in obedience to my will.”

Swami Rama in America, when he quoted these texts, repeatedly called them ‘hard cash’.  He said, “Don’t think they’re credit. Don’t think they’re marks on a piece of paper, saying something that can be, or will be, or might be.”  These are what he called ‘hard cash’. These are actual experiences which the yogi can have.

There’s a meditation on OM as the first syllable A, as the whole physical universe.  If the yogi meditates on that, he finds the confines of his consciousness are expanded from the physical body until they become universal.  This is very often referred to.  In the Zen tradition, it’s the goose that was put into a glass bottle when it was very small and grew up inside the glass bottle until it was too big to get out through the neck.  How could the man get it out without killing the goose or breaking the bottle?  The modern teacher comments on that.  He says, “What a ridiculous fairy story.  You couldn’t do that – the goose would die and anyway, who would put a tiny goose inside a glass bottle and bring it up there?  What would be the point?  Ridiculous, ridiculous!” – that’s how the modern man sees that.  But what he doesn’t see is that universal consciousness is confined inside a physical body.  “In spite of all that he says, that’s his experience and he’s living in the fairy story – ‘ridiculous, ridiculous’.

This is the first meditation, to practice unity with the universe and Rama Tirtha describes it as being practiced by OM, taking the sound OM as extending throughout the whole universe.  Our teacher said the sun moves to the sound of OM; and many of the mystics speak of hearing this universal sound, OM.  There was a theory in Greece that the reason we don’t hear this sound so clearly is because we’ve always heard it since birth, so it doesn’t stand out and it’s not noticed.

Then the mental world, taijas.  This is all the world which doesn’t depend on the action of the senses – the inner world, the brilliant world.  There’s another space in that world.  If we shut our eyes and think of our garden, we visualise it clearly.  Then there is another space, which is called the space of chitta, chittakasha.  There’s another space, there’s another world and another light.  This is clearly seen, Shankara says, in dream.  The wise one should meditate on taijas, on his own individual purely mental consciousness as identical with the cosmic intellect.  Swami Rama says of this, “When a piece of iron is placed in fire it becomes like fire. Similarly, when our intellect is united in meditation with the Lord of speech, Brahman, the all-pervasive, then it becomes truly wonderful.”  He speaks of this meditation.

His intellect was truly wonderful.  He was a most remarkable, phenomenal mathematician, even in a country with a great mathematical tradition like India.  He mastered much of the Western learning of the time and also all the traditional learning of India.  He died very young at the age of 33.  He was a very timid boy, but he performed great deeds, fantastic deeds of courage in the Himalayas.  He could outwalk the mountaineers, even though he had a frail body as a child.  His intellect, his daring and his physical endurance were quite exceptional.  Yet when he was a boy, according to the accounts, he gave no sign of this great development that was to come in the future – and it appeared out of him as a result of his yogic practices.  There was no sign of it before.

Even in the dreams, the spiritual progress is experienced.  The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad says, “When in the dream he feels ‘I am a king’ as it were, ‘I am a god’ as it were, ‘I am all this’ – this is the highest state in the dream state.”  Rama Tirtha says this is connected with meditation of the sun and he quotes the Gayatri Mantra, the mantra to the sun, which ends, “May that deity in the sun prompt our intellects.”  He says in the Gayatri the words ‘May He prompt’ according to the two great commentators, [Sayana and Mahadhara] mean that God who assumed the form of the sun is the prompter of the intellect.  “He who gives motion to the sun, also enlightens our intellect”, and he quotes the Veda, “He who is in the sun is in Me also.”

He gives one of the meditations, to meditate on the form of OM being written in the sun.  This meditation unites the intellect of the meditator – when the sense are withdrawn, when he passes beyond the time and space – with the Spirit in the sun and it prompts his intellect.

Sureshvara says, “The waking self, the mental self and the self of deep sleep.”  We might say, “What self in deep sleep?  There’s nothing in deep sleep.  It’s a blank.”  There are different points in connection with this, but our teacher used to quote the examples, evidently suitable for Western people, the very many examples, of a scientist who concentrates on a problem and can’t solve it.  Then he falls asleep and immediately on waking from deep sleep the solution of the problem is in his hand.  He quoted this very often and there are many such cases.  Helmholz was one.  Swami Rama Tirtha also quotes this from his own experience.

We can’t say there’s nothing in deep sleep.  The problem was not solved when the man fell asleep; it was solved when he awoke.  We can’t say there’s nothing in deep sleep.  Sureshvara again says, “The entire universe, the waking, the mental and the unmanifest state, which is like deep sleep.”  In deep sleep the solution of the problem was unmanifest, but it was there, and it appeared when the man awoke.  This is all OM.  In the end the OM is meditated upon as comprising the whole, all those three states.

“They are withdrawn,” Shankara says, and Sureshvara follows him, “one by one”.  The man sits and he’s aware of the senses; then he withdraws from that sense awareness.  We say, “How can you do that?  If somebody’s talking, how can you withdraw from it?  You simply go on hearing it.”  We have examples from ordinary life.  If someone is watching a television programme they’re really interested in, then a guest comes with some news – very important for them.  They listen and say, “Oh yes, yes, yes.”  Then their eye turns and, “Oh yes, yes…”  Then there’s dead silence and it turns out that they haven’t heard what was being said.  The jaw dropped a little bit and they were swallowed up by the screen.  This happens when there’s something that people are really interested in.  So, in his commentary on the Yoga Sutras, Shankara says, “First there must be an understanding and a great faith developed by devotion and enquiry in the meaning of what the holy texts say and the explanations given by the teacher.  Then the whole of the mind must be employed in reasoning and thinking about them.  Only then, when it’s a large part, or the whole of personality is engaged in that, will there be an eagerness to practise and find out.

Much depends on faith; not believing something that is not there, but in believing that something can be verified, that there is something capable of verification.  It’s been compared to a jewel box.  It’s unwrapped from the physical body, and then in the mental body and then lastly…  But then it’s rather difficult to find anything beyond that.  It’s been said that some give up; even some religions give up.  They say, “No-one could actually believe, unless it were Christ.  The rest of us can only profess to believe.”  Swami Rama says in the west you say, “Oh God, oh God”  but you have no definite means for discovering God.  Others say, “Jewel box – yes.  But it means it’s a beautiful box; it’s a jewel of a box.  This is the jewel.  Your present life with all its limitations, this is Christ, this is God.  Try to behave like Christ and this is it.  There’s nothing beyond.  Try to behave kindly, try to behave like Christ.  Go into the wilderness to meditate for forty days.”  “Well, that would not be in accordance with the spirit of the times…”

But still, if the enquiry is made, if it’s turned and turned there’s a little gleam of light, then there might be just an indication that there’s something within.  If we turn and look very, very carefully our teacher said, the keyhole is very small, it must be looked for very steadily and then it can be opened.  Then there is a jewel, and whether the box is a good one or a bad one doesn’t matter, because it’s a trivial thing.  The jewel is the main thing, is the only thing and is the only purpose of the box.

We could say, “Yes, that could be so, but supposing it wasn’t in a silk handkerchief.  If it was in a filthy, dirty old bag; and supposing it was a dirty old box, covered with dust – there couldn’t possibly be a jewel in that.  In the body, which is old or ill, an intellect which hasn’t been trained, the whole personality completely undistinguished – how could there be a jewel in that?  Yes – in that beautiful box, that would be reasonable, but not in this.”  Yet the teacher says, “No.  Just clean a little bit, and then even though the box may be dirty, still if we can find it, we will find a jewel in it.”  The teacher says this is a very important point which is made in the book called The Heart of the Eastern Mystical Teaching where an example is given of a great sage, who had no intellectual acquirements and no special advantages, no physical advantages at all; and yet the holy truth is expressed through him.  This is not a brilliant mind at all, nor highly trained mind, but it’s expressed very clearly.  It’s very clear expression and a very beautiful one.

This is our brief outline.  Shankara says there is a projection and he simply says there is the projection of the great elements; but he begins the whole text with the word OM.  His disciple Sureshvara in his commentary says this OM, this word itself, means that this projection is partly an illusory projection.  It’s not absolutely real, and for that reason it can be withdrawn; but it’s beautiful as our teacher often stressed.  This is not to be taken as wholly real, but it is beautiful and it is put forth by intelligence, by the Lord out of his own maya, his own cosmic power.

Anandagiri in his commentary on this says that the projection, the account of the great elements, points to Tat, That.  The account of the subject, of the waking state, who is not the same as the dream subject and not the same as the subject of the deep sleep state, these accounts point to Twam, or Thou – and that the whole text is an example of ‘That Thou Art’, which is actually quoted by Shankara towards the end.  There is a worship of God as the creator of the universe. This is Shri Shankara’s definition: “That from which the whole of the universe has come forth, by Whom it is sustained, into Whom it is finally dissolved.”  This is his definition.

Then there is Thou, who is the witness Self in man, which witnesses the waking, and witnesses the dream, and witnesses the deep sleep. This is an important aspect of meditation, consciously to enter the third state of deep sleep – to find a witness in that, as a witness in the waking state and a witness in the dream state.  Swami Rama Tirtha calls this ‘returning to the roots’ – silence, not only of the lips, but of the thoughts too.  In the Shri Dada Sanghita one of the accounts is given.  “Shut out all the thoughts, suspend the mental and the sense-consciousness; what still persists is jnana, is knowledge”.  We feel, “There won’t be anything.  Nothing will remain.  The sense-awareness is shut out, and the thoughts are shut out. Then nothing will be left.  We have no experience of anything apart from that.”  But the teacher says this is to confuse thought and sense-experience, which are waves in consciousness, with consciousness itself.  We think that consciousness varies.  As the waves vary in height, we think people can be partly conscious or fully conscious, or unconscious.  But, in fact, there is consciousness which persists throughout all those states.

One part of the analysis is the effect after deep sleep of jnana-like inspiration.  “In the last stage he worships the Lord in the first person.  The Lord becomes his own Self.  It is the essence of man’s personality.  That is man’s Self.  The Lord becomes his own Self, and all duality comes to an end.  The veil of sansara is lifted.  There is no longer an I or Thou, mine or thine, but only one cosmic consciousness in which the universes rise and fall like bubbles in the sea.”

These are the texts that are intended to awaken an interest, meant to awaken something and then by study and by enquiry the whole of the personality gradually becomes focussed.  Until that happens there won’t be much progress, it will only be an intellectual interest; but when the whole of the personality begins to become focussed – the value, the feeling, the intellect and the will – then the yogic process begins to stir the Self which is within.

There’s an actual concrete illustration of how Swami Rama used the OM technique.  He said at the beginning to repeat OM audibly and he says, in many places – and this was quoted by our own teacher in one of his essays on OM – that he must feel the vibration of OM as if it were a bell in every pore, in every atom of the body, not just from the throat.  If you see a bell struck, when you touch it you can feel the vibration.  In the same way the OM makes the whole body vibrate.  Swami Rama Tirtha says this vibration becomes perceptible more and more, it’s like a bell.

He says, “The meaning of OM is ‘I am all.  I am the sun.  I am the light of the sun.  The sun is my shadow.  The meaning of OM is ‘I am’.  Say it through language, feeling, action.  If you call a child, ‘Child, come along’ [there’s] no force in your words.  When another child, who has been absent and whom you have been longing to see, comes you say, ‘O come child, come’ – speaking through every nerve, every hair, you fly to him, cling to him, clasp him.  This is the language of feeling.  Chant OM with every fibre of your body.  Begin with little force.  The sound first comes from the throat, then the chest, lower and lower down, until from the base of the spine.  Then electric shock, opening of sushumna.  Your breathing becomes rhythmical.  All germs of disease leave you.

“A Vedantin looks on the sun as related to himself in the same way as is the moon to the sun.  ‘The moon appears to shine by herself, but all the light comes from the sun.  So the sun appears to shine from his own grandeur, but that grandeur comes from my Self.’  In dreams you see various things, say an electric light.  In dreams there’s no light to show the objects.  What is that light which shows you the electric light in a dream?  It is the light of your own Self.  ‘The grandeur of the sun in your dreams is your own light; and in waking the glory of the sun is seen through my glory,’ so does the Vedantin feel.  The sun in the material world is the emblem of light and knowledge; thus by looking at the sun I feel, ‘I am the light of knowledge’.  OM has a symbol in a hieroglyphic, written in the sun in characters of gold.”

If you would like to do this last meditation.  It’s to meditate on the sun, seen in the dawn sky and in it there’s the character for OM.  The sun is shining, stationary in the dawn sky and the OM is written on it.




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