Suppose a yogi takes one of the verses of the Chapter of the Self, to use with repetition of Om:
The world is not different from him, who is ever standing
as the supreme, who is to be known, who himself divides into many.
From him the bodies all come forth, he is the root, eternal, he is constant.
He meditates on the meaning of this text, and then sums up that meaning in Om.
Om is the expression of that Lord, as the voice or the strength are the expression of the man. He repeats
Om with this conviction, which is sometimes steady, and sometimes has to be again and again renewed. After some weeks of repetition for, say, an hour a day, some of the super-impositions (adhyasa in Shankara’s term) of place and time and cause-and- effect begin to lessen. They become thinner, so to say. The sound as expression of God fills more and more of the forefront of waking consciousness, the feeling ‘I am saying Om’ becomes intermittent, and in its place is an experience of Om as divine universal energy and so-to-say parenthood, with himself in it. He feels that his body is beginning to dissolve in Om, that he is Om. The meditation is then going into samadhi.
A final point about the practice is that, as Shankara says, mental repetition is the best. Most people cannot achieve it at once: their minds wander. At first repetition needs to be fairly clear, otherwise the characteristic Om ‘feeling’ is not noticed because of tension in muscles and nerves.
But this is only at the beginning. Fundamentally the practice is not a question of drowning inner tension by a thunder of sound, as in some mostly primitive sects which have almost no discipline of refining the psychological instruments. Such a practice can be harmful to the instrument, because it is against its nature, it corresponds to working in wood across the grain instead of studying its constitution and following the natural lines. In yoga, practice is along the true lines of development, which have been studied minutely. Forcing a thing instead of studying and following its nature is painful and often fruitless, both in yoga and in the world.
For example, if a radio set is not properly tuned, there is noise along with the desired programme. The programme can be received more loudly by increasing the volume, but it is not heard more clearly because the noise increases also. And so very loud and excited repetition of mantras may be an attempt to drown internal or external interference by volume of noise. Some spiritual perceptions may be experienced, but the deep- seated vasana complexes – of power or sex or vanity – are also heightened, and they distort the experience. They are parasitic elements, as some Christian mystics call them.
There has to be some force in the Om practice at first, or else it can tail off into day-dreaming. But the aim is to still and clarify inner awareness, and then the Om is to be perceived more and more as an ‘inner’ sound. When sleepy, or assailed by distractions, or even out of exuberance of spiritual joy, Om may be pronounced loudly or sung, as Rama Tirtha used to shout it echoing in the Himalayan valleys but that is not the essence of the practice. Abu Bakr used to repeat the name of God quietly, Omar repeated it loudly. When the Prophet, whose disciples they were, was asked about it, he said, ‘Omar is in the stage of purification, while Abu Bakr is in the stage of contemplation.’
If worship through the Om practice or any other practice is successful, the yogi feels something of the expression of the Lord in himself. But till what Shankara calls the stage of ‘right vision’ is reached, this does not yet affect the fundamental conviction of being a separate individual. When he comes out of meditation, he has a memory which is a great support in life, but it is not yet a clear experience of identity. He is still a karma yogi, moving towards Knowledge, but not yet wanting to jump into it.
© Trevor Leggett