Repetition of Om and meditation on the Supreme Lord6 min read

Through Om-repetition through repetition of the syllable, having his mind bowed before the Lord, let him practise yoga let him meditate on the Lord who is expressed by Om. And then, he whose mind has become unwavering as a result of his meditation on the Lord, who is the meaning of Om – let him set his mind on Om let him repeat it mentally. Mental repetition is to be taken as the highest form, inasmuch as this verse associates Om-repetition with meditation (dhyana). The sense is that the mind must not run towards objects.

In this way, by perfection in Om-repetition and in yoga – a man who is undisturbed by other ideas opposed to them is one who is perfect in Om-repetition and in yoga – by that perfection in repetition of Om and meditation on the Supreme Lord, the Supreme Self (parama-atman) who stands above all shines forth clear to the yogi.

Om-repetition produces one-pointedness of mind. Is that one-pointedness then the only result, or is there something else? The answer is  that from devotion to the Lord by Om practice ; pure consciousness within means something which is aware of the mind (buddhi) itself, which is within; that consciousness is the Self; realization of it means recognition of one’s own nature as it really is.

Shankara’s commentary on the yoga sutras gives a good idea of the theory of Om practice. From its repetition, in a spirit of worship, as the expression of the Lord, there comes about perfect concentration in samadhi, removal of obstacles, a direct face-to-face vision of the Lord, and a realization of the Self within. He says that Om is a natural expression of the Lord, and when it is repeated there is at once a relation with the Lord, but this has to be made clear by directing attention to it, in cases where confusions distract the mind in other directions.

Some modern teachers compare the process to using a radio set; Om-repetition corresponds to tuning the set to the desired wave-length, and the station is immediately received. But if in the vicinity there are numerous other electrical appliances in operation, the broadcast may hardly be recognizable because of interference. They have to be shut off, and attention directed to what is happening in the radio set.

It is a question of actually practising the repetition. Swami Rama Tirtha, a fellow-disciple of Dr Shastri and a great mahatma who was also a scientist, laid special emphasis on Om as the central practice of Vedanta. He gives many instructions about it in his lectures and writings. Here is one of them:

When you sing this sacred mantram Om, you will have to throw your intellect and body into your true Self, and make these melt into the real Self. Realize it and sing in the language of feeling, sing it with your acts, sing it through every pore of your body. Let it course through your veins, let it pulsate in your bosom, let every hair on your body and every drop of your blood tingle with the truth that you are the Light of lights, the sun of suns, the ruler of the universe, the lord of lords, the true Self.

The yogis use strong phrases about Om. Dr Shastri says that all the forces of the universe are incorporated in it. These statements are not dogmas which a yogi must try to force himself to ‘believe’, though he secretly does not; still, they should not be quite forgotten. They are not said for nothing.

The yogi sits in a solitary place, in a firm upright yogic posture. He repeats Om with a rosary of 108 beads or knots, slowly; finally each Om takes about 15 seconds, including the in-breath. But there is no need to strive to lengthen it at first. If he concentrates on the physical sound produced in his throat and gives attention to it, after some weeks he begins to feel the vibration spread into the chest and further down, and also upward into the head. Let him put the attention on the downward-going vibrations. If he keeps upright and still, he will become aware of their spreading. At the beginning it is necessary for most people to be in a place where the Om can be repeated with a steady intonation, a strong vibrato (not a tremolo) and a well-prolonged MMMMMMMMMMMMM at the end. But with some practice, as the body becomes more tranquil and the tensions lessen, there is awareness of the vibrations even of a gentle repetition. The body is felt to vibrate with it, like a cello. It is worth while finding an opportunity to lay a finger on a cello while it is being played. Though the vibration is invisible to the eye, there is a strong feel – this gives a hint for the Om practice.

‘Chant Om with every fibre of your body.’ It is not meant as a metaphor. One who chants Om in the meditation posture, upright and still, finds the tensions relaxing; there is an appreciable effect by the end of eight minutes. Then he feels a sort of resonance which comes at first only occasionally, something like the resonance which a man experiences who sings in a small space like a bathroom. The repeater of Om feels it more clearly as his hardness softens and his attention sharpens.

If we hold down the middle C on a piano, without sounding it, and then strike a low C double-forte and staccato, we find that the middle C is softly sounding, though it has not been struck. It would be the same if a C below the ear’s range were sounded5 the middle C within our aural range would still sound, though for no apparent reason. Om repetition tunes our physical instrument, so to speak, and after some weeks or months the repeater becomes aware that along with the Om which he himself is saying, another Om is sounding in him. The instrument has been tuned by deliberate sounding, but when it has been tuned, it will sound even though not sounded. In Zen it is referred to in the koan, ‘Of the one hand, what sound would there be?’

Repetition of Om, using the perception of the sound, in the end produces a sort of double consciousness. There is the ordinary perception of body, and the awareness ‘here I am sitting at this time and this place’. But along with that, there is a consciousness of the sound, long-drawn-out, vibrating in certain parts of the body and finally throughout the whole body, and a feeling that besides the Om being uttered, there is another Om, felt as an added resonance. This other Om seems to be ‘heard’, but not as a vibration through the air5 it seems to be an addition to the uttered Om, heard through the flesh and bones of the body. There are various descriptions of the experience, but there is no point in collecting them. It is a question of experiment, and the experience when it does come is not what had been imagined from the descriptions. Not that the latter were wrong, but they are always mixed up with the pre-conceptions of the reader, and so his imagined anticipations are faulty.

© Trevor Leggett