From Chapter 14, “SOUND”, from “The Yoga of Sound: Tapping the Hidden Power of Music and Chant” (Kindle Locations 3447-3514). New World Library.
Sufi teacher Hazrat Inayat Khan once taught that the human voice is a barometer for the human soul. Its transparency reveals the soul’s every condition. Joy, sorrow, anger, and pain — each has its own voice that comes through, despite the most skillful deception. Conversely, the Sufi path teaches that by affecting our voice, we can affect our soul, instilling in it the qualities we desire. In this chapter, we will learn the finer points of chanting practice through the sacred sound Om, a single mantric syllable that epitomizes the depth and power of Nada Brahman, the frequency that is God.
Why is the Om so important? First of all, the Om is tremendously sonorous; there appears to be no other mantra that can match its resonance in the human body. Regardless of your body’s shape, this particular sound offers the maximum resonance possible. One objective of the sound yogi is to develop a resonant physical body through the regular use of sacred sound. Om is the single most important sound that can, by itself, configure the human body optimally for maximum resonance. Secondly, this resonance is not static; the Om has a transparency that allows you to listen and perceive through its sound. Finally, the Om has an intrinsic ability to generate overtones. Overtones are the additional frequencies that occur over and above a tone; most tones are a mixture of the pure tone and these additional frequencies. Overtones are easily noticeable in acoustically resonant spaces, such as bathroom shower stalls, caves, or large cathedrals. Overtones are also produced in a resonant human body, and through the well-crafted tones of a trained vocalist. We naturally hear overtones when intoning the Om.
I recommend using a drone* while chanting the Om, or any mantra for that matter. Drones help generate undertones — frequencies that occur lower than the generated tone. These extended sounds are a foundation for healing; their sustained tones provide a sonic bed upon which to lie or an ocean in which to swim and explore our mantra practice. The standard drone is comprised of the root, fifth, and octave of the key you want to chant in. When undertones and overtones are produced together, as in the case of particularly long renditions of the Om, a quality of depth, connectedness, and healing issues forth from the mantra. “When the undertones are continuous, prolonged, and undisturbed, they function as a space for everything that healing music builds on.” (1)
There are several other, more abstract, qualities of the mantra Om. First, the Om is universal; it leads us home to a place inside where we feel safe and secure, regardless of our cultural and religious affiliations. Next, the Om is self-contained, replete with its own fullness; it brings deep contentment to the user. Because it is so self-contained, the Om is also a self-propagating sound; the more you chant it, the more you are inspired to keep chanting it. Through its utter simplicity, the Om focuses our attention quickly, taking us inward and connecting us to our depth with the least encumbrance. Finally, the Om is mysterious; it awakens in us an immediate sense of the sacred that defies rational knowledge. This is paramount to yoga practice and mysticism from any cultural stream.
The Om is similar to its Christian counterpart, the “Amen.” Both affirm the Divine presence, as they indisputably declare that the Divine is present, the Divine is all there is, and we are saying “yes” to its holy presence. Still, it doesn’t take much experimentation to deduce that the Om is far more primal and suffused with resonance than the “Amen.” The Om is an ancient resonance that simulates the effect of a sonic womb. Physicist John Cramer of the University of Washington has created audio files simulating the sound of the “big bang,” the birth of the universe. (2) He describes it thus: “The sound is rather like a large jet plane flying 100 feet above your house in the middle of the night.” (3) If you listen to this sound develop, you will find it amazingly similar to the sound of a Tibetan monk overtoning* the sacred mantra Om.
Renowned yoga scholar Georg Feuerstein describes Om as follows:
“Om is an experience rather than an arbitrary verbal label. It is a true symbol charged with numinous power. Experienceable in deep meditation, it is a sign of the omnipresence of Ishvara [the Divine] as manifest on the level of sound. . . . In other words, the human voice is employed to reproduce a “sound” which is continually “recited” by the universe itself — an idea, which in the Pythagorean School came to be known as the “harmony of the spheres.” On the Indian side, it led to the development of the Yoga of Sound [Nada Yoga]. (4)
In chapter one, I mentioned the Swiss scientist Hans Jenny, who dedicated his life to the study of sound waves. Through a machine called the “tonoscope,” he was able to visually represent patterns of sound. The tonoscope was constructed to make the human voice visible without any electronic apparatus as an intermediate link. This yielded a direct physical representation of the vowel, tone, or song of a human being, rendering a melody not only audible but visible. (5) Kay Gardner, in her book Sounding the Inner Landscape, tells us that the vowel “O” appears as a perfect circle in Jenny’s tonoscope. More interestingly, the ancient Sanskrit mantra Om, when chanted into the tonoscope, shows not only the beginning “oh” sound, but also concentric diamonds and triangles within the circle formed by the harmonics during the “mmmm” at the end of the mantra. The image revealed is nearly identical to the sri yantra (6)
The sri yantra is an ancient, complex mystical diagram of Hinduism, associated with the supreme goddess as matrix of the universe. A stunning connection, indeed! The syllable Om represents the totality of Brahman. In Hinduism, the Om is also the Shabda Brahman, or “sonic absolute” that I discussed earlier, meaning that there is nothing higher than what it represents. Keep in mind that the audible Om produced through human vocal cords is only a simulation of a vast cosmic resonance that embraces the known universe. The audible Om represents anahata nada, an “unstruck” sounding — the spiritual presence of the unseen source of nature’s cosmic intelligence, from which all the vibrations of the known universe emerge and into which they all disappear. Scientists call this “the field of indeterminate particles” — indeterminate because the particles appear and disappear without predictability. The only constant is the field itself; for the sound yogi, this is the field of consciousness — the fifth element of Sound Yoga (to be addressed in chapter sixteen).
Quantum physicists tell us that every measurable particle, however small, simultaneously exists as a wave of energy. Sound healer and tuning-fork expert John Beaulieu writes:
“There is a similarity between cymatic pictures [the tonoscope pictures of Hans Jenny] and quantum particles. In both cases, that which appears to be a solid form is also a wave. They are both created and simultaneously organized by the principle of pulse. This is the great mystery with sound; there is no solidity! A form that appears solid is actually created by an underlying vibration.” (7)
4 Georg Feuerstein, “ The Philosophy of Classical Yoga,” in Guy L. Beck, Sonic Theology: Hinduism and Sacred Sound (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1993). 5 9 ways Mystery School of Shamanic Studies, “Hans Jenny,” Sacred Sound Tools, copyright 2002, http:// 9waysmysteryschool.tripod.com/ sacredsoundtools/ id12. html 6 Kay Gardner, Sounding the Inner Landscape:
Russill Paul. The Yoga of Sound: Tapping the Hidden Power of Music and Chant (Kindle Locations 5560-5566). New World Library.
7 John Beaulieu, Music and Sound in the Healing Arts (Barrytown, NY: Station Hill Press, 1995). 8 Juan Mascaro, The
Russill Paul. The Yoga of Sound: Tapping the Hidden Power of Music and Chant (Kindle Locations 5568-5570). New World Library.