The principal word in the Vedas, praëava oàkära, is the sound representation of the Supreme Lord. Therefore oàkära should be considered the supreme sound.… Oàkära is the reservoir of all the energies of the Supreme Lord.… In Bhagavad-gétä the Lord has in many places given importance to oàkära (Bg. 8.13, 9.17, 17.24). Similarly, oàkära is given importance in the Atharva Veda and the Mäëòükya Upaniñad. In his Bhagavat-sandarbha, Çréla Jéva Gosvämé says: “Oàkära is the most confidential sound representation of the Supreme Lord.” The sound representation or name of the Supreme Lord is as good as the Supreme Lord Himself. By vibrating the sound of oàkära, or of Hare Kåñëa, Hare Kåñëa, Kåñëa Kåñëa, Hare Hare/ Hare Räma, Hare Räma, Räma Räma, Hare Hare, one can be delivered from the contamination of this material world. Because such vibrations of transcendental sound can deliver a conditioned soul, they are known as tara, or deliverers.… In the Mäëòükya Upaniñad it is said that when oàkära is chanted, whatever is seen as material is seen perfectly as spiritual. In the spiritual world or in spiritual vision there is nothing but oàkära, or the one alternate, oà.… As far as the oàkära praëava is concerned, it is considered to be the sound incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. As such, oàkära is eternal, unlimited, transcendental, supreme and indestructible. He (oàkära) is the beginning, middle and end, and He is beginningless as well. When one understands oàkära as such, he becomes immortal. One should thus know oàkära as a representation of the Supreme situated in everyone’s heart. One who understands oàkära and Viñëu as being one and the same and all-pervading never laments in the material world, nor does he remain a çüdra.
Although He (oàkära)
has no material form, He is unlimitedly expanded, and He has unlimited
form. By understanding oàkära one can become free from the
duality of the material world and attain absolute knowledge. Therefore
oàkära is the most auspicious representation of the Supreme
Lord. Such is the description given by Mäëòükya Upaniñad
One should not foolishly interpret an Upaniñadic description and
say that because the Supreme Personality of Godhead “cannot” appear Himself
in this material world in His own form, He sends His sound representation
(oàkära) instead. Due to such a false interpretation, oàkära
comes to be considered something material and consequently oàkära
is misunderstood and praised as being simply an exhibition or symbol of
the Lord. Actually oàkära is as good as any other incarnation
of the Supreme Lord.
The Lord has innumerable incarnations, and oàkära is one of them. As Kåñëa states in Bhagavad-gétä: “Amongst vibrations, I am the syllable oà.” (Bg. 9.17) This means that oàkära is nondifferent from Kåñëa. Impersonalists, however, give more importance to oàkära that to the Personality of Godhead, Kåñëa. The fact is, however, that any representational incarnation of the Supreme Lord is nondifferent from Him. Such an incarnation or representation is as good spiritually as the Supreme Lord. Oàkära is therefore the ultimate representation of all the Vedas. Indeed, the Vedic mantras or hymns have transcendental value because they are prefixed by the syllable oà. The Vaiñëavas interpret oàkära as follows: by the letter O, Kåñëa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is indicated; and by the letter M, the eternal servitor of the Supreme Lord, the living entity, is indicated. Çaìkara has not given such importance to the oàkära. However, importance is given in the Vedas, the Rämäyaëa, and in the Mahäbhärata from beginning to end. Thus the glories of the Supreme Lord, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, are declared.
(Teachings of Lord Caitanya)
In the Vedas, the chief transcendental
vibration oàkära is also Kåñëa. Praëava
oàkära is the divine substance of the Vedas. Following the
Vedas means chanting the Vedic mantras, and no Vedic mantra is complete
without oàkära. In the Mäëòükya Upaniñad,
oàkära is stated to be the most auspicious sound representation
of the Supreme Lord. This is also confirmed again in the Atharva Veda.
Oàkära is the sound representation of the Supreme Lord and
is therefore the principal word in the Vedas. In this connection, the Supreme
Lord, Kåñëa, says, praëavaù sarva-vedeñu:
“I am the syllable oà in all the Vedic mantras.” [Bg. 7.8]
(The Science of Self-Realization)
The three words “oà tat sat”
are uttered in conjunction with the holy name of the Supreme Lord:
[The] three words, oà tat sat, particularly indicate the Absolute Truth, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In the Vedic hymns, the word oà is always found.… The three words oà tat sat are uttered in conjunction with the holy name of the Supreme Lord, e.g., oà tad viñëoù. Whenever a Vedic hymn or the holy name of the Supreme Lord is uttered, oà is added. This is the indication of Vedic literature. These three words are taken from Vedic hymns. Oà ity etad brahmaëo nediñöaà näma indicates the first goal. Then tat tvam asi indicates the second goal. And sad eva saumya indicates the third goal. Combined they become oà tat sat. Formerly when Brahmä, the first created living entity, performed sacrifices, he spoke these three names of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The same principle holds by disciplic succession. So this hymn has great significance.
Bhagavad-gétä As It Is 17.23
“Oà” is Kåñëa:
When we chant the Vedic mantras which begin with oà, we can also remember Kåñëa. Oà, like Hare Kåñëa, is also an address to God, and oà is also Kåñëa.
(On the Way to Kåñëa)
All sounds are but reflections of
the original spiritual sound “oà” or “Hare Kåñëa”:
Çabdaù means sound, and whenever we hear any sound we should know that it is a vibration of the original sound, the pure spiritual sound oà or Hare Kåñëa. Whatever sound we hear in the material world is but a reflection of that original spiritual sound oà.
(On the Way to Kåñëa)
The sound “Hare Kåñëa”
[Lord Kåñëa to Arjuna]: After being situated in this yoga practice and vibrating the sacred syllable oà, the supreme combination of letters, if one thinks of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and quits his body, he will certainly reach the spiritual planets.
It is clearly stated here that oà,
Brahman, and Lord Kåñëa are not different. The impersonal
sound of Kåñëa is oà, but the sound Hare Kåñëa
contains oà. It is clearly recommended in this age that if one quits
his body at the end of this life chanting the mahä-mantra, Hare Kåñëa,
he will reach the spiritual planets. Similarly, those who are devotees
of Kåñëa enter the Kåñëa planet or
Goloka Våndävana whereas the impersonalists remain in the brahmajyoti.
The personalists also enter many innumerable planets in the spiritual sky
known as Vaikuëöhas.
Bhagavad-gétä As It Is 8.13
“After being situated in this yoga
practice and vibrating the sacred syllable oà, the supreme combination
of letters, if one thinks of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and quits
his body, he will certainly reach the spiritual planets.” (Bg. 8.13) Oà,
or oàkära, is the concise form, or impersonal form, of the
transcendental vibration. The dhyäna-yogé should vibrate oà
while remembering Kåñëa, or Viñëu, the Supreme
Personality of Godhead. The impersonal sound of Kåñëa
is oà, but the sound Hare Kåñëa contains oà.
The Path of Perfection
The scriptures recommend the chanting
of the Hare Kåñëa mahä-mantra rather than oàkära
in the Kali-yuga:
[Çukadeva Gosvämé to King Parékñit]: In the Satya-yuga, the first millennium, all the Vedic mantras were included in one mantra—praëava, the root of all Vedic mantras.…
In Satya-yuga the only mantra was
oàkära (oà tat sat). The same name oàkära
is manifest in the mantra Hare Kåñëa, Hare Kåñëa,
Kåñëa Kåñëa, Hare Hare/ Hare Räma,
Hare Räma, Räma Räma, Hare Hare. Unless one is a brähmaëa,
one cannot utter oàkära and get the desired result. But in
Kali-yuga almost everyone is a çüdra, unfit for pronouncing
the praëava, oàkära. Therefore the çästras
have recommended the chanting of the Hare Kåñëa mahä-mantra.
Oàkära is a mantra, or mahä-mantra, and Hare Kåñëa
is also a mahä-mantra. The purpose of pronouncing oàkära
is to address the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Väsudeva (oà
namo bhagavate väsudeväya). And the purpose of chanting the Hare
Kåñëa mantra is the same. Hare: “O energy of the Lord!”
Kåñëa: “O Lord Kåñëa!” Hare: “O energy
of the Lord!” Räma: “O Supreme Lord, O supreme enjoyer!”
Although oàkära and the
Hare Kåñëa mantra are the same, Çré Caitanya
Mahäprabhu recommended the chanting of the mahä-mantra in this
Every Vedic mantra is called brahma because each mantra is preceded by the brahmäkñara, aum or oàkära. For example, oà namo bhagavate väsudeväya. Lord Kåñëa says in Bhagavad-gétä (7.8), praëavaù sarva-vedeñu: “In all the Vedic mantras, I am represented by praëava, or oàkära.” Thus chanting of the Vedic mantras beginning with oàkära is directly chanting of Kåñëa’s name. There is no difference. Whether one chants oàkära or addresses the Lord as Kåñëa, the meaning is the same, but Çré Caitanya Mahäprabhu has recommended that in this age one chant the Hare Kåñëa mantra (harer nämaiva kevalam). Although there is no difference between Hare Kåñëa and the Vedic mantras beginning with oàkära, Çré Caitanya Mahäprabhu, the leader of the spiritual movement for this age, has recommended that one chant Hare Kåñëa, Hare Kåñëa, Kåñëa Kåñëa, Hare Hare/ Hare Räma, Hare Räma, Räma Räma, Hare Hare.
Chanting the Hare Kåñëa
mantra is more practical than chanting oàkära because one can
do so without consideration of time and place:
[Närada Muni to King Yudhiñöhira]: My dear King, in a sacred and holy place of pilgrimage one should select a place in which to perform yoga. The place must be level and not too high or low. There one should sit very comfortably, being steady and equipoised, keeping his body straight, and thus begin to chant the Vedic praëava.
Here the chanting of oàkära is recommended because in the beginning of transcendental realization, instead of chanting the Hare Kåñëa mahä-mantra, one may chant oàkära (praëava). There is no difference between the Hare Kåñëa mahä-mantra and oàkära because both of them are sound representations of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Praëavaù sarva-vedeñu. In all Vedic literatures, the sound vibration oàkära is the beginning. Oà namo bhagavate väsudeväya. The difference between chanting oàkära and chanting the Hare Kåñëa mantra is that the Hare Kåñëa mantra may be chanted without consideration of the place or the sitting arrangements recommended in Bhagavad-gétä (6.11):
çucau deçe pratiñöhäpya
sthiram äsanam ätmanaù
“To practice yoga, one should go to a secluded place and should lay kuça grass on the ground and then cover it with a deerskin and a soft cloth. The seat should neither be too high nor too low and should be situated in a sacred place.”
The Hare Kåñëa
mantra may be chanted by anyone, without consideration of the place or
how one sits. Çré Caitanya Mahäprabhu has openly declared,
niyamitaù smaraëe na kälaù. In chanting the Hare
Kåñëa mahä-mantra there are no particular injunctions
regarding one’s sitting place. The injunction niyamitaù smaraëe
na kälaù includes deça, käla and pätra—place,
time and the individual. Therefore anyone may chant the Hare Kåñëa
mantra, without consideration of the time and place. Especially in this
age, Kali-yuga, it is very difficult to find a suitable place according
to the recommendations of Bhagavad-gétä. The Hare Kåñëa
mahä-mantra, however, may be chanted at any place and any time, and
thus will bring results very quickly. Yet even while chanting the Hare
Kåñëa mantra one may observe regulative principles. Thus
while sitting and chanting one may keep his body straight, and this will
help one in the chanting process; otherwise one may feel sleepy.
Many collections of Upanishads have been published. One collection contains no less than 108 texts and others are known. Only a small number of these are ancient. Many of the later ones are sectarian writings. The oldest Upanishads, by contrast, represent spiritual teachings and investigations which are a common reference point for all subsequent Indian philosophy, including the thinkers of nastika sects who reject the scriptural status of the Vedas.
In tradition the Upanishads as the Vedanta, the last element in the Veda, have full scriptural authority. They are Sruti, revealed scripture handed down by the sages. [Their status as Sruti suggests the experience underlying the sages' words is accepted as self-authenticating.]
The Upanishads allow us to watch the ancient sages teaching, we can sit alongside and overhear the discourses and discussions they hold. They are teaching texts memorized and handed down generation to generation in Brahmin families for centuries before they were committed to writing.
Vedic religion was sacrifice-centred, ritualistic and originally polytheistic. The hymns of the Rg Veda (R.g Veda Samhitâs: 10522 verses - Rig or Royal Veda - "sacred hymn or verse"; liturgial manual of the hotr., chief sacrificial priest) The Rig Veda is the oldest of the Vedas. All the other Vedas are based upon it and consist to a large degree of various hymns from it. It consists of a thousand such hymns of different seers, each hymn averaging around ten verses. The Rig Veda is the oldest book in Sanskrit or any Indo-European language. is the book of Mantra. It contains the oldest form of all the Sanskrit mantras. It is built around a science of sound which comprehends the meaning and power of each letter; Yajur Veda (Yajur Veda Samhitâs: 1875 verses - from yajus, "sacrifical formula" "ritual formular"; liturgical manual of adhvaryu priest, assistant of hotr - charged with ritual preparations, and "practical work") The Yajur Veda seen by the outer vision is the Veda of ritual. On an inner level, it sets forth a yogic practice for purifying the mind and awakening the inner consciousness. Its series of sacrifices culminate in the Atmayajna or the self-sacrifice wherein the ego is offered up to the Divine. While the lesser sacrifices win the lesser worlds, the Self-sacrifice wins all the worlds and gains the greatest gift of immortality; and Sama Veda (Sâma Veda Samhitâs: 1984 verses - from sâman, "song, chant"; hymnal of singing udgâtr, priest, assistant of the hotr..) express the religious consciousness of this tradition, but even in those hymns we see the emergence of speculative and skeptical philosophical thought reshaping the religion away from polytheism into a rationally and spiritually more satisfying focus on a single Divine Reality, seen as source and sustainer of the Universe. The Sama Veda is the Yoga of Song. It consists of various hymns of the Rig Veda put to a different and more musical chant. Hence the text of the Sama Veda is a reduced version of the Rig Veda. Its secret is in its musical annotation and rendering. The Sama Veda represents the ecstasy of spiritual knowledge and the power of devotion. The Rig Veda is the word, the Sama Veda is the song or the meaning. The Rig Veda is the knowledge, the Sama Veda its realization. Hence the two always go together like husband and wife. The Rig Veda is the wife and the Sama is the husband. Arthava Veda (Atharva Veda Samhitâs: 5977 verses - a compilation, the youngest Veda; from atharvan, the "fire priest," not originally associated with Vedic sacrifice, later added as brâhman.a, the fourth sacrificial priest - information veda). The Atharva Veda is the last of the Vedas. It has not always been accepted as a Veda, which are often spoken of as three. It still contains many hymns from the Rig Veda but also has some more popular magic spells which are outside of the strictly ritual-knowledge orientation of the other Vedas. Like the Rig Veda it is a collection of hymns but of a more diverse character, some very exalted like the Rig Veda others of more common nature. As such it gives us a better idea of the life of common people in Vedic times; Gandharva veda (music), Dhanus veda (war fare), Ayurveda (medicine), Jyotisha (Astronomy and astrology) and so on.
The samhitâs and brâhmanas are the karmakânda section, "action part," of the Vedas, studied by the pûrva mîmâmsâ, "prior interpretation," or Mîmâmsâ school. The brâhmanas, using much "mythic" material, are commentaries on and explanations of the hymns and ritual practices. The âranyakas verge into philosophical writing but often are indistinguishable from the brâhmanas; they may be regarded as philosophical texts written by or for forest dwelling hermits or as brâhman.a ritual texts written for forest dwellers who cannot practice the ordinary household rituals described in the brâhmanas shastra proper. The âranyakas and upanishads are considered the jñanakânda, "knowledge part," of the Vedas, studied by the uttara mîmâmsâ, "posterior interpretation," or Vedânta, "End of the Vedas," school.The Vedic sacrifices were rites of quite extraordinary complexity, involving numbers of different priests with distinct functions. In the course of certain parts of the rites, the priests asked each other riddling questions about the sacrifice, the gods, the ultimate structure of the Universe. The Brahmin priests were not simply ritualists content to carry out their religious duties and hand on the tradition handed down to them: they argued and debated the significance of their sacrificial rituals. The Brahmanas represent their attempts to interpret the sacrificial rites as embodiments of the ultimate meanings of the Universe and of human life. The Aranyakas contain a different form of theological speculation; these texts emanate from the mystical meditations of Brahmin sages working in their forest hermitages, not carrying out the sacrificial rites, but imagining them and using their meditations on the rites as a means of investigating ultimate reality. The Upanisads emerge from the Brahmanas and Aranyakas, no longer focussing centrally on the sacrificial rites, but rather seeking a direct, immediate and life transforming knowledge of the Self and of the Real.
The Upanishads represent the spiritual tradition of the forest hermits and to a lesser extent of the wandering ascetics. It is a tradition of:
UPASANA- meditation, both discursive meditation exploring the inscape of meaning of religious symbols and contemplative meditation seeking direct experience of the Self and the Real, Atman and Brahman.
TEACHING - the forest sage became Guru to the young brahmacharins who came to sit at his feet,
ASCETICISM- a disciplined, frugal, simple life was typical of the sages, a life that put aside all the riches and all the security and support offered by the settled life.
DEBATE - one of the sources of vitality of Indian philosophical tradition is the practise of disputation and debate. Sages disagreed, they became rivals and fought each other in informal or in formal verbal combat -and from an early period began to compose handbooks of debating technique -and teachers used the techniques of debate to teach and test their disciples.
The Upanishadic tradition has its roots in mystical experience but it
seeks rational and intelligible expression and invites the testing of its
CRITICAL ORTHODOXY - the Upanishadic sages belong to Hindu tradition, not only in the obvious sense that their teachings are preserved in texts which Hindus accept as scripture, but also in the much more important sense that they stand within the living tradition of Brahminical Hinduism. The Upanishadic sages are frequently critical of elements in the priestly tradition, some deny the efficacy of rites and sacrifices as a means to Liberation. They still remain, however, within the same tradition as the sacrificing priests, they still make use of sacrificial imagery to interpret human life or to depict the structure of the cosmos.
Despite belonging to the Orthodox tradition, the Upanishadic sages represent a style of religious practise and thought far removed from what we find in the early Vedic hymns. A significant shift in religious consciousness has occurred:
EARLY VEDIC RELIGION
1. Poly theism ending in later hymns to seek a single deity as source and sustainer of the Cosmos.
UPANISHADIC SAGES Monism: the focus is not a god or even God, but the Self, the Real.
2. Sacrifice as the central practise of the religion.
Sacrificial symbol is mused to interpret human life or cosmological structures.
3. Religious rites and rituals as the focal duty the carrying out of which leads to the highest level of attainment.
Rites as irrelevant to Liberation: the meditative quest for the Self/the Real as the central spiritual practise.
4. Religion expressed in ritual texts and hymns and exegesis of them.
Religion expressed in spiritual discourses, discussions and debates showing and teaching Brahma vidya.
5. The ritual texts, Vedic hymns and commentaries on the rites and the disciplines needed to understand them as the content of Brahminical education.
The learning of Upasana as the one central content of spiritual training
6. Ritual priesthood as the highest religious office/ role.
Ascetic, contemplative life as the highest form of religious life.
7. Priest's sacrificial and teaching function in community.
Guru's teaching function with disciples.
8. The final attainment as rebirth in the Heavenly Realms with the Gods and/or Ancestors.
Final attainment is Moksha, release from the cycle of rebirth and existence as Atman/Brahman free from the trammels of incarnate existence.
9. Focus of religious learning on the interpretation of the Vedic hymns and the ritual texts.
Focus of religious learning on psychological, metaphysical and cosmological analysis.
The Upanishads represent a radical reconstruction of religious concerns.
The sages consciously link themselves to earlier tradition in a variety
of ways, e.g. the sages and their pupils are normally Brahmins, they continue
the tradition of interpretation of the sacrificial rites, though they are
concerned with the symbolism of the rites not with the rites themselves.
The distance the sages experience between themselves and the priestly ritualists
is expressed in the Upanishads in a variety of ways, e.g. in the way Svetaketu's
father dismisses his son's priestly learning, or in the image the Chandogya
offers of a procession of dogs, the tail of one in the mouth of the other,
solemnly chanting "Aum, let us eat! Aum let us drink!" Sometimes the sages
seek merely to relativise the importance of the sacrificial cult and its
priestly ministers, sometimes they address it with real hostility.
The Upanishads mark a major turning point in the development of Indian thought. They place meditation and mystical experience and the philosophical interpretation of its significance at the heart of the religious quest. They are not concerned merely with an intellectual quest for the Self, for the Real, the quest on which the sages are set is experiential. There are passages of sophisticated philosophical analysis and argument in the Upanishads, but in the end it is not intellectual conviction but lived realisation that is the aim of Upanishadic teaching. Given their focus on the lived experience of meditation and on the disclosure of Being it offers, it is no surprise that the Upanishads were used as a source book and reference point not only by Orthodox thinkers throughout religious history, but also by Nastika dissidents. Buddhist texts, for example, are rich with material drawn from the early Upanishads.
The Vedas are the recordings of sages to whom the mantras were revealed. They proclaim the transcendental Truth, which is not changed by time or place. They indicate the means to prosperity and security for the denizens of the three worlds.
The word Veda is derived from the root "Vid", which means, "to know". The Veda teaches how to achieve purity of heart, getting rid of impurities.
The Vedas have been declared to be infinite and hence beyond the comprehension of common people. In the beginning there was only one Veda. To study it considerable time and effort were needed. Vyasa divided it into different parts to enable people to study as well as practice the teachings of the Veda. Out of the countless number of hymns, Vyasa gathered some Rks and compiled them in the Rg Veda, collected some yajus to form the Yajur Veda and some Samans to make up the Sama Veda.
The Rg Veda is mainly devoted to hymns in praise of various deities. The Yajur Veda consists of mantras for worshipping the deities. The mantras of the Yajur Veda are used in the performance of yagas and yajnas and in doing acts of charity. Each Veda has three sections: Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads.
The purpose of Vedic mantras
The Vedic mantras were utilized in yagas and yajnas (ritual sacrifices) for promoting the well being of society and the world. They were intended to secure timely rains so that the crops may be good and there may be prosperity all round. The mantras, which form part of the Karma Kanda (the path of rituals), were regarded as conducive to the promotion of general well being and happiness.
The Yajur Veda is devoted entirely to the worship of the deities. It consists of two divisions -- Krishna Yajur Veda (black Yajur Veda) and Sukla Yajur Veda (white Yajur Veda) -- which are based on two traditional distinctions. Sukla Yajur Veda belongs to the Brahma sampradaya (Brahmic tradition) and the Krishna Yajur Veda to the Aditya sampradaya (school). Adherents of the Sukla Yajur Veda are largely confined to North India, while Krishna Yajur Veda has its adherents mainly in South India.
The Vedas developed under nine heads:
Sruti: refers to the process of learning the Vedas from a preceptor - guru by practicing the precise manner of chanting the mantras and thereby acquiring proficiency in the recitation of the Vedas. The sounds have to be reproduced exactly as taught by the preceptor by listening to him with intense earnestness. The Vedic mantras are thus learnt entirely by listening. Thus not anyone has accessibility to the Sruti. In fact only one who was a brahmin was generally accepted for such training.
Anuswara: refers to the practice of repeating the mantras learnt from the preceptor, contemplating on them and preserving them in their purity by constant recitation.
Trayee: Originally only three Vedas--Rg, Yajur and Sama Vedas -- were considered Apourusheya, without a human origin (that is, emanating from the Divine). The Atharvana Veda comprises hymns taken from the Yajur Veda. Because of their Divine origin, the first three Vedas were called "Trayee" (the Triad).
Aamnaaya: refers to constant contemplation of the root syllable "Na". Acquiring knowledge of the Vedas by this practice has been described as Aamnaaya and Samaamnaaya.
One meaning of Chandas is that it is knowledge, which should be guarded in secret and propagated with care. The Vedas are also described as Chandas. The entire Sama Veda consists of Chandas. Therefore Chandas is also described as being the essential manner in which one recites the verses or texts, according to the ageless parampara handed down each mantra has its formula for its recitation and usually a presiding guardian devata who oversees and assists in success of the swara suddhi and siddhi of the mantra, it's being unlocked (samput) and so on.
Swaadhyaayam: refers to the process by which the Vedas have come down from generation to generation, through father to son, in genealogical succession. Acquisition of Vedic knowledge was not through books. It was transmitted from preceptor to disciple over the years. It is because this knowledge was handed down directly from preceptor to pupil, it has been described as Swaadhyaaya. Another meaning of Swaadhyaaya is general glorification of the Lord through study, and sharing those studies through disseminating that knowledge.
Gama and Aagama are the names given to the inhaling and exhaling of the Lord's breath which were the origin of the Vedas. All in all, the Vedas represent the emanations from the breath of the Lord.
The great sages who listened to these mantras as revelations from the Divine found the key to them in eight basic letters. All the Vedic mantras with their musical rendering were remembered by reflecting on the eight letters: "A, Ka, Cha, Ta, Tha, Pa, Ya, Sa." The great seers fostered the Vedas by the use of these letters.
Neglect of the Vedas and Vedic culture in the world today due to massive propaganda for sense enjoyment and settling for such a weak manner of, dare we say human life-style is cause for spiritual decline. Rather than dwelling on that alone and becoming depressed, let us note with pride that world wide there's a spiritual revival in progress and many good things are going on. Let's all be part of that.
How the decline may be tangibly observed:
Each of the Vedas had several saakhas (branches) and upasaakhas (sub-branches). Out of the 20 branches and 21 sub-branches of the Rg Veda, only three have survived today. Likewise out of 96 branches of Yajur Veda only two have survived the ravages of time. Sama Veda, which had 1000 branches, retains today only three branches. If so much of spiritual treasure is contained in the few branches of the Vedas that have survived, how much greater would have been the spiritual heritage of the Bharatiyas if the Vedas had survived in their entirety! It is because of the neglect of the Vedas that the spiritual and scientific knowledge of Bharatiyas experienced a steady decline. As a consequence they developed a narrow outlook. Broadness of vision suffered an eclipse. Today the numbers of those who have no love or respect for the Vedas are on the increase. Even among the Brahmins interest and concern for the Vedas have declined.
Who are Brahmins? Brahman means the embodiment of mantra, or one who knows Brahman. Only those who constantly recited the mantras, thus practically embodying the very essence of Brahman were called Brahmins. Today unfortunately (so many, but not all) Brahmins have forgotten these mantras and their meaning. Owing to the impact and imposition of modern western education, and its emphasis merely on artha (economic development), and accompanied by the greed for money and the growth of narrow-minded interests (an-artha) that are propagated through the media of TV, the Internet, Radio and newspapers and magazines that reinforce a bodily concept of life, a cheap settling for so-called happiness in this world, getting caught up in so many popular mundane issues of the day, they have forgotten their inherent divinity. As a consequence, peace and security in the world have become casualties - in fact due to the compromising of the brahminical priestly class, and the rest of society now left with no head to direct it, society in general world wide is suffering. Instead of being brah-manas or broad minded, they have become krip-ana or selfish - cripple minded or miserly, only absorbed in sense enjoyment. We pray that my harsh yet illuminating words here will make some at least stand up again like men of integrity to help us spread these much needed teachings. The world is so much in need of an intelligent class of men again, as presently it is having all standard set by lowly personalities from the entertainment industry (musicians, thespians, sportsmen), who in their personal lives are addicted to so many destructive things; alcohol, drugs, illicit sex, abuse, exploitation and misuse of animals, children, and women etc. They may dress very well, even have so much fiscal and financial wealth, but mostly they are ignorant, and thus devoid of Vedic knowledge of what is to be done, and what is to be avoided.
What is meant by Veda? One meaning is eruka (awareness). Another is the livi (intelligence). A third meaning is viveka (discrimination). All those who wish to develop discrimination should be deeply interested in the Vedas. Through the understanding or discriminatory process of what is material, what is spiritual, what is beneficial and what is not, a class of men called Vedantists or ones who know what is to be done, through the conclusions of Veda, or sacred texts of knowledge.
Today much of what people call intelligence is being developed and used only for acquiring positions and possessions, for securing comforts and conveniences and not for developing good qualities and becoming good men engaged in Godly pursuits. All their intellectual abilities are being misused for trivial purposes. Consequently all these pursuits are considered like so many zeros with no worthy digit placed to make them of any factual worth.( 0000000000000 as opposed to 10, or 100, or 1000, or 10000, or 100000 and so on........)
The universal outlook of the Vedas:
The Vedas have emphasized that man will be truly human only when he lives up to human values and practices the good life. This is not a relative or subjective issue up for debate, this statement of what is a good wholesome life and that which is no better than polished animal existence by those who are truly learned is accepted by all honest persons who have seen the truth.
Many who chant the Vedas these days have difficulty in understanding their purport. When they fully understand the meaning and chant the mantras, they will derive greater personal joy. Only then they will experience the full sacredness and potency of the Vedas. What to speak of sharing such Vedic knowledge with others and allowing the compound effects to not only bring multiple expanses of joy and wisdom to ourselves but also to others.
The Vedas have a universal outlook, embracing all that is noble and sacred. They have taught the principle of samatwa (equality) in respect of everything. They have proclaimed the concept of true oneness in relation to the One (we are one in spiritual quality with God or Brahman, but in quantity we are tiny and He is omnipotent - like gold in a ring and gold in a gold mine). They taught men to face joy and sorrow with equal serenity.
The many of those who utter the sacred mantras today do not grasp their inner meaning. It is not fashionable to have a guru, and to be under the guidance of such a saintly persons in today's so-called free thinking society where liberality and free acceptance and artificial equality prevail. Simply fools caught up in a fools paradise of sentimental wishy washy concocted "wisdom" of "New Age" warm and fluffy ideas. It is the breading ground of ignorance, ignoring age old proven truths in preference for something new, a newness like a child Xmas or birthday gift that is soon discarded when the novelty wears off.
Better would be to at least have a genuine Vedic attribute in their favour, something being better than nothing.
Even if the full meaning of a single mantra is understood, it will be sufficient. The Vedic culture is so wonderful and so amazing, like a jar of ambrosial honey - from wherever one tastes the honey it is sweet. There are so many schools of Vedic thought, or Vedic activity and the timeless principles can be applied to any and all, or parts as applicable to time place and circumstance.
As mentioned is the Kalisantara Upanishad where our inspiration has been surcharged to compile these pages it is mentioned in the front, and at the end the Shantidan. "Om Sahanavavathu; sahanau bhunaktu; sahaviryam karavaavahai". What does this signify? "Let us move together in unison. Let us live in harmony in communion with each other." What a wide vision is present in this mantra!
Originally published in "Tattva Prakasha" Volume 1, Issue 7; available online at http://www.indiadivine.com
In the Vedantic traditions sound is considered one of the most important
principles of existence, as it is both the source of matter and the key
to become free from it. One who can thoroughly understand the four stages
of sound as explained in the Vedic texts can utilize this science to become
free from the bondage of matter.
When trying to understand the four levels of sound, we must first understand what is "sound" as defined in the scriptures. In the Srimad Bhagavatam (3.26.33) we find an interesting definition for sound (shabda) as follows:
drashtur lingatvam eva ca
tan-matratvam ca nabhaso
lakshanam kavayo viduh
"Persons who are learned and who have true knowledge define sound as that which conveys the idea of an object, indicates the presence of a speaker and constitutes the subtle form of ether."
This may not be an absolute definition of sound, as there are various
levels of sound to define, but it provides us with a solid foundation to
begin our study of this topic. This definition, as given in Srimad Bhagavatam,
is very interesting in that it differs completely from western and modern
views of defining sound.
First, those who are learned and who have true knowledge define sound as that which conveys the idea of an object. Sound is not just the vibration created by the meeting of two objects. Sound is that which conveys the idea of an object. The exact word used in this connection is "artha-ashraya" or "the shelter of the meaning". In the Vedic conception the aksharas (letters) are bijas, or seeds of existence. The audible sound is categorized into 50 alphabets of Sanskrit starting from "a" and ending with "ksha". Hence the alphabet is called "akshara", which literally means "infallible" or "supreme". Akshara is also a synonym for pranava (Om), the sum of all syllables and source of all vedic hymns. The Bhagavad Gita confirms this as follows:
karma brahmodbhavam viddhi
tasmat sarva-gatam brahma
nityam yajne pratisthitam
"Regulated activities are prescribed in the Vedas, and the Vedas are directly manifested from akshara, the sacred syllable Om. Consequently the all-pervading Transcendence (pranava or the syllable 'Om') is eternally situated in acts of sacrifice."
Karma, or duty, is manifested from the Vedas. This manifestation is not exactly direct, for one is spiritual and the other is material. This is indicated by the word udbhavam. On the other hand, the manifestation of the Vedas from the pranava (Om) is direct, and thus the word used to describe it is sam-udbhavam, and not just udbhavam.
In the Tantras the aksharas are traced back to their material source level which is a particular deity of Shakti. Each of her stages of manifestation are phases in the evolution of the universe. Thus the aksharas are potent sound, constitutionally connected to objects as sound (shabda) and its meaning (artha).
This is interesting in that it draws a distinction between sound and
noise. Noise, as distinct from sound, is not the artha-ashraya, or the
shelter of meaning.
Sri Baladeva Vidyabhushana in his commentary to Vedanta Sutra 1.3.28 says that the creation of all living entities proceeds from the remembrance of their form and characteristics by Lord Brahma reciting the corresponding words. From this we can begin to understand to potency of sound and its meaning.
The second aspect of Srimad Bhagavatam's definition of sound that is
unique from modern thought is that sound is defined as "that which indicates
the presence of a speaker". Thus sound must be a product of consciousness.
In this senses, sound is sometimes referred to as vak, or speech, throughout
the Vedic texts.
In the tantra system the purva mimamsaka's theory of the eternality of shabda (sound) and artha (meaning) is accepted. They go a little further to assert that shabda and artha are the embodiment of Shiva and Shakti as the universe itself. They name their original source as shabdartha-brahman instead of a mere shabda-brahman. For, that is the source of both the objects and their descriptions. Words and their meanings - what they denote in the objective world - are the variety of manifestations of shakti.
As sound is of the nature of the varnas (syllables) composing it, the
tantra affirms that the creative force of the universe resides in all the
letters of the alphabet. The different letters symbolize the different
functions of that creative force, and their totality is designated as matrika
or the "mother in essence".
Thus Tantra sees the mantras as not just a mere combination of whimsical sounds but as the subtle form of the presiding deity; and the real purpose of one’s meditation through the mantra is to communicate with the deity of that particular mantra.
Just as a sankalpa - a pure thought - has to pass through several stages
before it actually manifests as concrete creative force, the sound of a
particular mantra also has to pass through several stages before it is
fully experienced by the listener in perfection. These stages are termed
as para, pashyanti, madhyama and vaikhari.
Each level of sound corresponds to a level of existence, and one's experience of sound depends upon the refinement of one's consciousness.
It takes a realized consciousness to experience the full range of sound, the full range of existence. The seers who can comprehend the four stages of sound are known as Manishis.
The higher three forms of shabda are described in the Rig Veda as hidden in "guha", or within the self, whereas the forth is the external manifested speech, known as laukika bhasha.
These four levels of sound correspond to four states of consciousness.
Para represents the transcendental consciousness. Pashyanti represents
the intellectual consciousness. Madhyama represents the mental consciousness.
And Vaikhari represents the physical consciousness. These states of consciousness
correspond with the four states known technically as jagrat, svapna, susupti,
and turiya - or the wakeful state, the dreaming state, the dreamless state,
and the transcendental state.
Shabda-brahman in its absolute nature is called para. In manifestation the subtle is always the source of the gross, and thus from para-vak manifests the other three forms of sound.
Though the manifestation of sound takes place from para-vak down to vaikhari-vak (or fine to gross), in explaining these stages we will begin from the external vaikhari-vak, as that is the sound we all have most experience of.
Vaikhari-vak is the grossest level of speech, and it is heard through the external senses. When sound comes out through the mouth as spoken syllables it is called as vaikhari.
Madhyama-vak is the intermediate unexpressed state of sound, whose seat is in the heart. The word Madhyama means "in between" or "the middle". The middle sound is that sound which exists between the states of susupti and jagrat. Madhyama-vak refers to mental speech, as opposed to external audible speech. It is on this level that we normally experience thought. Some hold that wakeful thought is still on the level of vaikhari.
In the manifestation process, after sound has attained the form of pashyanti-vak, it goes further up to the heart and becomes coupled with the assertive intelligence, being charged with the syllables a, ka, cha, tha, ta, etc. At this point it manifests itself in the form of vibratory nada rupa madhyama-vak. Only those who are endowed with discriminative intelligence can feel this.
On the levels of madhyama and vaikhari, there is a distinction between the sound and the object. The object is perceived as something different from the sound, and sound is connected to an object mostly by convention.
Pashyanti-vak is the second level of sound, and is less subtle than
para-vak. Pashyanti in Sanskrit means "that which can be seen or visualized".
In the pashyanti stage sound possesses qualities such as color and form. Yogis who have inner vision can perceive these qualities in sound. On this stage the differences between language do not exist, as this sound is intuitive and situated beyond rigidly defined concepts. On the stage of pashyanti-vak, speech is intuitively connected to the object. There is near oneness between the word and the experience described.
Pashyanti-vak is the finest impulse of speech. The seat of pashyanti is in the navel or the Manipura Chakra. When sound goes up to the naval with the bodily air in vibratory form without any particular syllable (varna), yet connected with the mind, it is known as pashyanti-vak.
Para-vak is the transcendent sound. Para means highest or farthest,
and in this connection it indicates that sound which is beyond the perception
of the senses.
Para-vak is also known as "rava-shabda" - an unvibratory condition of sound beyond the reach of mind and intelligence (avyakta), only to be realized by great souls, parama-jnanis.
On the stage of para-vak there is no distinction between the object
and the sound. The sound contains within it all the qualities of the object.
In terms of the universal cosmology, vaikhari, madhyama and pashyanti correspond respectively to bhuh, bhuvah, and svah. The para-shabda ultimately corresponds to the Lord's tri-pada-vibhuti.
Within the pashyanti-vak exists the nature's iccha-shakti, or the power
of will. Within the madhyama-vak exists the nature's jnana-shakti, or the
power of knowledge. And within the vaikhari-vak exists the nature's kriya-shakti,
or power of action.
The pranava, or the syllable "om", is the complete representation of the four stages of sound and their existential counterparts. The existential realities are the physical (sthula) which is connected to the vaikhari-shabda, the subtle (sukshma) which is connected to the madhyama-shabda, the causal (karana) which is connected with the pashyanti-shabda, and the transcendental (para) which is related to the para-shabda. These four existential realities further correspond to the four states of consciousness.
The sthula sarira, or physical body, operates in the state of jagrat (wakeful state). It is in this realm of consciousness, and through this body, that the vaikhari-vak is manifested.
The sukshma-sarira, subtle or psychic body, operates in the state of svapna. It is in this realm of consciousness, and through this body, that the madhyama-vak is manifested.
The karana-sarira, or causal body, operates in the state of susupti, or deep sleep. It is in this realm of consciousness, and through this body, that the pashyanti-vak is manifested.
The para-vak is manifested through the fourth state of consciousness, known as turiya.
The sacred syllable "om" is composed of three matras, namely "a", "u", and "m". These three matras correspond respectively to bhuh, bhuvah and svah; jagrat, svapna and susupti; sukshma, sthula and karana; and vaikhari, madhyama and pashyanti. Besides these three matras, the pranava ("a-u-m") is also composed of a forth constituent, namely the a-matra or anahata-dhvani - the non-syllable or unstruck sound. For our practical understanding, this a-matra corresponds to the humming sound after one recites the "om" syllable. The a-matra represents the transcendence, the turiya, the para-vak.
Thus the syllable om contains all elements of existence. It is the reservoir of all energies of the Supreme Lord, and for this reason Lord Krishna states in the Gita:
om ity ekaksharam brahma
"The single syllable Om is the supreme combination of letters.
Elsewhere the Lord states:
yad aksharam veda-vido vadanti
"Those knowers of the Vedas recite Om (akshara)."
Why do they do this? Because the syllable om is the Supreme Lord and the potency of all Vedic mantras:
pranava sarva vedeshu
"Within all the Vedas, I am the symbol Om."
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu established the pranava as the maha-vakya of the Vedas, for within it exist all Vedic hymns (and shabda). The world itself is a manifestation of this syllable. It is the sound representation of the Absolute Truth.
The vak is not a manifestation of the material nature, for the Vedanta sutra 2.4.4 states as follows:
This indicates that the vak existed before the pradhana. Pradhana is
the root of the material manifestation - the three qualities non-differentiated
in absolute equilibrium. Yet prior to this is the vak. Thus the vak is
For this reason we find in the Vedanta Sutras the following statement:
"Liberation by sound."
Since sound is the non-material source of the material manifestation, it is the key by which we can become free from bondage. It is the thread-like link between the material and spiritual realms.
In describing the four phases of sound, sometimes the descriptions of
one will overlap another, or sometimes an aspect of one will seem to be
attributed to another. For example sometimes pashyanti is described as
"mental sound", whereas madhyama will be described as "intellectual sound".
This will require a deeper explanation of the intricacies of these stages
of sound and their relationships. Such an explanation is not possible here
at this time.
To study these concepts in greater depth one may refer to the Nada-bindu Upanishad, Bhartrihari's Vakyapadadiya, Prashna Upanishad, Mundaka Upanishad, Mandukya Upanishad, Maitri Upanishad and Katha Upanishad, as well as the concepts of shabda, vak, matrikas, hiranyagarbha, four states of consciousness, etc., as found in the tantras and throughout the upanishads. One should remember that in Vedic study one will not generally find a book on a particular topic (such as "vaikhari", etc.) One must study from numerous sources and assimilate a number of apparently diverse concepts. These concepts must then be harmonized internally. This constitutes the meditation and sacrifice of svadhyaya yajna.
For those who have assimilated these topics, they will find all this information contained in detail within nine technical verses of Srimad Bhagavatam beginning from 11.2.35 and ending at 11.2.43. For example, if one sees verses 38 through 40 one will find a complete explanation of sound in four levels and the process of manifestation. One must be trained to see the inner meaning of words, for these topics are discussed in esoteric and confidential manners:
paroksham mama ca priyam
"The Vedic seers speak about these topics indirectly in esoteric terms,
and I am pleased by such confidential descriptions."
When we see such words as pranah, manasa, sparsha-rupinah and chandah-mayah as occurring in verses 38 and 39, we should immediately understand the indirect and esoteric nature of the discussion, and thereby conclude the direct meaning being inferred by these words. We must learn the transcendental code of the Vedas. In reality everything is explained in the Srimad Bhagavatam in full, but because we generally lack the proper vision to understand the indirect and esoteric discussions, we therefore need to study and refer to other more direct scriptures. Thus the commentaries of the Acharyas will help us to understand these topics.
The science of sound, shabda-vijnana, as explained in the above mentioned verses of Srimad Bhagavatam, is also summarily explained in the Pancharatrik text known as Lakshmi-tantra as follows:
mulam adharam arabhya dvistkantam upeyusi
udita aneka sahasra surya vahnindu sannibha
cakravat punar adharat santa pasyatha madhyama
vaikhari sthanam asadhya tatrasta sthanavartini
varnanam jananim bhutva bhogya prasnoumi gouriva
"Seated in the area starting from the muladhara to the position of dvistkanta
with effulgence equal to the rising of millions of suns, fires and moons.
Like a wheel from the adhara becoming the sounds known as santa, pashyati,
madhyama. Reaching the position of vaikhari, there situated in eight places,
viz., the throat etc. Being the mother of all sounds I bestow enjoyments
like a cow."
See more pages on the Hare Krishna maha mantra HERE
See more on Daivi Varnashram Dharma HERE