Contemplating the Eternal

Contemplating the Eternal

Yesterday’s reading was on the invocations we chant at the beginning of practice. First to Ganesh, then Patanjali and the lineage of teachers and finally peace between and amongst us as we journey into our studies. The first utterance of all though is OM. OM is called as the Pranava mantra. Patanjali states that for those with an inclination towards devotion…isvara pranidhanad va ||23||… to put our meditation directly into the Lord which is no different than each and every individual self/soul except that it is pure and unbound to prakriti. Patanjali then offers the 27th sutra as a point of reflection for that practice…

  • tasya: its 
  • vacakah: name (vac=speech)
  • pranavah: the name of the mantra OM

“Its (Isvara’s) name is OM” 

therefore by chanting OM and meditating upon its meaning we connect with the divine principle that is untouched by klesa (pain), karma (actions with consequences) and vipaka (resulting experiences) as is seen in the previous sutras 24 and 25. 

  • klesha: afflictions
  • karma: actions with consequences
  • vipaka: resulting experiences
  • asayah: unfulfilled actions
  • aparamrstah: untouched
  • purusha: the self
  • viesesah: special
  • isvarah: the stand alone principle/ 26th tattva

“Isvara is untouched by pain, action, resulting experiences and the unfulfilled actions.”

  • tatra: in it (isvara)
  • niratisayam: completely residing
  • sarvajna: omniscient
  • bijam: subtle form/seed

“All knowledge resides in the subtle seed (Om) of Isvara, the all knowing”

How can a single syllable hold the key to all knowledge? For further reflection let us go to the Mandukya Upanishad …

Mandukya Upanishad:

The Mandukya Upanishad is a brief 12 shloka passage from the Atharva Veda widely considered one of the most important in the entire cannon (which is a vast one indeed). The entire Upanishad is an exposition on the mantra OM. I encourage you to read all 12 here,

The main crux of the teaching revolves around the symbology in OM or AUM. Om is said to be of 4 parts.

Reflected in Time: 

AUM, the word, is all this, the whole universe. A clear explanation of it is as follows: All that is past, present and future is, indeed, AUM. And whatever else there is, beyond the threefold division of time—that also is truly AUM.

As is verified in Patanjali’s yoga sutra AUM consists of the 3 + 1 stages of time: past, present, future and the transcendental space (beyond the confines of time). By chanting the mantra and meditating on it’s meaning with each sound we connect with the indestructuable and all knowing nature of Isvara…or as Patanjali states: 

  • sa esa: that one
  • purvesam: of all those in the past
  • api: even so
  • guruh: teacher
  • kalena: time
  • anavacchedat: indestructable

“The indestructable nature of the highest guru (Isvara), who is eternal and unaffected by time, is the source for all teachings in the past, present and the future.” Through reflection on OM in the state of Samadhi the yogi has a clear image of all past, present, future and the space beyond the confines of time/nature. Seeing all, one becomes unbound.

Reflected in states of Consciousness: 

This omniscient teacher is Brahman. The Upanishad describes Brahman as being synonymous here with the Atman or the individual Self. That Atman is comprised of 4 limbs or states of consciousness as described in the 3rd thorugh 6th shlokas as…

  1. vaishvanara. The waking state. Its consciousness is outward-turned and is related to gross objects. THis is the state of self common to most human beings that is still tied to the gross objects and their coordinating associations (gross level identity)
  2. taijasa. The dream state. Its consciousness is inward-turned and is related to subtle objects. This is the state of the subtle and introspective self. 
  3. prajna: dreamless sleep/deep sleep. In this field one becomes ONE, pure consciousness. This is the blissful self, or the desireless self. 
  4. turiya: transcendental space; neither inward- turned nor outward-turned consciousness. This is the one without a second/the ?tman/the Self.. The completely at peace. Much like the description of Isvara in the yoga sutras (the stand alone)

Reflected in each sound: 

The final shlokas delineate the relationship to these states to each of the sounds in the mantra AUM.

A: is the waking state (vaishvanara). it is also the past.

U: is the dream state (taijasa). It is also the present

M: is the deep sleep state (prajna). It is also the future

the final state is the silence after: (Turiya) this is the space beyond time and bondage. This is the realization of the Self. 

And so we may see that this practice comes in stages. Initially we may endeavor towards returning. As we sit and chant the mantra aloud or in silence the mind is guided to return again and again to the sound (nada) as a seed. Eventually the mind stays and as we chant we contemplate the meaning. The states of consciousness, the knowledge of time and beyond time, the sphere of sound towards silence. We may read the Mandukya Upanishad and the words of Patanjali as reinforcement for our reflections. The sound becomes more than an utterance. Rather, Om becomes a framework for devotion and self recognition. Every practice begins and ends with Om. Every prayer as well. Creation itself is said to have begun with the utterance of OM from the mouth of the divine. When our mind wAnders let it instead wOnder. Placing our mind in the seed of Isvara and contemplating the meaning we eventually are guided beyond form, beyond knowledge, into wisdom and peace. 

The Bhagavad Gita Chapter 8 further offers the boons of samadhi on the Pranavah. 

One who departs from the body while remembering the Supreme Personality, and chanting the syllable Om, will attain the supreme goal.

Om can sit in your consciousness anytime. When you catch yourself wandering into the spin cycle of thought try instead repeating the mantra. As you drift off to sleep chant the mantra. As you brush your teeth, cook your food, walk your dogs …chant the name. Whether as an act of devotion or a path to eka grata (one pointedness) as Ramaswami says “Whether you are a believer or not the method is the same.” 

See you tomorrow,


Swami Rama has a series of talks on this important Upanishad listed on youtube. Here is the first of the series


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