Shabda Yoga teaches us that we can learn to manifest our own universe if we apply the principles outlined in St. John’s gospel. These principles were well understood and practiced by the ancient Vedic seers and Rishis, who were also great poets. Vedic mantras, which are the classic form of Shabda Yoga, are well-sculpted poetic nuances. Another form of shabda yoga is poetry from around the world. Rap music too is a type of shabda yoga, provided it is employed with yogic consciousness and with the intention of transforming the world rather than as an unbridled outlet for negative energy and frustration.
Present-day motivational speakers and self-help authors have drawn attention to this age-old understanding of the power of human speech to manifest our dreams, our desires, and our fears. They teach us to change self-negating thoughts into positive affirmations in order to create more wealth and success in our lives. Much of what we think does, in fact, manifest into reality.
Imagine, then, we widen the scope of this possibility, beyond personal wealth and ambition, to include profound matters of the soul. Imagine we could draw energy from the sound of animals and birds, from the stars, the sun, and moon. Imagine channeling all that energy into our own nervous system. We would be able to build an immense reservoir of power to transform our families, our communities, our planet, and ourselves with the same power we have been seeking outside ourselves. Shabda Yoga is an age-old system that is a spiritual technology of the soul, a system already in use that can be expanded to create a better world for us all.
KEY PRINCIPLES OF SHABDA YOGA
The principles of Shabda Yoga are essentially based on the spiritual power of words. These principles are as follows: a) The sound of the word truly represents the sound of the thing it is associated with. b) There is an irrefutable sense of truth to the word and sound. c) The composite structure of the words in the form of a sentence, or group of sentences, awakens spiritual illumination. d) A force field of energy is generated by employing the rhythmic meters of intoning the words. e) The sounds establish energetic connections between the user, the listener and thing signified.
Traditional Vedic mantras are a sophisticated form of spiritual poetry that captures the emotional intensity and articulate beauty of the Sanskrit language. Many Vedic mantras have gone through a rigorous process of refinement so that they could embody the principles listed. This process includes not only the meaning of the words, but also their phonetic beauty, which embodies an innate music that can awaken the soul to knowledge, spiritual vision, and insight. Such an awakening is possible when words work together in a sentence structure to simultaneously capture the intellect, the imagination, and the full scope of human emotion. Thus, Vedic mantras reveal a cosmic vision by awakening spiritual insight in the user as well as in the listener.
The Vedas, which are composed mostly of Vedic mantras, are considered to be birthed from two inseparable aspects: they are sruti — that which is heard — and smriti — that which is remembered. One way of understanding these aspects of Vedic mantras is that the words and sounds that are heard awaken memory — knowledge that is already encoded in our cells, genes, and DNA. The combination of meaning and rhythm in Vedic mantras, arranged in specific sentence structures and poetic meters serve to illuminate the soul, especially when chanted during ritual. It was within the context of ancient Vedic rituals that these mantras were developed.
Since Vedic mantras awaken memory they are often recited aloud. The word mantra is derived from the ancient Vedic word for the mind (manas) and tra meaning instrumentality. A mantra is therefore an instrument of the mind, a spiritual device that is capable of producing transformation. A lesser-known interpretation of the word “mantra” comes from the root man-a, meaning “to utter.” This explains Vedic mantras and Shabda Yoga as a form of sacred speech that must be spoken aloud, as in the recitation of sacred texts, so that it could be “heard by the Gods.” Since speech causes our thoughts to manifest into reality, Vedic mantras – used to negotiate with the Gods – were painstakingly sculpted and refined so that even the Gods could not refuse what was being asked of them.
The function of linking human aspirations with the Divine power of the Universe to fulfill these aspirations leads us to yet another aspect of Vedic mantras: clarity of speech. The Vedic priest is very articulate in his enunciation of mantras so that the utterance is decisive — even aggressive. Thus, Shabda Yoga constitutes what we might classify as a masculine approach to Sound Yoga. For many thousands of years, women were not taught these mantras. In our present situation, I believe it is imperative that women be introduced to this type of chanting so that they can reclaim their voice and power. Such a step moves us toward the balance we are seeking as a culture and as a species.
The masculine power and articulate structure of Vedic mantras are best utilized to instill strength and confidence. It is practical therefore to use such sounds in the morning, as we prepare for the day’s tasks. They can also be used during the day when we feel our confidence being depleted or whenever we feel vulnerable, because shabda mantras fortify our spiritual presence and give us power. Even if you weren’t using Sanskrit mantras, you can feel the power of words by articulating what you want. Using Sanskrit mantras will bolster your regular speech and thinking abilities many times over.
The Vedic grammarians emphasized two aspects of the word (shabda), namely dhvani and sphota. Dhvani is the articulated external sound we hear with our ears; Sphota is the inner, illuminating power awakened in the heart when the word is “heard right.” In order for this to happen, speech must be articulate and syntax properly constructed. When we go deeply into this process, we allow the power of language to transmit insight and remove ignorance. Language then becomes a guru, capable of dispelling the darkness and illuminating the soul with its light. According to the philosophical Hindu text Advayataraka Upanishad, Guru means ‘dispeller’ (gu) of ‘darkness’ (ru).[i][i]
SHABDA YOGA (VEDIC MANTRA) AS ARCHITECTURE OF THE GODS AND KEYS TO INTUITIVE KNOWLEDGE
Ved means “to know” — not to know about, but a knowing that is direct, intimate, wholesome, and multidimensional. Vedic mantras, which we will study under the broad stream of Shabda Yoga, combine sound,word, and meaning to generate flashes of intuition, spiritual perception, and poetic inspiration. The Yoga of Sound has accompanied the practice of Hatha Yoga postures since Hinduism’s earliest beginnings. During the Vedic age, and probably long before, practitioners of yoga remained in a yogic posture (asana) for a long time in order to invoke a particular deity and develop specific yogic powers. To achieve these powers, specific mantras were partnered with the postures; the lotus posture (padmasana) and the tree (vrikshasana) were common asanas used to obtain mantra siddhi, or powers associated with mantras.Toward the end of the Vedic age (500 B.C.), during the period of the great Indian epics, (the Ramayana and the Mahabaratha) we know that mantras invoking Shiva, Vishnu, or Brahma — the three principal deities of Hinduism that evolved out of the Vedic age — were coupled with asanas. Prior to this, it is likely that many obscure and secret Tantric mantras were used to develop yogic powers.
According to ancient Hindu cosmology, the Divine maintains harmony and balance in the universe and protects the various parts of the universe through self-emanating powers known as vibhutis. In the Vedic tradition, these governing powers are celebrated as the devas, or “shining ones,”much like the angels of the Bible. To live harmoniously with these unseen powers was considered essential for the well-being of the community, a perspective common to all ancient cultures. In Hinduism, mantras were associated with these cosmic powers and regarded as a sort of code that could link human consciousness to specific emanations of Divine power, just as the name of Jesus can connect us to his holy presence and power. Effective use of the mantras could therefore introduce in our own bodies and minds the same balance, harmony, and protection that is prevalent in the universe. For the yogis of the Vedic age, the use of mantras helped maintain rta — pronounced “ruh-thah” — the sense of cosmic order and harmony that the Rishis perceived as prevailing throughout the universe. The notion that sonic consonance and harmony dominated the cosmos was shared by all ancient cultures, including the early Greek philosophers.
Later, in the seventeenth century, Johannes Kepler mathematically proved this concept through his Third Law of Planetary Motion, which showed that a great number of musical harmonies exist among the angular velocities of the planets in relationship to the sun. Musicologist Joachim-Ernst Berendt in his book Nada Brahma explains: “Not only the planetary orbits, but also the proportions within these orbits follow the laws of harmonics, much more than statistical probability would lead us to expect. Out of the seventy-eight tones created by the different planetary proportions, seventy-four belong to the major scale (a most harmonic sequence) — a truly overwhelming configuration that no ‘chance’ in the world will be able to explain.” The uniqueness of Vedic mantras lies in their cosmic resonance, which can be viewed as an architecture of the Gods, corresponding to our solar systems and galaxies, which are the great temples of our universe. Vedic mantras embody a human replica of this cosmic architecture, providing a sense of protection to the user by building a palpable force-field around the soul. This protective force-field becomes a means by which we can align ourselves with the harmony of the universe and generate harmony in our own lives and relationships.
In Vedic brahminism, the whole was viewed as being greater than its parts, the sum total of which could be glimpsed in flashes of powerful intuition. Grammar and phonetics played an important role in the awakening of this intuition, as the process came to rely on the structure of the sentence. Proper syntax, poetic nuance, and the spiritual power of individual words were combined into the use of language as the means toward yogic union and enlightenment. The entire sentence and the flow of sentences, one into another, were a type of vinyasa. Vinyasa, for Hatha yoga practitioners, is an arrangement of postures that flow into one another to offer a complete yoga workout of all the parts and muscles of the body. In the Vedic world, words were like yoga postures, used to awaken spiritual illumination; the knowledge of Sanskrit grammar helped one understand the spiritual and energetic relationship among individual words. In the Vedic approach, mantras were also viewed as vehicles of the spirit realm, as they transported both the chanter and the listener to specific states of consciousness. The rhythmic and poetic meters of the Vedas were therefore compared to horses, their counterparts in the material world that help us travel physical distances.
[i] Santhigiri Ashram's Web Site, http://www.prodigyweb.net.mx/santhigi/guru/meaning.htm