Mantra and 7 Methods of Practice
There are many meanings and methods of practicing OM Mantra. Below are seven methods that are very useful and can lead to deep experiences of contemplation and meditation.
See also : OM Mantra and Seven Levels of Consciousness
Index of this web page:
OM is a symbol
of the deep realities of the
OM symbolizes deep realities: OM Mantra itself is not a mere human invention, going along with particular cultures or groups. Rather, the OM Mantra (or AUM Mantra) is a symbol of deep realities that already exist. For example, the deep vibration quality is definitely experienced by the mystic traveler, whether or not one has ever heard of the OM mantra as such. The levels of gross (A), subtle (U), and causal (M), and the states of waking (A), dreaming (U), and deep sleep (M) are definitely there, regardless of the symbolism captured in the mantra when stated as AUM Mantra. It is these realities that are most useful in our spiritual practices. (See the article AUM and the 7 levels of consciousness)
Making the experience richer: If the OM mantra is repeated just for the feeling, having no sense of meaning at all, the experience can be quite pleasant, calming, and balancing. However, if one has a sense of the deeper meanings of the mantra, and different methods of using it, then the experience can be even richer and more revealing as one progresses in yoga meditation.
Practice one of the seven: Following are seven meanings and methods of using the mantra. By experimenting with the various methods, one of them may emerge that feels most personally in tune. It might be best to practice only one of the seven methods of OM mantra for a while. Gradually the other meanings will come, as they all merge into a unified experience.
Integrate the insights: The use of this mantra can be profound. At first, it is best to use the mantra gently and for short periods of time. The insights from the OM mantra can be significant, and it is good to integrate the insights gradually with daily life.
Use a speed that is natural and comfortable: There are many rhythms in the body and mind, both gross and subtle. Imagine the sound of OM, rising and falling, at whatever speed is comfortable and natural. It may be very fast, several cycles per second. Or it may be slower, several seconds for each cycling of OM Mantra. Or it might become extremely slow, with the mmmmmm... sound continuing in the mind for much longer periods, but still pulsing at that slow rate.
Imagine it somewhat like one of these vibrations:
Meditation time and daily life: This kind of awareness of the OM mantra can be used both at meditation time and during daily life. The OM mantra is allowed to be somewhat of a constant companion. It brings a centering, balancing quality to daily life. This does not mean being in a dull, lethargic state. Rather, done well, it brings clarity of mind and a greater ability to be in the world, and selflessly serving others.
Breaking habit patterns: This is not intended as a blocking mechanism to prevent dealing with one's thought process or with the challenges of life. It is not a method of escapism. However, it definitely can have the effect of bringing focus to the mind, which can break a pattern of disturbing or distracting thoughts coming from the noisy or chattering mind. In this way, one has a greater openness to being aware of positive thoughts and spiritual realities that are always there.
One method: Imagine the sound of OM Mantra internally, in the mind only, making no external sound. Allow the mantra to flow with the breath. Repeat like this:
Another method: Alternatively, imagine the OM mantra only on exhalation, if that feels more comfortable:
Mind, breath, and mantra in unison: In this practice, you come to experience the mind, breath, and mantra flowing in unison. This synchronization has a beautiful effect on meditation. Simply allow the OM Mantra to come and go with each inhalation and exhalation. Allow there to be no gap, no space, no pause between inhalation and exhalation, or between exhalation and inhalation.
The speed naturally slows: As you gently allow the OM mantra to flow with the breath, the mind becomes calm. When the mind becomes calm, the body relaxes, and the breath becomes even soother and slower. That rate of speed at which the OM mantra is being repeated naturally slows down. It is not a matter of forcing the mantra to slow, but rather, this slowing comes quite naturally. Allow the mind to stay wide awake and alert, as the OM mantra and breath become naturally slower and slower. Meditation will deepen.
Words have an object and meaning: Words usually have a corresponding object and meaning to go with that word. If you hear the word chair, then the concept of chair-ness arises in your mind. Some specific chair will probably come to mind. It may be a wooden chair or a metal chair, for example. It may be large, small, or this or that style, and it may be new or old. So, three things are there: 1) the word chair, 2) the concept of chair-ness, and 3) a specific chair.
The object that goes with OM is the universe: When the word OM is heard, what is the concept and object that comes to mind? What is that thing that goes along with that word, OM? The concept that goes with OM is the one-ness or entirety of the universe. The object that goes with the word OM is the entire universe, as a single unit, including the gross, subtle, causal planes of reality, both manifest and un-manifest. It means that whole, as if it was one, single object. It is that infinitely huge object, which is the object that goes with the word OM.
Awareness expands to contain the object: With attention turned inward, and reflecting on chair, the concept and image of chair arises. In the same way, do the same thing with the word OM, and allow your awareness to expand, as if it could contain the whole universe to go with that word.
Stretching the attention: There is a feeling of stretching, as if the attention had to get bigger and bigger, to contain the whole, the same way as the chair has a back, a seat, and legs, yet is collectively a chair. Continue to repeat OM, and continue to expand, so as to allow your attention to contain the whole of the object called OM.
The subtle sound is always there: A vibration exists, underneath all of the grosser aspects of being, like a substratum. The subtle sound of OM Mantra is constantly there, and when heard in deep yoga meditation, sounds like a continuous vibration, ever sounding out mmmmmmm.... At a deeper level, it is extremely loud and serene.
Similar words: Some say that this everlasting, all pervasive vibration of OM Mantra is also the source and intent of Amen, Amin, and Shalom. Some say that this sound is the Word of God.
Silence from which OM emerges: Eventually, this leads to a deep stillness and silence, which paradoxically, is experienced as the silence from which the sound of OM itself emerged. In the sections below, the silence is described as being the fourth state, beyond the three sounds of A, U, and M, which are contained in OM Mantra. However, in this practice, as you internally repeat the sound of OM, imagine that underlying vibration of the universe, as if it were coming from all places, and through all things.
Listen to the vibration while remembering OM: There is a sound that can relatively easily be heard in your ears that is more surface level, coming from the brain. Some people experience this as a buzzing or ringing sound. By listening closely, the mmmmmmm... sound can be heard, like the end of the OM mantra (Or you might hear it as eeeeeeeee....) Listening to this vibration, with the awareness of OM is a good way to start with the vibration aspect of OM. Gradually, it will expand to deeper sound of the mantra. Listening in this way can be particularly enjoyable and insightful when recalling some of the other meanings of OM Mantra at the same time.
Allowing thoughts to come and go: While listening, it is best to gently allow other thought patterns to come into the field of attention, and then allow those thoughts to drift away. There is not really any intent of doing anything with these thoughts, either engaging them or pushing them away. In other words, the listening for OM is not used to suppress thoughts and emotions. Rather, attention is allowed to expand, but at the same time, non-attachment is learned by staying with the vibration, and letting go of the thought patterns. This is one way to gain access to the ability to be a neutral witness of the stream of thoughts in the mind, as is sometime described as being like watching leaves, sticks, and logs floating by in a river.
Remembering four planes with OM: The OM mantra designates the whole of the universe, including the gross, subtle, and causal planes (realms, or levels) and the absolute reality of which they are a part. The explanation below can sound a bit technical, but this truly is a very practical use of the mantra, once you understand the meaning. It does require working with the mantra and the meaning, but then it becomes clearer and quite insightful.
Four parts of OM: The OM Mantra has four parts. First, is the sound like "Ah," then "Uuuu," then "Mmmm," and finally the silence beyond the mantra. Thus, the mantra is also written as AUM, as well as OM. The three sounds, and the silence have the following meanings:
Start slowly in remembering the parts: When using the mantra in this way, it is easiest to begin by remembering the mantra very slowly, allowing time to be aware of each of the levels. Be aware of the four parts of the mantra separately (though forming a continuous sound), something like this:
Four states of consciousness: The four parts of AUM also refer to the levels of waking, dreaming, and deep sleep, as well. The three sounds, and the silence have the following meanings:
The question can arise of why a spiritual seeker cares about the states of waking, dreaming, and deep sleep. It is said that the states of deep sleep, samadhi, and death are very close together, that they function at the same levels. To understand this further, it would be good to read the paper on OM and the 7 levels of consciousness.
Begin by remembering slowly: As in the last practice, it is easiest to begin by remembering the mantra very slowly, allowing yourself time to be aware of each of the levels. With practice, it moves more quickly, as attention longs to rest in the silence.
Focusing more inwardly: When using the OM mantra in this way, notice how very personal the practice is, in that you are consciously cultivating awareness of the levels of your own internal states. It has an in here focus. By contrast, the use of OM with the levels of gross, subtle, causal, and absolute reality (above) has more of a focus out there. Ultimately, they merge into one awareness.
Levels of consciousness: The four parts of AUM also refer to the levels of conscious, unconscious, and subconscious, as well as the consciousness that permeates these. (Note that some psychologies or systems use the words unconscious and subconscious in reverse, or use different terms. The meaning is what is important, not the particular choice of words). The three sounds, and the silence have the following meanings:
Begin slowly: Once again, it is easiest to begin by remembering the mantra very slowly. With practice, it moves more quickly, as attention longs to rest in the silence.
Three methods from
same levels: Gradually, one comes
to see that the last three methods of using AUM (above) are
manifestations of the same levels of being. Notice how the
"A" represents, Waking, Conscious, and Gross levels. The
"U" represents Dreaming, Unconscious, and Subtle levels.
The "M" represents Deep Sleep, Subconscious and Causal.
The Silence represents the fourth state, which is above or higher
than the other
three. These are further
described in the paper 4
Levels and 3 Domains of Consciousness.
The one great vibration: One comes to experience that the four aspects of AUM, the vibration of the universe, the object that goes with OM mantra, the flow with the breath, and the countless pulsings of the gross and subtle, are all manifestations of that one great vibration that is represented by OM mantra.
Tripura: Maha Tripura Sundari, the great, beautiful one, essence, consciousness, or reality that dwells in the three "cities" (tri-pura, or three cities including: gross, subtle, causal; waking, dreaming, sleeping; conscious, unconscious, subconscious). (See Tripura in Tantra, Bindu, other articles)
Unity of the methods: In practicing the seven methods above, it is best to focus on one at a time, so as to capture its individual meaning and experience. Eventually, the unity of the methods is experienced.