I was slumped in the passenger seat of the car. My dad was driving. CBC Classical Radio was twittering away when the announcer asked, “What sport inspired this next composition by Mozart? Can you guess?”
A few seconds into the composition I mumbled, “Easy. Lawn bowling”. “Lawn bowling, can you believe it?” exclaimed the announcer over the trills of wind instruments.
I sat up: how could a few seconds of sound so accurately encapsulate the images, movement, and light-hearted feeling of playing lawn bowling outside on a bright summer day?
That moment has stayed with me my entire life. I remain fascinated by how sound can encode states of being and qualities of mind. The mantric tradition takes this to a whole other level.
In my last blog post, I touched very briefly on the Vedic-style mantras that originally surfaced in the minds of the Rishi(ki)s (poet-seers) during deep meditation. By chanting or reciting these verses we could be pulled energetically through layers of awareness back to the state of unified consciousness from which the mantras arose. This is what we explored in a recent workshop at Yoga on the Park.
Today I want to introduce you to the concept of bijas, “seed syllables” from the Tantric yogic tradition, which we will be exploring on Sunday, Nov. 27. Contrary to what we popularly think here in the West, Tantra is primarily a system that is language-based. “Bijas” are one of the jewels of this system.
Bija mantras are one syllable and thought to encapsulate energy patterns in a compact sonic form. Once the “seed” is planted into the psyche, the seed grows with repetition and attention until it blossoms. Certain bijas are thought to explode into more complex phrases or verses while others encode mental and emotional states. I will be talking about the latter in this post.
OM is the most familiar and powerful of the bijas and it is thought that from OM arise all other sounds (and forms). Other examples of commonly used Tantric bijas are: HUM, SHREEM, AIM, and DUM. Many are associated with deities - Gods and Goddesses – the visual symbolic representations of these energetic patterns. These energy patterns encode qualities of personality and states of being.
Which brings me to another little personal story.
Years ago I attended a weekend workshop with a visiting Hindustani classical musician. He began by stating, “When you study music in the West you learn aesthetics and you train at becoming more technically skilled. In India, we are carefully led through a process to open up latent centers of the brain.” (At which point my brain stopped.)
As I now understand it, when you chant or speak these sounds you are tapping into energetic structures latent within your being that are held within the collective unconscious. The Sanskrit mantric tradition offers us the possibility of consciously configuring the flow of energy in our nervous system to expand specific emotional states out of which flow images and meanings. States such as unity, spaciousness, bliss, surrender, and discrimination.
With. One. Syllable.
And like with Vedic mantras, the resonance ultimately pulls us beyond qualities and images to a deeper, more unified state of awareness.
Of course, the initial effect will be different for each person. Much depends on sensitivity and the current state of body and mind of the practitioner. Some people are just more sensitive to sound than others and more adept at calming the busy mind. All I can say is that for myself, a yoga of sound has provided me an effective means to enter into absorption and one of the most direct and enduring means of growth and transformation.
How it all works, I don’t know. I’m not much wiser than that 9-year old girl who was being driven down a country road when she consciously began to marvel at how sound could structure our being so powerfully. It is a testament to the power of the Mind.
But don’t just believe me, come discover for yourself. We will be diving into the mantric tradition at AnandaOm on Wednesday, Nov. 9th from 7-9pm. (For those of you who were at the Oct. 23rd workshop at Yoga on the Park, we will be taking things up a few notches energetically!) To register click here.
You can also join me at Yoga on the Park on Sunday, Nov 27th, from 1:30-2:30 to learn more about the Tantric tradition of mantra. Come explore to see/feel if it has an effect on your own body and mind! To register click here. Scroll down until you see my name and photo and click on the link.
Here are my "musings" on mantra and sound as a transformative path.