Religious Knowledge, Spiritual Vision
Julian C. Lee Mickunas



Introduction |  The YS: Path To God-Knowledge  |  The Summary Verses
Western Confusion About Yoga  |  On Brahmacharya
The Essence of Yoga |  The Problem  |  On Preparation
On Meditation  |   On Meditation Objects |  On Inner Divine Light
On Aum  |   On the 4th Pranayama
 |   On Samadhi  |  On Siddhis |  The State Of The Sage  |  Yoga-Sutra Metaphysics  |  APPENDIXES

  The Yoga-Sutras On Aum

When the "fourth kind" of pranayama of Verse 2:51 is practiced, the sound of God cited in Verses 1:27 and 1:28 is heard. Now the religious person has the best of all meditation techniques before him. This will be an extended commentary on the pranava, Aum, and the Sutra verses touching it. These verses have been poorly interpreted thus far in all English commentaries that I have seen. (Though I have no doubt that different commentaries do exist, whether in English or not.)

Pranayama is one of the yogic techniques that gradually uncovers the pranava, Aum. When Aum is heard, dharana becomes easy because Aum is all satisfying, all-attractive, and all-absorbing far beyond the crass and absurd world. Once this reality of Aum as an inner, heard divine sound of God is understood, the Sutra verses bearing on it will yield to you their wealth..

In the above section the Sutra states that the mind can be made still by "Special devotion to the Lord." That is, by bhakti. Then it briefly but beautifully discusses the Lord God, which the yoga tradition calls "Isvara." It says that our true Father is a particular individuality just as we are, that He is free of karmas and has never suffered. (Thus we come into his suffering-free nature by bhakti.) Then it states that his designator or indicator is Aum. I will now turn to the translations of other authors for the security and insight of the religious reader.


  Tasya vacakah pranavah

His evidence is the Pranava, Aum.

This important Yoga-Sutra verse is commonly misunderstood and poorly explained. This comes after the Sutra introduces God as a "particular purusha" untouched by suffering and karma, and uses the name Isvara. I rendered it as: "His evidence is the Pranava, Aum." Let's look at five of the best English versions of the verse:

"His designator is Om."

Verse 1:27, I.K. Taimni, "The Science of Yoga"

"The Sacred Word Designating Him is Pranava Or The Mystic Syllable OM."

Hariharananda Aranya, "The Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali"

"Of him, the expression is pranava (OM)."

Trevor Leggett, "Sankara on the Yoga Sutras"

"The Sacred word connotes Him."

Rama Prasada, "Patanjali's Yoga Sutras"

"His indicator is the "word of glory.

M.N. Dvivedi, "The Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali"

From Dvivedi's Commentary:

"The 'word of glory' is the Pranava which literally means that which glorifies well."

The above translations all spell the word "Om" instead of "Aum." The word is more proper and conveys more information spelled A-U-M. But more on that later. This Sutra verse, like most of them, is deliberately brief and minimalist. As stated, the Yoga-Sutra is an advanced text. It talks about rarefied things that most will never even know in this life, yet does not explain much. At this time, the real meaning of this verse can be brought out. 

Notice the use of the words "designator" (twice),"connotes" and "indicator" as they translate the Sanskrit. None use the simple phrase "Aum is the word for God" or "Om means God." And yet most commentators proceed as if that is what the verse said.

The verse really means that when the yogi encounters Aum, he can know that is God. It is like saying: "The sign that you are near the sea is the smelling of moist, salty air." Or "The indicator that you are near the edge of the forest is the appearance of Chokecherry flowers." His designator is Aum.

Sutra verse 1:27 really means that the heard inner Aum is the sign, indicator, or evidence of God. 

The Leggett translation gets us closer by retaining the term"pranava" instead of Om, which is the actual word used in the Sanskrit.  Pranava  has two usages: First, it specifies the inner heard Aum. Second, it's a fancy term for the word Aum. Most yogis when speaking of the inner, heard Aum use the term pranava which means "unstruck sound" or sound with no material cause. Pranava is a form of nada or inner subtle sound. Pranava is the great nada.

The Leggett verse was: "Of him the expression is pranava." The aspirant and religious person seeking God through yoga (meditation) can then rephrase this to "God expresses as Aum." God shows, presents, or manifests as Aum.

Truly, this Yoga-Sutra verse, like most of them loaded with condensed meaning,refers to God experienced within by the religious person as the inner divine sound of Aum. This is the true and central import and thrust of Yoga-Sutra verse 1:27. Paraphrases or renderings to transmit its real meaning would then look like this:

-- "The heard Aum is the sign, indicator,evidence, or manifestation -- of God." 

-- "The Lord presents as Aum."

-- "The Lord presents Himself to the bhakta and yogi as Aum."

-- "The Lord expresses Himself as Aum."

-- "The bhakta and yogi know and experience God as Aum."

-- "The Lord manifests to the yogi as Aum."

-- "The Lord is known as Aum, and known by Aum, and truly known in the form of Aum." (Truly known and experienced, not merely referred to.)

-- "God's indicator is Aum."

I have hopefully made this clear for the loyal people.

Aum is something attained

Further adducement of this is easily found in the Upanishads. Aum is spoken of as a goal to be attained. Here Yama the God of Death says to Nachiketa:

"I tell you briefly of that goal which all the Vedas with one voice propound, which all the austerities speak of, and wishing for which people practice Brahmacharya: it is this, viz Om."

First Katha 2:15, "Eight Upanishads," Ghambirananda

The conscientious and careful translator Max Muller put the verse this way:

"Yama said: That word (or place) which all the Vedas record, which all penances proclaim, which men desire when they live as religious students, that word I tell thee briefly, it is Om."

2:15, "The Upanishads," F. Max Muller

Obviously one can ask, why a man would "desire" Om if it has already been freely given; if he already has it (like everybody from New York to Berkeley knows the word) and may meditate on it at any time? The "desire" referred to by Yama is the desire to know the real Aum.

Muller's phrase "which all penances proclaim" is delightful. It is those who practice penances who proclaim -- testify -- to this Aum. "Penances proclaim" contains a 2nd pretty angle: Penances  reveal it. The purpose of "penances" or asceticism (fasting, silence, meditation, long posture) is to break the connection between the mind and the body and attenuate the distractions that bodily discomforts and cravings create in the mind. Yogananda said that hearing of the pranava requires the whittling down of "body consciousness." These connections are all clearly seen in the beautiful verse above.

Do notice that chastity (brahmacharya) is required to hear it. Without being chaste the creative power that is Aum has nothing, in the devotee, with which to interact. Nothing to catch hold of, nothing like Itself. When a match is struck along a friction strip, fire is created because the two are like one another. Both contain grit or resistance. If there is no grit on the friction strip, the match has nothing to interact with and nothing of itself to catch, so the match doesn't light. Moreover, the religious person (yogi) cannot cope with Aum unless he has been continent. When a man becomes replete with the creative power within through chastity (except for producing a family), then he is a finally a prospective match for the great Creative Power or Aum. He can then interact; God has something real to interact with.

Now, there is a whole sequence of Upanishad verses in which the character Yama, the God of death, speaks about Aum. Each verse is illuminating and supports the case. Comes the next verse following that above:

"This is the best support, this is the highest support; he who knows that support is magnified in the world of Brahma."

First Katha 2:16, "The Upanishads," F. Max Muller

Nikhilananda, Radhakrishnan, and R.E. Hume all use "support" here like Muller. Radhakrishnan's rendering of the Upanishad is: "This support is the best  of all." Again, if the extent of Aum is known simply by being given the word, and all with a passing interest in these texts have heard of the word Om, why does the verse speak of "he who knows" it; and "knowing" it gives such superlative results? S. Radhakrishnan's version of the verse states more explicit and astounding results for those who  "know" Aum:

"...knowing this very syllable, whatever anyone desires will, indeed, be his."

2:16, "The Principal Upanishads," S. Radhakrishnan

Not a rather vague 'magnification in the world of Brahma,' but total wish-fulfillment is the result of knowing the Word according to this cosmopolitan Indian translator who respected the text. Now, is it the experience of  those who use Om as a mantra that they get whatever they desire? No. Yet the verse is true. "Knowing" Om in these verses does not refer to simply being told the word or using it as a mantra. It refers to those who come into the pranava and absorb themselves in it.

Gambhirananda in this verse refers to Aum as a "medium," which is an evocative concept in addition. The word they translate is alambra. An alambra is something that the mind holds onto as a meditation object. An alambra can be a mantra, and also the heard pranava.  

Here I have to mention one of the incidents in which the vaunted commentator Sankara makes a mess of the Upanishads. Immediately after the rishi, writer of the Upanishad, has lauded Om as the "best" meditation object and said other superlative things about it, Sankara contradicts the Upanishad, insults Aum, and insults Saguna Brahman. He stupidly clucks:

"For those aspirants of medium and inferior quality, Om has been indicated both as a medium (for meditation on), and a symbol (for worship) of, the Self which is devoid of all attributes and which was inquired about...and It has also been presented similarly, for similar aspirants, who wish to know the inferior Brahman."

Sankara's commentary on Verse 2:17, Ghambhirananda trans.

So even though Yama, the God of Death just said this...

"I tell you briefly of that goal which all the Vedas with one voice propound, which all the austerities speak of, and wishing for which people practice Brahmacharya: it is this, viz Om"...

...Sankara has no use for it. 

For Sankara, there is nothing worth talking about other than his "viewpoint yoga" in which one convinces himself that nothing has been created. According to him, Aum is just a mantra, a "symbol." This understanding of Aum is no better than what you'd expect from a young woman moonlighting as a W.A.B.Y. practioner upon cornering her with questions in her Yoga Studio. Further, this thing that the Upanishads call the best meditation vehicle, and is synonymous with Purusha, is only for devotees  of "medium and inferior quality." Not something for big thinkers like him. A brief detour to comment on Sankara's occasional rubbish commentaries...

This is one more case in which Sankara's commentary has three execrable traits: 1) He either fails to comprehend or ignores all yogic and esoteric content of a verse; he is seeing Om as a mere word and mantra with not even a glancing reference to inner heard Aum, and 2) He attempts to trash Saguna Brahman (the knowable God with attributes, Isvara, God, etc.), which is a bad habit of his, and 3) He hoists his path of ratiocination and analysis up above over all other paths, this notwithstanding the same Upanishad's very statements the Self cannot be known by "much study" or "through the intellect." (2:23)

As a commentator Sankara's purpose is ostensibly to bring meaning out of these verses, so rich in yogic significance. He continually fails, only wishing to direct the reader to his Non-Dualistic viewpoint. Truly, I have no idea why Sankara is so often allowed to lie on top of, flop all over, straddle, and befuddle beautiful and pregnant yogic verses in so many publications with his fluff-filled parsing exercises, as if the Sankara commentary is somehow essential to the Upanishads; and as if the man was somehow qualified to comment on the vast panoply of Indian scriptures. My impression is that he was no accomplished yogi. If he had been, he would have commented on these verses differently or at least made allusions to their true subject. In no instance have I ever heard Sankara make even allusions to Aum as inner heard sound (pranava) even when verses are clearly referring to that. Similarly, he fails to picks up on verses that are clearly about  bindu; inner light. (This will be brought out in discussion of Sutra 1:36 in the section on Meditation Objects.) In the present book I will point up other instances of Sankara "fails." Could it be that Sankara was not a continent man? Some of his shifty and ambivalent commentaries on scriptural chastity references seem to imply this. 

In Sankara's commentary above he sniffs that Aum, which he does not understand in the first place, is useful for those who merely wish to know the "inferior Brahman." (The Lord God, Creator of the Universe.) The idea is that Sankara is exclusively interested in Nirguna Brahman, usually termed simply "Brahman." Nirguna Brahman is usually styled as "pure consciousness" by Sankara and others. He loves to say that It has no attributes. Yet he regularly must pilfer attributes like bliss, or light to dress up his Brahman. He handles this by saying that bliss (ananda) is not really an "attribute," but the very nature of Brahman. That's all fine, but bliss belongs, in truth, to both Saguna and Nirguna Brahman; not Nirguna only. My goodness, I have even seen human beings and embodied gurus having bliss! And light. Must we think that the Lord, Isvara, is not full of bliss and consciousness? But I digress. 

Suffice it to say that Sankara had a tendency to discredit Saguna Brahman, while taking even verses that reference Saguna Brahman and retooling them to refer to Nirguna. So, above the bloodless Sankara says that Aum is only for inferior aspirants and slackers who want to know the blissful and omnipotent Father of the Universe. Fine. Yet here is how Gambhirananda translates 1st  Katha 2:15:

"This letter (Om), indeed, is the (inferior) Brahman (Hiranyagarbha); and this letter is, indeed, the supreme Brahman. Anybody, who, (while) meditating on this letter, wants any of the two, to him comes that."

First Katha 2:16, "Eight Upanishads," Gambhirananda

So the pranava puts the devotee into touch with both -- the Lord God Isvara or Brahma, and the Unmanifest Absolute, or Atman. So I guess Sankara missed out on some things along his path.

"Inferior Brahman" refers to Saguna Brahman, God with form and attributes, Isvara, Brahma, etc. (His first manifestation in the relative universe is called Hiranyagarbha). The translator Gambhirananda does not mean to speak disrespectfully. "Inferior" here has a technical purpose. I don't credit Sankara with the same attitude. "Supreme Brahman" refers to the unmanifest absolute sometimes called Pure Consciousness. In practice, the yogi will hear Aum for some time, whether years or incarnations; then in the nirvikalpa state, should he wish to abide in it, that is a soundless state. It should be noted that Aum is blissful in a savikalpa way; that is, it is the rich and sweet dualistic bliss human beings crave. 

Many of Sankara's writings seem like a presentation of existing yogic ideas as a kind of librarian; not that he necessarily experienced much of what he wrote about. What was it that Sankara experienced, beyond a "point of view on the world" arrived at by analysis?

I also disagree with Sankara's devaluation of family and a father's duty to family, and creating a gulf and dichotomy between the total monastic life and the spiritual possibilities for the householder. I discuss this elsewhere. Could it be that Sankara did not experience the "transcendental perceptions" discussed by the Yoga-Sutra because he wasn't really continent? In one verse he defined celibacy as "lack of sexual relation" which is a misstatement. Could it be that he had too-sophisticated private notions about what brahmacharya was and wasn't? I have found many of his responses to scriptural cites on celibacy to be weak or dissembling. It would explain a lot. There is no question that his Non-Dualistic philosophy is a great contribution to religious knowledge and that he was one of the world's greatest minds. But I see much of Sankara's commentary can be questioned or criticized by devout raja-yogis.

Aum is glorious and glorifying

The M.N. Dvivedi translation of the Yoga-Sutra, critiqued above, has at least a great familiarity with yogic tradition. He quotes that lore which calls pranava"the word of glory"and "that which glorifies well." 

One of the impressions the religious person will have of the inner aum is that it is glorious. It is blissful and glorious. How many sense glory simply by seeing the printed word Aum? Or hearing it or saying it? Thus pranava properly refers to the inner divine glorious sound.

Our Christian ancestors, actual bhaktas as they worshiped in church, often used the word "glory" to refer to the blissful feeling of worship or bhakti. That bliss or ananda, which they called "glory" in their hymns, is God himself. The only reason they thought to speak so often of "glory" is because they experienced God's glory within by God-worship. God is both blissful and glorious, and glory is really a marvelous European synonym for God's bliss nature or ananda, an intrinsic attribute. How can anybody properly speak of "glory"if it's never known or experienced? Yet Christian hymns are full of references to God' glory. The God-worshiper inevitably experiences and touches the blissful, glorious nature of God. Only in God-love and God-worship does one experience either glory or bliss. This is the heritage of our Christian ancestors, and this is the mystery of bhakti-yoga.

There is a further transmission in "glorifies well" (Dvivedi):

When hearing that,the western Christian mindset would take it to mean "Aum glorifies God well." God can't actually be glorified by anybody, as in provided with glory, as he is already glorious. However, he can be worshiped and the devotee, full of thanks and overflowing bliss, loves to "glorify" him as worship. A different insight is that he who immerses himself in Aum is profoundly benefited, uplifted, and made good. In other words, immersion in pranava lifts up the devotee. It glorifies him, even as the father in the "Prodigal Son" parable immediately lifted up his returned son. That is, in fact, what salvation is like.

In this connection Maharishi Mahesh Yogi said a wonderful thing full of this truth: "Being glorifies karma." It means that when the jiva with its dualistic karma touches Pure Being (Sat), his karma is burnt, or refined, burnished, and upgraded. The pranava or heard Aum is indeed sat-chit-ananda, or pure being, consciousness, and bliss which is the Vedic definition of God Himself. This contact with God, by the meditating aspirant, thus upgrades his or her fortunes and karma. And that is, again, salvation.

All this is, indeed, packed into the one short Sutra verse.

A word as "synonymous with God"

A certain Vedic theory -- that an object and the word denoting it are metaphysically one and inseparable -- is seen as this verse's central theme by many commentators. The sage Vyasa started this response and others follow him. The discussion is a tangent, yet many commentators -- even ancient ones --dwell on that question as their whole commentary. They debate "Why should Aum be the one true name for God?" Or: "How can it be that a word and the thing it signifies are inseparable? Is it so? Why then do we see alternate words used for the same object, yet they successfully denote that object?" Rather than comprehending the verse, the statement "Om denotes Isvara" simply appears to embarrass the commentators. They defensively acknowledge that word usages change, with alternate terms signifying the same thing. A child may now be called a 'kid' yet it still signifies a child. There are different terms for "food" yet a food remains food and all understand the various words. They apologetically discuss this problem, often with confusing results as they either pay obeisances to a doctrine that God is intrinsic to the word Aum, or else deny it.

I find it astounding that few have understood the verse, offering only debate of this semantical problem or speculations. Observe this wheel-spinning   on verse 1:27 by Hariharanda Aranya. This just after Vyasa has pronounced: "the relationship between a word and the object indicated by it is eternal." 

"The meaning of the word 'father' is the result of a thinking process... Isvara is also the product of a similar thought-process. Unless certain faculties implied by words are thought of, no conception can be had of Isvara. The thought-process associated with Isvara has been symbolized by the word OM."

Hariharananda is stating obvious things. He is observing that some words require a thinking process or associations to have meaning for us, and that words for God such as Isvara are among these. He seems not to be oriented to the surrounding verse territory. We are in a section of the Yoga-Sutra ostensibly about mantra meditation which involves the banishing of thinking processes and conceptions. Moreover, the direct perception of Aum-Isvara as described does not require conceptions. Pranava arises when conceptions and thoughts are banished, and conceptions and thoughts would only limit and block it. Meanwhile, Hariharananda has still not solved the so-called 'problem' that Vyasa placed on the table: To show how the word 'Aum' is distinctly tied to God (Isvara). Now he does his best:

"Although words and their meanings are invariably related, the same words cannot always have the same meanings, because men might change the convention from time to time."

Hariharananda is pointing out the problems with Vyasa's statement. He is getting ready to contradict Vyasa and to finally imply that Om is not intrinsic to God but just an established convention:

"According to commentators, the word OM has been used to imply Isvara not only in this creation but in previous creations. The symbol has been re-introduced in this creation by omniscient persons who have recollection of their previous births."

So its use is a mere tradition handed down by yogis who remembered what God was called in past lives and re-promulgated it.

"The particular reason why in the Sastras framed by Rsis the word OM is so much liked is that there is no other word which can bring about calmness of mind as this word can."

Even though there's nothing intrinsic between Aum and God, Om has practical advantages. (Sad!) The rishis simply like the word very much because it is calming when said. He labors to cite more good things about Aum, which is advantageous, useful and handy:

"Consonants cannot be pronounced in prolonged continuity, vowels however can be so pronounced. The syllable OM is comparatively easy to pronounce. When this word is uttered mentally, a sort of effort moves from the throat to the brain which Yogins utilize towards contemplation. Continuity of thought in the mind cannot be mastered without continuity in the utterance of words. Thus the symbol OM is useful in all respects."

This from an Indian acharya no less! Sounds no better than the way Americans invent shallow and materialistic explanations for things over their heads, all based on some practical mechanistic understanding. There is an inner movement associated with various words and mantras, but this commentary is desultory. Certainly India must have far better texts than what we get in the west!

I think the commentaries I've seen are bad for these likely reasons: 1) An obscure Yoga-Sutra stymied them as it will most, 2) The commentator did not have experience with nada, 3) They are skeptical about the many superlative things stated about Aum in the texts, such as it destroys all obstacle or fulfills all wishes; the Sanskrit words relating to wealth (artha) and identification (bhava) with Aum seemed improbable to them. Perhaps they notice many other mantras are used different than Aum, and lack confidence in their choice of mantra. I wrote this material to assist with this deficit and confusion. But I will also discuss the valid or useful dimensions of those particular discussions -- the debates about inherent meaning favored by Vyasa et al -- for what they're worth. But this should be briefly stated here: The reason that the rishis considered Aum to be the superlative word is that the thing it represents -- the inner Divine sound of God -- is superlative. Then those who meditate on it develop superlative results, and they give superlative things to mankind.

Now because Vyasa et al have brought up the two questions, I will spend time on those to set all to rest about them. Here we are in rhetorical waters that don't have much use, but also deeper metaphysical waters only comprehensible to meditators on pranava. There are several dimensions to explain. First, my brief answers to the two questions:

"Is Aum the proper and correct word for God or Isvara?"

If you make it so. The truth of that question is God can be called by a great many names, and Aum is more His indicator (in the sense emphasized above) than his "only name" or even "most correct" name. God can be called by an infinite number of names and He owns all the names for Himself. When one experiences Aum, he can call it various things and it's still what it is. The Sikh's call it "Shabd" and "Nam." (Both evocative.) Buddhists call it "Hum" or "The Roar of Dharmata." This question -- is Aum the correct name for God -- is of little importance in the beginning and the end, though it has some metaphysical significance for meditation and worship along the way. Briefly, religionists who argue about "What's the correct name for God" are absurd.

"Is the word Aum intrinsically associated with God...?"

Because the word is an attempt to describe a heard phenomenon, it does reference God as sound thus it can be said to be intrinsically associated with It.

"...and even the same thing as God Himself?"

If you make it so.

The Rishis' Attempt to Describe Aum

One aspect of the mystery is straightforward: The rishis sought to write the divine sound in a word form. For those who know it, their word A-U-M is a good logical attempt at a word that suggests it. It would be more like those three letters sounding at once, plus all transitional sounds that form in the places between those three, plus many other sounds. The Sikhs have constructed the word "Shabd" to try to represent the same divine sound. The truth is, Aum cannot be expressed in one word. It contains all tone and all sound. It also changes form (is heard differently) according to the development of the yogi or his concentration at the time. Different aspects of Aum can, moreover, be focused upon by the yogi. However, the three letters a-u-m are an adequate word cipher to represent the divine sound in some of its main forms.

The rishis of yoga and also indigenous shamans elsewhere have attempted to represent forms of the divine sound by the invention of the sitar and the digeridoo. As to the sitar, in particular the droning strings with their phasing quality is intended to remember Aum. The subtle, fast, movements of other sitar notes (made by pressing or pulling the string) are intended to evoke the fast-and-subtle quality of other heard sounds associated with the chakras. That same subtle-and-fleeting quality (of those fast notes) is found in the Indian style of singing with its mysterious undulations. (Yogic things are spread throughout the Indian culture.) The spontaneous bodily movements called kriyas are found, in either blatant or vestigial form, in classical Indian dancing. 

Nothing comes closer, with its great, majestic, washing chords -- to Aum -- than the church organ created by the White Europeans for their churches and devotional religious services. If you want to get some physical representation of the sound of Aum, listen indeed to the great phasing sound of the organ used by White people in their churches. It is a testimony to me, based on the fact that my religious ancestors created this instrument for their worship, that my people through their piety were indeed close to Aum, eternal sound of Saguna Brahman.

The rishis gave us a word to suggest the sound, Aum, then this word came to the Europeans through their guru Christ in the form of "Amen." The word is inadequate to convey the pranava. It is one of many beautiful words for God. But because it references a directly heard reality that is indeed God, and because the pranava to which the word refers contains all letters and sounds, it is intelligent to view it as a sacred word. A religious person who masters yoga will easily agree to it as the highest and best word for God if he likes.

The Inner Positions Inherent in Aum

The human mind and beneath it, vocal expression, contains certain inner positions that are synonymous with positions we take on the enunciation of letters. The "A" position is an emotional position of opening, creating, receiving, and calling for example. Notice that when a baby calls for its mother, wanting to receive her, its vocal position and expression are an open 'A!' In like manner, when people fall from a great height, about to meet their death, they call out to God in an open 'A' sound. When people drink things down and receive sustenance, half of their vocal position is the open 'A.' For the devotee, 'A' is the position of calling to God and receiving. For God, it is a position of creating and expanding. 'A' is synonymous with one of God's pranas.

The "M" position is a position of force, destruction, anger, and returning, and dissolution. The "u" position is a position of contentment, comfort, sustaining, and loving. In other words, when humans express these sentiments (go into these states) they tend to make sounds that match these letter positions because the states match the letters. More astoundingly, God Himself, who vibrates as sound, is generating all these attitudes and states. Not just a few, but many. Thus the yogi finds all these sounds, plus the inner attitude associated with them, in the pranava.

The various positions or letters within Aum -- and they go beyond a, u, and m and also involve combinations of "letters" or positions/attitudes -- can be conceived as potencies. They are like attitudes, energies, and modifications of the Lord. They are also modifications of prana.

The religious person (devotee, bhakta, yogi) can choose to receive particular potencies, to express particular potencies, or to merge with (interact with) particular potencies of the Lord. The best approach for the religious person, with Aum, is to give yourself to the Lord and interact, with any and all of His sounds for the most part. This is interaction with Him. However, the Upanishads speak of the "four quarters" of Aum and this has occult significance. 

The first three quarters are the inner positions of A, U, and M respectively. The fourth is the soundless state and is called the state of turiya. This particular division of Aum relates to the material just above about inner positions, and to the 4th state of pranayama (kumbhaka). In particular, the open "A" posture of the mind is occultly associated with the waking state, the material creation, and the prana of the material creation. It can take in all of virat. In this inner posture one can draw on limitless prana, commune with The Lord as akasa, and be in a receiving attitude toward the One Deity. The "U" position is related to the dreaming state or  taijasa, and the "M" position to the state  of dreamless sleep (prajna). This is revealed in the First Mandukya Upanishad verses 8-24. The Upanishads imply that by emphasizing those  three main modes of Aum one can conquer the three states of consciousness and those three worlds.

"24: One should know Om, quarter by quarter...22: He who knows with firm conviction, the common similarities in the three states is a great sage, worthy of adoration and salutation by all beings."

First Mandukya 24, 22, "Eight Upanishads, Volume Two," Swami Gambhirananda

This knowledge is at the heart of mastery of the "fourth pranayama," kumbhaka, and the "upward breath" referenced so often by Nityananda. Sages like Nityananda were lovers of the "first quarter of Aum," in a state of permanent worship and receivership. The pranic inbreath is synonymous with the "A" of Aum.


Realizing God Through Word

This is how the question "Is Aum the same thing as God" begins to arise and have meaning. Secrets of God do exist in the very letters of "Aum," when understood. Then there is a basis for saying that God exists as creative sound. On an occult level, sound is God. More properly, divine sound is God and the grosser sounds are themselves grosser vibrations clothing divine sound.

And there is a way of attempting to describe the sound in a word, as the rishis have done with Aum. However, the word "Aum" is not "God Himself" whole and entire as postulated by some commentators -- except in a particular case. Which leads us to the third dimension of the question.

The Hare Krsna philosophers state that the Hare Krsna mantra is the same thing as God, is non-different from God, is God Himself. On the basis that all sounds and created things are emanations of God as divine sound, we can see an underlying basis for that belief. This is similar to the commentators who argue, or by turns disagree, about whether Sutra 1:27 means Aum is the same thing as God.

The problem arises that we can see that all people speak such sounds continually and don't experience God from it. Many people speak these holy words yet don't find expressing divine potencies or states with them.

The answer is that the "word as God" hinges on realization. One devotee realizes the Hare Krsna mantra (or other sound) as God; another simply says the word and does not realize it as such. This is a function of one's faith (shraddha), bhakti and concentration. When a thing is meditated upon as God, it becomes a portal to God. It is the act of successful concentration, combined with remembrance of God, bhakti, and intention that opens up that thing as a portal to God. So realizing a word as God (such as Aum, or another mantra) is indeed a question of realization or meditation attainment. As that portal opens up within, the actual divine sound of God, Aum, will be heard -- all the result of concentration and devotion.

The truth is, wherever a lost soul starts digging for God, God will meet him there. Wherever a lonely, sad soul starts crying for God, and with whatever word, God will come to him. Wherever you choose to drill, in faith, for the water of God, God will assure that water comes to you.

Truly friends, God will incline Himself toward any devotee, having received a word for God or which they want to associate with God, if that devotee uses it with concentration and devotion. It can be one word or another. God owns all the sounds. It is the thought of God, the concentration, and bhakti that draws God using the word. It is the devotee who realizes the word as God, and for whom it becomes his portal to God.

The bhakta and samadhi guru Ramakrishna, in his usual direct way, summarized these debates and the best truth in this analogy:

'People argue about the correct name for God, the correct mantra and its pronunciation. Listen: A father has many children all at different ages. Some approach him saying "Pitta" (father) correctly. His littlest can't pronounce it. She lisps out 'Piba.' Still, the father knows who she intends and doesn't turn her away."

Does the baby need to pronounce words right to get the mother's attention and care?

Any religious person who remembers God, meditates on God, and seeks using any word they sincerely believe represents him, will come to know God and also hear his pranava. God owns every word. Arguing over words like this is the pastime of the ignorant.

Now the next verse comes, which speaks of meditating on Aum. Oh, my goodness, how famous this verse must be. I will lay out some of  the translations of others:


  Tajjapas tad-artha-bhavanam.

"The Sacred word connotes Him...
...Its repetition and the understanding of its meaning."

Verse 1:27-28, Rama Prasada, "Patanjali's Yoga Sutras"

"Repeat It And Contemplate Upon Its Meaning."

1:28 Hariharananda Aranya, "The Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali"

"Repetition of it and meditation on its meaning"

Trevor Leggett, "Sankara on the Yoga Sutras"

"Its constant repetition and meditation on its meaning."

I.K. Taimni, "The Science of Yoga"

So, some translators say "meditation on," some say "understanding of," others "contemplation of" the 'meaning' of Aum. This verse has also been missed and misunderstood. By all appearances, from the idea of Aum as an esoteric heard sound it seems we're back to the everyday concept of repeating it as a mantra. On the surface 1:28 appears discontinuous with the prior commentary, as if my commentary was far too esoteric. But such is not the case. This verse too has been poorly translated and had desultory commentaries. (Though Mother India is great, and so are the saints there.) Words they each might have used, to be closer to the sutra's intent, would have been "realization of" and "identification with." I will establish the truth of this presently.

Obtusely, the above translations would have devotees and yogins 'thinking about' or 'contemplating meanings' to associate with Aum as they repeat it as a mantra. This is not correct. Although meditating on the excellences of God is a very good bhakti practice, especially on Sundays, one does not use a mantram to generate thoughts or considerations. Repetition of a mantra is used to banish thoughts and considerations. In meditation, changing thoughts are the problem. As soon as you entertain one concept, others flow in and you're thinking as usual. The yogi uses mantra repetition to get rid of thoughts, letting the mantra alone become the one mental drive and drill. The above translations have long created confusion and robbed us of the Sutra's meaning. The way it turns out is that almost no yogic teacher (religious teacher) actually instructs the disciple to think of concepts while using a mantra. Thinking about meanings or concepts flies in the face of the very purpose of mantra meditation which is to clear the mind and end discursive and associative thought.

Now, where these translators wrote "understanding," "contemplation" and "meditation" on Aum, the original Sanskrit word was bhavanam.

This word bhavanam means a becoming one with. In a bhava one takes on the nature and quality of another thing. It is often used in the context of devotion, in which the devotee, merging with his object of devotion, takes on the same attitude and nature as his goal. Bhava is mergence. This verse really means that the yogi comes into a state of bhava with Aum; he enters into it, plumbs it, and takes on its quality.

Further, the above translators have translated the word artha into "meaning" e.g. the yogi meditates on Aum's meaning. This short-sells the verse further. I think they could not accept the real message of the Sanskrit; its import was perhaps too grand.

"Meaning" is one aspect of the word. Artha also means "cause." Thus the meditator who has the word alone is to direct his mind to the "cause of Aum." More on this later. More conventionally -- and this I announce is the central thrust of the verse -- artha is the word for wealth, fame, and prosperity. That is its first-chair meaning!

Verse 1:28 is indeed saying that the devotee should, in a continuous manner (japa) come into identification and mergence (bhava) with the richness and wealth (artha) of Aum.

All devotees and religious persons who contact Aum will understand and agree immediately. One of the inner reactions and perceptions of Aum that the yogi gets is that Aum is powerful. Another perception is that Aum is rich. Everything good is in it. Wealth (artha) or richness, the Sanskrit word actually indicated for the devotee's contemplation in Aum, is a right descriptor of the pranava.

Thus more instructive renderings of Yoga-Sutra verse 1:28 would be these:

-- The yogi should constantly direct himself (be in japa) to Aum and unite himself with its richness.

-- The yogi, by constantly meditating on either the word alone or the sound of Aum Itself, should merge with the richness (artha) and reality (meaning) of Aum.

And  my rendering of 1:28 is:

 Tajjapas tad-artha-bhavanam.

"(Samadhi is attained) by meditation on the richness of the pranava."

As I said, the Yoga-Sutra is an advanced text. And I assert that this is, indeed, the prime meaning of 1:18. Now, suppose we want to get more intellectual about artha. Pandit Usharbudh Arya of The Himalayan International Institute has a scholarly and detailed glossary in the back of his two volumes on the Yoga-Sutra. His 1st choice for artha is "a matter." He seems to mean "substance." Let's try that out:

"Samadhi is attained by meditation on the the substance of the pranava."

The pandit's 2nd choice is "meaning." His 3rd definition for artha is "reality." Let's try the verse out using  "reality":

"Samadhi is attained by meditation on the reality of the pranava."

Delightful. His fourth choice for artha is "an actual substance." Let's try that one:

"Samadhi is attained by meditation on the actual substance of Aum."

The pandit's fifth choice for artha is: "actual state or object that is realized."

This yields us:

"Samadhi is attained by meditation on the actual state and object of pranava."

It all works very nicely. Meditation on Aum is meditation on the actual heard pranava.

Yet good verses have levels. The verse can still easily be understood in the conventional sense of "meditation on Aum as a mantram." Thus the verse teaches on these two levels:

1) What to do with the Aum mantra (think of it as God, become one with it, give yourself to it), and

2) What to do with the inward, heard pranava (think of it as God, become one with it, give yourself to it, merge with its richness).

Until knowing it, trust in your mantra, your meditation, your guru, and your chastity. Until knowing the pranava, regard your mantra -- whatever it is -- as Aum and as God himself. This is wisdom in yoga. When heard, then you have reached the river and one needs only to meditate on That.

One of the utterances of Nityananda regarding the inner heard Aum was "Trust in Aum." For those religious persons who are uncovering God as aum this also is a devotional (bhakti) attitude and brings bhava with Aum, as the Sutra directs.

Merging with the heard pranava is both blissful and painful. Because God is the one male principle and all His creation is female, one finds that Aum is a penetrator. Though not in a gross sexual sense, the devotee does merge with the pranava a way similar to how a wife merges with her husband. God is the giver, we are the receiver.

When Aum is understood in this way a great many scriptures that speak of Om, heretofore improbable, confusing, and incomprehensibly superlative are suddenly coherent and compelling:

First Mandukya, Verses 25-29, "Eight Upanishads, Volume Two," Translation of Swami Gambhirananda

"...Om is Brahman beyond fear..." 

"...Om is without cause, without inside and outside, and without effect; and it is undecaying." 

"Om is indeed the beginning, middle, and end of everything. Having known Om in this way indeed one attains immediately (identity with it)." 

"...Meditating on the all-pervasive Om,  the intelligent man grieves no more." 

"The Om,  without measures and possessed of infinite dimension, is the auspicious entity where all duality ceases. He by whom Om is known, is the real sage, and not so is any other man."

When understood as the pranava such statements become comprehensible to the devotee. The heard Aum gives all knowledge, destroys dualistic karma, and brings the religious person into God's grace nature.

The Revealed Aum as a blessed meditation technique

This brings me to a final point about Aum. The great difficulty in meditation is that our mind and its movements attract us more than does an unknown or the darkness within. Our moving minds and impressions hold our minds more than one conception or one word. Thus meditation -- focusing the mind on one thing steadily -- is the most difficult human endeavor. In the religious path that is yoga, this difficulty becomes greatly assisted with the dawning of the "transcendental perceptions."

The Yoga-Sutra lists a number of ways the mind can be made clear or still, then throws in that fascinating bombshell already cited:

"The mind is made clear by...achievement of
supernormal perception of a divine object...
or a radiant perception beyond sorrow."

Verses 1:33, 35 & 36, Trevor Leggett, "Sankara on the Yoga Sutras"

The inner heard Aum is indeed one of the "supernormal perceptions" meant by Patanjali, and it is also one of the perceptions "beyond sorrow." (The reference to a "radiant perception" also refers to inner seen light, called bindu. Both the inner light and inner aum are felt to be beyond sorrow.)

It may sound trite when I said threw in a bombshell.' However, it was apt because the inner pranava is like a steady bombshell, and one has to say it is spectacular. And the development of this and other perceptions in the religious person acts like a bombshell to conventional world- and sense-addiction.

When finally a supernatural perception arises due to our faith, devotional attitude, assiduous practice, and continence -- it is a great and wonderful thing. At that time meditation becomes enjoyable and easy, calling to us strongly like a holy siren. So the former Sutra verses about Aum are very much related to these last, which follow closely. Ramakrishna says that the earlier work in religion (beginning meditation) is like a sailor arranging and raising up his sails. That's where the most grueling work is. But once he gets the sail in place and it catches wind, progress becomes easy and natural. When one first digs in a rocky place for water, it's pure work. But once even the smallest dribble of water appears, there is great joy and it becomes easy to push on. The Sikhs are adamant that the inner pranava, which they called Shabd and Bani, is the only thing that can sufficiently attract and engage the mind -- the only thing sweet enough and powerful enough -- to finally break our addiction to the world. The pranava is real and the Yoga-Sutra and Upanishads refer to it. Until then, chant the mantra or do the other techniques given to you with faith, chastity, and devotion.

"Meditating on the meaning of Aum"

Now I will return to the commonly used term "meaning." I have explained the the proper use of Aum as a mantra precludes "thinking about" Aum or God, as the purpose of this repetition is to halt discursive thinking. I have stated that artha which translators render as "meaning" is more straightforwardly translated as wealth or cause, and how this is the central import of the verse, that the yogin meditates on the richness of Aum. 

Now, there is on sense of "meaning" that you can, indeed, apply to this practice. One Upanishad speaks of the difference between meditating on Aum without understanding its meaning, compared to the one who understands its meaning. It states that the latter yogi gets far more out of his meditation. So this will now be revisited.

This means that as you listen to Aum, you try to realize it as God. You say "This is God! Hello! I feel you! I give myself to you." You do not simply say to yourself, "I hear this sound." You realize it as God. This makes the meditation much more fruitful. As artha also means cause, the yogin therefore says to himself "The real cause of this sound is God, Isvara; the sound itself is God."

Now, a yogi or yogess can get tips and clues about this practice from the Upanishads which speak about Aum,  or the Yoga-Sutra verses about Isvara. For example, the Mandukya Upanishad says Aum is "undecaying." Thus while listening to Aum the devotee should say "Thou art undecaying!"  

The Yoga-Sutra states that Aum is Isvara, and that Isvara is untouched by suffering or karma. Thus while listening the devotee can think: "This is untouched! Thou art untouched! Thou art beyond karma!"

The same Upanishad says Aum is "auspicious" or all-good. Thus the religious person should think "This sound is all auspicious!" while merging with it. 

Also "non-dual." 

The Upanishad says Aum is "all-pervasive." Thus the devotee should think "This is all-pervasive!" while listening. 

Verse 29 says Aum is "without measure and possessed of infinite dimension," thus the yogin should ponder that idea while listening to the Pranava. 

Verse 28 (of the Mandukya) states that Aum is "seated in the hearts of all." Thus the yogi can think "This is seated in the hearts of all!" while meditating on the Pranava. 

This is the central import of the verses that refer to  meditating on the "meaning" of Aum. Finally, in the same way that 'viewing a word as God' will produce divine results, as stated above, a new meditator may indeed meditate on the mantra Aum, viewing the word a God, and this will be good. This is an aspect of good mantra meditation in the first place: To view your mantra as sacred, divine, and auspicious. Attitude is a fundamental key in religious development and samadhi. To have reverence for your mantram itself -- whether Aum or another -- is very lucky. 

One can even take those ideas listed above and apply them to the mantra-Aum. It will only serve to increase his concentration on the mantra. This is why sages say to say your mantra reverentially. However, "thinking about God" is not the purpose of mantra meditation.  When using a word-mantra, there should be one single "thought" as it were: An attitude of aspiration or soul-call to God. With mantra meditation you present your attitude to God more than thoughts about Him. Then when you hear Him in the form of the Pranava, it is suitable to think about it some, with these "realization" thoughts which make you grateful, receptive, and amazed. 

Any religious thing that evokes the feeling of reverence, such as the interior of a church, a religious object like a crucifix, or the sight of a nun -- is auspicious and lucky. To get into the state of reverence is lucky, lifts your shakti up the spine, activates the serpent energy. So by all means, the religious person should view his mantram as meaning God, and be reverent toward it. Then upon hearing the pranava, because of devotion, meditation, and chastity -- realize "This is God."

The techniques that reveal Aum

First, let's go back to basics. The Yoga-Sutra has already listed five foundational conditions and techniques that reveal Om:

-- Austerities (tapas), celibacy (brahmacharya), devotional attitude toward God (bhakti), japa (mantra repetition), and pranayama

All of these are significant in revealing the divine sound within the religious person. Now again, I have listed austerities first just as Patanjali listed this the first activity of yoga. Yogananda writes in his meditation lessens, published by Self-Realization Fellowship, that hearing Om requires a reduction in "body consciousness." That means the aspirant must have less of a tether to his body. Austerities in general cut the tie to the body. Thus I was fortunate to be born into the Catholic Church in which the monks and nuns had an austerities ethic, and poor little me had to kneel for eternities in church. It may be significant in my own development that I took to fasting by my teens, partly through the inspiration of the Christian saints and partly as a health interest. Fasting very much reduces the tie to the body and its comfort. Now for many years I only eat once a day. I have coffee in the morning and never eat a thing till late afternoon or early evening, then I don't eat much. I am completely comfortable with this, and fasts played a big role in this development. Then chastity makes one worthy of Om and able to withstand it. The devotional attitude toward God attracts Om. Japa, which brings the mind to stillness, draws it near. Finally, pranayama is an uncoverer of Om.

Special Meditation Techniques That Reveal Aum

Then finally there are at least two meditation techniques that, combined with the above in a religious person, reveal the divine sound of Aum. Both are used in Yogananda and Nityananda's path, and in the path of the Sikhs. The meditation techniques that reveal Aum should be gotten from a bhakta and yogi who is chaste and has the signs of shaktipat. 

First preparation for hearing the Pranava should be the development of the devotional and reverential attitude toward God. This can be cultivated by sitting in beautiful churches and singing religious songs. The next fertile ground is morality or consecrating the sexual instinct only to marriage and procreation, the rest sacrificed and sublimated up to God. With these two, devotion and chastity, you will be given the right meditation technique and then it will be fruitful.

Om is all satisfying and blissful, giving you contentment. Aum is the Purusha, the Lord. With aum, you lose interest in the false thrills of the exterior world and anything but duty. You attain real vairagya (dispassion). Now Sutra 1:16:


In the highest vairagya, because of contact with Purusha, there is cessation of the least desire for any experience of the created world.

Now because of this vairagya, pratyahara can dawn. When pratyahara comes, samadhi comes.

Introduction |  The YS: Path To God-Knowledge  |  The Summary Verses
Western Confusion About Yoga  |  On Brahmacharya
The Essence of Yoga |  The Problem  |  On Preparation
On Meditation  |   On Meditation Objects |  On Inner Divine Light
On Aum  |   On the 4th Pranayama
 |   On Samadhi  |  On Siddhis |  The State Of The Sage  |  Yoga-Sutra Metaphysics  |  APPENDIXES
COPYRIGHT 2011 Julian Lee.
All Rights Reserved.

The Chidakasha Gita
Of Nityananda and Commentary


The Yoga-Sutra On Kumbhaka and The Breathless State
Julian C. Lee Mickunas



Devotion, love of God, emotional feeling directed to God.
The Yoga-Sutra's word for God or Saguna Brahman, the Supreme Soul, original Person, all-powerful creator of the manifest universes.
Individualized consciousness, all the separate "I"s other than God, like the Christian idea of soul.

Affliction, impurity, taint

Nirguna Brahman
God as pure consciousness, with the only attributes being sat-chit-ananda or being, consciousness, and bliss. Human beings merge with Nirguna Brahman nightly in dreamless sleep, covered by a film of nescience or unconsciousness. Often when "Brahman" us used alone it refers to Nirguna Brahman.

rishi or rsi
Yogic sage, holy man of India, literally "forest sage."

Saguna Brahman
God in a manifested form with other attributes, such as creatorship, etc. Conceptualizations of Saguna Brahman include Vishnu, Shiva, the all western ideas of God, Isvara, etc.
Complete stoppage  of thoughts and absorption in one of the levels of consciousness above waking, while in the waking state. Samadhi can be savikalpa or nirvikalpa. The first is awareness of the dream state while awake. The 2nd is awareness of the bliss of the dreamless state while awake. Mergence in God. Saguna Brahman or Isvara is considered to pertain to the dreaming state; Nirguna Brahman to deep dreamlessness or pure consciousness.

"Impression." A mark on consciousness "This happened, I was this." Similar to memory.

Miraculous power.
Austerities, penances, practices of bodily mortification and renunciation.

The inner energy or  potency that is gained by celibacy. Similar to the concept of ojas built up by chastity. Fundamental inner virtue from celibacy.

Women's American Body Yoguh



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