From Ear To Eternity The Spiritual Dimensions of Sound | Independent Newspapers Limited
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From Ear To Eternity The Spiritual Dimensions of Sound

Posted: May 10, 2015 at 12:26 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

The Vedic literature reveals the sounds that can truly awaken the soul.

Human beings can’t perceive portions of the known vibratory spectrum. While extremely sensitive to sound waves of about 1,000 to 4,000 cycles per second (cps), man is all but deaf beyond 20,000 cps. Dogs and cats, on the other hand, can hear up to 60,000 cps, while mice, bats, whales, and dolphins can emit and receive sounds well over 100,000 cps.

In other words, there are definitely things we just don’t hear. And India’s ancient Vedic texts tell us that if this is true in the material sphere, it is even more true of sounds that exist beyond the material world. Such spiritual sounds, these texts tell us, can be vibrated and received only by people who qualify themselves through spiritual practice. Only then can these sounds be truly heard.

Spiritual Sound in the Vedic Literature

Portions of the Vedic literature are almost like textbooks on sound, informing us about an ancient art in which sound was used as a spiritual tool. The same concept is echoed in other cultures. Chronicles from lands as diverse as Egypt and Ireland tellz us of a time when vibrations lying at the foundation of our universe were harnessed by spiritual adepts for the benefit of mankind. Like the Bible, which states, “In the beginning was the Word (John 1.1),” Vaisnava scriptures affirm that the entire cosmic creation began with sound: “By His utterance came the universe.” (Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad 1.2.4) The Vedas add that ultimate liberation comes from sound (anavrttihsabdat).

Primal sound is referred to as sabda brahman, God as word. Closely related to this is the concept of nada brahman, God as sound. Nada, a Sanskrit word meaning “sound,” is related to the term nadi, denoting the stream of consciousness—a concept that goes back to the ag Veda, the most ancient of the Vedas. Thus, the relationship between sound and consciousness has long been recorded in India’s ancient Vedic texts, which, again, describe sound as the preeminent means for attaining higher, spiritual consciousness.

Mantras, or sacred sounds, are used to pierce through sensual, mental, and intellectual levels of existence all lower strata of consciousness for purification and spiritual enlightenment. The sounds of different letters, particularly Sanskrit letters, have been shown to affect the mind, intellect, and auditory nerves of those who chant and hear them. The seven energy centers (cakras) of the spinal column, as well as the ida, pingala, and susumna nadis, or the three pranic channels of the subtle body, all respond to mantras, bringing practitioners to elevated levels of awareness.

The Power of God’s Names

Vedic texts tell us that in much the same way that sound can awaken someone, calling out the name of God can awaken the soul from conditioned, materialistic slumber. In fact, the world’s major religious traditions concur that it is by chanting the name of God that one attains enlightenment and freedom from the cycle of birth and death.

Mohammed counseled, “Glorify the name of your Lord, the most high.” (Koran 87.2) Saint Paul said, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10.13) Buddha declared, “All who sincerely call upon my name will come to me after death, and I will take them to paradise.” (Vows of Amida Buddha 18) King David preached, “From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised.” (Psalms 113.3) And the Vaisnava scriptures assert, “Chant the holy name, chant the holy name, chant the holy name of the Lord. In this age of quarrel there is no other way, no other way, no other way to attain spiritual enlightenment.” (Brhan-naradiya Purana 38.126).

And, finally, Krsna says, “I do not live in Vaikuntha, in the hearts of the yogis, or inside the sun. Rather, My dear Narada, I am present wherever My devotees sing about Me.” (Padma Purana, Uttara-khanda 92.21-22)

Because chanting the name of God is so much emphasized in Vaisnava texts, we focus on chanting as a central devotional practice. Thus, deep meditation and great emotion accompany japa (soft chanting) and kirtana, or sankirtana (congregational chanting). When perfected, the chanting leads to awareness of God’s absolute nature, i.e., that there is no difference between nami (“the named one”) and nama (“the name”). Elucidation on the absolute nature of Krsna and His name is the heart of Vaisnava practice, leading to love of God