Song of the Heart: The Essence of Nada Yoga

 By Rajesh David

Music is an integral part of my life. My being born into a family of singers and growing up in a musical atmosphere led naturally to my being trained in Indian classical vocal music. My first encounter with the concept of Nada Brahma was my teacher’s advice to “sing in such a way that you resonate with the universal sound.” Wow! But what did he mean by “universal sound?” That was a little seed planted in my heart. The searching for an answer opened doors to a deeper understanding both of music and of Nada Brahma, and the connection between the two inspired me to immerse myself in the study of Nada Yoga.

Nada Yoga interprets the cosmos through the medium of sound. Such a way of perceiving the world unites ancient myths and modern science. Since Pythagoras established a correlation between musical notes and mathematical ratios, it is not fanciful to see music everywhere in the universe, from the tiniest atoms to the movement of planets—and, of course, in our own bodies.

Because the range of sound accessible to us is very limited, our exploration of Nada extends beyond audible sound to wider concepts of harmony, balance, and rhythm.

We look for ways to  endow our posture and movement with those qualities. A harmonious distribution of effort prevents chronic overuse of some areas while other parts atrophy. We learn to appreciate the fundamental role of rhythm, without which we would be unable even to walk. Rhythm binds both us, and the cosmos, together.

Within the context of Indian music, the term Nada refers to the essence of the vibration of sounds of music. Thus, although our journey may begin with audible sound, such as mantra and song, it must lead us to deeper realms of being, just as chanting the mantra Om, that perfect symbol of Nada, is followed by the silence from which the manifest universe emanates.

The practices of Nada Yoga are simple but have the potential to deepen our meditation very quickly. A practice such as chanting bija (seed) mantras while focusing on chakra locations, for example, brings us into a state of pratyahara. Chanting and kirtan are designed to draw us within and calm our minds, thus preparing us for meditation.

Mantras are sound vibrations. Some have a deep meaning that one might contemplate, while others have no particular meaning. Why is the sound of a mantra different from that of any other word? In one respect there is no difference, if we believe that all sound manifests from Om. But in the initial stages of our practice, we choose sounds associated in our mind with profound value and meaning, thus enabling the vibrations of those sounds to be effective.

Advaita, the Ashtavakra Gita, and the Mandukya Upanishad

“Each soul is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest this divinity within . . . either by work, or worship or psychic control, or philosophy, by one, or more or all of these—and be free . . . . Doctrines, dogmas, rituals, books, temples, or forms, are but secondary details.” Swami Vivekananda’s works on Advaita Vedanta struck a deep chord in my heart. Advaita Vedanta is the philosophy of Non-dualism. It boldly proclaims that our true nature is non-dual. We are that un-fragmented whole. We are that Sat Chit Ananda—Existence Absolute, Consciousness Absolute, Bliss Absolute. Tat twam asi—You are That! While we identify ourselves in duality, we are unable to see ourselves as the un-fragmented whole and thus remain deluded.

Adi Shankara, in his poem Bhaja Govindam, expresses that idea with clarity. In thirty-one verses he points out how our delusions stem from false identification with our ego-self—with wealth, status, family, and sexuality—and, thus leads us to duality and multiplicity. The Self is just one complete un-fragmented whole—the Atma. When our ignorance drops off, the true Self shines forth. It’s as simple as that! There is nowhere to go, nothing to do. This is the philosophy of non-doership.

These ideas are also expressed beautifully and succinctly in the text, Ashtavakra Gita, which takes the form of a dialogue between the sage Ashtavakra and his disciple Janaka. The teachings are simple and direct, not only appealing to the intellect but going straight to the heart. It begins with Janaka’s asking his Guru how liberation can be attained. Ashtavakra replies that the only way is to detach oneself from duality. As long as we identify with the non-Self, the Self remains masked, and we are thereby shrouded in ignorance. In chapter 6 we read: I am like the ocean, and the multiplicity of objects is comparable to a wave. To know this is knowledge, and then there is neither renunciation, acceptance, nor cessation of it.” It is one of the beautiful images created by Ashtavakra to enable seekers to grasp the concept of the non-dual Self…

Read the rest of this article in the Fall 2015 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.

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