In 1976, Swami Satchidananda was giving this talk (below) on Yoga in Denver, Colorado. Yoga was something that wasn’t widely practiced, or understood, in its broader and deepest sense at that time—and in large part, still isn’t today. And, the use of mantras in meditation, chanting and kirtan was even less known in the 1970s. So, when he was asked to give a talk on this subject, he approached it from various angles to help those in the audience understand not only the science behind the practice, but the deep spiritual impact of mantras on the energy body.
The practice of chanting, which is found in many faiths, is one way to calm the mind and draw attention inward. Yogis often repeat “Hari Om” when chanting. This sound is not limited to any one particular faith. Even though it is expressed through the Sanskrit language, the vibration of the sound is universal in its nature. Most people feel very comfortable with the sound, ”Om” because it is more familiar today. But what about this “Hari” business?
Some Hindus limit the meaning of this beautiful mantra, or sound syllable, to the name of a particular deity. But in its literal and true sense, according to its sound vibration, it is universal and it has a specific purpose. It is not necessarily the name of a particular deity. If you say “flower,” it only denotes a flower, not a fruit. Hari and Om are mantras that are aspects of the Cosmic sound vibration.
Most people feel very comfortable with the sound, ”Om” because it is more familiar today. But what about this “Hari” business? Some Hindus limit the meaning of this beautiful mantra, or sound syllable, to the name of a particular deity. But in its literal and true sense, according to its sound vibration, it is universal and it has a specific purpose. It is not necessarily the name of a particular deity. If you say “flower,” it only denotes a flower, not a fruit. Hari and Om are mantras which are aspects of the Cosmic sound vibration.
Mantra literally means a tool to calm the mind. By repeating the mantras Hari and Om you are, in a way, tuning your own sound system to the similar vibrations that exist in the universe. When you chant, it’s as if you are a radio and you are tuning the radio to receive a similar cosmic vibration. That is the purpose behind the repetition of any mantra. Japa Yoga, or Mantra Yoga, is based on this principal. It’s scientific in its approach.
The Western scriptures also speak of sound. They say that the first expression of the unmanifested God was sound. The Bible expresses this as, “In the beginning, there was the Word and the Word was with God.” That means, God must have existed before the Word, but we couldn’t understand God, until God manifested Itself. You might be curious as to why I say “Itself. Even, thousands of years ago, some thought that it was not right to attach a gender to God. They felt that God was beyond the limitation of any individual so they called God “That.” They used the phrase “Tat Tvam Asi, Thou art That.
But the very first expression of the unmanifest God is sound. Hindus refer to God as “Nada Brahman.” Nada means sound, Brahman means the absolute God. Even the modern scientists have come to the same conclusion—that everything is essentially sound. Sound gives rise to form and because of the differing velocities and combinations, you hear various sounds and then see various forms. If at any time all the forms cease to be, there will be nothing but a mass of sound vibration. That is what the entire universe is based upon.
There are different aspects of sounds. For example, certain sounds can perform particular actions. Based on this knowledge, every scripture has given spiritual seekers sound formulas. We call these mantras. And Hari Om is a combination of two mantras. When you say “Ha” you automatically give a gentle contraction of the area at the naval, or the solar plexus. This is the very pivot, or very center of the human physical mechanism. That’s why it’s called the solar plexus. At the center is the sun.
When you repeat Ha you more or less kindle up the dormant energy that is stored there. And then by continuing with Ri you bring it up the central channel of the subtle nervous system. It comes almost to the throat with Ri. Then the minute you start O you feel the sound rising further up to vibrate the entire head. And as you close the lips to produce “Mmm” and you can feel vibration trying to escape through the crown of the head. So you are literally lifting up your energy—up to the head and then further up, it goes out through the subtle body antennas.
There has been a lot of talking about opening the third eye. That’s only a part of it, but the real opening is at the crown of your head. That doesn’t mean you break the head to create an opening! It is in the energy body or system, not in the physical body. Everyone has had that opening. It was open when you were born and then it got closed. If you have any doubt, gently put your finger on a little baby’s head and you can feel something. Don’t press it too much. There is a nice beautiful opening, an indentation covered with soft skin. That means that their crown chakra is opened, and that is why they can communicate with the higher realms. When a baby smiles for no reason, you just think that it’s a little crazy. But the baby is still communicating with the higher Consciousness because the opening is still there. It hasn’t gotten closed up.
Some of you might know that even in certain orders of Catholic clergy, men shave a nice round opening on the top of the head. Of course, it’s not just by shaving the head that you become spiritually evolved, but it is symbolic. That means that it should eventually become re-opened. But again, we are not speaking about the physical level. By your practice, you open on the energy-body level. And mantra practices help a lot for that.
The Hindu scriptures say that when a Self-Realized person leaves the body, the life force leaves through this opening at the crown. That means they are in communication with the higher realms. The mantra chanting helps in many ways to achieve that. And even if you don’t get to that point right away, the very vibration that you build in your system purifies the entire body, physically and mentally.
Sound vibrations do have purifying effects. We know this through modern science. They have developed ultrasonic cleaning machines. Jewels and watches are cleaned with sound vibration. And, in our own bodies, cleaning means realignment. It brings a harmony to the system. Illness is disharmony in the body and mind. When you bring back that harmony the body and mind become healthy again. Try realigning an end of your car. When you realign the front end the entire body of the car is realigned. The same thing happens with your body and mind. These are all some of the effects that you can notice within yourself as a result of your regular practices of mantra chanting.
Mantra is different from our prayers. Our prayers are spoken sentences. They have meaning; they have purpose. You try to convey something to God or the higher Consciousness. But mantras normally don’t have a meaning. They have purpose. This is how mantras are different from prayers. That doesn’t mean that the prayer is in anyway secondary or inferior. No. But right now I am just talking about mantras, so I am telling the importance of them. And these kinds of sound vibrations are found in almost every faith. For example, you can see plenty of sound vibrations in Hebrew, Arabic, in Latin and so on. They are specially formulated for the purpose of creating harmony. You can’t just translate them into some other language and there is no need for translation because the sound itself carries the meaning, the purpose. If your car horn honks, you can’t translate it into an Italian language and say this is Italian horn or this is an American horn. A honk is a honk, that’s all! The purpose itself is the meaning. When you honk your horn, the person in front will not get down from their car and ask, “What do you mean by this?” They just know.
So try to incorporate a little chanting of Hari Om, or any other mantra, into your daily practice. Any time of day is fine, but you might like to try chanting a little just before your meditation practice. It sort of prepares the mind to be able to concentrate a little more.
SPECIAL NOTE: Chant Hari Om, and other mantras, with Swami Satchidananda on the Sacred Mantra series, available for digital download in the store on this website.