Jagatguru Adishankaracharya. Commentary by Swami Haripremananda Saraswati. Psychological comments by Swami Muktananda Saraswati.

Shadashivoktani sapadalaksha
layavadhanani vasanti loke
Nadanusandhana samadhimekam
manyamahe anyatamam layanam

Lord Shiva instantaneously described the thousands of laya yogas existing in this world. Amongst them all I choose nadanusandhana, enquiry into eternal sound, as the best path to samadhi.

Sadashiva, another name for Lord Shiva, means supreme consciousness. In Hindu mythology he is described as the destroyer of this creation. Shiva is also called ayoni sambhuta which means 'who is not produced by the womb'. He is eternal, without birth or death. What is not eternal? That which is subject to change. So Shiva destroys the changing phenomena and then there remains only the self, the unchangeable, the eternal.

For the evolution of humanity, he described yoga and its many branches. All these are contained in a dialogue between Shiva and his consort, Parvati, who asked the means of supreme salvation for the benefit of mankind. What Shiva described and Parvati listened to became the agama, and what Parvati described and Shiva listened to, later became the nigama.

Of these practices, the author wants to show the importance of laya yoga. What is laya yoga? Laya literally means melting or dissolution of something. Although every yoga is laya yoga, still laya is a yoga by itself. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika says about laya yoga that mind is the master of the senses, breath is the master of the mind, laya is the master of breath and that laya depends on nada. The dissolution of the mind and prana which brings liberation and bliss is called laya. In laya yoga the physical brain centres, the nervous system and also the centres of consciousness within the body, are consciously brought to a state of unconsciousness. Thus one gains complete and voluntary mastery over the process of dissolution of consciousness or the 'I'. When chitta and prana are dissolved, all the sankalpas and vikalpas are uprooted. Then liberation which is blissful takes place.

There are hundreds of thousands of laya yogas in this world, but of them all nadanusandhana is the best. The meaning of nada is transcendental sound which is known in the Upanishads as aum. It is also called anahat or un-struck sound, which is infinite. According to the Muslim saints, the world evolved from sound into form. The Christian Bible says:

"In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God."

In the Bhagavata is the story about the play of Lord Krishna and the gopis in Vrindavan. When Lord Krishna played the flute (representing the supreme nada or higher consciousness), the gopis (representing the senses) forgot their husbands and homes (the outer reality) and danced around the flute in ecstasy, devotion and love.

The power of sound is the root cause of this creation. If anybody rebukes you with harsh words, you suddenly feel angry or sad. This is due to the power of sound vibrations. But if you listen to melodious music or loving words, you become happy. Why? Because of the sound vibrations. Music is also based on sound and has seven notes which are connected with the main psychic centres of the body. When music is mastered through these psychic centres in the yogic way, one is able to transcend the plane of consciousness.

Sound or the word has three aspects: shabda (sound), artha (meaning) and pratyaya (cognition). There are numerous kinds of sound and each sound has a meaning, vibration and frequency. Sound is energy and energy is dynamic. There are numerous brain centres which produce different kinds of amplitude and frequencies. From these combinations particular patterns of energy are produced which, when condensed, take the form of gross matter. Thus the whole Mantra Shastra is based on this sound principle. Those who are familiar with Einstein's formula E=MC2 will understand this more clearly.

From the innermost chamber of the self, someone is speaking. It cannot be explained when and with whom he speaks. The practice of nada yoga makes the mind more and more subtle until it is completely purified of all objective notions. When confusions are removed, the mind becomes peaceful and real meditation takes place. Then one is able to hear the inner voice, the ultimate sound.

Nada is generally divided into four stages: para, pasyanti, madhyama and vaikhari. Para is the ultimate sound, aum. In meditation, light and silence are the same, thus aum is silence or anahat, un-struck sound. Pasyanti is the mental sound, and madhyama the sound which is generally known as whispering. Vaikhari is sound which is audible or produced by striking two objects. According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika there are also four stages of sound. In nadanusandhana when the practitioner is able to pierce the Brahma granthi he hears a sound like the tinkling of many ornaments, which gives much happiness and pleasure. The second stage is ghatavastha, the third is parish ayavastha and the fourth is nispatihavastha.

In the practice of nada yoga one generally hears many kinds of sounds which give much joy to the sadhaka. The mind-stuff is automatically merged in the sound.

"As the bee drinks the honey without giving any attention to the flower or its smell, in the same way the chitta becomes attached to the nada without desiring sense enjoyments."
Hatha Yoga Pradipika

In the beginning these sounds are like the ocean, thunder, horn and cymbals. When the nada enters sushumna, the sounds are like the drum (mridanga), conch (shankha), bell (ghanti) and pipe (bheri). Lastly the sound is like tinkling (kinkin), flute, vina, bee, and finally aum.

The first chapter of the Gita describes how the individual or jivatma (Arjuna) with the master (Paramatma) or the guru (Lord Krishna) gets ready to destroy the enemies of ego, ignorance, passions, etc. (the Kauravas), who blew the conch and played war music. These are also the stages which come in the practice of nadanusandhana that Shankaracharya calls samadhi.

What is the definition of samadhi? According to yoga, samadhi can be understood in the following way. In Patanjali's raja yoga the last three of the eight limbs are known as dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (self-realization). When dharana or concentration lasts eleven seconds without any other unrelated thoughts and continues for eleven times uninterrupted, this is known as dhyana, and eleven or more continuous dhyana are called samadhi.

Samadhi is the merging of the lower self in the supreme self, or the individual consciousness with the supreme consciousness. Samadhi is also of many kinds such as laya samadhi, bhava samadhi, sahaja samadhi and so on. Samadhi generally comes under two main categories - savikalpa (with seed or ego) and nirvikalpa (without seed or ego).

By achieving the state of nada the mind is dissolved and samadhi takes place. Nada also pierces the three knots in the body which are known as Brahma granthi, Vishnu granthi and Rudra granthi, and thus opens up the realm of highest consciousness. By the practice of nadanusandhana the yogi becomes the lord of yoga, and is able to create and destroy. Nadanusandhana is the best samadhi amongst the layas because the eternal sound heard within the heart chakra, anahata, dissolves the mind; one attains supreme consciousness.

Literary comparison

Instantly Lord Shiva summons the eternal sound.
Listen attentively, enquiry dissolves in silence.

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
not to the sensual ear, but, more endeared,
pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone

Elected silence, sing to me
and beat upon my whorled ear.
Pipe me to pastures still and be
the music that I crave to hear.
Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

When there were no strings to play,
you played to me...
When there was no ear to hear
you sang to me...
Grateful Dead

Psychological comments

The potency of sound has captured the imagination of scientists whose recent researches document the many ways we are affected by sound, mentally as well as physically. Very low frequency sound vibrations, below the threshold of hearing, have been shown to bring on nausea, feelings of anxiety and depression, fear and even panic. Constant or high volume noise, such as the incessant roar of motor traffic, has such debilitating effects on the human psyche that many governments are introducing legislation to control 'noise pollution'.

However, 'music soothes the savage breast' and certain sound frequencies fortunately induce calmness, relaxation and optimism. The emotional impact of music has long been exploited, for instance, by military bands rousing aggressive patriotism and mothers crooning their children to sleep with lullabies. Investigators have found that people feel happier and work better in an environment where there is some faint background sound rather than complete silence. This is the rationale behind musac, the bland instrumental music that is piped through offices, restaurants and shopping centres in most of the world's cities.

Now, experiments with sound meditation (japa and nada yoga) are pointing out a new direction in psychotherapy. Chronic nervous tension and excessive (often unfounded) anxiety are the common denominators of all mental illness. However, it has been found that meditation on sound is most effective in replacing anxiety with deep relaxation. Researchers have monitored a number of psycho-physiological changes taking place during japa, all of them indicating beneficial relaxation of the mind/body complex.

Not only does it relieve anxiety for the particular moment, without dependence on tranquillising drugs, but meditation also serves as a long term anti-anxiety agent. The deep relaxation that comes with sound meditation allows us to look at the sources of our anxiety without suffering the stress usually associated with them. A degree of calm detachment replaces the impulse to suppression and facilitates an unbiased appraisal of our inner responses to the external environment. On the basis of this insight, we are able to make a more positive adaptation to our life circumstances.

The use of meditative techniques is becoming more widespread and is proving to be an effective means of overcoming mental illness. At the same time, the use of meditation is helping to shift the emphasis from therapy for 'mental illness' towards the concept of self discovery for perfecting personality integration and expanding awareness.