Any practice or technique of meditation that brings about complete cessation of consciousness is called laya yoga. There are many sadhanas recommended in laya yoga and nada yoga is one. The word nada is derived from the Sanskrit root nad, meaning 'to flow'. Hence the etymological meaning of nada should be a process or a flow of consciousness. Ordinarily the word nada means sound. There are four stages of manifestation of sound according to frequency and subtlety or grossness. The four stages are: (i) para, (ii) pashyanti, (iii) madhyama and (iv) vaikhari. These four stages of sound should be understood scientifically.
Para means 'transcendental, 'beyond' or 'the other side'. It is beyond the reach of the indriyas, or sense organs, and the mind and other means of cognition. Hence para nada is the transcendental sound. It is indicative of a truth that there is a sphere of super-consciousness where the sound is heard in different dimensions.
Students of classical music are aware of the fact that every note is made up of different numbers of vibrations per second. They vary in length, speed and pitch. In Indian music these vibrations are called andolana. In one second a sound may make many thousands of vibrations. Above a certain level of high frequency, sound becomes inaudible and can only be perceived subjectively. The ears cannot receive such sounds that are vibrating at a very high rate. Therefore, we are not aware of all the sounds that are present in the cosmos. Sounds having a very high frequency are transformed into silence. Beyond a certain limit, the ears do not have the capacity. No one can hear or understand a sound like that even if it is present.
Para or transcendental sound has the highest vibration frequency. This intense vibration faculty makes para inaudible. Various texts mention that para sound has no vibration. It is a sound that has no movement and therefore no frequency. It is a still sound, but we cannot conceive of a sound that has no vibration, no movements, no motion. When a sound goes to its maximum pitch, it attains a sudden stillness, and that is para nada.
In the Upanishads, the sound of Om is said to be the manifestation of para. The audible chant of Om which we produce is not para because it is physical, subject to our hearing, understanding and logic. Therefore, the audible Om cannot be called the transcendental Om. Para is a cosmic and transcendental sound devoid of all movement. It is both still and infinite. It has shape and light too. Its nature is jyoti (light). It is different from all sounds usually heard or conceived. The Upanishads clearly state, "That is Om, that sound is Om."
The second stage of sound, which has less frequency and is more gross than para, is pashyanti. It is a sound which cannot be heard, but it can be seen. Pashyanti in Sanskrit means 'that which can be seen or visualized'. The ancient scriptures maintain that sound can also be perceived. How does one see a sound? Well, have you ever heard a piece of music in a dream? This particular dimension of sound, as it is in dream, is called pashyanti. It may be called a mental sound, which is neither a conscious sound nor a semi conscious sound. It is a subconscious sound pertaining to a quality of mind and not belonging to the quality of the sense organs, like the tongue or ears.
When I say out loud "Rama, Rama, Rama, Rama," it will be called vaikhari, but when I close my eyes and mouth and go in and repeat mentally the sound of Rama, visualizing its colour and form with the inner eye, it is known as pashyanti. When the word or the sound is heard in a sphere where one is not aware of the outer surroundings, it is called pashyanti. When every outer sound is extinct and you hear a new sound altogether unlike the nature of audible sounds, know it as a special sound or the nada of pashyanti.
A form of sound having lower frequencies than para and pashyanti, but still subtler than the audible vaikhari form of sound, is known as madhyama. It is a sound produced in whispering. No audible effect is produced in it. Madhyama produces very minute vibrations in the act of a whisper. In an ordinary sound, two objects strike against each other in order to produce sound. But in madhyama no two things strike violently so as to produce audible sound. For example, when a sound is produced like 'thuck, thuck, thuck', it is called a gross sound. The word madhyama means 'in between' or ' middle', so madhyama means a middle sound, a whispering sound or the sound of a whisper.
The fourth and gross stage of nada is called vaikhari. Vaikhari sound is audible and producible. The spoken sound is vaikhari. It is produced by friction or by striking two things against each other. Its frequencies of vibration are conducted within a certain limited range.
To sum up, vaikhari is the gross quality of the vocal organs, madhyama is the subtler quality of the same physical organs, pashyanti is the quality of the subconscious or unconscious, and para is the quality of the soul.
According to nada yogis and the scriptures dealing with the subject of nada yoga, the nada brahma, or the ultimate and transcendental sound, is the seed from which the entire creation has evolved. A nada yogi believes that the world is but a projection of sound alone. The whole macro cosmic universe is a projection of sound vibrations. From that sound the whole world has evolved. In the Bible there is the reference: "In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God." This word is called the nada or the shabda. Sufis in India call it surat. Surat or shabda yoga is another name for nada yoga practice. The Sufi saints of philosophical temperament also believe that out of sound and form the world evolved. The nada yogis believe that the five elements, five karmendriyas, five jnanendriyas, the fourfold mind and the three gunas have evolved out of one eternal sound. It means that prakriti, the material, mental, psychic and intellectual universe, is all an outcome of nada brahma. This is the ultimate belief of all nada yogis. So a nada yogi believes in a reality which has manifested itself in the form of vibration. It is a vibration that either does not vibrate at all or at such a high frequency that it is beyond the reach of the human faculty.
The eternal or original nada has the highest rate of frequency and vibration. When any object vibrates at a tremendous and unimaginable speed, it becomes still. It means that the highest point of motion and vibration is stillness. And that nada appears to be the creative principle of all matter and the entire material substance.
Nada yogis contend that everything in the universe originated and evolved from the eternal and infinite nada. In this context a study of the Upanishads is recommended, with special reference to Nada Bindu Upanishad and Hamsopanishad.
Music is also a materialized form of nada and the movements of prana in the body are also nothing but the expressions of nada. The purpose of nada yoga sadhana is to find out the primal, the finest, the ultimate inner sound - the word or shabda. In order to discover this transcendental and non-empirical sound, the process starts from the external gross sound. From there the ultimate form of sound is conceivable only through going into the deeper realms of our consciousness.
There are different centres where the transcendental nada is said to be situated. Bhaktas try to find the centre of their ishta in anahata. Yogis try to find the centre of intuition in ajna. Vedantins try to find the centre of hiranyagarbha in sahasrara. Likewise, nada yogis locate the centre of nada in bindu. Bindu is the centre where the continuous, eternal, inaudible, unbroken and unbeaten sound goes on. For the purpose of the discovery of nada, it is true that the bindu has to be discovered primarily and finally.
Before venturing into the depth of this science, it would be better for the aspirant to locate or discover the mental, astral and psychic nature of the sound of nada. Different nada yoga practices are introduced in order to help the aspirant to get through the different psychic and non-physical sounds, before the consciousness can finally be attuned with the real nada.
The practices meant for bhakti yoga are also included as practices of nada yoga. When a bhakti yogi performs mantra japa, in the first stage he tries his best to maintain awareness of the sound produced by the mantra. After having developed a deeper awareness of the sound of the mantra, he stops producing an audible sound vibration and in the second stage tries to intensify his awareness on the basis of the mantra repeated in whispered tones.
When this task is accomplished satisfactorily, he stops whispering and repeats the same mantra mentally. He tries to hear the mental and subtle notes which, though inaudible, can be visualized through a deeper form of awareness. Sometimes at this stage, it is possible to actually experience hearing the same mantra internally. The bhakti yogi will feeling as if he has really chanted the mantra in an audible tone. When the awareness of mental mantra chanting is absorbing and the mind is completely fused in a deep realm of awareness, mantra or nada is transformed into a constant inaudible repetition which will appear to the aspirant on the plane of consciousness as audible; but it will be imperceptible and inaudible to others. This is the way to experience the nada in the practice of mantra yoga by bhakti yogis.
A few kriyas combined with bandhas and mantras should also be included in order to stimulate the dormant psychic regions. The aspirant should begin the task of discovering the first sound or nada by plugging the ears and listening to the inner sounds. When the practice is fairly advanced, the ears need not be plugged in order to commune with the different dimensions of sound. Instead one should try to commune with the inner sound during the stillness of the night without closing the ears. It is easy to apprehend the inner sounds at midnight or early in the morning.
The diet of a nada yogi should be light and easily digestible. Any food that sends quick influxes of blood to the brain is undesirable. Food which causes hypertension or high blood pressure should be avoided. The normal nutritional supply required to maintain normal functioning of the body should be provided.
Music is also nada yoga, where the music is rendered absolutely scientific and classical in order to experience the nada. The development of musical systems in the past was done strictly in accordance with the views of nada yoga sadhanas. The well-known and most ancient Sama Veda is always sung with a scientific exactness and in accordance with nada yoga sadhana.
At different stages of conscious awareness, the mind is easily attracted by different waves of nada. Certain vibrations of nada seem to be agreeable at a particular time, while others are disagreeable at a particular time of the day. Certain combinations of nada are agreeable to some people and disagreeable to others. In music these nada vibrations are known as raga or musical notes. A raga having short vibrations is not relished by some. The morning music of India, like the Bhairava or Bhairavi raga, is appealing to a few, but not to all. I like the midnight music of India, the Malkos, the Durga or the Jogia ragas. The evening raga, like Bhimpalasi, is also popularly appreciated. Generally, girls and boys of a tender age prefer Bhairavi. This shows that the mind reacts differently to different sound waves at different times.
Music can be taken up as a spiritual sadhana, as a preliminary practice, or just as a pleasant, interesting and inspiring sadhana of nada yoga, through which the mind can be attuned to the subtlest vibrations before proceeding to discover the last transcendental sound of nada.
One can practise nada yoga whenever one is free. A beginner should practise between midnight and two a.m., the period free from the disturbing influences of external sound. Absence of light in the atmosphere also aids the practice. These help to introvert the mind.
Some precautions should be borne in mind because nada yogic sadhana can bring about a manifestation of any sound. Sometimes, if the practitioner has a weak state of mind, there may be a buzzing in the ears throughout the day. Sometimes he may hear the sound of a bell or various other sounds. Manifestation of these different sounds disturbs the peace of the aspirant. If the sound continues to agitate the mind, the nada yoga sadhana should be given up. It is sure and certain that by correct practice of nada yoga, inner sounds are developed by stages. They are not heard at any other time during the waking period.
The nada yogi is capable of hearing a voice in the waking state if he is at a very advanced stage. It appears as if someone is whispering into his ears. This is a kind of Siddhi; a power to hear a sound from an unknown.
First of all, the nada yogi should practise moola bandha, vajroli/sahajoli mudra and yoga mudra. These are important. When these have been learnt, one should practise kumbhaka and focus the consciousness on bindu. Pranayama also forms an important preliminary and essential part of this sadhana. There are many pranayama practices that can cause nada to manifest. One is moorcha. Brahmari should also be practised, with the ears plugged, and the eyes pressed with the fingers as in shanmukhi mudra. The upper and lower teeth should be kept apart, the jaw unclenched. Then the actual practice of nada yoga should follow.
Sit down on a firm pillow in a squatting position, placing the soles of the feet on the ground with the elbows resting on the knees or thighs. For some a lower pillow will be comfortable and for others a higher one. The most important point here is that the coccyx and the perineum should be pressed against the pillow at the point of mooladhara, and therefore the pillow should be round and hard. Thus, without contraction of the anus, the mooladhara chakra should be pressed by sitting on a high and hard pillow.
After practising moorcha pranayama, shanmukhi mudra, moola bandha, vajroli/sahajoli mudra and brahmari pranayama first for a few minutes, start the practice of nada yoga in the following manner. Plug both the ears. Take the consciousness to bindu and try to find out or be aware of any sound that is internal. This internal sound may resemble anything. It may be like a cloud passing or a stream flowing, the sea roaring or a bell ringing. It may also be the sound of a flute, the rhythm of a guitar or the sound of birds chirping in the evening at the time of sunset. It might be in the form of an awareness of the distant ocean or the sound of a thunderbolt. Or it might even be the vision of a starry night devoid of any sound. These internal sounds are to be discovered by the aspirant.
If it is difficult to discover a sound in bindu, circulate your awareness in sahasrara or ajna, or in the centre of the brain, or in the right or left eardrums. Or focus your mind at chidakasha or at the centre of the third eye until you are sure to get the sound. The method of discovering the sound is simple. Instead of imagining a sound, make your mind one-pointed, then discover the first sound and pursue it up to the end. One inner sound of nada should be followed to the extent where it becomes more and more clear and prominent. As soon as it is clear and prominent, another sound (a different sound altogether) is heard and felt in the background.
When you discover the second sound, give up the first one and follow the second. For instance, close your ears and listen to the first sound, for example, the evening sound of birds. Keep on listening to it. When it becomes completely clear and distinct, find another sound manifesting behind, like the sound of a nightingale. Now continue to follow your consciousness up. Move on from the sound of the evening song of the birds. Let the music of the nightingale become clearer until the first sound has gone. When that is completely distinct and clear to your consciousness, another sound will be heard in the background. The forthcoming sound may be like the sound of crickets going 'chin, chin, chin, chin, chin'. When this sound also becomes very clear to you, reject the previous one, the singing of the nightingale, and pick up this new one. This will also become clearer after some time, and will be replaced by a fourth one. This process continues until the consciousness is completely lost, or the consciousness is completely devoid of the contents of the mind.
These sounds which are heard are true. They are the symbols of the content of the mind and of consciousness. The mind rests on these symbols and it goes in quickly with their help. These sounds are experiences of the deeper layers of consciousness belonging to annamaya kosha, pranamaya kosha and manomaya kosha. These sounds are not imaginary. They may be understood as the vibrations of different spheres of one's existence. The physical, pranic, mental, supra-mental and the ananda or atmic are the five spheres of one's existence. In different spheres of existence different sounds are heard. There are physical sounds first, but when consciousness becomes fine and transcends the physical plane, it will come in touch with the subtle sounds of the movements of pranic consciousness in the physical body.
The entire range of human consciousness is divided into three, or subdivided into five parts. The conscious state consists of the annamaya and the pranamaya koshas, and these two bodies are made up of food and of prana. The second sphere of the personality is comprised of manomaya and vigyanamaya koshas and mainly contains mental and astral matter. The third dimension of consciousness is the realm of anandamaya kosha, which is full of bliss.
In the practice of nada yoga, the manifestation of nada takes place in accordance with the relation established between the mind and the other spheres of consciousness. For instance, if the mind or consciousness is rooted in the physical body, by closing your ears you will hear the sounds or vibrations produced by the movements of the heart, lungs, brain, blood circulation and the process of metabolism and catabolism that are going on inside the body.
If consciousness has penetrated the pranamaya kosha, you will hear many more sounds. And if the mind has gone deeper into the anandamaya kosha, then all other sounds will disappear and in its place the effect of nada yoga will remain.
It is difficult to tell which particular nada belongs to a particular sphere. In India, illustrations are given in the form of symbolic stories. The individual consciousness, which keeps on soaring high and discovering the transcendental notes, is symbolized as Rishi Narada in Indian mythology. Without denying the historical existence of Rishi Narada, the esoteric significance of the word Narada should be understood. Narada is supposed to be a rishi who has a veena in his hands. In nada yoga, the sound of the veena is considered to be the music of a very high sphere. According to all the traditional nada yoga cults, the nada of the flute and veena belong to that sphere of consciousness where dwaita bhava, or the duality of consciousness, ceases to exist.
Nada yoga is illustrated in the great book entitled the Bhagavata (different to the Bhagavad Gita). A symbolic and allegorical description of nada is given in the form of the story of Krishna. It says, "Lord Krishna left his place at midnight and went into the jungle. It was the full moon night of the first month of winter. He began to play the flute. The echo of the flute spread in the calm and undisturbed atmosphere. Music rose from the jungle and was heard by the gopis (the village cowherd girls). When they heard the sound of the flute, they immediately left their houses and their husbands, forgetful of all that was taking place. They ran, without consideration, to the place from where the nada from the flute was emanating. They started dancing about the flute player. After some time, it so happened that each one found herself dancing individually with Krishna."
The story seems fantastic, but in fact it is not properly understood by people of the world. It is understood only by nada yogis. They consider Krishna to represent that higher sphere of consciousness where the nada of that sphere emanates during the deepest state of nada sadhana. When the emanation of flute music takes place, the senses, the indriyas, or the sense-consciousness, forsake their respective objects and withdraw from their respective centres of pleasure and perception. They recede and go back to the place from where the flute sound or the nada is emanating. There the senses dance around the nada. In that state, the senses completely withdraw from the outer objects. In other words, a yogi may say that dharana has taken place and dhyana is about to dawn.
In Sanskrit the word krishna means, 'that which draws' or 'that which attracts'. It is derived from the root word karshan. So the word krishna means 'the puller', 'the with drawer', or 'the attractor'. It also means 'farmer', and, the word gopi means 'cow'. In Sanskrit, go means 'senses', 'cow', 'poor', 'humble' and the 'whole perceptible universe'. Ordinarily, the word gopi means 'the daughter of a cowherd family'. Symbolically, gopi means 'senses'. And who are the husbands of the senses (the gopis)? It may be said that for the eyes, the form is the husband and for the ears, sound. When the music of a flute is heard, the sense of hearing leaves or withdraws itself from the outer audible sounds and merges itself in the inner nada. This process is called pratyahara.
A famous nada yogi named Kabir says in one of his poems: "Who is there playing upon a flute in the middle of the sky? On the confluence of the Ganga and Jamuna, the flute is being played, and the confluence of three rivers - Ganga, Jamuna and Saraswati - takes place in trikuti. Oh, this is a meeting point of Ganga and Jamuna. The sound emanates from the north! Cowherd girl, hear the sound of the flute and lo, they are all hypnotized by the nada."
The ultimate experience in nada yoga is a sound higher than the sound of the flute. The music of the highest sphere is not of the flute, veena, thunderbolt, clapping or any musical instrument. It is not even similar to the classical music of either east or west. The music of the highest sphere is 'anahad nada'.
What is anahad nada? No one has been able to tell even till this day. Some say that is the cosmic sound of Om. Others say it is like brahmari, a sound resembling the unceasing and unbroken sound of the honeybee. Some say that it is the beat of the heart.
Some people call it anahad, while others call it anahat. These two words convey two different meanings. Anahatderives from 'an' + 'aahat'. 'An' means 'no', 'aahat' means 'that which is striking, hammering or beating'. Therefore, anahat means 'no beating or striking of two things'. Usually a sound is produced by two things striking against each other, but anahat is a sound which is not produced by striking. It is spontaneous and automatic. Some scholars say that the nada is anahad. 'An' means 'no' and 'hada' means 'boundary' or 'compound'. Hence, anahad means 'without any limit, without any boundary,' or 'without any specification'. It is a sound upon which no limits can be put. It can be any sound.
The great guru Gorakhnath, disciple of yogi Matsyendranath, gives a description of nada yoga. He writes, "Oh sadhu! Do japa of Soham. That japa should not be done through the mind. It should be done through the consciousness, so that even when you are engaged in your day-to-day activities, you should be aware of 21,6000 rhythms of your breath throughout the 24 hours of the day, at the rate of 15 or 19 rounds per minute (which means 900 and more breaths per hour). Anahad nada will emerge and will manifest on its own." He says further, "There will be light in the spinal cord. The solar system of the surya nadi will be awakened. You will feel an indescribable vibrating sound from every pore of your body and that will be like Om or Soham."
The ultimate nada that manifests in the highest sphere of consciousness is indescribable. It is a sound coming from the sphere beyond the anandamaya kosha. A nada yogi believes that the actual point where the individual consciousness fuses with the cosmic consciousness is in the highest state of nada. The aspirant or sadhaka realizes his higher consciousness in nada and sees the whole universe in the form of sound.