Become an Instrument of the Divine

Swami Dayasagar Saraswati, Australia

In the beginning of time how did we experience the world around us? Before we had developed the skill of language, how did we articulate what we experienced within us? How did we establish communication?

“The human body is the instrument of language, and human language is the song that makes it resound. Man’s body is the instrument that man’s thought uses to speak. The entire body participates in expression, in very simple and direct ways. The body contributes to expression through looks, through mime, through gesture, through attitude, through the whole of our living and dynamic being. The body controls expression by hearing, by sight, by skin, by all the senses that have been sharpened for one purpose ever since our initiation into the world of sound – the enhancement of our humanity. We transmit language through our whole body. What we intend to communicate is neither sounds, words, phrases nor acoustic phenomena; they are instead profoundly felt sensations experienced within our sensory neurones, chords that our speech has sounded upon us with persuasion, precision warmth and enthusiasm.”

(Alfred A Tomatis, The Ear and Language)

This communication is not limited to vocal expression – it also encompasses expression through playing of music, through dance, through art – the essence of artistic expression.

In The Conscious Ear, Dr Tomatis wrote, “By his very structure, man is a kind of receiving antenna of a self-expressive universe which reveals its real presence. Man is plunged into an apparently limitless environment, the true manifestation of an unfathomable presence, which everything reveals, which everything registers as its phenomeno-logical answer. In short, and also to provoke reflection, I prefer to say that it is only God who speaks, and man exists to translate this message – very awkwardly it is true – into human language.”

Nada yoga is a term loosely used to describe yogic practices which utilize some form of sound – mantra yoga, japa yoga, kirtan and so on. It is related to all of these but in the practice of nada yoga, rather than creating a sound as a vehicle for the awareness – a fixed pattern (mantra, music, etc.) – be it audible or mental, one listens to internal sounds, allowing them to arise spontaneously. It is a process of tracing sound back through its psychic and more subtle manifestations to its source. Perhaps the ‘expressive practices’ can be called the exhalation and then nada yoga is the inhalation.

According to the yogic tradition, nada Brahman is the seed of the manifested world, from gross to subtle. Nada permeates all of creation – Tomatis’ description of humans as ‘receiving antennae’ fits rather nicely.

According to tantra, sound is considered to be the first evolute of consciousness, after the primary impulse of creation. According to the Gospel of St. John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was from God.” And that ‘word’, that sound, that nada is still within us, at the very centre of our being. We carry the same divine melody that has been heard by all the saints and sages throughout history.

Nadanusandhana is the inward journey to discover that source. The word nada means ‘to flow’ and refers to the flow of consciousness; generally it is understood as sound, for it is inner sound that is used as a focal point of awareness in retracing the flow of consciousness to its source. At this point it is interesting to observe that hearing is one of the first senses that we acquire in utero – sound was the first thing to be, and our first impulse is to listen. Perhaps that is why we are so receptive and responsive to sound; for example, hearing a favourite song from the past can evoke memories and different types of music evoke different moods.

Modern physics now considers that the entire universe is composed only of space and vibration (Shiva and Shakti) of different combinations and frequencies, and that everything is in constant motion, in response to and as a result of what is going on around it. Consider the human body, which to us appears ‘solid’ – and then the process of growth and ageing and the cyclic changes that occur during the course of our lives. Our mental and emotional personalities are also in motion – our thoughts and feelings change and adapt according to our life experiences – these are also manifestations of space and vibration.

What is involved in the practice of nada yoga? Let us start with yoga. To be able to remain quiet and still and focus inwardly, simple asana, pranayama and shatkarma are helpful, even essential. The accumulation of stresses and strains in our lives creates energy blockages in all areas of our personality, obstructing and distorting our perception of inner sound. This article is about being an instrument and to start with, we may be in tune or somewhat out of tune, and the wonderful thing is that we have the ability to change our tune.

The energy ‘blockages’ are also combinations of space and vibrations – they too are in motion. The ‘active’ nada practices, kirtan, japa, singing, create vibrations that can affect these accumulations. We start from the outside and work our way in.

The ‘theory’ of nada yoga describes four levels of sound:

  1. Vaikhari, or audible sound, which is the grossest form of sound that we hear around us. It is produced by the striking together of two objects. This includes speech, as it is the vibration of the vocal cords as the air passes through that creates sound.
  2. Madhyama, or in-between sounds. These are ‘in the middle’ – like a whispering sound with almost no audible effect, in between gross sound and more subtle sound.
  3. Pashyanti, or mental sound. This nada can be seen, but not heard; it has specific colours and exists in the deeper layers of the mind beyond the range of audible nada. It can be heard as music in a dream, or a sound or melody that lingers.
  4. Para nada, or transcendental sound. This is the nada that is heard in the state of superconsciousness and is the starting point of nada. It is described as a sound of such great vibrational frequency that it has gone beyond vibration and is of infinite wavelength. The Upanishads call it Om and say its nature is jyoti, light. Ultimately, it is silence. It is anahada or unstruck sound, arising spontaneously. It is ananda, without any boundaries or qualities. It is the inner silence, the last stage before samadhi.

The Gospel of St. John also refers to light: “In Him (the source of the Word) was life; and the life was the light of man.”

Singing, alone or in a group, is a powerful practice. If you have ever taken that ‘leap of faith’ and sung in front of others, then you know what a liberating (or terrifying) experience it can be. Singing/chanting is how we keep ourselves ‘in tune’. When we sing we tune ourselves, if we sing in a group, then the group becomes ‘in tune’ – a common practice in many traditional cultures.

When we sing harmonies in a group, we add depth to the music and learn to follow our unity throughout the diversity. (In a recent newspaper story people were replying to the question: “How do you deal with depression?” and one response was: “I don’t suffer from depression, I sing in a community choir.”) Kirtan as a practice makes use of singing along with the pure vibrations of Sanskrit mantras – and without the mental and emotional involvement in the intellectual meaning of the words.

The first nada practice involves singing the notes of the musical scale. With a teacher, first one listens to the sound being created, and then finding that same pitch within ourselves, we repeat what we have heard, and it continues like that in call and response; remembering that the breath is the vehicle for the prana on which the voice rides, and as with all yoga practices it is done with awareness and a relaxed attitude. Each note of the musical scale corresponds to one of the chakras. Once familiar with the sounds, the focus can be directed to each chakra in turn, deepening the practice and creating harmony and purification at that level.

From the vocal level, the practices of nada yoga proceed to the breath – bhramari pranayama and shanmukhi mudra are two techniques that are utilized, and as the quality of awareness becomes refined through these practices our awareness is able to access more subtle areas of the personality and perceive more subtle sounds and vibrations.

Through these initial practices we tune our instrument, and develop the ability to take our awareness deeper within. If we are able to listen more deeply within, that will create a greater resonance between our inner and outer life, the expression in our outer life is a reflection of that inner nada – we become instruments of the divine.

And your body is the harp of your soul, and it is yours to bring forth sweet music or confused sounds.