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Aum in Indian Scriptures, Kashmir Shaivism and Lalla Ded Vakh

By Prof. M.L. Koul

Writes Paul Tillich, 'In religion no one can avoid use of symbolism nor should one wish that it were possible to do so. The more lively a religion, the more complex its symbolism has to be, for it is thus it secures what protection it can get against the ever-present danger of literalism which is fatal to the life of any religion'.

Rigveda as the oldest record of human civilisation is replete with its own slew of symbols and motifs that potentially express its broad mosaic of myths, theology, thoughtflashes and religious reflections. Aum is the dominant divine symbol that fully reflects the Rigvedic essence and weltanchuung. It symbolises the reality that has been a deep concern of man since his inception on the earth.

As a religious symbol aum signifies a Reality that is transcendental, omnipotent, omniscient and inifite, yet it suffuse all that is manifest in nature. All Rigvedic gods are nature-gods, representing forces pervading nature.

As per the Indian tradition aum is the first fundamental sound that burst out of the throat of Brahma, the creator, when he began to give utterance to the Vedic learning embedded in His lotus-heart. Aum as the first word is considered highly auspicious (manglik pada) Swami Dayanand Saraswati, a billiant scholar of Vedas, states that Aum is the most excellent name of God. It is composed of three letters, a,u & m which in turn represent many names of God. The letter a represents gods like agni, virata, & vishva. The letter u represents gods like vayu, tejas & hiranyagarb. The last letter m represents gods like ishwar, aditya and prajna. The vedic mantras sung in praise of multiple gods begin with Aum as the Divine Reality.

In the Prasnopanishad, the ever-curious Satyakam asks Rishi Piplad an array of questions about Aum, mainly about the merits which a devotee achieves when he meditates upon it. He is told that Aum is an all comprehensive sound-symbol of Brahman, the Reality, that is both beyond the universe and immanent in the universe. If meditated upon as a blend of three letters, a, u & m a devotee will come to behold that Macrocosmic self residing in his own heart.

As per Kathopunishad, Aum is the word that all vedas expound. It is the destination of all forms of meditation. Kath characterises Brahman as the Imperishable and Aum as the Supreme Support. If a devotee knows Aum as the support, he obtains an exalted position in the Abode of Brahman.

Shvetashvatar upanishad says that Aum as an object of meditation will lead a devotee to the destination of Brahman.

Chandoyya upanishad proclaims Aum as an object of meditation. It calls Aum a spiritual charm. Brahman is to be worshipped through Aum as a means to attain the Immanent and All-pervading Brahman.

In the Taittirya-Upanishad, Aum is equated with Brahman. It is all and everything (oum iti Brahman, oum itidam sarvam).

In the Bhagwatgeeta Lord Krishna tells Arjuna, who was smitten by serious doubts, that He (Lord Krishan) is the rasa in water, luminosity (prakash) in the sun and the moon and omkar in the vedas (sloka 8, chap. 7). He again tells him that the vedic scholars know the highest Reality as omkar (sloka 11, chap. 8). Lord Krishna also tells Arjuna that a man who gives up his mortal coil while uttering the divine akshar aum & mulling over its embedded meaning attains His Abode (sloka 13, chap. 8).

As conceived by the vedic seers aum has continued to dominate the spiritual and philosophical discourse in India. It remains the dominant symbol that shapes and moulds the broad contours of the Indian spiritual way of life. aum is not just a sign, but a potential symbol which as per Paul Tillich 'participates in the reality that it represents'.

Throughout the chequered history of India and cruel rule of Muslims aum has provided a spiritual succour to the oppressed people and has continued to find resonance in the 'collective unconscious' of the natives of this ancient land.

As a spiritual beacon it has been paving the trail of men in quest of spiritual sublimity for making human life more meaningful and more purposeful on the earth. aum enshrines a sublime value that Hindus assiduously pursue to touch a horizon where any shade of difference between them and the ultimate Reality fades. It represents catholicity, breadth of vision and holistic outlook on man, world and Brahman. It embodies the spirit of ‘vasudaiva kutumbkam’.

Aum in Kashmir Shaivism Despite Kashmir being a mountain-girt valley it broadly was a part and parcel of the territorial and cultural landscape of India. The excavations as Burzhom have authentically established that the Bruzhom man, a pit dweller, was racially and anthropologically a Harapan. It can, therefore, be deduced that Kashmir had a protracted vedic age with its roots bed-rocked in the history and culture of Kashmir. Aum as a valued spiritual legacy dominated the spiritual paradigm and spiritual trajectories in Kashmir. It could not be dislodged from the spiritual pedestal even after some trendsetting Tantric motifs and symbols were introduced by Kashmir Shaivites who wove a perfect network of thought from the strands that had come all the way from south of India to Kashmir, renowned as Shardapeeth.

Despite manifest Tantric foundations of Kashmir Shaivism, the Kashmiri thinkers remained within the ambit of the vedic tradition by showing their absolute allegiance to vedacar and vedic symbology of aum, omkar, pranav. As per the entrenched vedic legacy, the letters a, u & m are deemed as referrals to Brahma as rajas, vishnu as satvas and mahesh as tamas.

A dot (bindu) above aum symbolically indicates Param Shiva or Param Brahma or Brahman transcending the world of sense objects. aum is taken as an eternal, un-hindered sound, anahat nad, ever vibrating in the heart of man. It has been linked with bindhu & nada. when aum or pranav is in a state of unity with Shiva or consciousness supreme, it is bindu and when it expands into manifest forms neel, peel & sukha, it is nada.

Aum is bindu in un-manifest form and it is nada in manifest form. The entire word-hoard (shabad rashi) owes its genesis to the eternal, un-hindered sound, aum, or pranav. Aum if taken as para-vak represents universal ideation which is the matrix of all sounds. It as the first sound is not manifest. It remains in a state of mergence in the consciousness supreme. But, it is astir, throbbing and not in a state of stagnation. When the process of ideation begins, it is Pasyanti. It is just a nebulous idea without form. It all happens in the creative mind of Shiva. When the idea takes on a form in His mind, it is Madhyama, this-ness, idea has taken a form. Finally, the idea takes a definite form and shape, it is manifest. It is called Vaikhuri, a manifest expression, gross word in verbal form.

In his erudite commentary on Samb-Panchashika, Khemraj conveys that aum as the eternal inaudible sound throbs incessantly in the heart of man. It is the para-vani from which emerges Pashyanti, which is impregnated with form-less words and further expands into other layers of words with forms gross.

The verse reads:-

 

Aum iti antar nadanati

niyatam yah prati prani shabdo

Vani yasmat prasarti

para shambadtanmatra garbe

(Samb-panchashikha)

Kashmir Shaivism holds that Supreme consciousness or Shiva is beyond the physical world, grants liberation to seekers while living and creates and is the foundation of three vedas and is known as pranava, having a unique-type of self-reflection enabling an aspirant to realise his own true nature (swarup) of Shiva.

The verse reads:-

 

Yatra aarood trigun upandi Brahma tad bindu rupam

Yogindranam yadapi parmam bhati nirvanmargah

tryi aadhar pranav iti yet mandalam chand rashme

antah sukhshyam bahirapi brahat mukhtaya prapana

(Samb-panchashikha)

Aum, to Jagdhar Bhat, a thirteen century poet-scholar of Kashmir, is the combination of three morases (matra) of a,u & m and is the eternal inaudible sound, which is the matrix of the entire word-hoard and goes on pulsating within the heart of all.

The verse reads:-

 

Aum iti safurad urasya anahatam

garb gumfitam samast vankhmayam

dandhaneeti hrat param padam

tat sat akhsharam upasahemaha

As per the Kashmir Shaivites the triad of a,u & m refers to many triads of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh; Iccah, Jnan and Kriya; satva, rajas and tamas and subject, object and praman (proof).

- Prof. N.K. Gurtu, Commentary on sambapanchashikha

In his scintillating commentary on Bhagwatgeeta, Abhinavagupta writes that the inaudible word (anahat shabad) that is audible only to the seekers is the nature (swarup) of the ultimate Reality. He equates 'aum' with the consciousness supreme that embodies the universe within its matrix in an undifferented forms.

Aum in Lalla Ded Vakh

Though a Shaivite to the core, Lalla Ded as revealed by her vakhs was initiated into the world of Shiva through the bija mantra, aum, by her venerable guru, Siddha Srikanth. To her, the manifesting word of Shiva or Brahman is aum or pranav (Lord of living beings).

Repetition of the word, aum, was the key that proved efficacious in the processes of concentrating her mind as a first step to march ahead on the spiritual journey that she had assiduously embarked upon.

She was a seeker, an instinctive seeker who meditated upon aum. reflected upon it as the most sacred syllable of the three vedas, rig, sam and yajur and immersed herself in the Shaiva-Yoga praxis to cognise her pristine nature of Shiva.

Lalla Ded was highly aware of the great spiritual significance of aum as the vedic symbol. She had come across aum as delineated in the vedas as the crux of vedic learning and vedic spiritual praxes. She clearly says that she had read only one word 'aum' as the essence of Vedas and then placed it in her mind through its regular recitation with one single-pointedness. To her, aum, was the spiritual charm beyond which she felt no necessity to seek for other means. Aum as a bija mantra metamorphosed her from ashes into pure gold.

 

Omei akuy achur parum Sui ha malie rotum vondas manz

Sui ha mali kani peth garum ta charum asus sas sapdas sone

Omei akuy achur parum Sui ha malie rotum vondas manz

Sui ha mali kani peth garum ta charum asus sas sapdas sone

To Shaivites aham is the most powerful mantra that leads a seeker to spiritual fulfilment. But, to Lalla Ded, aum is the mantra that alone works for any seeker. She has concentrated and meditated upon it and it is through this mantra that she established a bridge between her microcosmic self and macrocosmic Reality. The fact very well known to Lalla Ded is that the eternal, un-hindered sound, aum, throbs in the heart of every man. What is needed is only to concentrate on it for higher ascendance.

Lalla Ded says:-

 

Akuya omkar yus nabhi dare

kombuya brahmandas somai gare

akuya mantra yus chyatas kare

tas sas mantra kyaha zan kare

As Lalla Ded has marched upon spiritual path step by step, She has worked out various methodologies at various stages to tune and temper and temper herself to the consciousness supreme. In the course of her Shaiva praxes a stage came when she got merged in the essence of aum, that is Shiva consciousness, and had a feeling that her body got blazed like a red-hot coal. It is a spiritual feeling, quite nebulous and Lalla Ded has objectified it through red-hot coal as a matter of her observation in the world. It is a stage that seekers reach as a result of Shaktopaya. She gave up the six paths of varna, mantra, pada, kala, tattava and bhuvan as prescribed in the Shaiva methodology and embarked direct upon Shambhava-yoga (sat marg) for complete mergence in the Shiava-consciousness.

Says Lalla Ded:-

 

Akuya omkar yali layi onum

vohee korum panun paan

shya vath travith sat marg rotum

tyali Lalla bo vachas prakashasthan.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel

 

  

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