I’m fond of being in the middle of reading about 9 books, and then purchasing 20 more for when I finish the first 9. I realize I have a problem. But I’ve also realized that bookcases are more handsome when they’re filled with books. Plus, I find myself with an ample supply ready for the sharing, should I encounter someone who needs or wants one of these gems. A recent purchase of mine, “Methods for Immortality, Death: Beginning or End?” has proven to be mostly yawn-provoking, but did center around a very simple meditation/mantra technique that virtually anyone can benefit from. I intend to share suchery presently.
The author of this book, Dr. John Mumford (aka Swami Anandakapila Saraswati) calls this meditation the “Gayatri Meditation,” or “Gayatri So Hum,” and insists (as may be implied by the book’s title) that its ultimate purpose is to help strengthen the meditator in such a way as to facilitate a very conscious end of one’s current human life, which he alternately refers to as death and transition. He admits that this technique is not the only way of dealing with the life/death intersection, but finds it to be a very valuable contribution and that many will find it suitable.
This Gayatri Technique is founded on the breath, about which Mumford says, “Breathing is, for the human, the most basic biological rhythm that consciousness can attach itself to, and this process of respiration goes on automatically, twenty-four hours a day, to the end of life.” Another word for death is expired, which seems to be connected to our word for breathing: respiration. When a person dies, he exhales (ex-spirates, as it were) and does not inhale (in-spirate) again. Since the beginning of human history, there has existed a perpetuated belief that the soul exits the body with the final breath. Romans actually attempted to catch the essence of the dying by inhaling his last breath.
Most people aren’t aware that one breath actually consists of four parts: Inhalation (caller puraka in yoga), retention/momentary pause (this phase is called kumbhaka), exhalation (called rechaka), and finally suspension/momentary pause (this time called sunyaka). For other 1,000 years Yoga has centered on either controlling or becoming aware of all four phases of a respiratory cycle as a means for transcending the physical body or experiencing altered states of consciousness.
Sometime around 1200 A.D., a yoga master named Goraksha authored a yoga text called Goraksha-Samhita, wherein he detailed observations that correlate with modern knowledge. He observed that a full respiratory cycle takes place every four seconds, or about fifteen times a minute. He then calculated that within one full rotation of the Earth we breathe automatically 21,600 times. Goraksha then noticed that the in-breath and out-breath make subtle subliminal sounds, which translate into a mantra, thus the name of this technique: Gayatri So Hum. Gayatri is attached to this because a Gayatri is a hymn or mantra that confers freedom from bondage, or liberation from the wheel or death and rebirth. This practice is alternately known as Ajapa Gayatra, on account of its mantra being voiceless. What Goraksha noticed, and what has been passed on through his lineage, is that the exhaled breath makes a subliminal sound “haa” and the inhaled breath makes the subliminal sound “saa.” This continuous unconscious mantric vibration, often written as “Hamsa,” or “Hansa,” beginning at birth and ceasing at death, has special qualities including piercing the veil between life and death. Although we’re starting with the in-breath (so/saa), when you string the two sounds (so/saa & hum/haa) together end-to-end, you end up with a “hansa” sound, the middle n being mostly nasal. “Hansa” is the divine goose (Anser Indicus), a beautiful white bird often eulogized in Hindu scripture as a symbol of the Soul and its ascent into heavenly places. The Gayatri So Hum is the Hansa, or divine bird, carrying us from beyond life and death into the center of the transcendental Self.
I’d like to point out here, briefly, that the goal of any Hindu is not to make it to Heaven. Heaven and Hell are seen to be temporary, at best. Each lasts only as long as an individual’s karmas warrant. The definition of salvation for Hindus is to step off of the wheel of Samsara -the wheel of death and rebirth.
The author sums up in four steps how to begin this Gayatri So Hum/Hansa Meditation technique.
- Sit comfortably. Make sure all parts of the body are comfortable and supported, with the exception of the head. The head needs to be free so that you can notice if you nod off to sleep. Mumford says this isn’t a bad thing!
- With your eyes closed, begin to consciously become aware of your breath. Do not interfere or try to control it, just watch it.
- Proceed to synchronize your inhalation and exhalation with mental repetition of the Gayatri So Hum. Silently say “So” as your breath flows in, and similarly silently say “Hum” as your breath flows out.
- Continue this for a minimum of 20-30 minutes. Anything less is useless.
Physical Signs and Symptoms of Successful Meditation
- Relaxed Wakefulness: Subjective contentment with warming of hands and feet, slowing of respiration, and lowering of blood pressure as well as raising of GSR (galvanic skin response) threshold.
- Dreaming: REM and sudden flaccidity of the neck muscles, producing head nodding.
- Deep Dreamless Sleep: Often accompanied by snoring; it is possible to retain consciousness in this state -Yoga refers to it as Turiya.
In addition to the aforementioned four steps of this technique, one last factor comes into play.
- Move the left ring finger toward the fleshy pad at the base of the thumb as the breath flows in, and move it away as the breath flows out.
Why the left hand? The left hand is used to ensure a “slight initial dominance,” or at least a direct contact, with the right hemisphere of the brain. The right hemisphere of the brain encourages holistic, nonverbal, spatial integrative experiences. Why the ring finger? When we focus on the ring finger, we tap into psychic and psychological inheritance that is both East and West. the ancient Egyptians believed a special cord or nerve ran from the ring finger directly to the heart, and many have attributed this to the custom of placing a wedding ring on the ring finger. Symbolically, the ring finger represents the Shiva Lingam and the wedding ring is the Yoni. since Roman times the ring finger has been identified as the healing finger or Digitus Medicus, and in contemporary India it is still the prefered finger for anointing the forehead with kumkum powder.
Mumford indicates that it may be useful for the student to utilize the Gnana Mudra, i.e. gently touching the tip of the left forefinger to the tip of the left thumb, forming a circle. This mudra carries profound significance and in itself signals the mind to prepare for meditation and accept absorption within universal consciousness. Mumford also says that as the meditation deepens, you may find that the movement of the left ring finger slackens or drops away entirely. This is acceptable. If you find yourself surfacing from the meditation prematurely, you can resort to the ring finger movements again. You’ll find this little addition taking up an amazing amount of slack and mental restlessness that people often experience.
… And there you have it. The Gayatri So Hum/Hansa pranayama (breath-centered) dhyan (meditation). It’s simple, but effective, and makes -if nothing else- a good foundation for additional meditation styles. If you try it, I want to hear about it.