Musical Origin of the Universe

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The universe we live in and with it, the numerous celestial spheres, which it comprises, are always in motion. The vibrations caused by their revolution constitute what is familiarly known as the “music of the spheres”, which was revealed to the seers of yore in the innermost recesses of their hearts when they sat in meditation, with their minds abstracted from all distractions (with the “citta-vṛitti nirōdha” mentioned in the Pātañjala Yōga Sūtra I.2). Different traditions have given different kinds of expression to the “music of the spheres”. Nevertheless, the experience that the seers, who belonged to those traditions, had was common to all of them, in that, it came as a revelation and not as the sound heard by the physical auditory organs. It was, in other words, the subtle vibration perceived by the responsive, visionary mind or experienced by the deep feeling heart.

This is the primordial and the ancient, unspoiled Music of the “dawn of creation” – the beginning of everything – Nāda, the subtle inner sound, perennially flowing in the cosmos, behind the gross physical level, revealing itself in various forms at different levels of existence, which is intrinsic to the very creative process. The Indian spiritual tradition looks upon it as Praṇava, the mystic AUṀ-KĀRA (that which makes or creates AUṀ – in the sense that it is the form assumed by the Universal Soul – the ESSENCE OF LIFE – Paramātmā – to reveal itself.) The opening mantra of the Mānḍukya Upaniṣad states, AUṀ, the word, is all this. All that is past, present and future is verily AUṀ. That which is beyond the triple conception of time is also truly ‘AUṀ’. Śabda/Vāk (sound) is the physical frame of Brahman (the ultimate reality) and it is from sound that the entire creation has issued forth.

Sound is defined by science as vibration. So wherever there is a vibration there must be sound. Only a particular range of vibrations is audible to the human ear and there are various ranges which are beyond human hearing. “If sound is understood as vibration with a corresponding energy, then it becomes apparent that the cause of entire creation is energy” (Sudakshina Rangaswamy. “Folio” The Hindu, December 1997, 20). This scientific postulate is evident in the Saundarya Laharī 1 and 53:

ŚIVAŚ-ŚAKTYĀ YUKTAḤ…

and

VIBHAKTA-TRAIVARNYAṀ VYATIKARITA LĪLĀÑJANATAYĀ

PUNAS-SRAṢṬUṀ DĒVĀN…

In the Śruti literature of India, this is metaphorically described as the breath of the Mighty Bhūta, Brahman:

ŚRUTIR-ASYA MAHATŌ BHŪTASYA NIŚVĀSITAṀ

ĒTAD-ṚGVĒDŌ-YAJUR-VĒDAḤ (Bṛhadāraṅyaka Upaniṣad 2.4.1)

And again

ĀNĪDA VĀTAM SVADHAYĀ TAD-ĒKAṀ (Ṛgvēda)

The sounds which manifested themselves at the time of creation are the Vedic mantras, which were perceived by the rishis, the mystic seers, in their moments of meditation.

The Vedas are, therefore, referred to as śruti. The Sanskrit word śrotra means ear and that which is heard is śruti. But yet, śruti, in this context, is a metaphor for perception – a mental perception which has the quality of hearing. Thus, as the Ṛgvēda says, “it is heard and yet not heard; it is seen and yet not seen.” Sound, then, is the power of the INFINITE which has manifested itself as creation. The primordial sound resounds unceasingly within every particle of creation. It is heard in the innermost recesses of the soul generally as a result of spontaneous spiritual exercises (ŚABDŌPĀSANĀ) or sometimes when the mind is in deep concentration and is an awe-inspiring and blissful experience. This is in the form of revelation and is variously referred to as Nāda, the divine voice, the divine sound and the music of the spheres and leaves a lasting sense of peace in the person who hears it. The experience is more vivid and real than nay sensory experience.

There are four distinct steps in the manifestation of the original Nāda in the process of its evolution into articulate, human sound. The Ṛgvēda says,

CATVĀRI VĀK PARTMITĀ PADĀNI

TĀNI VIDUR BRĀḤMAṆA YĒ MANĪṢINAH |

GUHĀ TRĪṆI NIHITĀ NĒṆGAYANTI

TURĪYAṀ VĀCŌ MANUṢYĀ VADANTI || (I. 164. 45)

Vāk is measured in four steps: of these four steps, three are established in secrecy; they are not manifested. People speak only the fourth step of speech. The four stages are PĀRA, PAŚYANTI, MADHYAMĀ and VAIKHARI, from the subtlest to the human level.

The primordial sound, when it becomes manifest on the material plane, assumes grosser shape at each successive stage till, at the human level, it becomes materially audible. Therefore, it is possible to trace each human sound or word back to its source by retracing step by step till the pristine source – the body of the Brahman, called Śabda-brahman – is reached.

This in essence is the technique of NĀDA-YŌGA, which forms the basis of nāma-saṅkīrtana and nāma-japa as sādhanas to the realisation of God. In this, the subtlest level, when all vibrations cease, is the Absolute, Ineffable state, none other than the Brahman. In japa which is a repetition of a mantra or the name of God, the power of sound is used to bridge the gap between matter and spirit.

According to classical Indian music tradition, music, irrespective of its region or origin, has its root in Nāda-brahman, which Patañjali and Bhartṛhari enunciate as sphōṭa. According to the theory of sphōṭa, causal sound gives birth to both speech as well as music. It manifests itself in two ways: ANĀHATA and ĀHATA. The process of the origin of sound is psycho-physical, an idea which is implicit in the following passage:

VĀG-VAI PARĀCYAVYĀKṚTĀVADAT-TĒ DĒVĀ INDRAM-ABRUVAN-NIMĀṀ NŌ VĀCAṀ VYĀKURVITI | SȎABRAVĪD-VARAṀ VṚṄAI MAHYAṀ CAIVAIṢA VĀYAVĒ CA SAHA GṚHYĀTĀ ITI TASMĀDAINDRA-VĀYAVAH SAHA GṚHYATĒ| TAM-INDRŌ MADHYATȎVAKRAMYA VYĀKARŌT TASMĀD-IYAṀ VYĀKṚTĀ VĀG-UCYATĒ (Taittiriya-Saṁhitā 647.31)