The Pranava

The Pranava

2012-1-22 by Justin Lincoln
2012-1-22 by Justin Lincoln

I’ve written on the pranava or cosmic sound before. Pra means cosmic or primary. Nava has a few meanings including the number nine and more pertinently, new or fresh. It is the sound of our universe becoming.

We can certainly point to evidence of an historical starting point for our current universe. Yet as physics recognizes, the world around us and our body-minds are being recreated in every moment. Creation is ongoing as is the sound of the pranava.

Change is constant, but usually gradual. The sustaining force is stronger. Forms are sustained by expressing through patterns and geometry, structured by the inherent intelligence.

We can experience this directly as a flavour of sustained becoming. There are many more complex experiences of vibration that are not pranava. But pranava itself can be experienced various ways. Here are several that are most common:

– Experienced bodily as vibration. Like our entire body is moving on a fine level, constantly.

– Heard as a constant high tone, almost like a whistle.

– Heard as a deep, sustained rumble. This is as above but from a distinct vantage point.

– Heard as an Auuum sound, as if spoken by someone with a deep voice.

– Seen as a vibrating ocean with primary colours (gunas).

– Seen in the body as a constant becoming.

Our understanding of the pranava has gotten a little garbled though. The high-pitched whistle is often confused with tinnitus (ear damage). Here it’s refined perception. It comes from development, not damage.

For some, it can be quite loud for a time. Once related channels are clear, that resolves itself.

We often call the pranava “Om.” Om is a mantra for Shiva and may be used to start Vedic chanting out of respect for Shiva. This relates to an old story where he was left out of a yagya, so Daksha threw herself into the ceremonial fire to complete it.

Om is widely presented in a stylized Hindi letter, adorning many t-shirts, posters, etc. But Om is not the pranava, Aum is. They may seem similar, but their qualities are quite distinct. Just consider a detached observer vs a constant becoming. Or the difference between To and Tau.

If we (can) sustain our attention on the sound of becoming, then shift up slightly, we move to a more differentiated level.

Some describe hearing the pranava shift into words, like the sound of the Vedas. Agnim Ile Purohitam….

Others describe it as shifting into letters. A U M becomes A I U Ri Lri E O Am, the short vowels that begin Sanskrit. Then it may step into consonants or words.

It may also be experienced as shifting directly into world appearance, as if we passed through to the screen of a movie theatre.

Another experience is as progressive spirals as each element (or kosha) spirals into being in increasing density.

Every form in the world has a corresponding sound or “true name” and a prototype structure of its ideal. There are many variations on these themes that may arise.

Don’t try too hard to figure out what some experience is. That’s just mind wanting to feel in control. With regular spiritual practice and a decent lifestyle, perception will refine and more and more clarity will emerge. Gradually, the intelligence within experience will become conscious. With that, experiences will become more self-explanatory.

We’ll also go through cycles of greater and lesser clarity. Nothing is lost but development can be overshadowed for a time. And then one day, we emerge out the other side and see the development that’s been processing and integrating.

Patience is a virtue, especially on a spiritual journey.

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  1. Antony Hunzinger

    Great read! The ear ringing is very intense for me right now… Especially when I’m falling asleep. It’s like the room starts to collapse on me sometimes. I love the feeling. Thanks David ❤️

  2. Greg

    Hi David,

    Thank you for this post, it helped explain a few things.

    When you say “seen as a vibrating ocean with primary colours”, there is the experience here that when I look at something softly it is as if the surface of that thing is vibrating, or made of motion. Almost like seeing all the atoms it’s made of swirling around. There are no colours, the object stay’s the same, it’s just there is a vibration. Also for some reason this is more visible, or obvious when it is dark, not sure why.

    Is this the same thing as what you talk about in the article? Any idea why it’s more obvious when it’s dark? (laughs)

    1. Hi Greg
      That’s a reference to a causal ocean prior to form with primary colours only. What’s more common is typically called auras where we see the energy active in the form. This is a multi-coloured glow around objects that is an expression of the form but also strong thoughts, emotions, etc. As such, it is many-coloured and constantly changing rather than being a constant.

      More subtle and the colours simplify. Seeing gold light (typically sattva & clear life-force) and white (a blend of colours or Divinity) are also common.

      And there is also what Maharishi called the “colourless sap”. This may be experienced as flowing or as vibrating as you describe. Later its seen in objects too( when the Chhandas/ covering is less), not just on the surface.

      Someone who isn’t visual (or clear there) may not see colours but rather sense flows, feel vibrations, hear, etc.

      It’s often more obvious around the head and around darker areas, even if colourless, the latter due to contrast. Its still a sight mechanism even if it’s subtle.

        1. Hi Greg
          The colourless sap is the flow of consciousness. it gains the qualities of what is being expressed and could be said to move through the pranava.

          You could also say the pranava is all of it at once where the sap is specific.

  3. Lynette

    D, when you wrote “The high-pitched whistle is often confused with tinnitus (ear damage). “. You mean to say this is part of pranava ? Sorry if I am so daft. So if you focus on it, it will take you to higher consciousness?

    1. Hi Lynette
      Yes, it can be. Tinnitus is ear damage but that has a cause. Hearing the pranava this way is more like noticing the traffic outside.

      How the world around us comes to be is not the same as the stages of our evolution. Here we’re talking about the first, the causal vibration of becoming. Putting your attention on the content of experience can increase that in your awareness but that will do little for evolution. And you may find it annoying. 🙂

      The point of articles like this is to understand what may be experienced spontaneously. But this isn’t recommending a technique as that would have limited benefit. Samadhi and awakening happen beyond this, in consciousness itself. Yet that process does refine perception. At some point, that is likely to bring some form of this experience. When it arises, this article speaks to it.

  4. K

    Thanks for writing this. At times, during practice, I get a “whooshing sound” in sync with my pulse in my left ear only. It did not sound anything like Aum or anything mystical or high pitched. Just a fullness and whooshing, like high pressure wind blowing. It appears only during practice and not every time. I think it correlates more to the worship the Divine Mother though I cannot be completely sure. I actually have patients who complain of this but then they have a blocked blood vessel :-). I have not had myself investigated for blood vessel blockage of course because it happens only during practice. I decided not to worry about it one or the other!

    1. Hi K
      This is likely a type of refined perception where normally unconscious bodily processes become more noticeable. You’re probably hearing blood flow. Some notice this if they over-exert and the blood pressure goes up. Blockage probably has similar effects, although thats beyond my knowledge. But it’s possible to experience everything in the body at all levels.

      However, for the most part, we want to be able to focus on what needs our current attention and not be overwhelmed with too much information.

      And yes, properly done worship does culture refinement but that can show up in all sorts of unexpected ways.

      (laughs) yes, a curious number of things can be a disorder or a symptom of spiritual progress, depending on if its coming from trauma or integration…

  5. Kerri Heffernan

    Thank you Davidya. I’ve experienced pranava since my awakening. I can feel the subtle waves of vibration as of late.

    Thank you for your comment regarding lesser clarity and nothing lost in development. That was something I needed to hear right now. ❤️

    As always, your gift is appreciated.


    1. Hi Kerri
      Right – just keep in mind that if it’s content, it changes. Even in the highest stages, the content of experience changes because that’s the way the world works.

      Also, all of nature works in rising and falling cycles. The focus of change shifts in patterns.

      What stages of enlightenment do is shift your perspective of that and you’re essential nature. We shift from being caught in experiences to being the container and observer of them and so forth.

  6. Cathie

    “Another experience is as progressive spirals as each element (or kosha) spirals into being in increasing density.”

    Profound thanks for this. It illuminated something I had thought would always remain incomprehensible. When I was a small child, once I started dreaming (I remember my first experience of dream) I often had a recurring dream/nightmare, always the same in every detail.

    I (except there was no real sense of I’ness, merely the faintest sense/point of awareness, scarcely individuated) was “floating” (words don’t describe the subtle very well) with other, what seem in my memory, pastel-coloured formless awarenesses, in a peaceful space of contentment. Then the faintest whisper of a recurring sound would become apparent. It would become louder and louder, stronger and stronger, a recurring vibration/sound, spiralling towards me and now there would emerge real I’ness, because “I” would know with absolute certainty that… words fail here. But as best as I can express it, that I could not escape the spiralling sound/vibration. I was its inescapable destination. (Now I would say “That the process was unstoppable.”) And then I would wake up. At the time the repeating dream terrified me and in the end I prayed that I wouldn’t have it anymore and then it stopped.

    Later I would come to understand that it was the pranava but I had not understood until now that it was a memory of the process of individuation. It relates to a comment I made earlier 🙂 but there is no need for you to reply. As you’ve noted elsewhere, it’s not possible to fully enter into the experience of others. I merely wanted to thank you for throwing light on something I hadn’t understood before now.

    1. Hi Cathie
      You’re welcome. A very clear experience and memory. And yes, when we don’t understand an experience, it can seem scary. And when we don’t want it, it stops.

      Many have aversions to subtle experiences they had when young that seemed scary then because they were not understood. Sometimes, to open up subtle experiences again, they have to lift that resistance.

      Ideas can create concepts that can become barriers to growth but they can also bring understanding that lifts burdens and opens doors. That’s my goal.

  7. “We shift from being caught in experiences to being the container and observer of them” … Love this comment. Great advice to just notice the content and notice it from the place of the container/observer that notices but does not react. There is nothing to do with the ringing but just notice and allow any shift that happens to happen. And, you add we can also favor an upward shift in our attention. Will do this and notice what happens….thanks!

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