Meditation also referred to as dhyāna or upāsanā is a very important spiritual sādhanā in Hinduism. It involves concentrating on deity or a tattva for an extended period of time.
It is one of the limbs of Aṣṭāñga Yoga and Patanjali in Yogasūtra (3:2) defines it as:
“Meditation is an unbroken flow of thought toward the object with concentration.”
Śankara in the Bhagavad Gīta Bhāṣya (12:3) says “Upāsanā means a prolonged state characterised by the flow of an identical idea, like a flow of oil, after the mind takes up a theme as its object (of meditation) in conformity with the śāstric prescriptions.”
Types of Meditation in Hinduism
Saguṇa upāsanā and Nirguṇa upāsanā are the two types of meditation found in the Hindu tradition.
In Saguṇa upāsanā a seeker/bhakta can meditate upon a particular form of god, symbol of god, name of god or the spiritual principle represented by the deity. Japa, Manasa Puja are some forms of this meditation. Merit and purification of the mind are the two results of such a meditation.
In Nirguṇa upāsanā a seeker meditates upon the nature of Atman/Brahman. Self realization is the fruit of such a meditation. This is also sometimes referred to as Nidhidhyāsana.
This paper examines the meditation technique (meditation on the Sanskrit alphabets or akṣara) as prescribed in the Akṣamāika Upaniṣad.
Before getting into that let us understand the role of sound and Upaniṣad in Hinduism.
Significance of sound
“Let the Supreme Being (mahaḥ) protect us. The Supreme Being which is ever-enduring bliss (Nityānanda), from which emerge the fifty alphabets (akārādi sakārānta) that pervade the universe of movable and immovable objects; the wise call it śabda brahman which is also the Caitanya which abides in all. The moon adorns its forehead and it is the lord of speech.” – śāradā tilaka tantram (1:1)
“Where there is some activity there always is some vibration; where there is vibration there is also an essential possibility of the presence of sound” – Mantra Yoga Saṃhitā (2:1).
Śabda – sound or speech is sacred in the Hindu tradition with the primary scripture Veda revealed in the form of sound. The language of the Vedas, Sanskrit and the alphabets that make up the language are also hence considered sacred.
Īśvara manifests as this creation and sound is the basis of the creation.
That sound is sacred is highlighted by the fact that the Vedas personify it as a goddess Vāk, the productive principle.
Rig Veda (10:125) hymn on Vāk says:
“I am the Queen, the confluence of riches, the skillful one who is first among those worthy of sacrifices. The gods divided me up into various parts, for I dwell in many places and enter into many forms.”
“The one who eats food, who truly sees, who breathes, who hears what is said, does so through me. Though they do not realize it, they dwell in me. Listen, you whom they have heard; what I tell you should be heeded.”
The significance of sound is not limited to creation alone. According to the Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa (220.127.116.11-5) says
“Vāk is endless; Vāk is more than the end of all creation; she is great, all the gods, Gandharvas, men and women live up Vāk; Vāk is Akṣara, the first-born of ṛta, the mother of the Veda, the navel of immortality.”
Sound is also associated with the highest principle in Hinduism – Brahman
vāg vai brahmeti: (Brihadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad 4:1:2)
Significance of Alphabets
Sound comprises of words and words of alphabets.
Alphabets (a to kṣa) are called akṣara which is defined as that which is imperishable and indestructible. (VS Apte, Sanskrit Dictionary).
The Varṇavāda school of thought is of the view that the alphabets themselves have divine potency. As a result, in the various Hindu sects key alphabets either singly or in combinations are seen as seed mantras (bīja akṣara) and the very form of a deity (for example: klīm, hrīm, śrīm are associated with the Devi and gam with Ganesha).
The most sacred of the combination of alphabets is Om (combination of a, u, ṃ) and is seen termed as Brahman itself.
Om in the Upaniṣad
Sound is also associated with the highest principle in Hinduism – Brahman
vāg vai brahmeti: (Brihadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad 4:1:2)
– All speech is held together by Om (Chāndogya Upaniṣad 2.23.2-3)
– Om is everthing (Chāndogya Upaniṣad)
-That syllable (Om) is truly Brahma. That syllable is indeed supreme (akṣaram brahma akṣaram param) kaṭha ūpaniṣad (2:15-17)
Om is both the higher (param) and lower (aparam) Brahma (Praśna Upaniṣad 5.1-5)
Upaniṣad is part of the Vedas (ṛg, yajur, sāma and atharva) and considered śruti (Revealed by God and not written by humans).
Vedas comprises of hymns (Samhitā), rituals (Brāhmaṇa) meditation (āraṇyaka) and philosophy (Upaniṣad).
The primary teaching is Brahmavidyā and the secondary teaching (For purification of mind) is meditation techniques called Vidya, Upasāna.
“Hence it becomes necessary to expound the Science of the Self without a Second, which apart from all action, directly puts an end to the cause of the entire process of births and rebirths as represented by the said three paths. It is for this purpose that the Upaniṣad has been promulgated.” – Śankara in Chāndogya Upaniṣad Bhāṣya Introduction
Etymologically Upaniṣad is Upa – ni – ṣad
Śankara in the KaṭhaUpaniṣad Bhāṣya introduction gives the etymological meaning of the word Upaniṣad and explains the aim of the Upanishadic teaching.
Upa means near, ni (with certainty) and ṣad (destroy).
Now let us examine what is
akṣa + mālika (seed + garland).
This śaiva Upaniṣad belongs to ṛg veda and written in prose form.
Upaniṣad is a dialogue between Prajāpati Brahmā and Kārttikeya Kumara.
It is a later-day Upaniṣad incorporating the Purana and Tantra traditions.
The Shānti mantra of the Upanishad itself starts with the word Vāg
Akṣamāika Upaniṣad Teaching
Upaniṣads show the way out of Samsāra by explaining the nature of Brahman and also prescribing methods for purification of the mind.
“Those who are desirous of liberation, devoid of all longings for things seen and heard of acquire knowledge denoted by the word Upaniṣad … and because of strict adherence and practice the seed of samsāra and avidyā gets destroyed.” Śankara Kaṭha Upaniṣad Bhāṣya Introduction
“Brahmavidyā is also called Upaniṣad, for it leads those who aspire after liberation to the Supreme Brahman.” Śankara Kaṭha Upaniṣad Bhāṣya Introduction
“Even Agnividyā is called Upaniṣad by virtue of the other meaning of root word ṣad which means “disable” since the knowledge of Agni enables one to attain heaven by way of its result, thereby disabling a lot of miseries such as stay in the womb, birth and old age occurring again and again hereafter.” Śankara Kaṭha Upaniṣad Bhāṣya Introduction
Although akṣaras have been used to symbolise a particular deity in the śākta, vaiṣṇava and śaiva traditions, and Om has been to represent Brahman in various Upaniṣads, Akṣamālika Upaniṣad is unusual because it superimposes tattvas on all the 51 alphabets. Each alphabet is sacred and has the ability to reveal some aspect of īśvara and Brahman.
The Upaniṣad attributes a value or a quality to each of the alphabets from a to kṣa. For example Akṣara a is described as – You are the winner of death, be seated on the first bead; Akṣara ā – You are omnipresent by virtue of your magnetic power of attraction, be seated on the second bead; i – You are endower of power and peace, be seated on the third bead and so on. O n, you endow with enjoyment, emancipation and peace. Akṣamālikā Upaniṣad (5)
The final Akṣara kṣa (conjunct consonant) is the very Para or Brahman and is described as – You are teller of the essence existing in this and all that worlds. Please enshrine on the Shikhamani (cardinal bead). Akṣamālikā Upaniṣad (5)
As īśvara is everything, the tattvas are not always auspicious. For example O rakāra you create burns, jealousy and fever. You are defaced. Enshrine on the 43rd bead. Akṣamālikā Upaniṣad (5)
The text uses the classic adhyāropa apavāda method to unfold the knowledge.
In this method, certain qualities are superimposed on Brahman and then those very values are negated. Akṣamālika Upaniṣad imposes certain values on the 50 alphabets and in the last 51 it negates the previous teaching. For example,
oṃ kṣaṅkāra parāparatattvajñāpaka paraṃjyotīrūpa śikhāmaṇau pratitiṣṭha – O kṣakāra, you are teller of the essence existing in this as also that worlds. Please enshrine on the śikhāmaṇi.
Akṣamālikā Upaniṣad (5)
Purāṇa influence on Akṣamālikā Upaniṣad
Dialogue is between Prajāpati Brahmā and Kārttikeya.
It has a friendly attitude towards Vaiṣaṇava and śākta traditions. Promotes unity and respect within the different matha-s.
Acknowledges the Trimurti when it explains the three threads in which the beads are strung in a Japa Mala.
“The innermost thread is Brahmā. The right is Śiva and the left is Vishnu. The mouth is Saraswati, and tail is Gayatri.” Akṣamāika Upaniṣad (3)
Tantra influence on Akṣamālikā Upaniṣad
The divinity of akṣaras is in line with the tantra tradition.
It (Akṣamālikā Upaniṣad 15) also refers to the tantric concepts of,
Parā – Absolute reality which makes any form speech possible
Paśyanti – Speech residing as a subtle thought
Madhyama – Speech at the stage of prana
Vaikhari – Gross speech
Pramāṇa for 108 bead japa mala
Again this half garland of 50 beads should be completed by adding 50 more beads with the same spirit and summon of the letters. Thereafter eight more bead be spelled with the letters- a, ka, ca ta ṭa pa, ya, sa as previously done. Now 108 beads will be intertwined with the garland. The śikhāmaṇi will be enshrined by kṣa. Akṣamālikā Upaniṣad (14)
Person reciting this Upaniṣad in morning absolves from the evils committed in the night. Recital in the evening effaces all evils committed in the day. The person who recites in morning and also in evening, absolves from evils irrespective of their size. Lord Guha finally said that the hymn recited, silently (japa) on such garland duly spelled calling the presence of gods on all its beads, fructifies immediately (Akṣamālikā Upaniṣad 16).
Uniqueness of Upaniṣad
It highlights the divinity of each alphabet. Don’t see this association in any other Upaniṣad.
Helps to inculcate prayerful attitude in seekers. Ishwara as all-powerful, giver of fruits of action.
Highlights Japa sadhana.
Keeps the ultimate goal of Upaniṣad in mind and also reveals Brahmavidyā.
Inclusive nature despite being a sectarian Upaniṣad.
Tattvas meditated upon the akṣaras:
ओमङ्कार मृत्युञ्जय सर्वव्यापक प्रथमेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
omaṅkāra mṛtyuñjaya sarvavyāpaka prathame’kṣe pratitiṣṭha।
(The conqueror of death, Omnipresent, be established in the 1st head!)
ओमाङ्काराकर्षणात्मकसर्वगत द्वितीयेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
omāṅkārākarṣaṇātmakasarvagata dvitīye’kṣe pratitiṣṭha।
(He who of the nature of attracting, found everywhere, be established in the 2nd head!)
ओमिङ्कारपुष्टिदाक्षोभकर तृतीयेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(Om the giver of wealth and firmness, be established in the 3rd head!)
ओमीङ्कार वाक्प्रसादकर निर्मल चतुर्थेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(The maker of clarity in speech and clear One, be established in the 4th head!)
ओमुङ्कार सर्वबलप्रद सारतर पञ्चमेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(The giver of strength, the essence of everything, be established in the 5th head!)
ओमूङ्कारोच्चाटन दुःसह षष्ठेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(One who drives away evil spirits, the intolerable, be established in the 6th head!)
ओमृङ्काकार संक्षोभकर चञ्चल सप्तमेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(One who disturbs the (the dis-order), the moving One, be established in the 7th head!)
ओमॄङ्कार संमोहनकरोजवलाष्टमेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(Tthe deluding one, the effulgent and shining, be established in the 8th head!)
ओम्लृङ्कारविद्वेषणकर मोहक नवमेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(The devourer of everything else (or one who conceals everything), be established in the 9th head!)
ओम्लॄङ्कार मोहकर दशमेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(The deluding one, be established in the 10th head!)
ओमेङ्कार सर्ववश्यकर शुद्धसत्त्वैकादशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(One who attracts everyone, Suddha-sattva, be established in the 11th head!)
ओमैङ्कार शुद्धसात्त्विक पुरुषवश्यकर द्वादशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(The Pure and Noble attracting human beings, be established in the 12th head!)
ओमोङ्काराखिलवाङ्मय नित्यशुद्ध त्रयोदशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(The (base) of entire speech, eternally pure, be established in the 13th head!)
ओमौङ्कार सर्ववाङ्मय वश्यकर चतुर्दशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(Of the nature of speech, capable of attracting the peaceful, be established in the 14th head!)
ओमङ्कार गजादिवश्यकर मोहन पञ्चदशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(Capable of attracting elephants etc., attracting, be established in the 15th head!)
ओमःकार मृत्युनाशनकर रौद्र षोडशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(Capable of destroying death terrible, be established in the 16th head!)
ओमकङ्कार सर्वविषहर कल्याणद सप्तदशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(The remover of all poison, giver of auspiciousness, be established in the 17th head!)
ओमखङ्कार सर्वक्षोभकर व्यापकाष्टादशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(The tormentor spreading everywhere, be established in the 18th head!)
ओमगङ्कार सर्वविघ्नशमन महत्तरैकोनविंशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(He who puts dows all obstacles, the greatest, be established in the 19th head!)
ओमघङ्कार सौभाग्यद स्तम्भनकर विंशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(The giver of fortune, stupefier, be established in the 20th head!)
ओमङकार सर्वविषनाशकरोग्रैकविंशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(Om Ñaëkàra, the destroyer of all poisons, the sharp, be established in the 21st head!)
ओमचङ्काराभिचारघ्न क्रूर द्वाविंशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(You make motionless and most cruel be established in the 22nd head!)
ओमछङ्कार भूतनाशकर भीषण त्रयोविंशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(The destroyer of goblins, terrifying, be established in the 23rd head!)
ओमजङ्कार कृत्यादिनाशकर दुर्धर्ष चतुर्विंशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(The destroyer of anger, unstoppable, be established in the 24th head!)
ओमझङ्कार भूतनाशकर पञ्चविंशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(The destroyer of living being be established in the 25th head!)
ओमञकार मृत्युप्रमथन षड्विंशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(The churner of death be established in the 26th head!)
ओमटङ्कार सर्वव्याधिहर सुभग सप्तविंशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(The remover of all diseases, the good One, be established in the 27th head!)
ओमठङ्कार चन्द्ररूपाष्टाविंशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(Of the nature of moon, be established in the 28th head!)
ओमडङ्कार गरुडात्मक विषघ्न शोभनैकोनत्रिंशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(The soul of Garuda, remover of poisons, be established in the 29th head!)
ओमढङ्कार सर्वसम्पत्प्रद सुभग त्रिंशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(The giver of all wealth, the good One, be established in the 30th head!)
ओमणङ्कार सर्वसिद्धिप्रद मोहकरैकत्रिंशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(Giver of all successes (siddhis), the deluder, be established in the 31st head!)
ओमतङ्कार धनधान्यादिसम्पत्प्रद प्रसन्न द्वात्रिंशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(The giver of wealth and grains, who pleases one, be established in the 32nd head!)
ओमथङ्कार धर्मप्राप्तिकर निर्मल त्रयस्त्रिंशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(One who yokes with dharma, faultless one, be established in the 33rd head!)
ओमदङ्कार पुष्टिवृद्धिकर प्रियदर्शन चतुस्त्रिंशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(The developer of growth, with pleasing looks, be established in the 34th head!)
ओमधङ्कार विषज्वरनिघ्न विपुल पञ्चत्रिंशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(The destroyer of mundane suffering, the expansive One, be established in the 35th head!)
ओमनङ्कार भुक्तिमुक्तिप्रद शान्त षट्त्रिंशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(The giver of enjoyment and liberation, the peaceful One, be established in the 36th head!)
ओमपङ्कार विषविघ्ननाशन भव्य सप्तत्रिंशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(The destroyer of poison and obstructions, the Evolved One, be established in the 37th head!)
ओमफङ्काराणिमादिसिद्धिप्रद ज्योतीरूपाष्टत्रिंशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(The giver of eight siddhis, like atomic form, taking capacity, the effulgent nature etc., be established in the 38th head!)
ओमबङ्कार सर्वदोषहर शोभनैकोनचत्वारिंशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(The remover of all defects, the auspicious One, be established in the 39th head!)
ओमभङ्कार भूतप्रशान्तिकर भयानक चत्वारिंशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(one who quietens the goblins, the terrifying One, be established in the 40th head!)
ओममङ्कार विद्वेषिमोहनकरैकचत्वारिंशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(The deluder of haters, be established in the 41st head!)
ओमयङ्कार सर्वव्यापक पावन द्विचत्वारिंशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(The Omnipresent, the purifier, be established in the 42nd head!)
ओमरङ्कार दाहकर विकृत त्रिचत्वारिंशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(The burning One, the odd shaped, be established in the 43rd head!)
ओमलङ्कार विश्वंभर भासुर चतुश्चत्वारिंशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(The hearer of the world, the effulgent, be established in the 44th head!)
ओमवङ्कार सर्वाप्यायनकर निर्मल पञ्चचत्वारिंशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(The all-pervading One, the noblest One, be established in the 45th head!)
ओमशङ्कार सर्वफलप्रद पवित्र षट्चत्वारिंशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(The giver of all results, the sanctifier, be established in the 46th head!)
ओमषङ्कार धर्मार्थकामद धवल सप्तचत्वारिंशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(The giver of righteousness, wealth and pleasure, be established in the 47th head!)
ओमसङ्कार सर्वकारण सार्ववर्णिकाष्टचत्वारिंशेऽक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(The cause of everything, the undercurrent of all letters, be established in the 48th head!)
ओमहङ्कार सर्ववाङ्मय निर्मलैकोनपञ्चाशदक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(The base of all speech, the pure One, be established in the 49th head!)
ओमळङ्कार सर्वशक्तिप्रद प्रधान पञ्चाशदक्षे प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(The giver of all power, the Supreme One, be established in the 50th head!)
ओमक्षङ्कार परापरतत्त्वज्ञापक परंज्योतीरूप शिखामणौ प्रतितिष्ठ ।
(The One who instructs on the main and subsidiary categories of the world, of the nature of Supreme effulgence, be firmly established in the crest gem!)
Feature Image Credits: dremstime.com
Watch video presentation of the above paper here:
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author. Indic Today is neither responsible nor liable for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in the article.