The Mysteries of Sound
Oriental Department, March, 1896
CHHANDOGYA UPANISHAD, 1, 1-7.
Note: It will be advisable to study the Commentary that follows, before reading this translation.
OM: let a man draw near to this imperishable syllable as ‘the up-singing’; for with the syllable OM a man repeats the up-singing. And this is the subsidiary explanation of it:
Of these beings, Earth is the essence; of Earth, the Waters are the essence; of the waters, Growths are the essence; of growths, Man is the essence; of man, Voice is the essence; of voice, the holy Hymn is the essence; of the holy hymn the mystic Chant is the essence; of the mystic chant, the Up-singing is the essence.
So this is the most excellent essence of essences, supreme, lasting the whole lifetime of the evolver, the eighth,—this up singing.
Then this is considered: what is the number of the holy hymn? What is the number of the mystic chant? What is the number of the up-singing?
Voice, verily, is the holy hymn; Life is the mystic chant; OM, the imperishable syllable, is the up-singing. So there is the pair Voice and Life, and holy hymn and mystic chant.
And this pair, verily, is put forth united in the imperishable syllable OM. And when the pairs come together, then, verily, they gain each other’s desire. He, verily, becomes a gainer of his desires who, knowing this thus draws near to the imperishable syllable as the up-singing.
And this imperishable syllable is also the form of command, for whenever one commands anything he utters OM; and this command is, verily, mastery. He becomes master of his desires who, knowing this thus draws near to the imperishable syllable as the up-singing.
Through this the threefold knowledge turns: uttering OM one commands, uttering OM he praises, uttering or he sings the up- song; for the numbering of this imperishable syllable, through greatness, through essence.
Through this both work, he who knows this thus, and he who knows not. For different are knowledge and non-knowledge; for what a man works through knowledge, faith, and the secret teaching, that verily becomes more full of power; thus, in truth, the subsidiary explanation or expansion of the imperishable syllable.
The bright powers and the dark powers, verily, where they strove together, were both the offspring of the Lord of being; then, verily, the bright powers uttered the up-singing: Through this let us become masters of this Earth, said they.
They drew near to the nasal life-breath as the up-singing; but it the dark powers pierced through perishable-ness. Hence through it one smells both, sweet scent and foul odor; for it was pierced through perishable-ness.
Then they drew near to voice as the up-singing; but it the dark powers pierced through perishable-ness. Hence through it one speaks both, what belongs to the real and what belongs to unrighteousness; for it was pierced through perishable-ness.
Then they drew near to seeing as the up-singing; but it the dark powers pierced through perishable-ness. Hence one beholds both, what should be seen and what should not be seen; for it was pierced through perishable-ness.
Then they drew near to hearing as the up-singing; but it the dark powers pierced through perishable-ness. Hence by it one hears both, what should be heard and what should not be heard; for it was pierced through perishable-ness.
Then they drew near to emotion as the up-singing; but it the dark powers pierced through perishable-ness. Hence by it one intends both, what should be intended and what should not be intended.
Then this which is the principle Life, this they drew near to as the up-singing. And the dark powers, coming to it, were broken in pieces, like as a clod of earth coming against a rock would be broken in pieces, so they were broken to pieces. And he who desires destruction to one who knows thus, or intends injury against him, he is that clod against the rock.
For through this higher life one does not discern sweet savor and foul odor; for it is indeed freed from perishable-ness. And whatsoever he eats and drinks through this, through it he protects the inferior lives. To this, verily, he attains, gaining it at the end, entering into it at the end.
This, in truth, Angiras drew near to as the up-singing; and this Angiras, verily, they think to be the members’ (anga) essence (rasa).
Through this, in truth, Brhaspati drew near to this as the up-singing; and this Brhaspati they think to be the master of voice; for voice is great (brhati) and of it this is the master (pati)
Through this, in truth, Ayasya drew near to this as the up-singing; and they think this to be Ayayasya, what comes (aya) from the mouth (asya).
Through this, in truth, Baka Dalbhya gained knowledge; he, verily, became the singer of the up-singing for the men of the forest of Naimisha. For them by chanting he gains their desires.
He becomes a gainer of his desires by chanting, who, knowing this thus, draws near to the imperishable syllable as the up- singing. Thus far concerning the world of self,—the microcosm.
Then as to the world of the bright powers,—the macrocosm. That power that glows fervid in the heavens, let a man draw near to that as the up-singing. For uprising that chants the up-singing for beings, uprising it slays the fear of darkness. He becomes a slayer of darkness who knows thus.
And the binding life is both this and that; both this glowing heat here and that glowing heat there. And this they call the sound, and that the answering sound; therefore let one draw near to this fire here and that fire there as the up-singing.
Also in truth let one draw near to the distributing-life as the up-singing. For what he breaths forth is the forward-life and what he breaths downward is the downward-life, and the downward-life is the distributing life, and this distributing-life is voice; therefore one speaks of voice as embracing the forward-life and the downward-life.
But what voice is, that is the hymn; therefore one speaks of the hymn, as embracing the forward-life and the downward-life. But what the hymn is, that is the chant. Therefore he sings the chant as the forward-life and the downward-life. But what the chant is, that is the up-singing. Therefore he chants the up-singing as the forward-life and the downward-life.
And so whatever other virtue-possessing workings there are, as the engendering of the fire and the going of the sacred fluid and the compelling of the sturdy bow, these he works as the forward-life and the downward-1ife. For this cause let him draw near to the distributing-life as the up-singing.
Then let him draw near to the syllables of the ‘up-singing’; for this is the ‘up.singing’ the forward-life verily is ‘up’; for through the forward-life he rises up. Voice verily is ‘sing.’, for they call voice song. Food verily is ‘-ing’; for in food, verily, all this is set firm.
Heaven, verily, is ‘up’; the mid-world is ‘sing-‘; the earth is ‘-ing’. The sun, verily, is ‘up’; the breath of wind is ‘sing-‘; fire is ‘-ing’; the Sama Veda is ‘up’; the Yajur Veda is ‘sing-‘; the Rig Veda is ‘-ing’.
In the milking, voice is the milk of him who is the milker of voice. Full of food, an eater of food he becomes, who thus knowing draws near the syllables of the up-singing as the up-singing.
And thus let him draw near to blessing, increase, consummation. By whatever chant he is about to praise, let him have recourse to that chant. In what hymn, to that hymn; belonging to what seer, to that seer; whatever bright power he is about to praise, let him have recourse to that bright power. By whatever song he is about to praise, let him have recourse to that song; by whatever praise he is about to praise, let him have recourse to that praise. Whatever space he is about to praise, let him have recourse to that space. And at the end, approaching the Self, let him praise his desire, thinking on it, unbewildered; whatever he is intent upon, that desire may be fulfilled; with whatever desire he praises, with whatever desire he praises.
OM: let him draw near to this imperishable syllable as the up-singing; for uttering OM he chants the up-singing. Of this, this is the subsidiary explanation or expansion. The bright powers, verily, fearing Death, entered into the threefold knowledge. They made a covering through the hymns. As they made a covering through them, this is the hymn-ship of the hymns. Them there Death,— as one might clearly behold a fish in the water,—beheld clearly; they, piercing the song, the chant, the sentence, upward from the song, the chant, the sentence, entered into the sound.
For when one comes to the song, he utters OM besides; thus also with the chant and with the sentence. And the sound, verily, is this imperishable syllable, he, verily enters the imperishable syllable, immortal, fearless. Entering into it, the bright powers become immortal, fearless.
He who, verily, knowing this thus, sends forth the sound’ of the imperishable syllable, he, verily, enters this imperishable syllable, the sound, immortal, fearless; entering it, he becomes immortal as the bright powers are immortal.
But, in truth, what the up-singing is, that the forth sounding is; what the forth-sounding is, that the up-singing is. That sun verily is the up-singing, is the forth praising for sounding OM the sun moves forward.
‘This, verily, have I sung; therefrom mine art thou alone’; thus said Kaushitaki to his son; ‘do thou make the rays encircle thee; for thee they shall become abundant.’ Thus much concerning the world of the bright powers.
Then as to the world of self. This, verily, is the chief Life. Let one draw near to it as the up-singing. For this moves forward uttering OM.
‘This, verily, have I sung; therefrom mine art thou alone,’— thus said Kaushitaki to his son,—’do thou sing the lives as abundance; for thee they shall become abundant.’ Thus, indeed, what the up-singing is, that the forth sounding is. When the sacrificer is exhausted, verily, a poor up-singing will he give voice to,—a poor up-singing will he give voice to.
This world, verily, is the song; fire is the chant. The chant is expanded in the song; therefore the chant expanded in the song is sung. For the half of the chant is this earth, and half is fire,—its chant.
The mid-world, verily, is the song; the breath of wind is the chant, the chant is expanded in the song; therefore the chant expanded in the song is sung. For half of the chant is the mid-world, and half is the breath of wind,—its chant.
The heavens, verily, are the song; the sun is the chant. The chant is expanded in the song; therefore the chant expanded in the song is sung. For half of the chant is the heavens, and half is the sun,—their chant.
The moon-houses, verily, are the song; the moon is the chant, the chant is expanded in the song; therefore the chant expanded in the song is sung. For half of the chant is the moon-houses, and half is the moon, —their chant.
And so in the sun the clear shining is the song, the indigo, very dark, is the chant. The chant is expanded in the song, therefore the chant expanded in the song is sung. And so the clear shining of the sun is half of the chant, and half is the indigo, very dark,—its chant. And so the spirit who in the inner sun, is seen, gold-colored with gold-colored beard and gold-colored hair, and, down to the nails, all golden. Like flame-colored lotus are his two eyes, and Up-rising is his name; he has risen above all things perishable. He rises above all things perishable who knows thus. Of him, the song and the chant are the two singers; and from him comes the up-singing; hence the singer of the up-singing is his singer. And whatever worlds are beyond that world, them he rules and the desires of the bright powers. Thus far concerning the world of the bright powers.
Then as to the world of self. Voice, verily, is the song; vital breath is the chant. The chant is expanded in the song, therefore the chant expanded in the song is sung. Voice is half of the chant, vital breath is half,—its chant.
Seeing, verily, is the song, the self is the chant. The chant is expanded in the song, therefore the chant expanded in the song is sung. Seeing, verily, is half the chant, self is half,—its chant.
Hearing, verily, is the song, emotion is the chant. In the song the chant is expanded, therefore the chant expanded in the song is sung. Hearing is half of the chant, emotion is half,— thus the chant.
And so what is the eye’s clear shining, that, verily, is the song; and the indigo, very dark, is the chant. The chant is expanded in the song, therefore the chant expanded in the song is sung. And what is the eye’s clear shining, that is half the chant, and the indigo, very dark, is half,—thus the chant.
And so the spirit who in the inner eye is seen, this, verily, is the song, this the chant, this the hymn, this the sentence, this the aspiration. And the form of him is as the form of that other, and the two singers of him are the two singers of that other, and his name is the name of that other, and whatsoever worlds are after this world, them he rules, and the desires of men. And they who sing to the lyre here, him verily they sing, thence come wealth and gifts. And so he who, knowing thus, sings the chant, be sings both; through that, verily, whatever worlds there are beyond that, them he gains and the desires of the bright ones. And so through this, whatever worlds are after this, he gains them and the desires of men. So may one, who knows thus, be called a singer of the up-singing. What desire do they gain? it is said. Therefore he, verily, masters the song that fulfils desires who thus knowing sings the chant,—sings the chant.
It always seemed to us that the editor of the Sacred Books of the East did some wrong to the Upanishads, to his readers,
and to himself, when he chose the preceding passage as the first to be translated in the first volume of his series. For, to the reader unaccustomed to the Upanishads, unacquainted with many rich and wonderful passages in them that throw the clearest light on each other in most unexpected ways,—unfamiliar, in a word, with many things that only long study makes manifest,—a passage like this must appear not only obscure, but irritating, even exasperating. And the passage here translated only amounts to about one-sixth of the whole disquisition on the ‘up-singing,’— all of which we must duly translate, in pursuance of our design of showing the great Upanishads as they really are, though not, perhaps, as they were once, in the days of long ago.
If we add to the general obscurity and enigmatic character of all this, the fact that the editor of the series we have mentioned has left many words untranslated, and not only untranslated but metamorphosed by a translation incomparably capable of misleading even the elect,—then we can only wonder whether any reader of the Upanishads in that translation ever survived the first hundred pages.
If the sincerest truth must be told, even the more hardened student, who has read the Upanishads through from cover to cover, in the original Sanskrit, is quite likely to take leave of the discussion of the ‘up-singing’ with an uneasy doubt in his mind whether these passages have any meaning at all, or mean, perhaps, something very profound, and, if the latter alternative be accepted, what precisely that very profound something is.
The position of things is something after this wise: the Upanishads, as we have them now, are not isolated treatises, but are integral parts of longer works, half myth, half theology, which are assigned to one or other of the four Vedas,—the Rig or Veda of songs, the Sama or Veda of chants, the Yajur or Veda of sacrificial sentences, the Atharva or Veda of magical incantations. Now these longer works,—the Brahmanas, as they are called,— are really great cycles of traditional lore concerning the sacrifices, their meaning, their first institution, their mystic capabilities for ‘milking the gods’—to use a chaste expression from the Veda of the songs. And we have the testimony of a Brahman, in a passage in this same Chhandogya Upanishad, that the Brahmans, who, as the sacrificial priests, were especially implicated in these theological matters, might be quite familiar with them all, might know all the songs and verses and chants and sentences by heart, and yet remain as ignorant of the real mysteries, the secrets of life and death, of life after death, and the renewal of life by rebirth, as any outer barbarian. And we generally find that, when a Brahman discovered that he had a soul, and that his soul was not to be satisfied by ‘sacrifices and pious gifts,’ even when he himself was the recipient of the said gifts and ‘eater of the leavings’ of the said sacrifices,—we generally find that the pale Brahman had to go to a Rajput, to one of the red warrior race, to learn the real mysteries.
And we find it authentically recorded in the Upanishads, that it was in this way that the Brahmans first heard of the teaching of what we call reincarnation, and of the teaching of liberation from rebirth,—the path of the Fathers and the path of the gods,—and, further, that the Rajput warriors had long been familiar with this teaching, and much else of high import besides.
So that, if we interpret a mass of evidence, all pointing in one direction, aright, we shall believe that the red Rajput race were the hereditary possessors of the Greater Mysteries, the real secrets of life and death, while the Brahmans were the practicians of the lesser mysteries, of which the type, in the Upanishads, is the aforementioned ‘sacrifices and pious gifts.’
Now we have good reason to believe that these lesser mysteries were not wholly confined to the slaughter of bulls and goats, though that was a not inconsiderable element of Brahmanical lore, and is so unto this day, as any visitor to the sacrificial shrines in India can testify; but that they included also a series of psychic secrets, such as the kindling of ‘the three fires in the body, in order to awaken psychic sight and hearing, by a process which the Upanishads condemn with sternest denunciation.
Now this question of psychic secrets and occult arts is not an easy one for anybody to solve satisfactorily, but the truth seems to be something like this: there is a whole range of powers and faculties which properly belong to perfected man,—to man, that is, in whom the physical self, the psychic self, and the spiritual self are all fully developed, each in his own world, under the sovereighty of the divine Self, the inner Sun, the Eternal. And this sovereignty of the divine Self is the certain guarantee that all these powers and faculties shall be used only for impersonal ends, for divine purposes; for as the Self is the Self of all, no one in whom this Self is sovereign can conceivably injure another, for thus Self would injure Self.
So that just as physical man has his right and lawful powers, psychic man and spiritual man have theirs, and when in the divine Self all these are perfected, the powers of man made perfect are of incomparable might and worth.
This is a mighty ideal, a splendid goal; and it would seem that there is a highway to reach it: ‘The Self-being pierced the openings outwards; hence one looks outward, not within himself. A wise man with reverted sight looked towards the Self, seeking immortality.’ Or, as we would say, the way is this: A man who feels himself to be at the beginning of the way, who feels the dim, great mystery resting upon him, should rise up in spirit to the highest light within him, and, bringing the rays of that light downwards, should make it rule the whole of his life. When all his life is new-created and energized and ordered by that light, there will still be a highest light within, and this light will have moved upwards,—will be higher than it was at the beginning. So that his work will have to be done again, in the light of this higher shining. Again he must rise up to it in spirit, and again bring the rays of the light down within his life, ruling and ordering all his powers and works. At the beginning, the name of this light is conscience; later on, it is intuition; at the end, it is omniscience, almighty.
And it would seem that, as a man does this, his psychic and spiritual being are gradually perfected, and he gradually learning to possess the new worlds that open around him. The light that was at first a dim spark within him, becomes at last a shining sea, the light ineffable of the Eternal.
There is thus a perpetual rising up to the light, and a perpetual working downward, a bringing down of the rays until they rule the man’s life and all his works. And this would seem to be the better way, the way of wisdom and reality.
But it seems there is another way, of which we have said something before, when speaking of the ‘kindling of the three fires.’ This lower way depends on a suppression of vital energies, or rather their diversion and concentration, until denied their normal outlet, they swell upward and, carrying their force along with them, set certain powers and energies in motion, in an abnormal way. Then ‘the seven flames rise upward’ and powers of psychic seeing and hearing are developed. And we may well believe that there are energies in the outer world which may thereby be subjected and possessed, and powers over them which may be gained. Now along with this suppression of the vital powers, there is often the tendency to borrow the vital powers of others,—of the slaughtered bulls and goats that we have spoken of before. So that whenever we find a ritual of sacrifice, that is, of slaughter, we naturally look askance at the psychic powers which are its concomitants.
And it is this very element which is so characteristic of the works on theology that the Upanishads are now embedded in; indeed the greatest Upanishad begins, ‘Dawn is the head of the horse fit for sacrifice.’ And some of these sacrifices involved the collection of over six hundred animals of various kinds, which, however, were not slaughtered but released after the ceremony. So that it may be argued that the whole thing was organized for the purpose of instructing the people in zoology; but even if this were so, the sacrifices did undoubtedly involve the slaughter of the animals at the beginning, as they do in many Indian shrines to-day. So that the Upanishads have come down to us in the midst of a mist which is certainly tinged with the colors of the ‘lower way,’ the wisdom from beneath, earthly, sensual, devilish.
There were undoubtedly other sacrifices, quite blameless in appearance, and their place in the Vedic ritual is very great. Such are the offerings of clarified butter to the Fire-god, and the sacred juice of the moon-plant, or the moon-fluid, to the Lord of the blue sky. Yet one has a lurking suspicion that these sacrifices also, when not mere ineffectual shows, were not quite blameless either;. for the offering of clarified butter in the fire has a strong appearance of being really a symbolical representation of that very suppression and diversion of vital force for psychic ends, which we have spoken of already, the practice which the Upanishads so vehemently condemn. And along with these sacrifices went a whole science of psychic sound and the psychic powers of intoning and incantation, from which, if our conjecture as to its origin is correct, we can hardly expect much good. And the passages in the Upanishads which deal with ‘the up-singing’ have a strong superficial resemblance to this psychic science of sound, whose origin looks to us so doubtful.
The idea of the ‘up-singing’ is this: it refers to a triple sound, or rather a series of three sounds, the first of which has affinity with the lower world, the passional nature; the second belongs to the mid-world, the emotional nature; the third to the higher world, the spiritual and intuitional nature. Now, in chanting or intoning these three sounds, if one begins at the lowest, and intones it in an effectual way, it will rouse the powers of the passional nature; a certain amount of energy thus called forth will be transferred to the emotional nature when the second sound, which answers to the emotional nature, is intoned. Thereafter the accumulated energy, according to theory, is lifted up and made available for spiritual purposes, when the third note is intoned.
Thus the ‘up singing,’ as the name suggests, is a using of the stimulating power of sound to excite a lower energy and then to bring it upward,—from below upwards, in opposition to the divine and natural way, from above downwards. The ‘lower way’ begins with the passional energy, converts it into an emotional force, and then into a spiritual power, or at least tries to do this. The divine way, which is also the natural one, begins by reaching up to the highest shining of the spiritual nature, and allows this to work purification in the emotional nature; and by the time the emotions are pure, there is singularly little of the passional nature left. Indeed it would seem that the divine way never directly touches the passions at all, but simply allows them to be naturally effaced by the purifying of the imagination and emotion, through the working of the divine shining within. The result of this divine way, when consummated, is not an emaciated, tortured body, but a fine physical being, radiant with the health of this wholesome earth,—a physical being that is the vesture of the perfect psychic and spiritual being within and above, the whole trinity irradiated by the shining of the higher divinity, deathless, fearless.
But there is much to show that, when the souls of the better Brahmans revolted within them against the ritual of the lower way, and they came to the Rajput seers asking for wisdom, their kingly teachers made available the knowledge the Brahmans already possessed, for the purposes of initiating them in the higher wisdom. And they seem in this way to have used the teaching of the ‘up-singing’ as a symbol for making clear the doctrine of the three worlds,—the earth world, the mid-world, and the heaven-world and especially as these worlds are symbolized, in their separation and union, in the imperishable OM. The significance of this syllable we have treated very fully already, and we need only refer back to previous explanations.
Then the ‘up-singing’ is used to symbolize another teaching, the teaching of the formation of the worlds. In the ineffable Eternal there are latent two creative powers, the active, energizing Life, and the passive, formative Voice,—the divine Father and Mother of another Upanishad: ‘and this pair, verily, is put forth united in the imperishable syllable OM,’ that is, in the Eternal; and from the activities of the pair, the manifested worlds arise.
Then comes the story of the bright powers and the dark powers, whose energies are just these very contrasted qualities of life and form; form being the limitation and hindrance of life. The whole story is a strong and vivid way of saying that the fivefold lower nature of man, up to emotion, is under the sway of two-sidedness; while the spiritual self, the ‘principle Life,’ is above this two-fold alternation of ebb and flow. For ’emotion intends and doubts,’ but strong soul ‘affirms only,’ ever certainty-souled. ‘For through this principle Life, the higher Self, one does not discern sweet savor and foul odor; for it is indeed freed from perishable-ness; and whatever this higher Self takes into his own being and possesses, through this he guards the lower lives. To this verily he attains, gaining it at the end, entering into it at the end.’
Then there is much about contrasts and correspondences between the microcosm and the macrocosm, which contains much wisdom. It will become intelligible if we remember that ‘the sun in the heavens’ is the symbol of the higher Self in the divine world; the ‘breath of wind in the mid-space’ is the symbol of the psychic life, in the psychic world; the ‘fire of this earth’ the symbol of the vital energy of the physical life.
Then the syllables of the name ‘up-singing’ are taken to teach the same correspondences and relations of the three worlds, whether In man or outwardly. Thus: Heaven, verily, is ‘up’; the mid-world is ‘sing-‘; this Earth is ‘-ing’.
Then a pretty expedient is used to illustrate energies and their vestures. It is well known that the verses of the Rig Veda are used as intoned chants in the Sama Veda; and the potency of the chant is said to be expanded or latent in the hymn or song; the mystic force, that is, is latent in the words. This is taken as a symbol, and an excellent one, of the whole subject of energies and their vestures, of, say, the psychic energy in the psychic body, lying latent, expanded, until wisdom comes to energize it into force. Thus ‘the mid-world’—the psychic body—’is the song’; ‘the breath’—the psychic force—’is the chant,’ lying latent. therein until called forth.
Then there is a splendidly developed series of correspondences between macrocosm and -microcosm, leading up to the spirit of the macrocosm, described as a man, gold-colored, shining, ‘clothed with the sun’; to this corresponds the ‘man, of the color of the sun,’ who rises up immortal from the sacred fire.
Thus, using and purifying old traditions, in teaching their pupils, the old Rajput seers made harmless through wisdom the teaching of the lower way, superseding it by the way of divinity and perfection, knowing which, a man becomes immortal.