OM – The Four Levels of Nada

Omkara, the Symbol

OM imagePranava, the Sound (Nada)

This entry is from Kripalu’s book on the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Reveling the Secret. Anything in [brackets] is my own insertion.

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“The sacred syllable OM (pranava) is the bow, the soul (atman) is the arrow, and God (brahman) is the target (goal).  Without any indolence and mistake, one should strike the target and should be just like the spirit of the arrow.  Making his body as the wood below the the sacred syllable (OM) as the stick of wood above, he should routinely practice the churning of meditation.  Thus, he will see God, the unperceived.”
— Svestashvatarupanishad

In the three verses (shloka) mentioned above (2-4, 5, 6), there is only some difference in the use of words.

From Kripalu

1. paravani — Sound in the most pure subjective idealized form; beyond speech; when one step down form god is made.

Meditation on the muladhara [root chakra]  — impelling, automatic force of expression. [Meditation “on” something suggests that there is a concentration of prana in that place.]

Nada — Divine Sound.

2. pasyanti — Another step down toward the gross [away from the subtle] so that sound is perceivable and perceived.

Meditation on the manipura [navel chakra] — pure sound is heard indistinctly.

Ahamkara — Ego (the sense of self as perceiver).

3. madyamavani — Mind (thought, words and their meanings).

Meditation on the anahata [heart chakra] — madyamavani (middle heart words) heard distinctly.

Manas — Mind.

4. vaisvarivani — Gross organs (tongue, mouth, brain).

Meditation on the vishuddha [throat chakra] — gross speech begins to be expressed through the tongue.

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[Notice that the root chakra (muladhara), the first and lowest chakra, is associated with Divine Sound. This first chakra is eagerly abandoned in the minds of many Western seekers as lowly (pun intended), but here we see its importance in the journey to union with God. I have therefore included Kripalu’s writings on that chakra below.]

Muladhara Chakra
(Root holding energy channel focus)  

Four petals (nadis):  ida, pingala, sushumna, kuhu.
Mouth (face) downward.
Color red.
Letters vam, sham, san, sam.

Two kinds of sounds (nada): [1] ahata (made by striking an object), [2] anahata (spontaneously generated as in speaking in tongues).

In the muladhara chakra, at the end of sabija samadhi, there is union (yoga) of prana (the up and in flowing energy) and the apana (the down and out flowing energy).  This union generates the anahata (spontaneous) nada. As a result of that up going anahata nada, there descend three levels of sound:

1.  Subjective perception of sound
2.  Mental forming up of sound into language patterns
3.  Universal speech.

So it is said that from anahata nada (spontaneous heart forced divine sound) are born the imperishable phoneme (aksara, sound which is represented by a letter of the [Sanskrit] alphabet).  Then from these phonemes, a complete word is formed.  From words is born speech that is filled with rhythm and rhyme.  So in every chakra, letters of the Sanskrit alphabet are noted to represent these phonemes.

According to the number of aksara (the indestructible phonemes), are the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet.  The seven chakras (muladhara, svadhisthana, manipura, anahata, vishuddhakhya, ajna and sahasrara) have been called respectively, dhaturdala padma (four petalled lotus), satadala padma (six petalled lotus), dasadala padma (ten petalled lotus), dvadasadala padma (twelve petalled lotus), ([missing]) (sixteen petalled lotus), dvidala padma (two petalled lotus), and sahasradala padma (thousand petalled lotus).

When the Divine Sound (anahata nada), having risen up from the muladhara, reaches the ajna chakra [sixth chakra], then there is a merging (union, absorption) of both the perishable (nature, prakriti) and the imperishable into the Being (dweller in the soul or heart, purusha).  However, when the imperishable (aksara) is separate from the perishable (ksara) and stands on its own, then neither words nor Divine Sound (nada) remain (exist).  We may call it (the Divine Sound, nada) the Word of God, or Beyond the Beyond God Sound (paratpara nada braman, the divine attractant).

OM – The Four Stages of Speech

Omkara, the Symbol
OM imagePranava, the Sound

The four stages of speech teach us about
the four stages of manifestation.

•  –  The dot, p
aravani, ‘beyond sound’
The dot represents the seed (bija) of unlimited potential, beyond speech. This unlimited potential is present in all of us.
Manifestation: All possibilities in a latent state.


M – The curved line beneath the dot, pashanti, ‘he perceives’
A general abstract notion arises in the mind and is perceived.
Manifestation: Concept

U –  The the loop below the curved line, madyamavani, ‘middle/central sound’
From this general concept, the central idea emerges.
Manifestation: Idea, thought

A –  The large symbol that looks like a three, 
vaishvarivani, ‘all world sounds,’ i.e., language
The idea, the thought, is expressed through speech on the physical plane, involving physical organs, i.e., tongue, mouth, brain.
Manifestation: Speech

OM – The Four Stages of Sound


OM image

This is the symbol for the sacred sound, ‘OM.’ When spelled out in Devanagari (Sanskrit writing), it looks different. The transliteration of the Sanskrit spelling is ‘AUM,’ which is a phonetic spelling.

Omkara is usually taught as “the four stages of speech,” but first, I will present it broadly as four stages of nada, or sound, and relate this to meditation experience

When OM is chanted, it goes from gross to subtle, beginning with the sound, ‘ah’ (A) in the chest area, passing through the sound of ‘uh’ (U), and ending with the sound, ‘mm’ (M) as the vibrations of the sound move into the head. Though the symbol shows all four stages, only three sounds are represented in the spelling (AUM) because only three of the four are audible to the ear.

If you were to chant Om from the other direction, from subtle to gross, the direction of manifestation, you would begin with the ‘Mm’ sound. If you were to hear it this way, it would sound like ‘Ma,’ as in mother—the Universal Divine Mother as Creator. This was one of my first experiences of spontaneous nada in meditation, and this is how I understood that experience.

We chant Om the way we do, gross to subtle (AUM), to find our way home, the way to God and our original situation of perfection, peace and unconditional love. For this reason, mantras, meditation and other spiritual undertakings, begin and end with the sacred word, Om.

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Light is the substance, Sound gives it form

The Four Stages of Sound

Sound is associated with the subtlest element, akasha (ether, or space).

Om, spelled “AUM”

The large symbol that looks like a three, called vaishvarivani, means “all world sounds,” (i.e., languages, etc.) 

Surrender Meditation: Spontaneous chanting, speaking in tongues, and all manner of sounds are expressed vocally.

The the loop below the curved line, called madyamavani, means “middle sound”.

Surrender Meditation:  Nada ranges from noise (irregular vibrations) to the beginnings of tones (regular vibrations) as a result of the sense faculties operating without the sense organs (pratyahara) in deep meditation.

The curved line beneath the dot, called pashanti, means “he perceives”.

Surrender Meditation: Nada of subtle and refined sound consisting of tones (regular vibrations) is heard directly in deepest meditation as a result of pratyahara.

The dot, paravani, means “beyond sound”.

Surrender Meditation:  Nada samadhi, direct perception of divine sound, the sound of God. In deepest meditation, the sound of OM is experienced in its pure and complete form.  Indistinct sounds moving up the sushumna nadi, transform into clear musical tones along the way, until all tones are heard independently and simultaneously as one True Toneultimately reaching the top of the head, beyond perception. The experience is one of inexpressible joy.