Lovers of Silence -- Lovers of Sound
The person speaking is Mera, one of Mr. Kubadi’s senior students. Lovers of Silence—Lovers of Sound is her story—Mera’s tale.
The ideas expressed in the book are taken from the teachings of the Masters, specifically Avatar Meher Baba and Upasani Maharaj.
What follows is the first chapter of the book. Mera is speaking.
“From my childhood I began to sense that music comes from within—from that silence which is the source of all sound and can be, as my teacher often reminded me, the messenger of that silence. Silence manifests all sound by thinking all sound—by dreaming all sound. When sound remembers it source, then sound becomes the messenger of that silence and can fulfill the promise of its existence. Mr. Kubadi says, “When music becomes the messenger of silence, it has real meaning, but of what value is the messenger without a message?”
Once when I was in India, I had the good fortune to meet a man who was a Nada-Brahma yogi. His way involved working with vibrations, or sound currents, within his body. I was told that microphones were once placed around his body and that sound was detected coming from the area of his spine—even though he was not speaking or singing or playing any kind of instrument at the time.
Our meeting was private, in a little room barely large enough for the two us. He sat on a cot; I sat on the floor. He spoke about the ancient Vedic chants and the necessity for impeccable articulation and pitch for them to have the correct effect. He talked about life and how we had to learn to let it come in and let it go out—“…like food,” he said, “if it gets stuck inside, there is disease.”
When I talked about my music he appeared to listen with his full attention—as much, it seemed, to the sound of my words as to their meaning. The effect on me was interesting—I began to hear my own voice as if it belonged to someone else.
“Kubadi,” he repeated, when I mentioned my teacher’s name, “it is an Indian word; do you know its meaning?” I smiled and shook my head.
“There was once a great saint called Ramadasa who kept with him a kind of armrest called a kubadi. It looked like a heavy short stick with a curved piece on the top—like a crescent. To explain the significance of the kubadi I must first tell you something about the science of breath called pranayama. It is yogic knowledge that respiration is not only essential for life, but is very useful in attaining higher experiences of things related to God. Hatha yogis are seen to control their respiration for this purpose.
“Normally, the breath can be observed to flow sometimes through the left, sometimes through the right, and occasionally through both nostrils simultaneously. The flow of the breath is directly linked to certain states of consciousness. These states are termed the ida, pingala, and sushumna respectively. It is this last state, the sushumna state, that is of interest to the yogis, for if the respiration goes on through both nostrils simultaneously, then one can attain higher subtle knowledge. To attain the sushumna state, many procedures have been laid down for those individuals who are suitably prepared to practice the control of the breath—they are always undertaken in conjunction with certain postures, dietary restrictions, meditation practices, and austerities.
“To take breath through one nostril, retain it for some specific time, and then exhale through the other nostril is one of the important techniques that comprise the science of pranayama. This practice of alternate nostril breathing and retention is practiced to attain the state of sushumna. The study is a bit difficult and requires considerable help and guidance. There is, however, a quicker and simpler method to attain the state.
“In a normal and healthy individual it can be observed that the breath naturally predominates in one nostril and then, every few minutes, changes to the other nostril. To create the state of sushumna it is only necessary to change the rhythm artificially. By simply lying on the side of the active nostril, the breath can be made to change to the other nostril. An even quicker change is accomplished by merely applying pressure to compress the nerves in the armpit on the side of the body of the active nostril.
“It is on this principle that the great saint Ramadasa invented the kubadi. He kept it with him, only revealing its true purpose to a few. It became an emblem of his followers, though I doubt that not more than a few have ever understood the principle of this implement.”
“In fact, my teacher has been a kubadi for me,” I said.
“That is why you are here today—do you understand?”
The yogi raised his index finger to his lips. “Listen.” he said, and closed his eyes. His body became very still—it looked like he had flipped some invisible switch. Thinking that he was meditating, I followed his example and closed my eyes. After a few moments he stopped me.
“What did you hear?” he said.
“Inside or outside?”
“I don’t make a distinction.”
“Inside, I heard my thoughts; outside, there were voices, a motor, and, I think, a cow nearby.”
“Did you hear silence as well?”
“Yes, I was aware of the silence. I love the silence.”
“So the silence doesn’t end with the sound?”
“In a way, the sound makes the silence more apparent.”
I thought I detected that the yogi, in just a fraction of a second, seemed to ponder something.
“Will you go where I tell you?” he asked.
“Yes,” I answered without hesitation.
With that, the yogi was on his feet and moving out of the room—fast! I scrambled to my feet and chased after him—my state was almost giddy. By the time I caught up with him he was already talking to an Indian woman and man. They both appeared to be about my age. They smiled at me when I approached. “We will take you to Shri Nazar,” the woman said. “It is about an eight hour ride by automobile. I cannot tell you how long you will be staying. When will you be ready to leave?”
“Whenever you are ready to go,” I replied.
“Now?” asked the man.
“We will ready the automobile, while you take some food,” the woman replied. “Come with me.” I followed her to the small enclosed porch I had passed through when I arrived to see the yogi. She indicated a small cot with pillows near the wall.
“Sit and relax. I will bring your food.” A few minutes later a very sweet elderly lady appeared with a large metal plate containing a chapatti, dal with rice, and a dish I knew as palak paneer.
It was a wonderful lunch and by the time I finished my cup of chai the young woman had returned to inform me that the car was now ready for us to depart. I grabbed my backpack from beside the door and we were off.
The car was a small version of an American van. It was air conditioned and quite comfortable. The woman drove, the man sat beside her in the front seat, and I was in the back. As we set out on our journey the man made the introductions. Their names were Anita and Amrit and the yogi, they called him Babaji, had arranged their marriage. They had been married for almost a year.
After skirting the suburbs of Bombay, where the road was choked with traffic and the air was much polluted, we struck out over the western ghats of the Deccan plateau. The view was rugged and mysterious—like the background of Da Vinci’s portrait of Mona Lisa.
Driving in India is a very different affair than driving in the United States. That is to say that regarding degree of difficulty on a scale of one to ten, the United States would most likely rank as a one or two, while India would be a nine. Even an experienced Indian driver has little time to chat or fiddle with a radio because of the constant need to make split second decisions regarding the road, trucks, cars, motorcycles, carts, bicycles, pedestrians, not to mention all the various kinds of animals who share the roads—like cows, goats, dogs and even the occasional elephant or camel.
Our destination was near an ancient site not far from the famous Ellora Caves, called Khuldabad. Named The Valley of the Saints, or Abode of Eternity, Khuldabad contains the graves and tombs of hundreds of real Sufi saints who migrated to the area in the fourteenth century. Though we did not stop at the site itself, just from being in the vicinity, I knew we were on holy ground and sensed a profound energy, mystical and etched in mystery.
Just about a kilometer or two past the dargah of the highly esteemed Sufi saint Muntajib al Din, more commonly known as Zar Zari Zar Baksh, there was a small unmarked dirt road which we followed for about another kilometer to a triangular grouping of three old stone buildings. One building appeared to be a temple; another was a small tomb, and the third, a residence of some sort. Anita stopped the car near the third building and after telling me to wait, got out of the car and approached the building. There was a brief exchange with someone at the door and she returned to the car. She told me that she and Amrit would be leaving, but would be informed and would return for me when it was time for me to go. She indicated a path alongside the building which she directed me to follow and after exchanging a brief hug she got into the car and drove off.
I followed the path to a gate that opened into a most spectacular garden with roses, jasmine and all kinds of flowering plants. There was a fig tree and a pomegranate tree; there were benches and seats arranged along an intricately laid stone path, and wood carvings, like screens, with Middle Eastern geometric designs. I was met by a rather tall Indian woman wearing a traditional Indian sari and head cover. She was followed by two young men carrying a rolled-up oriental carpet and an assortment of brightly colored cushions. The woman spoke to them in Marathi, indicating a small grassy area where they were to arrange the carpet and cushions. Then, speaking to me in English, she asked if I needed anything. I smiled and shook my head and she indicated a place on the carpet for me to sit. She dismissed the men and took a seat facing me. Her movements were very flowing and graceful and there was a refinement and elegance to her features that spoke of an almost ethereal beauty.
“I am called Shri Nazar,” she said. I guess my surprise was quite obvious all over my face.
“Yes, it is unusual for a woman to be addressed as Shri,” she said. “It was my spiritual master who gave me this name.” She smiled, adding, “In the spiritual world, things are not always what they first appear.”
“I understand,” I replied. “My name is Mera Estrel.”
One of the men returned with a tea service and snacks. He poured a cup for Shri Nazar, then one for me and then he turned and left.
“So your journey has led you to me. Do you know why you are here?” The authority in her voice was without pretense or distance. Like my teacher’s voice, it was totally natural and unforced, compelling, yet allowing me the choice as to how to receive it.
“I believe you have something for me,” I replied.
“When you told the yogi that you heard the silence as well as the sound, it was a sign to him that he should send you to me. It wasn’t so much the words you used, or even the idea you expressed, the yogi read your vibrations and knew you were ready to receive what I have to give you.”
“When I spoke to the yogi I heard my own voice in a different way.”
“Yes, it is because the yogi has no physical consciousness at all—of himself or the universe. His consciousness is subtle. He knows himself and the universe to be energy. This is his experience—it is not an idea, or a concept, or a belief for him. Physically conscious individuals see him walking, talking, taking food, like they do, and assume that his consciousness is the same as theirs, but, as I said before, in the spiritual world, things are not always what they first appear.”
Shri Nazar’s words trailed off into a comfortable silence that evoked in me a most unusual state in which the sounds of the garden, and even those of my own breath and thoughts, were experienced in a space, like a void, that was characterized by neither darkness nor light nor substance nor place. In this silence we conversed and drank tea and I spoke about my life and work in music. But at some point something changed and I again began to hear her voice in a different way—like it was coming from inside me—as if it were my own voice. And it was then that Shri Nazar began to speak about the relationship between silence and sound and the states of being and manifestation; and it was then that I knew, without doubt, that to hear this explanation was the purpose for my being there.
How long it lasted, I have no idea, because time ceased to exist in any ordinary way and I experienced her words not so much as thoughts, but like waking dreams made of lucid images and feelings.
“The most original state, beyond all experience and existence, is silence,” she began. “This original silence is immeasurable, beyond comparison, non-dual and eternal. This original silence is beyond all and every action, reaction and inaction. It is the most pristine state—even before the dualistic state of silence and sound. This original silence is so perfect that it is not even disturbed by the awareness of its own silence—by the awareness of itself. Original silence neither knows nor does not know that it even exists—it neither hears nor does not hear itself. Yet it is the nature of original silence to hear, for hearing is the means by which it comes to know itself. But, in its original state, nature is not linked to desire and consequently silence’s knowledge of itself remains unmanifest.
“Now between the original state of silence and the original state of sound lies the nascent state of silence—the state of unmanifest and unrealized possibility. It differs from the original silence only in the fact that it has a relationship to sound—like the surface of the ocean is materially the same as the ocean below the surface, yet by virtue of its relationship to the sky, the surface begins to exhibit different qualities than the ocean below. This nascent state is formed as a result of a most unfathomable act—unfathomable, because it has no inherent cause and is not the manifestation of any effect. This unfathomable act arises neither from destiny nor desire, but purely from whim.
“The qualities inherent to the nascent state—the state of silence’s surface—are the capacity to create sound and the capacity to hear sound. Creation, and the hearing of sound, is the mechanism by which original silence becomes conscious of itself.
“Hearing and consciousness are the same—in the sense that one cannot exist without the other. When silence hears, it is conscious; when silence is conscious, it hears. Now, since the most original silence is infinite, it’s hearing must be infinite to hear it, but in the beginning hearing is not sufficiently developed and thus hearing must be acquired through the process of creating and experiencing sound.”
Shri Nazar then illustrated the situation with an analogy of sleep and waking. She said that as one is gradually drawn away from the deep sleep state, one passes through various levels of dreaming before experiencing the awake state. The dreams of the early dream state are mixed heavily with the deep sleep state, but as the dreams percolate towards the awake state they are mixed more and more with experiences of the awake state.
“At first, you are asleep on your bed and dreaming,” she said, “but you are not at all aware of the room you are in or anything in it, including yourself. Then, as you are drawn closer to the awake state, sensations of the awake state, like light, sound and temperature begin to migrate into your dreams and you begin to experience a transitional state made of elements of both the dream and awake states. You are awake, yet still dreaming, and consequently your first impressions of the awake state, even including your experience of yourself, are vague and shadowy—very limited and finite.
“As I mentioned previously, the capacity to create sound and the capacity to hear sound is inherent in the nascent state, but the difference is that the capacity to create is perfect in the beginning while the capacity to hear is, in the beginning, most limited. Consequently, the first sound that silence hears is most limited—like the most vague and shadowy impressions experienced in the transitional state between dreams and awakening.
“Now, all of creation—all the worlds and everything and everyone in them: the stars, the planets, the sun and the earth, all the creatures of the sea and the sky and the earth, you and I—is nothing other than the original silence in the state of experiencing itself as sound. But since the nature of the original silence is infinite and eternal, then nothing other than or beyond itself exists, and so sound must be an illusion. If sound is an illusion, than we, as sound, do not exist—but we, as silence, do exist. Yet Mera, you feel that you exist—do you not?”
“But who is having this feeling that you exist? The original silence must hear itself to know that it exists. To hear, to become conscious, original silence produces sound in its imagination, in its dreams, and then imagines that it hears that sound. Through this act of imagining it begins to identify itself with what it is hearing. Do you follow? First is the original state of silence before the rise of the whim to know itself. In this state there is not even the possibility of creating or hearing sound or becoming conscious of itself. The second state—the nascent state—manifests with the manifestation of the whim to know, to hear, itself. It is in this nascent state that the possibility of creating and hearing sound exists—though this creating and hearing is still only a possibility. Now, when this possibility is manifested and sound is created and heard in imagination, a new state — the composite state—is created and experienced.
“It is in this composite third state that the original silence, as you, experiences yourself. The original state is real, the nascent is imaginary, and the composite state is mixture of both reality and imagination. It is this third mixed state, the state of sound in silence and silence as sound that original silence experiences itself as you, as sound, as imagination. Now, to experience itself as silence, silence, in the beginning, imagined sound and so the third state, the composite state, cannot be considered the final state. To experience the final state the third, the composite state of silence and sound, must join with the first state of original silence. But to accomplish this, the sound—the imagination—must be removed, but without losing silence’s capacity to hear. For when sound disappears what is left for silence to hear except itself—except the original silence?”
Shri Nazar adjusted the folds of her sari, took a deep breath and closed her eyes. A most complex expression spread over her face—like one sees on the face of a newborn baby. She lifted her right hand from her lap. It was of good size with graceful tapered fingers; deep lines in her palm were clearly visible. Then she softly brought the tips of her thumb and index finger together, forming the shape of an oval. Without opening her eyes, she continued to speak.
“The first sound that silence imagined and heard in the composite state was stone. The experience was so profound that silence forgot that it was silence and took itself to be stone. The form of stone represents the most limited awake state in the process of silence’s awakening because the stone form is the most limited in its capacity to experience.
“The association of silence with stone lasted quite a long time, but eventually all the experiences silence could gain as stone were exhausted and silence then created and began to experience the next form. The process continued through the eight million four hundred thousand forms of creation, the last one being the human form.
“The process was consistent; first, the original silence imagined a sound, then associated and identified itself with that sound, gaining experience and consciousness through the process, and then, ultimately, after gaining all that could be gained through its association, silence disassociated itself with that form—that sound—and began the cycle anew by imagining the next sound—which was, in fact, the consolidated mold of all the experiences and consciousness gained from its association with the previous sound. All this took place naturally up to the creation of the final sound—the human form.”
Shri Nazar opened her eyes. The subtle way she cocked her head clearly conveyed to me a question. I felt my head lean my body slightly forward in her direction—my closed eyes and smile indicating I had understood.
“Then I will continue,” she said. “Here we use a term to describe the original silence in the process of imagining and experiencing itself as sound. You have no doubt heard it before—jiv-atma. The common understanding is that atma represents the soul and that jiv signifies the embodiment of that soul, or as my own guru used to say so beautifully, ‘a pure, celestial, soul identified with the projections of the mind.’ In fact, we can see from my earlier description that this division into two, the jiv and the atma, is not exactly correct because the division is really into three, though this division also must be understood as a division in imagination only.
“In speaking about the atma, or soul, or God, or the original silence, we must always remember that the original state always remains pristine, aloof, untouched and unaffected in any way. The original state is always non-dual, beyond comparison, and immeasurable. In reality, this atma—this soul— never speaks, or hears, or experiences in any way. It remains always as it always is, beyond the beyond, and it is only in this illusory false composite state that the atma, through the instrument of false mind, imagines itself to be separate and individual and vulnerable in order to acquire the consciousness to know itself as original silence.
“In other words, the ever-silent atma, associating with sound as jiv in the second state must, in the end, lose its identification with the state of jiv while still retaining the consciousness derived through that association in order to consciously merge into its original state of silence. But for this merging to take place, the perfected consciousness must first be purged of the impurities acquired along its journey of sound, or as my own master used to say, ‘How can tainted water be mixed with pure water? How can gold mixed with baser metals be melted into pure gold?’
“The eight million four hundredth sound is called the human form. Achievement of this form signifies that the requisite consciousness has been achieved and that silence, as atma in the second state, is now capable of hearing itself as silence. To do this it must merge with itself but, as I said, it is in a tainted state and must be purified before this merging—this hearing—can be accomplished. Of what does this purification consist of? The answer is that all remaining vestiges of the imagined sound must be removed; but since this sound is imaginary and does not really exist, it is really the dissociation of silence with sound that needs to be accomplished. For silence still believes that it is sound.
“This dissociation of silence with sound takes place in three stages often referred to in the spiritual language as reincarnation and involution of consciousness. During reincarnation, silence continues to create, associate with, and dissociate from a myriad of different sounds that are perceived by it and others as different human forms—sometimes male, sometimes female; sometimes rich, sometimes poor; sometimes strong, sometimes weak… in other words, silence experiencing itself in all possible opposites and dualities. This process of reincarnation occurs at the level of gross sound—sound that is audible to it and others who are journeying through the process of reincarnation. The limit of possible sounds is fixed at eight million four hundred thousand sounds.
“After creating, experiencing, and finally dissociating from all of these sounds, silence loses consciousness of itself as gross sound but then begins to create, experience and dissociate itself from subtle sound. This is the beginning of involution of consciousness. Involution progresses through three stages of subtle sounds: one transitional stage which is half subtle and half mental, and then two stages of mental sounds. These stages are commonly referred to as the higher planes of consciousness and are held in vaunted esteem by individuals who aspire to them. What is important to remember, however, is that all sounds—any sounds—whether they are gross, subtle or mental, are still only imagination, still do not exist, and still are not the reality of original silence.
“To achieve the state of original silence, certain timeless measures have been adopted. In general they consist of the following: training oneself to recognize the true nature of all and every sound as illusion; training oneself to recognize one’s reality as original silence; and associating with one who has already achieved full consciousness of the original silence. What is commonly referred to as the spiritual path comprises the first two methods. The spiritual path is composed of all the known and forgotten yogas, austerities, penances, studies and religions that focus on the impersonal and personal aspects of God.
“But, in this cycle of time, in this yuga, the first two methods are very difficult to practice successfully. The third method, associating with one who has already achieved full consciousness of the original silence, is, in fact, the best and easiest way to achieve the goal.”
Shri Nazar’s words seemed to dissolve into the very silence she had been describing. Without effort I began to experience the gentle rhythm of my breath which seemed to connect me to her and the garden and the sky and beyond.
“Please come to the house with me to rest and have something to eat. Later I will take you to the caves to hear a very special musician.”
Shri Nazar took me by the hand and we walked slowly back to her house.