‘The Hamsa Meditation,’ By Lama Surya Das
Long before Hinduism and Buddhism, the wise masters of India practised and transmitted powerful mantras of which the Hamsa meditation is said to be foremost.
This timeless wisdom mantra belongs to the ancient Vedic spiritual tradition. The Vedas are the oldest of man’s scriptures, ancient holy texts passed down through the generations. The mantra itself is part of the oral tradition that has continued through these many centuries. Although it is not a Buddhist meditation, it belongs to the Indian yoga tradition that the Buddha himself practised during the six years of austerity in the wilderness that led up to his enlightenment; I think therefore that it is probably safe to surmise that the Buddha himself used this mantra at some point in his practice.
The mantra itself is deceptively simple. All we need to do is breathe in and out through the nostrils. As we do this we repeat to ourselves the syllable Ham on the in-breath, and the syllable So on the out-breath.
So simple. So natural. So freeing.
Repeat on the in-breath: Ham.
On the out-breath: So
The syllable Ham represents and embodies the expansive masculine yang energy; the syllable So represents the centripetal yin, feminine energy.
Hamsa means white swan. The swan, of course, is an ancient symbol of spiritual grace and purity. The mantra is called White Swan because when the in-breath and out-breath are freed and purified, they are like the wings of a swan helping our spirits to soar. The Hamsa mantra helps us find the grace within and carries us beyond our limited concepts. It helps us shed negative feelings that we are ugly ducklings and reminds us that we are all graceful and pure swans. It can help our spiritual lives take wing.
Ancient teachings say this mantra is a vibration of infinite consciousness, uniting us each with the divine source. It is said that this mantra helps us erase duality and the sense that we are different or separate from each other. We cannot find the enlightenment we seek until we realize that we are all one; there is no ‘other’. The Hamsa meditation helps us connect with the divine love and profound energy that flows through the universe and through each of us.
The Hamsa meditation is also known as the ‘I am that’ meditation. This means that the Hamsa meditation gives us an awareness of the connection between the divinity within each of us and the greater infinite divinity. The mantra is also sometimes called the SoHam meditation since it makes little difference which syllable comes first. Once Ramana Maharshi had his disciples contemplating his favourite spiritual practice of questioning and self-inquiry, asking themselves ‘What Am I?’ One of his students, as if in answer, said, ‘So ham’. He said true. So hum! So ha!
When I was given this mantra decades ago by the Hindu Swami Krishnananda at his ashram in Rishikish, I was told that it would help me realize God. I was told to practise it 108 times every morning at dawn. As the light rose, the mantra should arise and spiritual energy would likewise awaken. I found this a great way to practise, there on the Ganges. It works as well here on these shores.
This mantra embodies the ultimate question as well as the answer. It is said that, in each being, the mantra Hamso/Soham continuously throbs and pulsates subconsciously, and that in each twenty-four-hour period the breath or the heart repeats this mantra 21,600 times. It naturally circulates between the throat and forehead chakras as a radiant energy sphere or spiral, which when visualized and breathed completes the cosmic circuit and illuminates all the higher chakras and psychic vortices, awakening us into cosmic consciousness.
We can visualize the mantra written in a circular clockwise fashion around the petals of the lotus-shaped heart chakra, with one syllable inscribed on each petal. Imagine the lotus wheel of the chakras spinning as the mantra turns, spinning off dazzling radiance of light rays and blessings.
We can also use the mantra to ‘bring down’ the blessings from above, evoking it from the divinity within. We do this by breathing in and saying Ham as we visualize light streaming down from the infinite higher power source above the head. Watch it travel down through the crown aperture and instantly descending down the central energy channel into one’s heart chakra, making it blaze brightly with light and higher consciousness. Then on the so, as we exhale, we visualize all that love and light radiating out from the heart chakra. We do this again and again – hamsohamsohamsoham – with light and consciousness coursing through and purifying everything. Indian Vedanta masters teach that the Hamsa mantra is all pervasive and dwells within all beings and all forms, like the ultimate self-nature of the universe.
From Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be, Copyright 2004 by Lama Surya Das.