Why ‘Hamsa’ Is The Most Versatile Meditation Mantra
Using this simple yet effective technique, the breath calms down automatically and one learns to interiorise the mind – that is, to withdraw thought and energy from the constant distractions that ‘pull’ on the senses.
By entering into this state of deep calmness, we “forget” the breath and the body, so that we may experience God in stillness at “the altar of spirit.”
You can then direct your “concentrated attention” towards any heartfelt goal that you wish to manifest – and, ultimately, you will use it towards an ever deepening perception of the Divine Consciousness within you.
Hong Sau Technique, or Hamsa Kriya
Paramahansa Yogananda shared with humanity in his autobiography that Ham-Sa is pronounced “hong” (rhymes with “song”) and “sau” (rhymes with “saw”).
Many erroneously say that “Hong-Sau” is simply the Bengali pronunciation of the Sanskrit mantra, “Hamsa,” but we know that Yogananda was concerned to prevent mispronunciations by (American) English speakers. The word “Ham”, for example, would typically be pronounced with a short sound, whereas the world “hong” naturally lends itself to a lengthening of sound and breath.
Ham-Sa (Hong-Sau) comes to us from a very distant past. “Hamsa” is found in the oldest of the Vedas, the Rig Veda (1550 BC, and earlier it was transmitted orally). It refers to the supreme Lord (or Law) and also stands in yoga scriptures for the Atman or Self. Hamsa stems from the Sanskrit words “Aham-Sa,” which literally mean “I am He.”
Hamsa (Hong-Sau) is explained in ancient yoga scriptures to be the sound of the subtle breath itself: the entry of prana into the body causes the sound “hong,” the ejection of prana out of the body the sound “sa.” Therefore the body itself is said to be automatically reciting this inner mantric sound 21.600 times a day! This spontaneous sound is widely known as “Ajapa Mantra” (unpronounced mantra), or “Ajapa-Gayatri,” (unpronounced Gayatri Mantra), or simply “Hamsa-Mantra.”
“Aham”, when pronounced in mantric form as “Hong,” becomes a bija (seed) mantra, vibrating with the inhalation. Its vibration corresponds, as yoga treatises teach, to the ascending current in the ida nadi. “Sa” becomes “Sau” in mantric form, and vibrates with the exhalation, and with the descending current through the pingala nadi.
The ancient technique of “Hong-Sau” is meant to bring the yogi towards mental calmness, helps him to withdraw his energy inward, and to lead him naturally toward breathlessness. In breathlessness the twofold vibration of “Hong” and “Sau” combines into the single omnipresent vibration, Aum.
Several Masters and scriptures don’t teach “Hong-Sau,” but “So-Ham.” Again, in India, some yogis teach the Sanskrit version “Hamsa.” All traditions need to be respected.
Hong Sau wasn’t something Yogananda learned from Sri Yukteswar. He learned it from some other yogi, and then included it in his Kriya teachings. That is why other Kriya lines don’t practice Hong-Sau.
However, in a letter to Yogananda, quoted in the Autobiography of a Yogi, Sri Yukteswar said: “Beholding your methods in chant affirmations, healing vibrations, and divine healing prayers, I cannot refrain from thanking you from my heart,” so he expressed the same appreciation for the Hong-Sau technique, otherwise Yogananda would never have taught it.
Why practice the Ham-Sa mantra?
You can become adept at controlling the mind because your true nature is the soul—the perfect, peaceful image of God within you—which is beyond the reach of the restless body and mind. The way to learn that mental control, and to contact that soul peace, is through patient practice of this Hong-Sau Technique.
As often as the mind wanders, bring it back—again and again if necessary. Think of it as a challenge, and make up your mind: “I am going to prove that I am the conqueror, not the slave, of my restless mind and body.”
“Through Hong-Sau your mind and breath become perfectly synchronized; it is as if they become forged into one razor-sharp sword that suddenly severs the inner fetters that were binding you.” (Excerpts from talks by Sri Daya Mata)
“Ham” and “Sa” are sacred Sanskrit words that have a vibratory connection with the incoming and outgoing breath and they have a calming effect on the breath. Breath and mind are very much interrelated.
A calm breath automatically brings about a calm mind. A restless breath creates a restless mind.
Daya Mata says of Hong-Sau: “I didn’t waste my time; I practiced it in spare moments of the day.”
Guruji Paramhansa Yogananda referred to the mantra Ham-Sa (Hong Sau) as the “baby Kriya”.
Hong Sau deals with the breath and the life force (prana) and it has a remarkable calming effect. ‘Hong’ and ‘Sau’ have a vibratory connection with the incoming and outgoing breath. Yogananda said that one hour of Hong-Sau equals 24 hours of prayer and meditation When man transcends the need for breath he ascends to higher dimensions of consciousness within himself.
As with all yogic techniques, it takes much perseverance and regularity to attain mastery.
Focus and Enthusiasm: Keys to Deep Meditation
Paramahansa Yogananda said: “All men and women should remember that their worldly life can be freed from endless physical and mental ills if they add deep meditation to their daily routine of living.”
To go deep in meditation requires focus; it requires concentration – not a striving, or straining – but an alert awareness! It is a paradox, when you are supremely concentrated in your mind, you are also fully relaxed.
There is no limit to how deep we can go…
About the ancient symbolism of Hamsa/Hong-Sau: “Hamsa” is traditionally translated as “swan,” (even though literally it means goose), which in ancient Indian scriptures is the vehicle of Brahma, the Supreme Spirit. The swan is also said to possess the sacred knowledge of Brahma. The flight of the Hamsa thus symbolises the escape from the cycle of samsara (reincarnation). The swan also lives on water but its feathers are not wetted by it, so similarly a “Hong-Sau-Yogi” learns to live in this material world (maya), while being untouched by all its illusions, temptations, and traps. With “Hong-Sau” we strengthen the untouched observer inside. (The soul is the observer, Yogananda wrote.)
As the symbol of discrimination, the white Hansa swan is credited with the ability to separate the true soma nectar from a mixture of milk and water.
A “Parama-hamsa” symbolizes the “supreme swan,” the highest of yogis, a liberated being. Yes, Yogananda wrote his title “Paramhansa,” and it seems we should honor his choice.
Why the Hamsa is so versatile
Meditation is designed to pull us out of “the soup” of our routine thoughts and emotions, and to help us go duality consciousness – i.e. “I like THAT,” but “I DON’T LIKE THAT.”
It helps become more aware of our own internal responses, and our own experience. Once aware, we tune into our inner teacher instead of drowning in our circumstances and getting bogged down by our oh-so-human response to living.
Transformation occurs only when we can step outside of our personality selves, and truly observe not only our situation, but also our response to that in which we are embroiled.
Even saying the word helps us to breathe deeply and thus disengage from habitual repsonses. Try it:Haaaaahm-sahhhhhhhhhhh! (Note: It helps if you inhale slightly through your mouth on the “Hahhhhhhm” and exhale on the “sahhhhhh.” Eventually, try to inhale only through the nose, but don’t “sniff” the air in, as this causes the breath to be shallow!)
Ham-Sa or So-Ham?
“Hamsa” eventually becomes “Soham” means “He, I am” – the greatest of all Mantras. This is the Mantra of Paramahamsa Sannyasins. This is an Abheda-Bodha-Vakya which signifies the identity of Jiva or the individual soul and Brahman, the Supreme Self.
This Mantra comes in the Isavasya Upanishad: “Sohamasmi.”
Soham is only OM (or AUM). Delete the consonants S and H. You get OM. Soham is modified Pranava or OM.
Some like ‘Soham’ better than ‘OM’ because they find it convenient and easy to associate it with the breath. Further there is no effort in doing Japa of this Mantra. If you simply concentrate on the breath, if you simply watch the breath, that is quite sufficient unto itself.
Don’t give up!
In the beginning of your spiritual search, we’re usually full of enthusiasm. We really make effort in our meditations, and often get very good results because of that. But as the years go by, there is a tendency to slacken a little bit and just go through the motions. You sit down to meditate and the mind says, “Oh, it’s been a tough day!”
Summon up intensity; and you will find that the mind obeys, and you go deep quickly. Keep on keeping on. That’s the whole secret of spiritual success: Never give up! You are a divine soul; and the pressures and stresses you feel can never dim that radiant spark of divinity within you. They are simply challenges to be faced and overcome, joyfully!