By Shandor Remete
In order for things to exist, they must first be set in motion. Vibrations must be initiated by something. Music is not the only entity carried as and by sound, nor is it the only thing created by and affecting consciousness and our intentions and sensations. As human beings, we are also endowed with an ability to speak, hear, and understand. But exactly what do speaking and hearing represent? What happens when we “understand” something? How has our consciousness been propelled from ignorance to knowledge through and with sound? Creativity and consciousness are again involved. As an individual, you are certainly creative, for no one has put together a string of sentences quite like you. Furthermore, among all the sentences you have spoken, many have been unique, and no one, not even you, will ever speak them again. But every one of those sentences has been uttered within the confines of some language possessing rules of grammar, syntax, prosody, and the like. Shandor Remete now explores the significance of the Indian understanding of consciousness, sound, language, and understanding, as well as the tension that language sets up between the need to express ourselves creatively and individually, while respecting the conventions imposed by the need to be understood. Throughout this process, the light of understanding stands supreme – a light that is the very heartbeat of the universe.
"Pranayama is done with the ears!” As Guruji hissed these words across the classroom, it was as if they issued forth from the mouth of Adishesha himself. This pronouncement came at the conclusion of a pranayama class at the Institute in Pune in 1981. We had just spent two hours learning the proper arrangement of the fingers and wrists and the correct elbow and shoulder activity for the proper manipulation of the nostrils. It had been a step-by-step instructional class on the skillful manipulation of the nasal passages for the proper movement of wind during the practice of pranayama.
You can imagine my reaction after two hours of seemingly endless instructions on fingers and nose when we were told that pranayarma is done with the ears! It came with the shock of a volcanic eruption, creating an utter tumult and bewilderment within my mind. In the midst of my confusion and mistrust, I thought perhaps I had misheard him. At the end of the class, I asked my trusted and beloved Guruji if the last instruction given had been some kind of misconceived joke. I received a look, without verbal confirmation, that assured me no joke was involved. What I had heard was the hard truth of the matter. Little did I know at the time that this last instruction would be the beginning of a long journey of inquiry. Over the next twenty years, my struggle to decipher the information behind that hint would set the course for the rest of my life.
Before I continue with my story, I should explain that my father taught me that if I decided to learn any art or craft, I should only do so from a teacher in whom I had complete trust. He said that I should feel deep respect for that person but be without fear in his or her presence. He also told me that there are two sides to any master craftsman: the practical side that is openly expounded, and the hidden side that carries the secrets of mastery. This hidden knowledge is either hinted at through apparently absurd statements or is revealed through the skillful gestures of the teacher’s actions. These messages will only be picked up by apprentices who have a deep love both for the teacher and their chosen craft and who remain forever alert with eyes and ears fully open and mind attentive.
The heavy hint I received at the end of the nasal torture was to interact deep in my mind with an insight I had received a few days before. In the Yoga Yajnavalkya, Sutra 1x:22 states, “One should only proceed with the practices of meditation if one is well versed in the sciences of marma, nadi and vayu, if one is devoid of the knowledge of these sciences, one should not proceed.”
Charged with these two hints concerning marma and pranayama with the ears, I began a study of ayurvedic and siddha medicines without which the understanding of marma, nadi, and vayu is not possible. At first, these studies were purely theoretical, but later I had the good fortune to study under a practical guide in South India. He not only demonstrated how this knowledge could be applied in therapy, but also how to use the principles of marma when using one’s own body in action.
This is achieved partly through the skillful manipulation of the limbs through specific patterns of muscular action in asana and also by using the mind to guide the vayu through the appropriate nadis during the practices of pranayama and the combined process of dharana, dhyana, and samadhi that Gorakshanatha terms pranasamyama. It is through these studies that I have come to fully understand and appreciate the guidance of Guruji, which was given freely through his practical explanations and hidden hints. From my study of marmasthana (or varma kalai, as it is called in Tamil), I have come to learn that there is a location inside the cavity of the mouth, directly behind the point at which the teeth close, where mental speech manifests as spoken word. After many years of study and practice, it is from observing this point that I have come to understand my guru’s hint that pranayama is done with the ears. Any audible sound that is heard within the body rises at this point. By tuning one’s ears to this point within the mouth cavity, one automatically draws the energies of the other four organs of perception to the same point. One can easily test this while lying in savasana, when the mind is quiet and the body is at ease, by gently curling and raising the tip of the tongue into the space behind where the teeth meet and experiencing the energies of all the organs of perception drawing to this point. One not only hears the sound, but also feels it, sees it, tastes it, and smells it.
The Maheshvara Sutra explains in detail the process of the manifestation of language. Language is a symbolic yet crude form of communication and can therefore become a barrier to the expression of our innermost experiences. This is why mystics never bother to explain their inner transitions. The crudeness of the symbolic exteriorisation of language does not allow it. According to the theories of yoga, the mind must be reduced to silence before it can go beyond the barriers of language and perceive the supersensory world.
The formation of any language begins as an appearance of an idea, which is formed in the substratum of consciousness and is referred to as the para (beyond); the seat of the para within the human body is in the region of the coccyx. The formation of a pashyanti (vision) from that idea occurs in the area of the navel, while its mental formulation into language is known as madhyama (intermediary) and takes place in the heart. The exteriorisation of the mental form into a sound is called vaikhari (exteriorised). This occurs in the throat, but the final exit point into the audible world is in the oral cavity, as described earlier. This is the seat of the struck sound. Since in yoga one is engaged in the energetic reversal of the manifestation of life, one must learn to direct the attention of the ears to that point within the mouth and the energy of the other senses will automatically be drawn there.
The return journey begins in the practice of pranayama, where attention is drawn from the seat of the struck sound to the seat of the unstruck sound within the heart. In the heart, the mental formation as language is dissolved, then the sound regains its visual appearance at the region of the navel and subsequently is reabsorbed into its causal point (the karanasharira). The causal point is the coccyx, which is the dwelling place of the lady of phonemes, or as she is more commonly known, Kundalini Shakti.
By observing the appearance and formation of language and the four locations and stages of its systematic manifestation, one gains a good view of the practices of pranayama, since the science of sahita kumbhaka also consists of four corresponding stages: puraka, antara kumbhaka, rechaka, and bahya kumbhaka. Together with the application of the three bandhas, these give us the key to the beyond.
Guruji’s two hints have disclosed for me the secrets for the development of skillful and sensitive means without recourse to any of this terminology. All was contained in the simplicity of “pranayama is done with the ears.”
Guruji, I have never swerved from what you have taught me. I have taken the practical with the hints and worked it quietly over the years. I thank you for showing me the corridors to heaven, and may the gods give you a safe passage to the world where all the great yogis still roam.
With my deepest reverence and love for what you have given me, a debt that can never be repaid, Shandor Remete (Sundernath).
Shandor Remete (Sundernath) has been practicing yoga since the age of six and is the founder of Shadow Yoga. For more than four decades, through his practice and study, he has researched the common principles shared by yoga, the martial arts, and the ayurvedic and siddha systems of medicine. He runs courses and workshops in Europe, Russia, Israel, Asia, the United States, New Zealand, and Australia.