I am the sound in ether. – Bhagavad Gita 7.8
The sharp growth in online video consumption suggests the people of the world are becoming more enraptured by visual content than anything else. But for teachers of the ancient Vedic tradition, sound is seen as capable of having a much deeper transformational effect on a human being.
Interestingly, this Vedic wisdom is supported by research work of Psychologist Katharine Le Mee. She writes in her book Chant:
The sense of hearing . . . connects experientially with the heart, and music and sound touch us most directly. We do not resonate so deeply with the visual as with the auditory. This may be explained by the fact that our visual apparatus has a frequency range of slightly less than one octave, from infrared to ultraviolet, whereas our auditory system has a range of about eight octaves, approximately 60 to 16,000 hertz, or number of vibrations per second. We are sensitive to sound frequency as pitch and to light frequency as color. The frequencies of the visual field are much higher than those of the auditory field (by an order of 1010), and, as is well known, the higher the frequencies, the lesser the penetration of a given material. For instance, a piece of cardboard shields us easily from the light, but it takes a thick wall to block out sound, and the lower the pitch the deeper the penetration. We are very sensitive to sound, not just through the ear but through our whole skin, and all our organs are affected by it.
The findings of Don Campbell, a music therapist, are in line with that of Le Mee. He writes in The Mozart Effect:
Music can equalize brain waves, slow down heart beat, lower blood pressure, reduce muscle tension, improve memory and learning, strengthen digestion and decrease depression. In an instant, music makes us dance, lets the child in us play, the monk in us pray, and the hero in us to surmount all obstacles.
Indeed, looking back on revolutionary movements, what empowered their heroes were iconic tunes and songs :“We Shall Overcome” of the American civil rights movement, “La Marseillaise” of the French revolution, and songs by Beatles, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, and the Grateful Dead of the Sixties’ counter culture.
Even today we are transformed by sound in subtle but significant ways, many a times subconsciously. Advertisers rouse us to buy things using carefully designed brand-tunes. For instance, Nokia 2110 phone was launched in 1994, and with it came the ringtone Nokia Tune. Soon this tune started ringing round the globe round the clock, 20,000 times/second,1.8 billion times/day! “The Nokia ringtone played a big role in the cellular phone’s integration into popular culture,” says Dan Lafferty of PH Media Group, U.K.
But the sounds that most affect our lives are the mantras generated by our own minds. One genre of mantras, like a whirlpool, pull us down – “I am not good enough”, “I am a failure”, “I am lonely” – and the other genre, like a whirlwind, push us to loftiness – “I am always right”, “Everybody should agree with me”. The first genre victimise us in failure, and the second spoil us in success. We are tossed up by one wave of mantra, only to be tossed down by another that follows, sooner or later. Imperceptibly, these waves are etching our character, more profoundly than our visual memories.
The Vedas recommend that we chant sacred positive mantras to replace the negative ones. These divine vibrations have the power to bring harmony even in a chaotic physical environment, what to speak of the inner environment for which they are designed. American author Steven Rosen writes in his book Sonic Spirituality:
A recently constructed device called a “tonoscope” graphically demonstrates the power of Sanskrit syllables to evoke forms in a physical medium. The tonoscope is a tube suspended over a thin membrane and covered by a layer of fine dust. When sounds are broadcast through the tube, corresponding designs form in the dust that can tell us something about the initial sound that went through the tube. While most sounds produce random, ill-defined images, the vibration of Sanskrit syllables produces quite a different result. When Sanskrit mantras are repeated at the proper pitch, for example, a perfect circle forms, and out of that a yantra, or a traditional geometric image used in worship. These experiments, which are still in their infancy, indicate that Sanskrit mantras embody objective vibratory energies that can act on the environment. If the sounds of mantras can activate a gross element such as dust, one can only imagine the power such vibrations might have on human consciousness.
The sanskrit word mantra is formed from combining the root words, manas, which means “mind,” and trayate, which means “to deliver” or “to free.” Repeating a mantra frees the mind from anxiety, or arrogance, and brings peace and harmony.
Though seekers across all the well known world traditions use sound for inner transformation – the Jews recite psalms; the Christians sing hymns; the Muslims call out Qur’ānic prayers; the Sikhs sing shabads; and the Buddhists loudly read the sutras – sound forms the foundation of Vedic spirituality. In fact, one of the three sections of the Vedas is called Shruti: ‘that which is learnt by hearing’. Steven Rosen writes:
Portions of Vedic literature are almost like textbooks on the art of using sound as a spiritual tool. They describe the concept of Nada Brahman – God as sound. Nada, a Sanskrit word literally meaning “sound,” is related to the term nadi, denoting the stream of consciousness. The concept of Nada Brahman recommends sound as a preeminent means to attain higher, spiritual consciousness.
And even if you aren’t seeking higher consciousness, but are seeking to build a successful business, it’s worthwhile turning to the power of sound, rather than stick to the visual-paradigm. Of the top 10 viral YouTube videos of 2015, six were rooted in music. “While they (those six videos) may have other things going on, videos are just better with music, and everybody has caught on to this, from those at late night TV shows to advertising agencies looking to create something that will go viral. YouTube has become a place to experience just how powerful music is through other mediums, as well as to listen to music,” says pop music journalist Hugh McIntyre of New York City.