Whether it’s the cosmic hum of the universe or the sound of our own eardrums’ vibrations or something else all together, what Ajahn Sumedho refers to as “the sound of silence” and Buddhists, Hindus and before them Brahmans call the anahata nada sound, is a real phenomenon. It’s not something I always notice, certainly, but more and more often, that drone or buzz is a predominant object in the overall soundscape of life.
It’s funny how our perception of this sound changes our experience of it. As with anything, really, we can become irritated and annoyed by a sound or we can find it pleasurable, or we can remain indifferent. With a bit of gloomy, deluded perspective on things of late, the nada hasn’t been as welcome as it might for me. It could be something to celebrate: “Wow, I’m sufficiently aware to hear this stuff!” And yet, as my teacher U Tejaniya says, “awareness alone is not enough.”
It seems that buzz is far greater than just a hum perceived in the ears. It’s a broader vibrational experience which, although I know scientifically speaking makes sense, since our bodies are made up of energy, still makes me uncomfortable. Not only does the nada, which represents the “unstruck sound” (see below), represent the deathless beautifully; it’s supposedly a great object for concentration practice because once you hear it, it’s more or less always there (as long as awareness is). Ajahn Sumedho says “The sound of silence is like infinite space because it includes all other sounds, everything…other sounds come and go, change and move accordingly, but it is like a continuum, a stream.” In theory, great. Yet, for that very reason – the perception of permanence – like physical pain, it sometimes becomes overbearing and the mind just keeps glomming onto the sound until something else drowns it out. The perception of vibration starts to become oddly “solid”, unchanging.
Many people come to me to complain that when they meditate, they are bothered by a loud ringing or buzzing in their ears. They are distressed, because their doctor has told them they have an incurable disease, tinnitus. When I question them further I find that it is not tinnitus, but that they have begun to hear the sound that is called in Theravada Buddhism, the nada sound.–Jan Chozen Bays
Although it probably appears to you gracious readers as if there’s strong aversion to the sound or experience itself, with some investigation it’s clearly more aversion of aversion (i.e., “I shouldn’t be struggling with this, I should just be opening up to what’s happening…”) and of all the story line it’s wrapped up in.
I’ve always been religious or spiritual but also disliked both words. I’ve never wanted to be perceived as New Agey, even though several of my early influences were people who would definitely be classified as such. So talking about cosmic hums, vibration, the energetic aspects of the body – well, not my favorite. Meanwhile, the little energy work I’ve done with acupuncture or laying on of hands (my friend is a healer), always results in the same assessment: that I have blocked energy (qi) or even armor around the energy field. Another friend who does psychotherapy based in somatic experience and has done some massage therapy on me says that much of this suggests early trauma. I begin to believe these stories. Whether they are true or not doesn’t matter; they are stories nonetheless, because all that came before becomes a story in our mind and memory. And this is what the ego attaches to and resists, and with which it creates what sometimes seem like insurmountable walls.
Perception, storyline, thoughts…these are our normal habits of mind and they are also what present hurdles for us in our practice; hurdles (and opportunities) that if received with wise view, i.e., a good, welcoming attitude, which recognizes this isn’t personal, are dissolved into insight about the nature of reality. Sometimes they hang around for a while, until of course the appropriate causes and conditions line up for understanding to emerge. In the meantime, I’ll blog about it. Of course articulating the causal relationships certainly helps to begin to loosen the conceptual knots we’ve created, so it’s all part of the practice.
“This word [Om] indicates the coexistence of the articulate and the inarticulate sounds – of the heard and unheard melodies – of the sound that is struck and the sound that is unstruck, the Anahata Nada. Sound may be described by its three-fold nature – the Audible sound, the Inaudible sound, and the Imperishable sound. The audible sound is the one which the human ear can hear. The inaudible sound is one which belongs to such octaves as either too high or too low for the human ear to respond to. But there is a third category of sound which is imperishable. Sound obviously consists of vibrations, and all vibrations have a beginning and an end. But if there could be a sound which is unstruck – the Anahata Nada – then surely there could be no end to it as there is no beginning to it. To talk of a vibration-less sound is indeed to indulge in a paradox. In the sacred word Om, there is such a paradox. It is both heard and unheard, struck as well as unstruck. It is both perishable and imperishable.”
―Rohit Mehta, Call of the Upanishads (quote courtesy of RockOm)
Jotipalo Bhikkhu, “Attacking the illusion of self”
“Nada sound” discussion on Dharma Overground
Silence | Sounds (since the subject has been on my mind a lot and I was interested in exploring music and our perceptions of it – I have been Tumblring here also)