Pseudoscience & Quackery

“Sound Healing” – From New Age Mysticism to Organized Religion

A couple of years ago I was introduced to Tibetan Sound Healing, a supposedly ancient practice that involved the use of metal bowls known as “singing bowls”to “heal” people. This website, one among many that pop up when you search for “Tibetan Sound Healing”, presents the following “scientific explanation”:

“Scientifically, their magic is explained through the phenomenon of “entrainment”. This occurs when “the powerful rhythmic vibrations of one object, when projected upon a second object with similar frequencies, will cause the object to begin to vibrate in resonance with the first object.” If you believe that we carry in our bodies every trauma, every negative idea or emotion, then in energetic terms, we become “out of tune” with who we are. Each of us is meant to vibrate in harmony with our true essence.”

Tenzin Rinponche, a Tibetan mystic who has written books on various forms of ancient Tibetan “healing” techniques, is the author of Tibetan Sound Healing which helps practitioners “learn to clear obstacles on the level of the body, the energetic and emotional dimensions of being, and the spiritual consciousness”.

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When the subject was discussed a couple of years ago on the Nirmukta Facebook group, the conversation focused mostly on the hilarity of the claims. What I didn’t know back then was how common this notion of “Sound Healing” is in different cultures, both ancient as well as modern.

What is Sound Healing?

As the name indicates, Sound Healing refers to a category of practices in which sound waves from different sources are used to allegedly heal people with various ailments, mental and physical. After my initial exposure to the Tibetan form of Sound Healing, I discovered how widespread belief in Sound Healing really is. The specific claims of the many forms of this pseudoscience vary; some forms claim to use sound vibrations to cure everything from stress to cancer, while others claim that each illness has its own frequency, and that you can have a “conversation” with the frequency of your illness using “healing frequencies”.

So as it turns out, Sound Healing is a form of quackery with the potential to be extremely dangerous (cancer cure, really?) if certain people take it seriously enough, but has somehow not received the attention it deserves from the skeptics community. One of my favorite go-to websites for a skeptical take on such pseudoscience, skepdic.org, doesn’t even have Sound Healing listed. Searching for “Sound Healing” along with the term “skeptic”, the first page of hits on google is filled with “testimonials” from people who were supposedly skeptical before becoming utterly convinced in the efficacy of Sound Healing “therapy”. So not only is there a lot of propaganda on the subject, this entire bucket of woo seems to have practically passed unnoticed under the radar of the skeptical movement!

The top prize for Sound Healing woo goes to a 38 foot high dome in the Mojave desert called the Intergratron, allegedly built “based on the design of Moses’ Tabernacle, the writings of Nikola Tesla and telepathic directions from extraterrestrials”. This website has to be seen to be believed, do check it out. The main attraction at this center of mystical nonsense is a “Sound Bath“, which the website describes as follows:

“The Sound Bath is a 30-minute sonic healing session that you can experience while resting comfortably in the Integratron’s highly resonant, multi-wave sound chamber. We play a series of quartz crystal singing bowls live, each one keyed to the energy centers or chakras of the body, where sound is nutrition for the nervous system.  Imagine lying on comfy mats in the center of this relaxing and resonant high-energy field, while having your body bathed in exquisite sound for 30 minutes. The results are waves of peace, heightened awareness, and relaxation of the mind and body.”

Integratron

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Does it Work?

Like most pseudoscientific ideas, claims about Sound Healing are extrapolated from elementary scientific facts. A common claim is that “vibrations” are involved in healing. Sound comprises of oscillating vibrations of a certain frequency range that are transferred from a source object by a conducting medium (usually air) to the ear drums. But that’s where the science ends and the pseudoscience begins. There is no scientific evidence that sound vibrations can have curative physiological effects on clinical conditions caused by infections or systemic failure. It is likely that certain forms of sound- soothing music, for example, can lower stress. After all, music can affect our emotional state, with limited psychological changes, a fact that is capitalized on in the burgeoning field of music therapy. But much of the claims in this area are highly exaggerated, without any scientific evidence. There are websites that claim to treat various medical conditions, offering packages that are specific for the heart, kidneys, lungs, liver, muscles, intestines and even for blood pressure!

If you truly want to have your mind boggled with pseudoscientific jargon, “Vibrational Healer” Don Estes is your man. An expert in “vibration science” and author of books on the same subject, Estes is an influential figure in the Sound Healing community. Here is a description about him:

“Don Estes is a professionally trained neuroscientist who has lectured worldwide on sensory science and vibrational medicine. He is founding CEO of InnerSense Inc., and inventor of VibraSound, Sensory Resonance and other transformational technologies which have been featured on CNN, ABC, NBC, ET, Beyond 2000, Next Step, Science Frontiers, and many other media. In 1999 he published Harmonic Law: The Science of Vibration, an encyclopedia of vibrational science, which define the principles of harmonic law. In addition, the book’s master illustration, the Absolute Scale of Relative Cosmic Reality, a large wall chart that illustrates an expanded relative vibrational spectrum from gravity to the quantum. It reveals how absolute values hold the relative scale frequencies together by resolving the difference between the actual and potential components of any reality. It also lays out the progressive evolution of manifested reality and details the microstructure of music, light and sound.”

Estes’ company, Innersense, is evidence that memes such as “vibration” and “resonance” are powerful marketing ploys to sell pseudoscientific mumbo jumbo.

Another strategy used in selling the idea that sound can heal is pointing out that certain undesirable sounds, especially urban and industrial noise, can have negative consequences for mental health. This TED talk is an example. Debate on such subjects often goes in depth into technical aspects of sound technology, but are conspicuously lacking when it comes to scientific evidence for the core claims.

The bottom line is that in order for freethinkers to take claims of Sound Healing seriously, blinded and replicable studies with large sample sizes must be presented in established peer-reviewed journals. As is usual with most pseudosciences, when such standard scientific requirements are proposed, the proponents of these practices resort to special pleading, such as seen in this blog post by the speaker in the above TED video:

“An approach which dismisses any idea or hypothesis because it’s not ‘scientific’ is itself anti-scientific!”
“In a wider context, the stance that assertions are acceptable only if backed by evidence also denies some of the more interesting areas of human thought…”
“Any comprehensive study of sound and music … must involve considering many theses and ideas that are untestable, or at least currently untested.”

Sound Healing and Organized Religion:

We have established that Sound Healing is a mystical New Age-y concept that is expressed in many different cultural traditions, in many different forms. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the idea of healing with sound is also found in the major religious faiths. There are, of course, limitations placed by the core religious beliefs on the appropriation of this pseudoscience by these religions.

Islam: In Islam, the recitation of Koranic texts is often claimed to have healing powers. There are multiple websites making all sorts of claims involving how Koranic recitation is beneficial. Here are a couple of examples:
http://www.kaheel7.com/eng/index.php/secrets-of-quran-a-sunnah/238-healing-by-listening-to-quran
http://www.islamawareness.net/Music/healing.html

Recently I came across a hilarious attempt to rationalize superstitious belief in the power of Koranic recitation. This article mentions an experiment done by Al-Huda institute in Canada and replicated by the Reflections school in Karachi. The experiments supposedly establish that the half of an apple exposed to Koranic recitation does not rot, while the half that isn’t does. The article doesn’t link to the methodology of the study, but even ignoring requirements such as sample size and blinding, the experiment should be easy to replicate. And if replicated, such a startling and powerful effect should be easy to have published in a reputed peer-reviewed journal.

Christianity: Sound Healing doesn’t seem to be as common in Christianity as in Islam. But nevertheless, there are a number of websites peddling Christian Sound Healing. Predictably, Biblical readings feature prominently in this form of religious superstition. Some of these claims involve Biblical “divine frequencies”. Jonathan Goodman, director of the Sound Healers Association and author of THE DIVINE NAME: The Sound That Can Change the World, claims on his site that certain chants can help one “resonate with the Christ energy”. Leonard Horowitz and Joseph Puleo, authors of Healing Codes for the Biological Apocalypse, according to this website claim that “The new bible codes, found in the Book of Numbers, include a mathematical electromagnetic frequency code for “miracles” that experts say has already been shown to help repair damaged DNA, the genetic blueprint of life.” The article goes on to say:

“These original sound frequencies were apparently used in the great hymn to St. John the Baptist that, along with many Gregorian chants, were lost centuries ago according to church officials.”

How anyone could have known anything about sound frequencies at the time attributed to the character of John the Baptist, is a puzzling detail not likely to stop these people with a fertile imagination.

Here is more information about the “recently discovered” Bible codes.

Jill Mattson is an artist who promotes Sound Healing, and in her album Paint Your Soul she claims to have used elements from “numerical patterns of sound frequencies encoded in the Bible (Numbers 7:12-83)”.

Hinduism: In the Hindu tradition, Sound Healing is nothing new. To begin with, there is the syllable ‘om’ or ‘aum’.

“Uttering the monosyllable “aum”, the eternal world of Brahman, one who departs leaving the body (at death), he attains the supreme goal” ~ Bhagavad Gita

There is so much woo about the “om” on the internet that I could spend the rest of my life documenting the BS claims. Here are some highlights. There’s a Om-Healing website featuring some truly masterful pseudoscience, a whole series of “Om Frequency” tuning forks and singing bowls, music albums dedicated to Om Healing and even a magazine dedicated to the OM, which often features articles on Om Healing. Then there is this video, a parody of itself:

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The traditional Hindu ‘om’ has seeped into mainstream New Age culture through the popularity of yoga and meditation. But the ‘om’ is just the beginning of Sound Healing superstition in Hinduism. Since it is an amalgamation of various primitive animistic beliefs, religious chants are a mainstay of Hinduism. Mantras, the prayer chants that are alleged to have powerful supernatural effects, are central to Hindu practice. Again, the internet is filled with pseudoscientific claims about the healing powers of the mantras.

Addressing the Problem

Here are a few ideas as a starting point to addressing the problem.

  1. Conducting scientific studies for publication in legitimate peer-reviewed journals. Where real science is concerned, a negative result can be as valuable as a positive one. On a smaller scale, even a simple home experiment debunking the apple hoax perpetuated by the Al Huda institute can make a difference.
  2. Online discussions about the prevalence of this pseudoscience and its potential dangers to society. Sound Healing is a subject that we skeptics hardly ever talk about on our social networks, perhaps because of the apparent futility in addressing it in the Indian context, but certainly because there isn’t much literature on it in the skeptical community. This needs to change.
  3. Raising awareness in daily life. This is particularly important in India, where a large segment of the population engages in one form of this practice or the other. Most of it may be in some benign form, but we all probably have friends and/or family that engage in this practice.
  4. Organizing large events and demonstrations. Trained activists like Professor Narendra Nayak of FIRA can help us design challenges to proponents of Sound Healing.

About the author

Ajita Kamal

10 Comments

  • I’ve also heard one story that chanting the word “Om” (or “Aum”, take your pick!) is said to be actually a breathing exercise and that it helps build stamina!
    You’re right Ajita, you could spend an eternity compiling the claims!
    Great article, hope to see more.

  • I can understand if the comment of mine didn’t get published for whatever reason (even though there was nothing in my comment which was a personal attack or preaching or something not in accordance with Nirmuktha), but removing me from Indian Atheists in addition as some kind of tit for tat says a lot more about you than about me.

    Sorry, but this Nirmukta has a lot of pricks. That’s my unfortunate conclusion.

    I have formed my own Indian Atheist page on FB. I don’t care if I am the only member. At least I don’t have to worry about this frigging site’s sanctimonious attitude and be subject to the whims of some of its members who seem to have a chip on their shoulder and who think that all atheists in India should nurse the egos of this pathetic set.

    If you think this is good riddance, let me assure you that the feeling is mutual.

    Shankar

    • I don’t know about any comment of yours that was deleted. Sometimes comments do not make it past our filters. You might find this hard to understand, but we are not exactly a group that is very much loved by the religious majority, and there is a need for strict moderation of our sites.

      Since only two religious apologists have been removed from our IA facebook page in the past month, I think I have a fairly good idea who you are. You are the same person who was requested politely multiple times in the Chennai group to move to the Indian Atheists Debate Corner group where we are open to having religious apologists (atheistic ones included) debate us. The info section to the Indian Atheists page (not group) clearly lists the guidelines and suggests that people like you are not welcome, and that the IADC is specially designed to accommodate you. You might again find this hard to understand, but the religious majority you defend are intent on preventing us from organizing and building a community of our own, and having such guidelines are elementary to providing a safe place for members of our community.
      Yet you again decided to ignore the guidelines and violated our space.

      Now you come here and call us “pricks” and “pathetic” people with a “sanctimonious” attitude. It’s amusing that the irony of this will not appeal to you. People like you are exactly the reason why we have the rules that we do on our social networks. But instead of also resorting to personal attacks and lowering my standards to your level, I will once again extend my invitation to you to join our Indian Atheists Debate Corner group.
      https://www.facebook.com/groups/IndianAtheists/
      My ego is not so fragile. I wonder if your wounded one will let you see things a bit more objectively and you will think twice before painting yourself as a martyr who has been wronged by a big bad organization of atheists. Meanwhile, we will continue being a healthy and happy community of freethinkers undeterred by attempts to dilute our purpose and goodwill towards those who truly care about building meaningful relationships between people of reason. We will continue to criticize those who defend superstition and blind faith. We will continue to work towards making India a better country.

  • You are entitled to your opinion, thank you for offering your counterpoint to the many benefits of sound healing and music therapy.
    Here is mine. As a researcher, let me tell you that ‘science’ isn’t everything, that much gets left out when it comes published vs unpublished material and many quantitative studies are not replicable. http://www.npr.org/2015/08/28/435416046/research-results-often-fail-to-be-replicated-researchers-say
    However, if you are looking for science and research, check out neurological music therapist Michael Thaut’s numerous studies showing the benefits of music and sound in terms of brain function and recovery from neurological trauma. Another point that you are missing is that sound healing is based not just on audible sound, but on inaudible sound as well, which exists in everything. Everything is vibration, whether audible or inaudible.
    Just my two cents.

  • @Tiffany Sparrow

    As a researcher, let me tell you that ‘science’ isn’t everything

    What exactly are you a researcher of? Your website says nothing about any science credentials. It says you attended yoga camp, that you are a singer-songwriter, kirtan artist and “healer”. Is the healer title given to yourself by yourself or any actual accredited institution of your country?

    much gets left out when it comes published vs unpublished material

    Which is why we have an increasing push for trial registration.

    many quantitative studies are not replicable

    Which is why non-replicable studies are not considered good science. Replicability is a necessary pre-requisite of science. Merely being quantitative is not an adequate standard.

    I have to constantly remind people here not to fish for random journal articles, just because they agree with their biases. There are plenty of low-quality studies.

    check out neurological music therapist

    You can certainly do science on music and how we react to it. That is not at contest.

    What is at contest is promoting cure claims without getting strong (well replicable) evidence first. Do you think you can cure cancer with music? Do you think:

    “the Intergratron, allegedly built “based on the design of Moses’ Tabernacle, the writings of Nikola Tesla and telepathic directions from extraterrestrials”.”

    is woo or science?

    Most of the actual science claims are quite modest in this regard.

  • Hereby sharing science behind Mantras – somewhat similar to how uttering certain words or in other words making sounds has its benefits..

    In other words any speech is a form of sound..so like that…

    Looking forward to see if its true or fake..Sound therapy, Mantras etc..

    Today we know that if you feed any sound into an oscilloscope, every sound has a form attached to it. Similarly, every form has a sound attached to it. Every form in the existence is reverberating in a certain way and creates a certain sound.

    Today, modern science sees the whole existence as reverberations of energy, or basically it means universe is SOUND at different levels of vibrations. Where there is a vibration, there is bound to be a sound. So, that means, the whole existence is a kind of sound, or a complex amalgamation of sounds.

    Mantra means a sound, a certain utterance or a syllable.

    Of these, a few mantras or a few sounds have been identified, which could be like keys. If you use them in a certain way, they become a key to open up a different dimension of life and experience within you.

    So a mantra is not something that you utter. It is something that you strive to become because unless you become the key, existence will not open up for you. Becoming the mantra means you are becoming the key. Only if you are the key can you open the lock. Otherwise someone else has to open it for you and you have to listen to him.

    Mantras could be an extremely good preparatory step. Just one mantra can do such tremendous things to people. They can be an effective force in creating something but only if they come from that kind of a source where there is a complete understanding of all that is sound. When we say “all that is sound,” we are talking about the creation itself. If a mantra comes from that kind of source, with that level of understanding and when the transmission is pure, then mantras can be an effective force.

    Approaching Mantras with Awareness

    There are different types of mantras. Every mantra activates a particular kind of energy in a different part of the body. Without that necessary awareness, just repeating the sound only brings dullness to the mind. Any repetition of the sound always makes your mind dull. But when it is done with proper awareness, with exact understanding of what it is, a mantra could be a very powerful means.

    As a science, it is a very powerful dimension, but if it is imparted without the necessary basis and without creating the necessary situations, it can cause lots of damage because this is a subjective science. There are people who have caused damage to themselves by the improper utterance of something as common as Gayatri mantra.

    Mantra and Sanskrit – What’s the Relationship?

    Mantras always come from a Sanskrit basis, and the basic aspects of Sanskrit language are so sound sensitive. But when different people speak, each one says it in their own way. If the Bengalis say a mantra, they will say it in their own way. If the Tamil people say it, they say it in another way. If the Americans say it, they will say it in a completely different way. Like this, different people who speak different languages, according to what language they have been used to, tend to distort various mantras, unless real training is imparted. Such training is too exhaustive and people do not have that kind of patience or dedication nowadays because it needs an enormous amount of time and involvement.

    Nada Yoga – The Link Between Sound and Form.

    The Sanskrit language is a device, not necessarily a medium of communication. Most of the other languages were made up because we had to refer to something. Initially, they started with just a handful of words and then multiplied them into complex forms. But Sanskrit is a discovered language because today we know that if you feed any sound into an oscilloscope, every sound has a form attached to it. Similarly, every form has a sound attached to it. Every form in the existence is reverberating in a certain way and creates a certain sound.

    When you utter a sound, a form is being created. There is a whole science of using sounds in a particular way so that it creates the right kind of form. We can create powerful forms by uttering sounds in certain arrangements. This is known as the Nada Yoga, the yoga of sound. If you have mastery over the sound you also have mastery over the form that is attached to it.

    When Sanskrit is taught, it has to be learnt by memorizing. The sound is important, not the meaning.

    Sanskrit is one language where form and sound are connected. In English for example, if you say “sun” or “son,” in utterance it is the same, only in spelling it is different. What you write is not the criteria. The sound is the criteria. When you realize what sound is attached to a particular form, you give this sound as the name for that form. Now the sound and the form are connected. If you utter the sound, you are relating to the form – not just psychologically, but existentially, you are connecting with the form. Sanskrit is like a blueprint of the existence. What is in form, we converted into sound. A lot of distortions have happened. How to preserve it in its right form has become a challenge even today since the necessary knowledge, understanding, and awareness is largely missing.

    Sound is More Important than Meaning
    That is the reason why when Sanskrit is taught, it has to be learnt by rote. People just chant the language endlessly. It does not matter whether you know the meaning or not. The sound is important, not the meaning. Meanings are made up in your mind. It is the sound and the form which are connecting. Are you connecting or not? – That is the question. That is why it has become the mother of almost all Indian and European languages, except Tamil. Tamil did not come from Sanskrit. It developed independently. All the other Indian languages and almost all the European languages have their origin in Sanskrit.

    Mantras – How to Benefit From Them
    Music is an arrangement of sounds to generate certain sweetness. Music is a fine arrangement, but still it is like the water flowing. A mantra is not that beautiful aesthetically but it is much more effective.

    After some time it will become so much a part of your system and it will set a certain ambience for you. Mantra is not consciousness but mantra sets the right kind of ambience. Sound will set the right kind of ambience within this physiological, psychological framework and also in the atmosphere.

    Your thoughts most welcome, please keep abuses at bay..just here for sincere debates…and know if it’s true or fake..

  • Ista Devata, Mantra and more
    Contents

    1 12.b. Īśṭa devatā, mantra, demi-gods, pīṇḍāṇḍa-brahmāṇḍa and more
    1.1 13.1. Concept of Īśṭa devatā
    1.2 13.2. Reason for worshipping only one form of God
    1.2.1 13.2.1. Mantra: meaning and importance
    1.3 13.3. Then why are Demi-Gods worshipped?
    1.3.1 13.3.1. We all have desires and Path of Renunciation is difficult
    1.3.2 13.3.2. Celestials and mortals help each other
    1.3.3 13.3.3. Piṇḍāṇaḍa and Brahmāṇḍa (Microcosm i.e. and Macrocosm) – The inner science of Yoga

    12.b. Īśṭa devatā, mantra, demi-gods, pīṇḍāṇḍa-brahmāṇḍa and more

    Though there are many God in Hinduism, for an individual, only one God as Brahman is preferred to be worshipped as Supreme God. This chosen deity is called as Īśṭa devatā. There are reasons for preference of worship of one God. One of the reasons is one-pointedness. Let’s understand the concept of Īśṭa devatā.

    13.1. Concept of Īśṭa devatā

    The is a common misconception that Hindus are Idol worshippers. No Hindu is an Idol worshiper. Idol worship is the worship other than God. It’s not ‘Idol worship’, it is ‘Ideal worship’. We worship the ideals behind the personality of God.

    When one worships and chants holy name of Īśṭa devatā, say Bhagavān Rāma, with faith and dedication, then the qualities of Īśṭa devatā begins to manifest in the devotee. In this case, the qualities of Bhagavān Rāma like Truthfulness, compassion and love for all living beings, etc begins to manifest. This is because, the stuti-s, stotra-s and other material that we read creates a divine character of our Īśṭa devatā in our mind. When any incident like Rāma-Rāvaṇa-yuddha is narrated or recalled, the whole incident is erected in our mind and mind stays absorbed in it. When one chants mantra of Īśṭa devatā, or gazes at his picture, seeds of divine qualities of Īśṭa devatā are sowed in heart. When ‘ghee’ of devotion is constantly poured into our hearts, these divine qualities are cultivated and gradually begin to blossom in our hearts. One pointed devotion to one Īśṭa devatā as Supreme Brahman is important for divine transformation of heart.

    Sects like Vaishnavism believe in Viṣhṇu, having a definite form, to be a Supreme Brahman They worship none other than Viṣṇu or Kṛṣṇa (Krishna) or Rāma. All other forms of Īshvara are inferior to Visṇu and subordinate to him. Though other forms of Īshvara are revered, they are not worshipped as Supreme Brahman as one-pointedness is necessary. Just like one country can have only one Prime Minister (PM), there can be only one Supreme Brahman. One person will worship only one form of God. Worshipper of Rāma will not worship Kṛṣhṇa.

    Śaiva-s believe in Śiva as supreme Brahman. For them, Śiva is both with form and formless. Initially, devotee worships Śiva with form. After they have sufficiently purified themselves inwardly, they begin to worship Śiva-tatvam which is formless. The journey is from ‘OM namaḥ Śivāya’ i.e. ‘I (humbly) bow to Lord Śiva’ to ‘Śivoham’ mening ‘I am Śiva’. Here Śiva is not a person but formless aspect, Śiva tatvam, i.e. pure consciousness.

    Smārta-s worship five forms of God – Gaṇeśa, Śiva, Śakti, Viṣṇu and Sūrya. Though they do have a form, their real form is formless. In other words one brahman have have many rūpa-s (forms) but it’s svarūpa (True form) is formless only. There is a tradition to worship natural stones which are round or oval shaped in place of idols to remind us that true nature is formless. Even in Viṣṇu temples there is supposed to be a round stone called as Śāligrāma which is considered as formless representation of Viṣṇu, which is Brahman. In Smārta tradition, one God (Īśṭa-devatā) is placed in center and four are placed in four corners. Deity in center is the main God for a devotee i.e. his Īṣṭa devatā and all other forms are secondary and support him in his spiritual quest. All five are worshipped with an understanding that all are manifestations of Brahman and are equally potent. Different family members can have their own Īṣṭa devatā and can swipe their Īṣṭa devatā in center for worship. After attaining sufficient purity, a smārta will renounce temple worship and will contemplate on formless aspect of God. In the in-between state, many chose to do mental worship of their Īṣṭa devatā.

    Similar is the way of worship of Ganapatya-s and Saura-s, the worshippers of Gaṇapatī and Sūrya deva. They may keep other deities in their home temple, but they consider their Īśṭa devatā to have form and also be formless.

    Some following tantra will activate kunḍalinī and will worship their deities mentally by extrapolating the image of their devatA from forehead (ājnā chakra) or from heart (anāhat chakra) or deities residing in chakra-s via energy based process. For them devatā-s are energy centers within our subtle body i.e. prāṇamaya kośa (energy body, bioplasmic body, etheric body) and their bīja mantra-s are vibrations resonating in chakra-s. They are activated by chanting particular sound which resonates in the similar frequency as that of the chakra to be activated. This is altogether a different way of worship. Details of subtle bodies and chakra-s are given later.

    We Hindus believe that no one can limit the power of God. God cannot just be only formless nor is it true that he cannot have any form. God can incarnate or manifest in any form he wishes to and in a way he likes, be it human birth or Rāma and Kṛsṇa or direct manifestation like in case of Dakshiṇāmurtī. His formless aspect is considered to be absolute reality which is unborn and beyond space and time.

    Mind has habit of holding on to names and forms. Hence it is easy to focus on a form of God having definite personality. Recalling on his divine deeds will re-create the events in our mind and mind will remain occupied in it. As concentration and inner purity is attained, depending upon temperament, devotee is gradually shifted to worship formless God or he may be asked to continue to worship his beloved God, chant his name, and sing his glories until he is graced by divine vision of his beloved God. Such a fortunate devotee has purified his heart to great extend. God himself shows his true nature to such devotee who has ‘unconditionally’ surrendered to God at appropriate time. In either case, this birth is his last birth as Ishvara is capable of bestowing moksha and showing his true nature.

    13.2. Reason for worshipping only one form of God

    Worshipping one form of God is necessary for developing one pointedness. One may respect any many forms of God as one wishes to or can visit and take prasādam of more than one form of God worshipped as Brahman. However, s/he must chant the name of only one God. Chanting beeja mantra of one God is important.

    13.2.1. Mantra: meaning and importance

    Mantra is that which protects the one who chants it when it is repeated uninterruptedly for a particular time. It cleans mind of any unwanted thoughts, keeps it focused and does not allow any thoughts to enter into the mind as mind remains engaged in chanting mantra.

    Yogī-s say that one needs to chant mantra continuously for 3 hours so that it can continue by itself throughout the day in subconscious mind. One is expected to at least meditate i.e. do japa for 45 minutes so as to have any prolonged effect of mantra.

    While one is busy in day-2-day activities and fully concentrated in any particular work and even during sleep, mantra continues by itself in the subconscious mind. When mind frees itself from work, mantra automatically pops-up in the conscious mind without making any conscious effort to chant it. While we find this phenomenon odd, we all experience this fact. Imagine that just before leaving house for work we listen to any favourite song. This song keeps popping up in our mind and we keep singing it without making any conscious effort on our part. When mind is highly influenced by anything, it keeps recalling it on it’s own. In the same way, mantra when chanted with calm mind with no distracting thoughts, with utmost devotion, unconditional surrender to almighty and with strong faith in God, ready to renounce everything for the sake of God, then mantra will definitely have its effect. Slowly bhāva ( spiritual emotion) cultivates in us i.e. attraction towards God cultivates in us. Along with bhāva, divine qualities like faith, surrender, ets blossoms in our heart. Animal qualities like hatred, anger, frustration, tension, etc fades away unnoticed. The change is gradual and so natural that the meditator hardly notices how and when this change has taken place. S/he only knows that s/he has changed, but not when and how s/he has changed.

    Sri Ramakrishna says, “He who is described in the Vedas is also described in the Tantras and the Puranas. All of them speak about the one Satchidananda.” P. 490, Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna.

    Thus we understand that there is only one Supreme God and why only one God needs to be worshipped. Scriptures recognize only one God as supreme Brahman. (For more details, please visit here. )

    13.3. Then why are Demi-Gods worshipped?

    Here we must point out that unlike Abrahamic religions, worshipping demi-gods is not forbidden. They are worshipped for the good of all. Just like a Chairman and M.D. of a company has appointed many officers in various fields like marketing, production, etc, and given them certain powers in decision making, so has God created demi-gods (devatā-s) for specific tasks necessary for the functioning of the universe. They are considered as partial manifestations of Brahman and are created by him. As one attains sufficient inner purity, vedic karma kāṇḍa i.e. vedic rites and rituals drop. Many Gods are the forces of nature like Wind God, God of Fire, etc. There are several reasons for worshipping demi-gods.

    13.3.1. We all have desires and Path of Renunciation is difficult

    In the path of Jnana (renunciation), the formless God, Brahman, is contemplated from the beginning of advaitic sādhanā. Contemplation on formless Brahman very difficult. The mind should be sufficiently inwardly pure to walk on this path. It is like walking on razor’s edge. Staying constantly one-pointed in one form of God and keep chanting his name day and night is difficult too. Both Jnāna and Bhakti are for few handful pure souls. Mind of average person cannot hold onto one thought for long. It needs to change the topic, else it will produce stress and the task will be more of a burden. Wise say that anything in excess is poison. Mind would not cooperate the intellect to stay focused only on God. We are born with many dissatisfied desires. One of the purpose of birth is to get them fulfilled. If they are not fulfilled then mind begins to revolt and will not be ready to meditate and stay focussed on one form of God and renounce everything else for the sake of God.

    Only a pure mind can do it as a pure mind does not demand anything except moksha. Purified mind has little or no material desires to be fulfilled. Dissatisfied desires are uprooted by God in Meditation. Mind should be strong enough to renounce worldly desires. If mind is not prepared to renounce desires but wishes to fulfil them, then one cannot walk on the path of advaita i.e. Jnana as God tries devotee to rise above Māyā and for this to happen devotee must stop giving importance to anything except God. Devotee cannot demand for anything of material nature to formless God, which is nirguṇa i.e. beyond attributes. Having such pure mind is very rare. Hence in most cases a form of God is worshipped. Even in case of worshipping God with form, sooner or later one has to change the perception about this material world and has to select between God and world.

    Though primary intention to chant God’s name is to have his divine vision or to be one with God, not many have desire to be one with God. Though the supreme God is capable of fulfilling all kinds of desires, still, mind of a neophyte is not stable enough and patient enough to remain focused on one form of God. demi-gods fulfil our wishes faster if we worship them. They are capable to bestow blessings, ward of evils, reduce hardships and give clarity in life. Average mind is weak and it wants to get rid of hardships and obstacles in fulfilling dis-satisfied desires very fast by removing the malice effects of the heavenly planets. Though we may be sitting in a closed room, still Saturn and other planets influence us by influencing our subtle bodies and our thoughts. Each and everything in this universe is interconnected and has influence on each other. Subtle world spreads far and wide. Worshipping demi-gods to ward off malice effects or fulfil desires is prescribed by sages with a sole purpose of developing divine qualities like faith in higher power, one-pointed devotion, control over body and mind, control over desires and impulses i.e. desires, discipline and diligent effort. This divine qualities will help a spiritual aspirant in his inner journey. If demi-God can fulfil our desires so can God. After our wishes are fulfilled, mind becomes calm. Calm mind is necessary for meditation. When there are no obstacles, mind is at peace and hence can easily contemplate on God for spiritual progress. When desires are fulfilled, faith in deity increases. Calm mind will think of the source from where demigods receive their powers, which is obviously the Supreme God. After attaining sufficient purification, vedic rites and rituals are renounced and the sole objective of chanting God’s name is to abide in him, known his true nature.

    However, this is not the only reason for worshiping demigods.

    13.3.2. Celestials and mortals help each other

    Celestials and mortals help each other. While celestials bestow their grace and maintain peace and harmony in nature and in our minds, chanting of mantra-s nourishes them. It is their food. Hence celestials and mortals help each other. Since demigod is a higher race than ours, it is we who worship them. Demigods are also devoted to God and great Gods like Īndra (King of heaven known as svarga) and Agni (God of fire) have realised their true nature says Kena Upanishad (Kena Up 3.12). Hence they too can bestow hidden secrets of veda-s onto devotees. Vedic karma-kāṇḍa is not just rituals to fulfill our needs. Vibrations generated from chanting mantra-s spread far and wide and purify the atmosphere. Since plants and animals are a lifeform and they have sentiments, they too are positively affected by chanting of holy mantra-s which are special vibrations which purify atmosphere. Chanting vedic mantra-s will bring harmony in the world.

    There is one more reason for performing vedic rites and rituals, tāntrika one.

    13.3.3. Piṇḍāṇaḍa and Brahmāṇḍa (Microcosm i.e. and Macrocosm) – The inner science of Yoga
    (microcosm is inner universe, while macrocosm is outer universe)

    Though there is heaven and hell outside us in a particular place in different dimension, there is heaven and hell within us too. Thoughts and emotions of divine nature are symbolically represented by demigods while negative qualities are represented by asura-s or demons. Similarly, as earlier explained, demigods are the definite energy centers within our subtle bodies. Chanting a mantra will activate these psychic nerve centers i.e. chakra-s, cleanse psychic nerves called as nāḍī-s raise the kunḍalinī to get enlightenment.

    Whatever is inside is reflected in the outside worldly more or less similarly. Many riddles in the veda-s which do not make sense like Rāhu and Ketu engulfing Chandra and Sūrya appear as unscientific from outward observation, as Rāhu and kētu are planets and covering Moon and Sun is a natural process of eclipse. However, Rāhu and Kētu represents prāṇa-s. Moon (chandra) and Sun (sūrya) are nāḍī-s known as īḍā and pingalā which are located on left and right side of Suṣumṇā respectively. They start from just above Mulādhāra chakra and end on tip of nostrils. Īḍā ends on left side and pingalā ends on right side. Eclipse is the yogic process of in-breath from īḍā towards the inverted energy triangle called yonī, where kunḍalinī hides. In-breath covers yonī and kunḍalinī with prāṇa. Out-breath rises from yonī without activating kunḍalinī. Breathing simultaneously from both nāḍī-s (nostrils) has it’s advantages and merits, but it blocks the rising of kuṇḍalinī through suṣumṇā thereby creating an eclipse. The process repeats with pingalā nāḍī. In other words, the inner breath, covers or eclipses kunḍalinī. When kunḍalinī is struck and awakened, it initially rises from iḍā and pingalā and later from susumṇā. When kunḍalinī rises from suṣumṇā, it pulls all the types of prāṇa-s from all nāḍī-s including idā and pingalā. prāṇa-s merge with kunḍalinī in suṣumṇā and kunḍalinī takes them along with her, rising upto sahasrāra chakra and gently rising out of sahasrāra, merging in infinity. When this divine phenomenon happens, one gets enlightenment. But this outward rising of kuṇḍalinī is not easy. nāḍī-s, chakra-s, prāṇa-s and mind needs to be highly purified. They get purified by chanting of mantra-s.

    Mantra-s are formulated in such a way so as to resonate with certain energy centers (chakra-s) and nāḍī-s, thereby purifying and activating them for spiritual progress.

    Likewise, Īndra is often represented as intellect. In veda-s and purāṇā-s, there is a legend of Īndra winning over Vritrā. Vritrā, the demon, represents ignorance or dullness which blocks the mind. Īndra, the awakened intellect, slays Vritrā and frees all the blocked rivers. Rivers represent nāḍī-s. We also find in rig veda that it is Devī Sarasvatī who slays Vritrā. Sarasvatī represents knowledge. In this case, both Īndra and Sarasvatī represent ‘awakened mind’ or ‘awakened intellect’. Hence it does not matter whether who killed Vrittrā. It is ignorance getting uprooted by knowledge.

    The story of slaying of Vritrā is a yogic process of an awakened intellect destroying ignorance and cleansing nāḍī-s thereby progressing spiritually. Playing with kuṇḍalinī and chakra-s must be done under the care and guidance of a competent guru else it will do more harm and help. It is not possible for laymen to experience subtle bodies and find exact location of chakra-s and nāḍī-s by ourselves. Vedic and purāṇic stories are encrypted riddles in order to protect them from being misused or wrongly used. For an individual or a Yogī, stories are encrypted way of explaining inner yogic process and inner universe and it an encrypted process of evolution of consciousness.

    Hence Vedic rites and rituals are not just polytheistic worship of demigods.

    Lets summarize the worship of demigods

    Average mind is weak always trying to run away from hardships. Worshipping demi-gods wards off malice effects and increases faith in higher power. Mind becomes peaceful and can focus on chanting God’s name.

    Chanting vedic mantra-s purify environment and influence all life forms be it animals or plants and nourishes them with spiritual energy.

    Celestials and mortals help each other. While Celestials bestow their grace and sustain ecology, maintain peace and harmony of nature and purify our mind, vedic chants nourishes them thereby making them stronger.

    Demi-gods are energy centers within our body which needs to be activated in order to purify energy body. Pure body is necessary for contemplating on Brahman.

    Mantra-s are formulated in such a way so as to resonate with certain energy centers thereby purifying and activating them for spiritual progress.

    Many vedic and purāṇic stories are symbolic representation of yogic process. veda-s are encrypted to protect them from being misused or wrongly used. Activating chakras and kunḍalinī without the guidance of a competent guru may be a disaster waiting to happen. It will do more harm and help.

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