Soham Mantra

Meaning

Soham is a reversal form of Hamsa. It is the combination of words Sa and Aham whereas Hamsa is the combination of Aham and Sa. It means He I am. I am the Supreme God. It is also an Ajapa Gayatri Mantra.

Isopanishad verse 16 says,

 
pūṣannekarṣe yama sūrya prājāpatya
     vyūha raśmīn samūha tejaḥ ।
yatte rūpaṃ kalyāṇatamaṃ tatte paśyāmi
     yo'sāvasau puruṣaḥ so'hamasmi ॥ 16॥
 
It means,
My Lord! Primeval Entity! Maintainer of the Worlds! Regulator of the Universe! the goal of the pure devotees! the well-wisher of all beings! please remove the brightness Your transcendental rays so that I can see Your form of bliss. You are the eternal Supreme Entity of divinity, like the sun, like I am.”

According to Dhyana Bindu Upanishad and Brahma Vidya Upanishad,  Jiva chants the mantra ‘Ha’ during the out-going breath and the mantra ‘Sa’ during incoming-breath. Brahma Vidya Upanishad says, ‘Soham is the Mantra. It starts from the navel region and goes along with the breath. Jiva takes the seat of heart with four modifications: Jagrat, Svapana, Susupti, and Turya. Jiva wanders restlessly until the knowledge of Atman is attained. If the knowledge is attained, Prana goes out of the body. The self-luminous Jiva ceases from taking modifications sings like a Hamsa bird.

Hamsa and Soham

Though the meaning of the two terms Hamsa and Soham are the same, their application in Japa is slightly different. Hamsa Mantra Japa starts with exhalation with concurrent meditation upon the sound ‘Ham’ and ends with the completion of inhalation with the meditation upon the sound ‘Sa’; whereas Soham Mantra Japa starts with inhalation with ‘So’ and ends with the completion of exhalation with ‘Ham’. 

Hamsa Vidya

The crude form of Mantra Japa as chanted by everyone should be fine-tuned to become Ajapa Gayatri. This Upasana is known as Hamsa Vidya. By Hamsa Vidya, one can control his Prana and Chitta. It results in Samadhi. Hence Samadhi is attained by Hamsa Vidya.

Brihadaranya Upanishad

One of the earliest Upanishads, Brihadaranya Upanishad verse 1.4.1 says,

ātmaivedamagra āsītpuruṣavidhaḥ । so'nuvīkṣya nānyadātmano'paśyat
so'hamasmītyagre vyāharat tato'hannāmābhavat ।

This means,
“In the beginning, Atman was there in the form of Purusa. Knowing that there was no second one except himself, he said I am He. (Soham asmi).”

Sohamasmi was the first word uttered by the primeval entity. It was the first word of first sentient Being.

Mahavakya Upanishad

Mahavakya Upanishad says,

asāvādityo brahmetyajapayopahitaṃ haṃsaḥ so'ham
This means,
“The knowledge that the Sun is Brahman is attained by the Hamsa Mantra: Soham”.

Yoga Sikha Upanishad

Yoga Sikha Upanishad (1.131-2) says,

haṃsahaṃseti mantro'yaṃ sarvairjīvaśca japyate ।
guruvākyātsuṣumnāyāṃ viparīto bhavejjapaḥ ॥ 131॥
so'haṃso'hamiti prokto mantrayogaḥ sa ucyate ।
pratītirmantrayogācca jāyate paścime pathi ॥ 132॥

This means, 
“For all beings, Prana goes out with the sound ‘Ha’ and comes in with the sound ‘Sa’. This generates the Mantra ‘Hamsa, Hamsa’. Under the guidance of a Guru and during the course of Sushumna Yoga, the Mantra Japa gets reversed and it becomes ‘Soham, Soham’. This is called Mantra Yoga.”

Steps in Soham Mantra Japa

  1. Sit in a comfortable posture that is convenient for you.
  2. Close your eyes and fix your internal eyes at the tip or base of your nose.
  3. Watch your breath.
  4. Conceive the sound ‘So’ with inhalation and ‘ham’ with exhalation.
  5. During this Japa, meditate that ‘He I am’: I am the Supreme Entity.
  6. Continue this Japa and Meditation for at least 10 to 15 minutes.
  7. Repeat the process daily at the same time and for the same duration.
  8. Increase the duration in a phased manner.
  9. Slowly ingrain the process passively during all the activities of the daily routine.
  10. When you are accustomed to doing this constantly all the time, it becomes Ajapa Gayatri. 
Benefits of Soham Mantra Japa
It is a natural Mantra. It just reminds the Self to rediscover itself. It is the simple password that takes you the domain of divinity. This single practice alone is enough to get enlightenment. It bestows peace and liberation.
 
In the course of doing this Soham Japa and meditation, it spontaneously leads one to Kevala Kumbakha. Kevala Kumbhaka can also be attained by means of complex pranayama techniques performed for a very long time. Kevala Kumbhaka is Kumbhaka without inhalation and exhalation. Inhalation and exhalation should not be stopped by the performer by force. They should be stopped spontaneously. The Kumbhaka attained in this way is known as Kevala Kumbhaka. In this stage, Prana is under the control of Yogi. Only advanced Yogis attain can reach this feat after many years of Pranayama Practice. With Soham Japa and meditation not resorting to the complexities of Pranayama techniques, one can reach the stage of Kevala Kumbhaka.
 
Patanjali says “yogaś-citta-vr̥tti-nirodhaḥ“. That means Yoga is the cessation of the modifications of the mind. Soham Mantra Japa destroys all modifications of the mind. Hence it leads to Samadhi. In Raja Yoga, Samadhi is attained only after intensive practices like Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, and Dhyana. Without these complexities, Soham Japa takes you to Samadhi.
 
By Soham meditation, the concept of Aham is completely destroyed. Only Soham prevails. Aham Brahmasmi is the highest knowledge attained by the Jnana Yogis. It is one of the core tenets of Vedanta. By resorting to Soham meditation, one is bestowed with that Knowledge. 
 
Soham Meditation or Soham Mantra Japa is the Mahamantra. This technique is enough for the enlightenment. No other practices or dogmas are required. It is the simplest to perform and yet the greatest in bestowing result. This is the glory of Soham Mantra Japa.

Gayatri means the chanted mantra that saves. Gayatri is the supreme mantra that saves the one who chants. Ajapa Gayatri is the supreme Mantra that does not fall under the chanted category and yet saves the one who performs.

Suggested further readings

  1. Soham Yoga: the yoga of Self




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