Why does the Vedic tradition emphasize divine sound so much?
Question: In the Vedic tradition, there seems to be a lot of emphasis on spiritual sound vibrations, on hearing from a spiritual master. Why this emphasis?
Answer: Sonic technology is central to the Vedic program of spiritual redemption. That’s why the Vedanta-sutra, the condensed conclusion of all Vedic wisdom, culminates in the aphorism: anavrittih shabdat “The uncovering of pure consciousness occurs by divine sound.”
The Vedic texts explain that all of us are afflicted by spiritual amnesia. As spiritual beings, we are eternal and indestructible. But due to forgetting our spiritual identity, we live in anxiety and fear caused by the fragility and mortality of our material bodies. As parts of God, we are intrinsically joyful like him, but due to having forgotten our internal connection with him, we struggle for paltry pleasures in the external world. Overall, our spiritual forgetfulness causes us to be shackled by trivial desires and fears, thus making us live far below our potentials.
The guru is like an expert doctor who can cure our spiritual amnesia. When the guru is himself a devotee dedicated to the service of the Lord and when he repeats the message of God as given in the scriptures, then his words of wisdom have a special spiritual potency. Those words, called as shabda brahma (God manifested as sound vibration), penetrate all the material coverings on the soul, thus reviving one’s spiritual memory. Thus the words of the guru stand in marked contrast to all other ordinary words, which simply get incorporated into and increase the layers of forgetfulness that cover the soul.
As we have been living in spiritual forgetfulness for many, many lifetimes, reviving our spiritual memory may take some time, just as curing a chronic disease may take some time. But the result we get on being cured – becoming free from the limitations of our bodies and minds and rejoicing in the life of freedom and love that is our original nature – is well-worth the effort and the patience
The unleashing power of divine sound is illustrated in the Ramayana, which, in addition to describing real events that took place in remote history, also demonstrates timeless, universal truths. In the Ramayana, the simian-hero, Hanuman, plays a relatively minor role till being spiritually aroused by the words of wisdom of the veteran-warrior, Jambavan, who acts like a spiritual mentor. Thereafter Hanuman’s profile changes dramatically, and he does astounding feats in the service of Rama. Similarly, whatever be our achievements – minor or major – before we hear the words of wisdom from a guru, all those achievements will pale into insignificance as we rise to new levels of fulfillment and accomplishment in our real life of devotional service to the Lord and all his children.