In spiritual and religious traditions all over the world, spiritual states are equated with light. A common spiritual objective is "enlightenment." In the everyday language of spiritual development, we seek "light on the path" so that we may safely make our way. For centuries, artists from diverse traditions have made use of light in depicting great spiritual teachers. A clear indicator of spiritual power, light surrounds the priests of the Ark of the Covenant and creates the nimbus of the saints, and halos of Christ and the Buddha. In the first few verses of Genesis we read, "And God said, Let there be light, and there was light." Yet if we imagine that light is the highest expression of spiritual power, we are mistaken. The spirit is created and animated not by light, but by sound.
Looking more closely at Genesis we see, "God said ..." The light of divine creation was initiated by sound. The speech of God, according to Genesis, was the source of the spiritual light to which we all aspire.
The New Testament Gospel of John, which was written thousands of years after Genesis, opens with the verse, "In the beginning was the Word ..." The beginning was not light; rather, it was sound in the form of the divine speech. Neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament contains a verse such as "And God made light to shine." Rather, God creates the phenomenon by speaking of it. The primary mechanism of creation is sound.
In the wisdom of the ancient East, we find the same teaching. The whole universe comes about when God decides to manifest reality through the power of divine speech. In some Eastern texts, this power is referred to as Saraswati--the Word.
Sir John Woodroffe's The Garland of Letters includes a translation of a scripture called the Sata patha Brahmana, written many thousands of years ago. Volume 6 of that scripture opens:
In the beginning was God with power through speech. God said, "May I be many ... may I be propagated." And by his will expressed through subtle speech, he united himself with that speech and became pregnant. Prajapathi and Saraswati were then created. And Prajapathi is called the progenitor of all beings.
This statement sounds astonishingly similar to the idea of creation expressed in Genesis and the opening text of the Gospel of John.
A Brief Vedic Cosmology
Vedic religion, handed down for millennia through an oral tradition before the advent of writing, presents a concise summary of how the cosmos came about. Creation began with Being, a state so sublime and so different from anything we can conceive of that it can only be expressed in metaphors, allegories, and pictures. One of the most common representations of Being is the Hindu divinity Narayana, who floats in a sea of inky black. From the solar plexus of the sleeping Narayana springs another entity called Brahma.
As Narayana sleeps and Brahma is formed, the universe is conceived as a divine idea. Unmanifest, this universe is vague and unformed. But Being has moved to Mind, which is Brahma. This mind of Brahma, however, is not static but dynamic. It soon experiences Desire, which is quickly followed by Will. Desire and Will cause Brahma to call upon his power--Saraswati, the Divine Speech of manifestation. Saraswati is described as a feminine principle. She is "the Word" as understood in the Vedic tradition. When Brahma calls upon his power, when he calls upon Saraswati, the universe comes into being with all the forces that will animate it for billions of years to come.
The process of creation, then, is described through the images of a brief narrative:
First, God as Being ...
From Being comes Mind ...
From Mind comes Desire ...
From Desire comes Will ...
From Will comes the Word ...
From the Word comes everything else.
Other Eastern texts express the same idea. Kuan Yin in Chinese Buddhism is referred to as "the divine voice," which calls forth the illusive form of the universe out of the seven elements. The Vedas speak of the divine sound-current Shabda Brahma, which permeates all and is a key to creation.
References in sacred texts to the power of sound are not limited to creation myths. In the Old Testament book of Exodus, the sound of trumpets is said to bring down the walls of Jericho. In the East, the trumpet sound is a symbol of great spiritual power associated with insight and elevated consciousness. The sound of the trumpet is thought to be "heard" or perceived through the third eye--a point between the eyebrows--which can have direct communication with the Divine.
More recent texts and teachers echo this ancient idea. Mystic Sufi master Hazrat Inayat Khan has written, "Divine sound is the cause of all manifestation. The knower of the mystery of sound knows the mystery of the whole universe." In the early part of the twentieth century, H. P. Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society, wrote in The Secret Doctrine, "Sound is a tremendous occult [hidden] power. It is such a stupendous force that the electricity generated by a million Niagaras could never counteract even the smallest potentiality when directed by proper knowledge."
This last statement leads to the idea that the great power of sound that created the universe is also accessible to humanity. Scattered through various religious traditions, we find references to the divine power of words. The Latin word cantare, root of the English "cantor," is commonly translated as "to sing." However, some linguists believe that the original meaning was "to produce by magic." The Mexican Huichol Indians use the Spanish word cantor, "singer," to mean "shaman"--a clear indication of the power they attribute to the voice. Another Latin word, carmen, is often translated as "poem," but originally it meant "magic formula."* (*In Nada Brahma: The World Is Sound, by Joachim-Ernst Berendt.)
Mystics' and Scientists' Views
Some scientists, too, have recognized the power of sound and sound waves, which are sometimes organized and expressed as music. The sixteenth-century astronomer Johannes Kepler wrote, "God was master of cosmic sound, causing the planets to leave their entirely circular orbits and to adopt consciously complicated elliptical orbits in order to produce ever more beautiful music." Kepler viewed the orbits of the planets as vibrations, the Music of the Spheres.
Some two thousand years earlier, the Greek mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras noted, "The seven heavens sounded each one vowel down to earth and became the creation of all things that be on earth." This statement could almost have come directly from a text of the Jewish mystical tradition known as the Kabbalah, in which the power of vowels is said to be divine. And the ancient rishis (sages) of India arrived at the same conclusion, teaching that the pronunciation of vowels corresponds to the vibration of the five inner planets:
Ravi Shankar, the contemporary master of the classical music of India, refers to the sound of God's power as Nada Brahma, the divine sound that reverberates through the universe and the "subtle human body" we all carry with us. Shankar states, "Our tradition teaches us that sound is God. Music is a spiritual discipline that raises one's inner being to divine peacefulness and bliss. We are taught to work toward a fundamental goal of the knowledge of the unchanging and eternal essence of the universe. Our music reveals the essence of the universe it reflects. Through music, one can reach God." Elsewhere he writes, "Saint musicians such as Baiju Bavare, Swami Haridas or Mian Tan Sen performed miracles by performing certain Ragas [classical Indian compositions]. It is said that some could light fires or oil lamps by singing one raga, or bring rain, or melt stones, cause flowers to bloom, and attract ferocious wild animals to a peaceful quiet circle around their singing."
In Joachim-Ernst Berendt's Nada Brahma: The World Is Sound, astronomers Jeff Lightman and Robert M. Sickels describe fascinating sounds in their experiments with radio astronomy: "The edge of the galaxy becomes a noisy hissing cacophony of sound produced by quick shifts in molecular and atomic energy levels.... The giant planet Jupiter produces its own peculiar noise: huge rapid sighs like the intense roaring of a distant surge, triggered by Jovian electricity from storms of such intensity as to be worthy of the god whose name the planet bears. The sun makes noises too, hisses and crackling in quietude and roars of alarming intensity when it spews out giant portions of matter into space."
Rudolf Kippenhahn, director of the Max Planck Research Institute for Astrophysics in Munich, also wrote about the sound of the planets and objects of the heavens: "We hear the heterodyne ticking of pulsars ... high energy pulses from spherical star clusters, with sequences which repeat themselves. In space, there is ticking, drumming, humming and crackling."
The great rhythms of the cosmos are also revealed through modern physics. In The Silent Pulse, George Leonard writes about the vastness of space that composes what we call matter: "We can see the fully crystalline structure of muscle fiber, waving like wheat in the wind, pulsing many trillions of times a second.... As we move closer to the nucleus, it begins to dissolve. It too is nothing more than an oscillating field [that] upon our approach dissolves into pure rhythm.... Of what is the body made? It is made of emptiness and rhythm. At the heart of the ...