‘Soham’, when formally ‘given’ to you by a Jivan-Mukt Sat-Guru is ‘Sushumna Yog.
A Jivan-mukt has understood the real meaning of the Maha-vakya, ‘tat tvam asi’. Maha-vakya महावाक्य means the great saying, assertion, declaration, rule. ‘Tat tvam asi’ loosely means ‘you are that’, but understanding this and experiencing this means you have achieved Sadyo-mukti. ‘Tat tvam asi’ is called the Brahmaakara Vritti, ie the state of the mind which takes you towards the Eternal Intelligence. Only such a Jivan mukt Guru can ‘give’ you Soham in all its grandness. eg your friend calls you by your full name and then your Mom calls you by your full name. When your Mom calls you with your full name, you get all alert and awake, her voice and your name trigger something within you.
Soham is the right of every living being. You keep doing it regularly in some small way with intention and it will slowly reset your energy. (Like that friend calling you by your name.) And then at some point of time, you will meet your Sat-Guru who will formally ‘give’ it to you. (This would be like your Mom calling you). When you hear this mantra from a Jivan-mukt, you hear it from the Nirvishesh Brahma itself. The mantra then goes deep inside and resets your energy in a fast forward mode. This now becomes Sushumna Yog, the route to Moksh. It opens access to the Sushumna nadi and the Brahma-nadi within it.
Soham has the power to take you into Kevala-Kumbhak spontaneously. Kumbhak is commonly considered to be the pause between the act of breathing in-Purak and breathing out-Rechak. But actually ‘Kumbhak’ means a pause in breathing. The breathing stops. Kevala Kumbhak means the stoppage of breath when the mind is silenced, completely motionless. In your Dhyan when you reach a point where the mind is utterly calm, the breathing stops. This stoppage can be in mid-inward breath, in mid-outward breath or between the Rechak/ Purak, anytime. This is called the state of Kevala Kumbhak.
When the breath stops, your pran are in your conscious control, the mind/Manas is still. Soham dissolves the individual ego/ Ahamkara completely. Grants you perfect memory/ Chitta of yourself. Perfect intelligence/ Buddhi dawns on you. You gain the knowledge/ Vijnyan of the Eternal.
Initially this kumbhak will be for short time, later it can extend to hours as a Samadhi. Kevala Kumbhak is the highest form of Kumbhak. For those who attempt reaching this Kevala Kumbhak by consciously manipulating pran, the entire and very complicated process is given in the Yog-shikha Upanishad. But attempt this only under the guidance of a real Guru who knows what he is doing. Do not experiment here. Else you can burn up your Nadi-s, if this happens you have to discard your current body and take another body/life. (I have heard examples where aspirants burnt their nadi-s and then physically died a few months later.)
For attaining Moksh, both practice and philosophy is necessary. One trains the pran/ vital energy and the other trains the mind. Mind can be controlled by only if you control Pran and the easiest way to control Pran is to focus on your breath. The spiritual path can be very dangerous if you do not follow a Sat-Guru. You are manipulating the energies enveloping your soul, it is risky without the proper guide. All the books in Sanatan Dharma, Brahma-sutra, Bhagvat Gita, Vijnyan Bhairav Tantra, Devi Mahatmya, Ved, Vedang, Upanishad, etc emphasise the supreme importance of the Sat-guru in attaining Sadyo-mukti, Advaitya.
I have seen my own Sat-Guru in his physical shell as a Jivan-mukt and his full Advaita form after the shell dissolved.
A Jivan-mukt is innocence, untouched by physical/ emotional distress. Every word uttered by him is deepest philosophy. Every sentence when pondered upon, means only the Advaita. He cannot ever talk on any materialistic topic, he has transcended all this dross. He will not do moorti-pujas, pilgrimages, rituals, yadnas, homa or any other outer forms of worship connected to this illusory worlds, nor will he tell his disciples to do so. (My Guru would pointedly say no to all this as this. But he would tell us to increase our Dhyan.) He will give the same final mantra (Om/ Soham/ Hamsa) to all his disciples. To him, each one is the same Parabrahma. He does not discriminate among his disciples. He looks fresh and always welcoming. There are no bindings on how one has to be before coming before him. (Some Yogi-s are particular about women in their 5 days cycle. Or do not allow others to touch, have strict conditions on food etc). A Sat-guru has no requirements, no hang-ups, nothing. I have seen my Sat-guru eating out of silver plates and with the same innocence having simple food in the house of a poor disciple. Not finicky about habits, nothing. And this doesn’t mean that you can take him lightly. His aura is tremendous, you can not do anything but bow before him. All thoughts flee your mind in his presence. (I could never ask him for anything in words. Yet he always answered the questions I used to ask him in my mind). You feel the immenseness of him. Only those few people who have actually seen a Jivan-Mukt can understand what I have written here.
(Eg. Once he stopped his car in front of a Mumbai slum. My Mom was travelling with him. He asked her to go into the slum and call a woman, he told her the name. A elderly beggar woman came out. He asked her if she would like to go and live in his Math in Kolhapur district. She thought it over and said yes. He gave her money to buy some clothes and tickets. She lived in the Math and helped out in the kitchens. After some 25yrs, by his blessings, she left her body sitting in Dhyan. There are numerous such examples with my Guru.)
A Jivan-mukt’s body is linked to the Prarabdha-karma linked to the body at birth. So the body will play out its karmic activities. But the Soul is the pure Advaita. The pain/ pleasure of the body does not exist for the Soul. It has entered the Unmani-avastha, ‘beyond the mind’. The only purpose of the body is to enjoy/ endure karma. The soul has nothing to do with karma. You are not the body, you are the Soul, so its karmic pain/ pleasure has nothing to do with you. If you understand and experience this, you are Mukt.
Now whenever I see him he is in his full Advaita form, just the conscious Nirvishesh Brahma. It is very different and more intense.
So the point is, in this world, there are very rare Jivan-mukt available, maybe one in a hundred million. If you have the all-consuming desire to Know yourself, you will meet one, like the beggar woman whom my Sat-guru picked out of the slums. But until this happens, it is best that you do your Soham-Dhyan. Better trust your own higher self rather than putting your trust in some dubious ‘guru’. There are so many frauds in this world who are more than ready to take advantage of your fire and your energy. A Yogi who is higher up on the route can help you but only a Sat-Guru can really guide you home.
Do your Soham-Dhyan as per your conscience. This will prepare you for the moment when you will meet your Sat-guru. ‘Soham’ is not secret, everyone knows it. But when you hear it from your Sat-guru as a Naam-mantra, ie with the intention that ‘Soham’ is your name, it changes your energies completely. The Advaita itself tells you your name and directs you to focus on this now onwards. I was very young when my Sat-guru ‘gave’ it to me, but I remember every second of that experience.
There was a question for references on Soham. For me the biggest reference is that my Sat-Guru gave it to me. But you can go through the following if you are so inclined,
- Brahma vidya upanishad mentions that Soham is the mantra.
- Yog shikha upanishad mentions that the Ajapa mantra under the guidance of a Sat-guru and for Sushumna yog is ‘Soham’. This is a part of mantra yog. The only route to liberation is the Sushumna yog and the ones who follow this route are the Jivan-mukt. Liberation is possible in one life itself if you slowly, little by little but regularly perform Soham.
- Shri Nisargadatta Maharaj, my Sat-guru’s Guru-brother writes in his books that if one follows one’s Sat-guru’s direction and Soham-Dhyan, it takes two years to attain Moksh.
- Isha upanishad mentions that Soham is the illumination, the highest blessing.
- Brihad aranyak upanishad says that when the Advaita first took the form of the Purush, the first words said by this conscious intelligence were ‘Soham asmi’, ‘I am That’. The Purush is aware that he is the Non-dual, no one but him existed nor exists nor will exist. (For details on what the Purush is you will need to read the Sankhya philosophy.)
- Hamsa upanishad, says that ‘Soham’ is the ‘kilak’, ie it is the pin, wedge, pillar, bolt, to which the entire ‘Hamsa soham’ mantra is fastened to. If you use this ‘Soham’ as a kilak, ie make it the sharp cutting edge of your spiritual practice you attain Moksh.
- Vidnyan Bhairav Tantra mentions ‘Soham’ and ‘Hamsa’.
- In the phalashruti of Vishnu sahastra nama, the highest One says that these 1000 names of Vishnu are equivalent to one Soham mantra.
- There are several tantra books, philosophy commentaries and stotras which mention Soham.
If you think that ’Soham’ is very simple, try doing it for one hour with your breath as you do your daily commute sitting in the bus or train. See how many times you forgot to keep track of your breath. See how many times your attention was diverted from your breath and your mantra by what you saw/ heard in the train. Keeping track of breath is not so easy! But as you train your mind, direct it again and again to focus on your breathing pattern, you will notice changes in yourself. Your mind will become calmer, recovery from emotional outbursts will be faster, your health indicators will improve, you will look younger, fresher, your aura will become more intense etc.
Sohams’s greatest power is that everyone can do it. All the time, in all conditions of the body/ mind. There is no binding of any sort on doing it. You can do it on your asan, in the bus, while you are having a bath, while walking in the park, at all times. It is a Manasik Jaap, ie mentally recite ‘So’ as you breathe in and mentally recite ‘Hum’ as you breathe out. Every breath you take should be converted to Soham, in every state. This means that you will be doing 21,600 Soham jaap every day! But then your breathing will also slow down. eg I have observed that when I am just sitting, reading or typing my breathing rate goes to 2-3 per minute and sometimes stops. Slowed breathing increases your body’s life-span and health. The life of a person is measured in breaths, the more you sit in Samadhi or in Dhyan, the slower you breathe, the longer your body will sustain.
Soham is the gem among the mantras, it gives the highest benefit, Sushumna Yog, and ultimately Moksh, Sadyo-mukti in the most easiest, safest, gentlest and kindest ways and in this one life-time itself.
There were several questions, I have sort of combined them in this post.