OM and Phosphenism


The mantra OM or pranava mantra is the primordial mantra. Its use is common to various traditions like buddhism, zoroastrianism or Celtic druidism though they are very distant in space and time. This fact has been lost in translation.

The mantra OM is a vibration and, in essence, all vibrations are rhythms. It is interesting to develop this notion in the light of the discoveries of a French researcher, Doctor Francis Lefebure. Indeed, his discoveries in cerebral physiology can transform our understanding of the phenomena responsible for illumination and initiation in a revolutionary way.

For many years, Dr Lefebure studied the relationship between the rhythms of the phosphenes and religious rites. The phosphenes are all the subjective sensations of light, i.e. those which are not directly caused by light stimulating the retina. They correspond to what ophtalmologists call images of retinal persistance or post-images.

Thanks to the phosphenes, Dr Lefebure detected unknown cerebral rhythms. Indeed, there is a particular relationship between the phosphenes and the rhythms of the brain, between light and rhythms. The phosphenes behave in a rhythmic manner: they pulse, vibrate, alternate or oscillate. Produced by the action of light on the brain, they illustrate the rhythmic functioning of the nervous system. They adapt to the rhythms of thoughts in a subjective fashion, enabling their precise measurement.

Nevertheless, the phosphenes also have a profound and mysterious action on the nervous system. Indeed, if one thinks while observing a phosphene, it is, on the contrary, thoughts which are going to be influenced by the natural rhythms of the phosphenes.

Thus, it is the rhythms of the phosphenes that induce the rhythms of prayers, chants, mantras or sacred musics, generating currents of energy in the body that are exteriorized in the form of dances and postures.

To sum up, it is praying while focusing on a source of light that is at the origin of all religious rites.

In his book OM and the mantras, Dr Lefebure proceeds with a pertinent analysis of the mantra OM, describing many connections between human physiology and the sound of the mantra OM.

The mantra OM was not developed by mere chance, and the morphological analysis of the mantra OM by Dr Lefebure brings much information about the reasons of its development.

Extract from Om and the Mantras:

Morphological Analysis of the Matra OM

We are going to study the pranava mantra, first of all mantras, in its simplest form: O and M. Later on, we will see that it has another aspect that is spelt AUM. Nevertheless, let us note now that the sankrit letters A and OU are pronounced together as the phoneme [O], and thus, whatever the spelling used, there is no doubt that the true pronunciation is OM. This is what Arthème Gallip (the Zoroastrian master who initiated me) recommended, a fact that has been confirmed many times by the Indians.

We can notice that the vowel [O] is obtained by forming a circle with the lips and by creating the shape of a sphere with the mouth, with the tongue pointing upwards. On the contrary, the phoneme [M] on its own is obtained by completely relaxing all the muscles involved in phonation: it is a hum produced with the mouth closed, the lips relaxed and the soft palate lowered.

The sound produced by the lips forming a circle generates circular waves in the air, i.e. the simplest possible waveforms. This process ressembles what happens when a hoop is dropped horizontaly in water.

The circular waves, centered on the point of impact, take the form of a sinewave, when observed from the side. The sinewave is the simplest of all possible forms of vibration, complex vibrations being but a combination of sinewaves (as demonstrated by the Fourier series) .

We already can notice the oppositions between the phoneme [O] and the phoneme [M] as, when the latter is pronounced, the closed lips push the air into the nasal cavity. The nasal cavity is the most irregular bone cavity of the organism because of the three nasal conchae that contribute to air filtration. Moreover, the frontal and maxillary sinuses constitute oddly shaped sounding boxes.

Consequently, a vibration rising from the vocal cords that follows this course, will produce a maximum of harmonics and overtones, as the vibrations of the bones will be added to the vibrations of the air.

An interesting experience to illustrate the importance of the vibration of the bones produced by the phoneme [M] is to place one’s hand delicately on the anterior fontanelle of a baby who is crying. The sound emited by crying babies is very close to the phoneme [M] or, more precisely to the phoneme [N]. It is produced by bringing the soft palate forwards, forcing even more air into the nose than during the pronunciation of the phoneme [M].

When we will study the value of phonemes as mantras, we will see that air projected higher in such a way makes the frontal sinus vibrate more than the maxillary sinus. The former being smaller, it renders a higher-pitched sound. That is why the phoneme [N] is very close to the phoneme [M], with the difference that it contains more high frequencies.

So, when one places one’s hand on the fontanelle of a crying baby, one is surprised by the intensity of the vibrations perceived by the palm of the hand. Later, when the fontanelle is closed, the vibrations of the cerebrospinal fluid underneath are even more powerful, as their energy cannot disperse through the fontanelle any more. The vibrations produced by the sound of the voice are thus locked in the skull, spreading to the whole surface of the cortex. This very simple experiment illustrates very well how chanting stimulates the surface of the cortex but also how the pertinent choice of a mantra is important. Every phoneme generates different waveforms that will influence the cortex in different, specific ways.

The opposition between the simplicity of the phoneme [O] and the complexity of the phoneme [M] can be illustrated experimentally by analysing these sounds with a cathode-ray oscilloscope.

The principle of the oscilloscope is very simple: a microphone picks up the sounds to analyse; these sounds generate an electrical current; the vibrations of this current appear as a curve on a screen. With a proper setting of the apparatus, the curve that appears on the screen is an exact image of the motion of the molecules of air.

The aspect of the curve will vary, depending on the setting of the electrodes. Similarly, the waves of the sea will appear differently on television if a camera is placed above them, in front of them or lateraly.

For a certain setting of the electrodes, the phoneme [O] appears as a circle on the screen of the cathode-ray oscilloscope. The quality of the emission of the sound can thus be monitored, and an almost perfect circle can be obtained by changing the pronunciation. For a perfect circle, the phoneme emited is typically an [O]. For a different setting of the electrodes, the form that appears on the screen is a sinewave, i.e. the curve of the waves of the sea.

Now, if we analyse the phoneme [M] (the hum produced with the mouth closed) with a cathode-ray oscilloscope, we obtain a very precise square. This is related to what is call squarewave in the field of electronics.

Thus, cathode-ray oscilloscope analysis lead us to represent the sound [OM] geometrically by a circle within a square. We thus obtain a perfect ANALOGIC RESONANCE between the sound and its waveform. Let us also note that this structure matches the basic structure of the mandala (a circle within a square).

Practical exercise with the mantra OM

For more information on the precise way to chant the mantra OM, check Dr Lefebure’s book: OM and the Mantras, the Natural Name of God.