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Between Sound and Silence in Early Yoga: Meditation on “Om” at Death

This article examines the history of yoga with attention to mantras and sacred sound. It argues that meditation on the syllable “om” at the moment of death, which is central to the construction of early yoga, has roots in a much older technique from Vedic sacrifice called the “yoking” (yukti). In this rite, the practitioner employs a contemplative praxis with om in order to ascend to the sun and attain immortality. Sacrifice thus furnishes an ancient link in the chain of Indian soteriologies associated with om, death, and solar ascent—a genealogy that extends from the Vedas up through foundational yogic discourses. By examining the interplay between sound and silence in contemplative practices around the sacred syllable, this article aims to explain how om first became integral to early yoga, to emphasize the importance of mantra meditation in the formation of yogic traditions, and to invite a reappraisal of the role of Brahmans in the formation of early yoga.