Haṁsa means swan. Haṁsa is formed out of two words haṁ and sa. It is also pronounced as haṁsaḥ. In that case, the two words would be haṁ and saḥ. This mantra represents the union of Śiva and Śakti or Brahman and His Power. This mantra also represents our breathing pattern. Haṁ represents exhalation of prāṇa and saḥ represents inhalation of prāṇa. For a human being normal breathing rate per day is 21,600 times. Breathing rate is directly related to purity of mind. When breathing rate slows down, mind attains purity. Thus haṁsaḥ represents our normal breathing pattern. This is known as haṁsa mantra, which conveys mahāvākya “Tat-tvam-asi” (I am That or I am Brahman or Śivoham). Haṁ represents aham (I) and saḥ represents That (Brahman). This mantra is considered as the highest mantra for meditation, as it is aligned with one’s breath. When the mind is fixed on the breath, mind is not afflicted by worldly thoughts, leading to purification of the mind, which is a prerequisite for Self-realization.
If haṁ and saḥ are reversed, Kuṇḍalinī is awakened. We have seen above that haṁ represents exhalation of prāṇa and saḥ represents inhalation of prāṇa. This has to be reversed leading to mantra sohaṁ, where exhalation is ‘so’ and inhalation is ‘haṁ’. It would be ideal to visualise this breathing pattern in suṣumna, and simultaneously concentrating on tip of the nose.
If one attains perfection in haṁsa mantra, he becomes a realized yogi. He enters the sixth stage of consciousness known as unmanī (transcending mind). Uttaragīta says,
अनन्तकर्मशौचं च जपो यमस्तथैव च।
तीर्थयात्रादिगमनं यावतत्त्वं न विन्दति॥
anantakarmaśaucaṁ ca japo yamastathaiva ca |
tīrthayātrādigamanaṁ yāvatattvaṁ na vindati ||
For such a person, no purification rituals, no japa, no mantra, no sacrificial rites, no pilgrimage, etc. are necessary, as Brahman does not need any rituals as He (It) is eternally pure. A practitioner has reached this stage by dissolving his mind into intellect, intellect into ego, ego into individual consciousness and individual consciousness into Brahman. This is also known as absorption. The individual self or soul is limited by antaḥkaraṇa and once antaḥkaraṇa is dissolved, māyā goes away, revealing Brahman within. It is only the afflicted mind that considers individual self as different from Brahman. Such a yogi never worships shapes and forms. He is the one who remains in the state of unmanī, when his mind, knowledge and ego are completely dissolved and remains eternally absorbed into That.