According to Vedic spiritual sciences, God first created sound, and from these sound frequencies came the phenomenal world. Matter itself is said to have proceeded from sound and OM is said to be the most sacred of all sounds. It is the syllable which preceded the universe and from which the gods were created. It is the "root" syllable (mula mantra), the cosmic vibration that holds together the atoms of the world and heavens. Indeed the Upanishads say that AUM is God in the form of sound.
A beautiful explanation of OM is found within the ancient Vedic and Sanskrit traditions. The marvelous Mandukya Upanishad explains the four elements of AUM as an allegory of the four planes of consciousness.
The symbol of AUM consists of three curves, one semicircle, and a dot.
The large lower curve 1 symbolizes the waking state (jagrat). "A" (pronounced "AH" as in "father") resonates in the center of the mouth. It represents normal waking consciousness, in which subject and object exist as separate entities. This is the level of mechanics, science, logical reason, the lower three chakras. Matter exists on a gross level, is stable and slow to change. The larger size signifies that this is the most common state of the human consciousness.
The middle curve 2 (which lies between deep sleep and the waking state) signifies the dream state (swapna). Sounded like "U" (pronounced as in "who"), it transfers the sense of vibration to the back of the mouth, and shifts the allegory to the level of dream consciousness. Here, object and subject become intertwined in awareness. Both are contained within us. Matter becomes subtle, more fluid, rapidly changing. This is the realm of dreams, divinities, imagination, the inner world.
The upper curve 3 denotes the state of deep sleep (sushupti) or the unconscious state. "M" is the third element, humming with lips gently closed. This sound resonates forward in the mouth and buzzes throughout the head. (Try it.) This sound represents the realm of deep, dreamless sleep. There is neither observing subject nor observed object. All are one, and nothing. Only pure consciousness exists, unseen, pristine, latent, covered with darkness. This is the cosmic night, the interval between cycles of creation, the womb of the divine Mother. In this state the consciousness of the individual is turned inwards, and the dreaming self beholds an enthralling view of the world behind the lids of the eyes.
These are the three states of an individual’s consciousness, and since Indian mystic thought believes the entire manifested reality springs from this consciousness, these three curves represent the entire physical phenomenon. This is Law of Attraction – creating by the content of our consciousness.
The dot signifies the fourth state of consciousness, known in Sanskrit as turiya. In this state the consciousness looks neither outwards nor inwards, nor the two together. It signifies the coming to rest of all differentiated, relative existence. This utterly quiet, peaceful and blissful state is the ultimate aim of all spiritual activity. This Absolute (non-relative) state illuminates the other three states.
Finally, the semi circle symbolizes maya and separates the dot from the other three curves. Thus it is the illusion of maya that prevents us from the realization of this highest state of bliss. The semi circle is open at the top, and does not touch the dot. This means that this highest state is not affected by maya. Maya only affects the manifested phenomenon. This effect is that of preventing the seeker from reaching his ultimate goal, the realization of the One, all-pervading, unmanifest, Absolute principle. In this manner, the form of OM represents both the unmanifest and the manifest, the noumenon and the phenomenon.
The threefold symbolism of OM is comprehensible to the most ‘ordinary’ of us humans, realizable both on the intuitive and objective level. This is the key to its widespread popularity and acceptance.
By sound and form, AUM symbolizes the infinite Brahman (ultimate reality) and the entire universe.
A stands for Creation
U stands for Preservation
M stands for Destruction or dissolution
This is representative of the Trinity of God in Hindu dharma (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva).These are also the creator, the preserver and the destroyer.
Some other of these symbolic equivalents are:
· Colors: Red, White, and Black.
· Seasons: Spring, Summer, and Winter.
· Periods: Morning, Midday, and Evening.
· States: Waking-consciousness (jagriti), Dream (svapna), and
· Spheres: Heavenly, Earthly, and Intermediary.
· Poetic Meters: Gayatri (24 syllables), Trishtubh (44 syllables), and Jagati (48 syllables).
· Veda: Rigveda (knowledge of the meters), Yajurveda (knowledge of contents), Samaveda (knowledge of extension).
· Elemental Deity: Fire (Agni), Sun (Aditya), Wind (Vayu).
· Manifestation of Speech: Voice (vak), Mind (manas), Breath (prana).
· Priestly Function: Making offering, Performing ritual, and Singing.
· Tendencies: Revolving, Cohesive, and Disintegrating.
· Quality: Energy (rajas), Purity (sattva), and Ignorance (tamas).
· Ritual fire: Of the home, of the Ancestors, and of Invocation.
· Goddess: Amba, Ambika, and Ambalika.
· Gods: Of the elements (Vasus), of the sky (Adityas), of the
· Action: Creation, Preservation, and Destruction.
· Power: of Action (kriya), of Knowledge (jnana), and of Will (iccha).
· Man: Body, Soul, and Spirit.
· Time: Past, Present, and Future.
· Stages of Existence: Birth, Life, and Death.
· Phases of the Moon: Waxing, Full, and Waning.
· Godhead: Father, Mother, and Son.
· Alchemy: Sulphur, Quicksilver, and Salt.
· Buddhism: the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha (three jewels of Buddhism).
· Qabalism: Male, Female, and the Uniting intelligence.
· Japanese Thought: Mirror, Sword, and Jewel.
· Divine Attributes: Truth, Courage, and Compassion.
All the words produced by the human vocal organ can be represented by AUM. A is produced by the throat, U & M by the lips
In the Vedas, AUM is the sound of the Sun, the sound of Light. It is the sound of assent (affirmation) and ascent (it has an upwards movement and uplifts the soul, as the sound of the divine eagle or falcon.
But over and above the threefold nature of OM as a sacred sound is the invisible fourth dimension which cannot be distinguished by our sense organs restricted as they are to material observations. This fourth state is the unutterable, soundless silence that follows the uttering of OM. A quieting down of all the differentiated manifestations, i.e. a peaceful-blissful and non-dual state. Indeed this is the state symbolized by the dot in the traditional iconography of AUM.
Seeking the unstruck sound
Ancient teachings and modern science agree: you, I, all living things, all things in existence are made up at their most essential level of vibrating, pulsing energy. For millennia, mystics have recounted their experience of this energy, which is said to manifest in our hearing awareness as a humming vibration around and within everything else.
In the Sanskrit tradition, this sound is called "Anahata Nada," the "Unstruck Sound." Literally, this means "the sound that is not made by two things striking together." The point of this particular distinction is that all ordinary audible sounds are made by at least two elements: bow and string; drum and stick; two vocal cords; two lips against the mouthpiece of the trumpet; the double reed of the oboe; waves against the shore; wind against the leaves. All sounds within our range of hearing are created by things visible or invisible, striking each other or vibrating together, creating pulsing waves of air molecules which our ears and brain interpret as sound.
So, sound that is not made of two things striking together is the sound of primal energy, the sound of the universe itself. Joseph Campbell likens this unstruck vibration to the humming of an electrical transformer, or the (to our ears) unheard hummings of atoms and molecules.
And the ancients say that the audible sound which most resembles this unstruck sound is the syllable OM.
Tradition has it that this ancient mantra is composed of four elements: the first three are vocal sounds: A, U, and M. The fourth sound, unheard, is the silence which begins and ends the audible sound, the silence which surrounds it. In fact, "silence" as a concept can only be understood in reference to "sound." We hear this silence best when listening to sound, any sound at all, without interpreting or judging the sound. Listening fully, openly, without preconceptions or expectations. The sound of music, the sound of the city, the sound of the wind in the forest. All can give us the opportunity to follow the path of sound into the awareness of the sound behind the sound.
When one really "listens" to this silent sound, this unstruck vibration, one comes inevitably to stillness, to pure and open existence. The poet Gerhart Hauptmann says the aim of all poetry is "to let the Word be heard resounding behind words." The sound behind the sound. And, in making the sound of AUM, we hear this unstruck sound most clearly in the instant when the last humming vibrations of the "M" fade away. At that moment, that instant separating audible sound and silence, the veil is thinnest, and our listening awareness is most expansive. At that moment of silence, to use William Blake’s words, the "doors of perception" are cleansed, and "everything would appear to man as it is, infinite."
"When you are totally silent and the mind has dissolved and the thoughts disappeared; when the ego has ceased, then you hear the sound of aum – it is soundless sound. No one is creating it, it is there. It is the very existential sound; it is how existence happens to be just a humming sound of existence." -Osho Rajneesh
"Omni is a derivation from the Hindu word aum. Aum is the symbol of the universe. Omnipotent means one who knows all, one who is all-powerful; omnipresent means one who is everywhere present – present in the aum, seeing the aum, powerful like the aum." -Osho Rajneesh
Om in every culture
Om in Hinduism: The mantra Om (or Aum) has been handed down to us by the Himalayan sages. The Mandukya Upanishad explains its significance as everything manifest that has its origin in the Un-manifest. "Om is the primordial throb of the universe. It is the sound form of consciousness." The repetition of Om leads one’s mind into deep concentration, meditation, and finally to samadhi, a state of higher consciousness.
Om in Jainism, Sikhism, and Buddhism: Om is an integral part of the philosophies, rituals, meditations and chants in Jainism, Sikhism, and Buddhism. It has the same meaning and ramifications as in Vedic philosophy.
Om in Tantra Yoga: Tantric scriptures declare that Om is the storehouse of mystic power. When Om is uttered, according to Vedic injections, the throat generates the sound A by beginning the sound from the bottom of the spine (Kundalini) and thus using the entire depth of the human mechanism to produce this sound. It is the mantra for the seventh chakra, opening the lotus at the crown.
Aum (Om) in ancient Egypt. The ancient Egyptians knew of Aum as Amen or Amun. Amen or Amen-Ra was a primordial creation deity, the name of the supreme God who was considered the creator and ruler of the other gods, and who had no beginning and no end. Possibly, Aum was deified as Amen. Certainly, this description aligns with Aum in that Primordial Energy is the source of all things, including gods, and indeed is without beginning and end, since it is the very source of time itself.
This word can be seen in the names of some of the Pharaohs, such as in Tut-ankh-amen which literally means `The Living Image of Amen’. There was even a temple in the ancient city of Thebes called `Amen-Re’ or the Temple of Amen.’ It was located at the `navel’ of Egypt; that is, at its exact geographical center.
It is interesting to note that ovoidal-shaped stone markers called Om-pholos (a Greek word which literally means `navel’) were placed throughout Egypt as a means by which the land was delineated and surveyed. Each ompholos indicated that the god Amen was present there. Possibly, and this is pure speculation, Om was symbolically placed in the form of these ompholos’ marker-monuments all over Egypt to indicate that that which Om represents is everywhere – in a word, Om-nipresent.
The god Thoth (the God of Wisdom, known by the Greeks as Hermes) is believed to have created the world by his Voice (Primordial Vibration) alone, a recurring theme in religions; this again hints at Om. These parallels should not surprise us because history shows us that the ancient Egyptians had enormous commercial, cultural and religious exchange with India. This suggests, in the mists of time, they shared a common culture or a common heritage.
Also, it should be noted that there is a theory that the massive pyramids were constructed, not using present-day construction techniques, but the power of sound. As we develop our understanding of sound we may rediscover knowledge that the ancient Egyptians had known and used.
Om in Ancient Greece: The ancient Greek alphabet had Omega as its last letter. Omega written in the lowercase of the Greek alphabet, if turned to its side, looks quite similar to the Sanskrit way of writing Om. It is from the Greek alphabet "Omega" that we have the English phrase "the Alpha and Omega," which means, "to include everything."
"In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. Amen."
Om in Judaism and Christianity. Indian mystical thinking influenced Judaism in many ways. In this process, Aum (Om) became Amen and, as such, was later incorporated into Christianity. Amen is said to mean `so be it’, though this may be a later interpretation. Amen is widely mentioned in the Bible. It is used during worship (Revelations 3:14); to confirm an oath or that one agrees to moral laws (Deuteronomy 27:15-26); as an expression of benediction (1 Chronicles 16.36); for expressing one’s love of God (2 Corinthians 1:20) or as sign of thanks (1 Corinthians 14.16).
Though perhaps not directly, the following well known statement would also indicate Vedic roots to the story:
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and
the Word was God. Amen (Aum)"
Bible St. John 1:1
It is apparent that the `Word’ (or `Logos’ in Greek) means the cosmic throb or vibration and signifies exactly the same as Aum or Om. We see, therefore, that in fundamentals, such as the use of Aum or Amen, the Vedas and Indian mystical thinking in general, have a lot in common with Judaism and Christianity.
Om in Islam. A few centuries after Christ, Amen was adopted into Islam as Amin or Alm. The Arabic letter ‘l’ is pronounced like ‘u’ when it appears before a consonant which means that Alm automatically become Aum.
Moreover, in exactly the same way as most traditional Indian spiritual texts, the Koran starts with Aum in the form of Alm! Here we see an extraordinary parallel between Islam and Yoga, as well as mainstream Indian mystical thinking. Everything starts with Aum.
Did the Celts use Om? The ancient mystical language of the Irish Celts was called Ogham (pronounced Ohm, Om or Aum). Ogham was not a flexible, developed language, but more a set of hieroglyphic words for a limited range of things, mostly denoting objects revered by the Druids. This indicates the possibility that the ancient Celts, through their Druid priests, knew of and used Om.
There is evidence of the influence of ancient Indian culture in the ancient Irish culture. Gallic is an Indo-European language in which there are many words with Sanskrit roots. For example, the word Eire (Ireland), like the word for Iran, is derived from arya, a Sanskrit word which means `noble’ and denotes the people of ancient India. It is possible, therefore, that the Ogham language has distant roots and was inspired by Om which, in turn, epitomizes Sanskrit and ancient Indian mystical thinking.
The Mayans and the Word. In the ancient Mayan scripture called the Popal Vuh it says:
‘The first real men (sages) are given life by the sole power of the Word (Sound Vibration)’.
Though not a direct reference to Om, it does seem to imply that in pre-Columbian America, Mayan sages (like Indian sages) knew the power of sound vibration (mantras) which Om symbolizes.
The same applies to many ancient cultures world-wide who knew the transformative power of sound and who realized what science has only recently discovered: that the manifest universe is based on energy, of which sound is an aspect.
Om in English Vocabulary. There are various English words derived from Latin, some of which have important philosophical meanings, that begin with Om. Om-niscience and Om-nipotence are just two examples. Om, symbolizing the universal sound vibration that contains all sounds and vibrations, is also contained in the word Om-nipresent. Note also the words Om-nifarious and Om-en. The Latin root word omni means `universal’. The last letter of the Greek alphabet is Om-ega. It is easy to see that om has influenced our culture, via the Greeks and Romans, more than we think, especially on a philosophical level.
Last, the English word ombudsman (from the Norwegian) means `a person who judges on intractable disputes or problems’. One can break down the word so that it conveys the ancient role of Ombudsman. `Om-buds-man’ could possibly mean `Om’ + `buddhi’ + `manas’ – using the power of Om to awaken the buddhi (Sanskrit, `our discriminatory faculty’) over manas (Sanskrit, `the conceptual mind’) . Both the terms `buddhi’ and `manas’ are widely used in Vedic paradigms of the mind and its functioning.
Om and physics
According to tradition, every ‘thing’ manifest comes from Primordial Vibration, which is symbolized by Om: all material objects, all living beings, including each of us, all spiritual teachings, all languages, all scriptures, including the Vedas, everything.
Everything has come out of Primordial Vibration, which is represented by Om. This concurs with modern scientific thinking which says that everything – every atom and molecule in every nook and corner of this universe – is formed out of energy vibration. Einstein formulated his famous equation that E = mc2 which indicates that matter (m) is but an expression of Energy (E). Every atom, at-Om, comes out of the Primordial Vibration which is symbolized by Om.
Om as a sound, syllable (Om or Aum) and glyph (?) all symbolize the fact that all material objects, all phenomena and all thought patterns, both on a microcosmic and macrocosmic level, are states of energy vibration. The Mandukya Upanishad says that Om symbolizes everything manifest and yet it has its origin in the Unmanifest.
The Bindu and the Raif.
The bindu (Sanskrit, point), symbolizes each particle of existence. Each bindu is a catalyst for manifestation. It is also known as the Transcendental Point because each point of existence has intimate contact with the underlying Reality.
The raif is the crescent moon-shaped symbol shown in the glyph (see previous diagram). It symbolizes the creative, expressive energy which is generated by or through each bindu, each particle. The raif represents the cosmic hum of the universe, the means by which Shiva (the Unmanifest, Consciousness or underlying Intelligence) can manifest through Shakti (Cosmic Energy) to create the world of multifarious objects which we perceive through the senses. This process takes place, continuously, moment to moment. In terms of quantum physics, we can say that each and every particle (atomic, sub-atomic or whatever) arises out of the Quantum Vacuum and thereby creates every `thing’ in existence.
The Sanskrit word raif means `to murmur’. Therefore, the Unmanifest `murmurs’, so to say, into the manifest world of form through each and every bindu.
The bindu is the blue-print and the raif is the creative energy. Together, they symbolize the ineffable relationship between the finite and the Infinite, between the part and the Totality, between the individual and the All, and between time and the Timeless. Modern quantum physics tells us that each particle of existence is instantaneously connected to every other particle. This is independent of time and space – which suggests that there is an underlying principle (David Bohm, the well known quantum physicist, called it the implicate order) which is beyond time and space and which unifies all things on a deeper level of reality. In Yoga we call this principle Consciousness. In the glyph of ? it is symbolized by the formless background on which the symbol is inscribed and by the ether from which the sound of Aum is created and to which it returns.
Plunging through the Center of Infinity. There is a well-known, and ancient, hermetic statement:
`Reality is a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is no-where.’
There are many levels of interpretation, one of which was pointed out by Giordano Bruno. He said that whereas finite space, no matter how large it is, can have only one center, infinite space has its center everywhere. Mathematically, infinite space has an infinite number of centers.
One hundred years later, Leibnitz, the German mathematician, inspired by Bruno’s thinking, tried to explain the same thing with his theory of the Monad (`monas’ is ancient Greek for `unit.’). Leibnitz described each center of infinity as a `monad.’ Each single monad contains the reflection of the entire universe – which is in agreement with modern Quantum theory as well as many mystical systems including Yoga and Tantra.
The Hua Yen (or Kegon) School of Chinese Buddhism has tried to explain this even further with the image of Indra’s Jewel Net where there are an infinite number of jewels in each of which is reflected all the other jewels together. Also, each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel also reflects all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting process going on. This gives an idea of infinitely repeated interrelationship among everything in the universe.
In the Vedas, each center of infinity is called bindu (see previous heading `The Bindu and the Raif’). Each monad, each particle of existence, is impregnated with energy and Consciousness. Each bindu is in intimate contact with every other bindu. Each bindu shares with the Totality and the Totality shares with each bindu.
The Primordial Vibration, symbolized by Om, resonates through each of these infinite number of centers. By chanting Om (or any other mantra), we move from a state of extroversion and dissipation to a more introspective, harmonious state. Centering ourselves in Meditation, we are able to `touch’ the bindu (the Transcendental Point, symbolized by the dot in the top of the Om symbol ?). Plunging through this Bindu (which exists everywhere), we can realize the nature of Reality.
The Bindu of the Human Personality. Each and every embodied being is an expression of Shiva (Consciousness; underlying Reality) acting through the medium of Shakti (Energy; the Quantum Vacuum). As we have already said, each bindu (particle) of existence acts as a conduit for the flow of creative energy represented by the raif.
But the bindu of the human personality is known as the Anandamaya Kosha, the Blissful Sheath or Causal Body. This is the nucleus of our existence as an embodied being. In Meditation, we are in contact with this level of our being, and we can be catapulted into osmotic contact and realization of underlying Consciousness. As Eckhart, the medieval German mystic, said:
"The eye with which I see God is the same as that with which He sees me."
That is, Reality `sees’ us (i.e. is in constant and intimate contact with us) through the bindu, but we can also reciprocate by `tuning’ into Reality through the bindu (by `seeing’ through the same `eye’). The bindu, here the Anandamaya Kosha, allows us to realize Reality. Or, more correctly, we should say that the bindu is the point through which the Cosmic Consciousness realizes Itself through the individual consciousness.
When we chant Om we focus on the resonance which is the raif. Our being gets absorbed in this vibration and this has the power to lead us back, via the bindu, to realize the underlying nature or Consciousness which is beyond the bindu.
All this is indicated by the symbol of ?: it is a symbol of the process of manifestation or creation, the means by which we exist as embodied beings. But, at the same time, Aum also symbolizes the process of return, where through practice (Sanskrit, sadhana) we can realize our essential Roots.
Freed-Om. Chanting Om and reflecting on its meaning can lead us to freedom or Freed-Om. Our essential Nature is free; chanting Om helps us to realize this fact.
The Real Om is the Primordial Cosmic vibration. It is ineffable and beyond symbol, syllable and sound. The real Om is the bedrock of manifest existence. The sound of Om that is chanted is just a faint shadow of the Reality behind the manifest world.
And yet this shadow also represents the Transcendental. Consider a full moon in the sky and one of its numerous reflections in a small puddle in your backyard. Obviously the reflection is not the full moon, and anything that you do to the reflected moon (i.e. throw a stone in the puddle) will not even slightly influence the moon in the sky. And yet, despite its insignificance, the reflection does faithfully indicate the shape and markings of the full moon. So it is with Om. It pales in comparison to what it represents, and yet, nevertheless, it is an indication of underlying Reality. This applies to every `thing’ in existence from the smallest atom to the most enormous galaxy. They are all indications of underlying Reality. Reflect on this.
Om in other Mantras. Om is an integral part of most other mantras:(Om Namah Shivaya, etc.). Om precedes other mantras since it symbolizes Consciousness and without Consciousness, nothing can exist. Without the presence of underlying Intelligence, the mantra has no value and no power to transform; indeed it cannot even exist! Om is the very core, the bed-rock, of all sounds and all other mantras. Without That which is symbolized by Om nothing can exist, including each of us.
* the vibration of God.
* Truth, the Absolute.
* the `hum’ of the universe.
* liberation and the means to it.
Om Symbolizes and Encourages:
* the descent of Universality into the human heart.
* the descent of the Infinite into the finite.
* the expression of the Unconditioned into the conditioned
* .the descent of the Formless into form.
The chanting of Om and reflection on its meaning helps to bring about a transformation in our perception so that we can start to Realize the meaning of the above.
Om takes us Home. Our essential nature, our original home, is Consciousness. H-O-M-E is composed of OM encompassed by HE; Therefore, OM is the essence of HE (Underlying Intelligence). Chanting Om helps us to realize the roots of our Being, and in the deepest sense takes us homeward.
If you choose to experiment with this sound for your own meditation and realizations, be sure to resonate the word (long o……m….) in the deepest range of your vocal register, with a single breath. Elongate the o with an open mouth and then vibrate the m through closed lips. Keep the repetition of the sound even in duration, breathing in between soundings. After doing this exercise for 10 minutes or so, you may wish to transform the OM to AUM (ah…ewe…m…) and note the effect after 10 more minutes. It also is helpful to visualize the symbol for OM while doing this, either with eyes closed or by looking at the symbol during a wide-eyed meditation. See the symbol as a "seed" with each OM-AUM it grows inside you…until you become the OM-AUM.