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Om - An Inquiry into its Aesthetics, Mysticism, and Philosophy
Article of the Month - December 2001 by Nitin Kumar Email the author

Om PendantIn the Chandogya Upanishad it is said:

The essence of all beings is the earth.
The essence of the earth is water.
The essence of water is the plant.
The essence of the plant is man.
The essence of man is speech.
The essence of speech is the Rigveda.
The essence of Rigveda is the Samveda.
The essence of Samveda is OM.

Thus OM is the best of all essences, deserving the highest place. Visually, OM is represented by a stylized pictograph.

 

Om - ConstructionA deeper insight into this mystic symbol reveals that it is composed of three syllables combined into one, not like a physical mixture but more like a chemical combination. Indeed in Sanskrit the vowel 'o' is constitutionally a diphthong compound of a + u; hence OM is representatively written as AUM.

Fittingly, the symbol of AUM consists of three curves (curves 1, 2, and 3), one semicircle (curve 4), and a dot.

The large lower curve 1 symbolizes the waking state (jagrat), in this state the consciousness is turned outwards through the gates of the senses. The larger size signifies that this is the most common ('majority') state of the human consciousness.

The upper curve 2 denotes the state of deep sleep (sushupti) or the unconscious state. This is a state where the sleeper desires nothing nor beholds any dream.

The middle curve 3 (which lies between deep sleep and the waking state) signifies the dream state (swapna). 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 to spring from this consciousness, these three curves therefore represent the entire physical phenomenon.

Om Pendant

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.

Om Pendant

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.

As a sacred sound also, the pronunciation of the three-syllabled AUM is open to a rich logical analysis.

The first alphabet A is regarded as the primal sound, independent of cultural contexts. It is produced at the back of the open mouth, and is therefore said to include, and to be included in, every other sound produced by the human vocal organs. Indeed A is the first letter of the Sanskrit alphabet.

The open mouth of A moves toward the closure of M. Between is U, formed of the openness of A but shaped by the closing lips. Here it must be recalled that as interpreted in relation to the three curves, the three syllables making up AUM are susceptible to the same metaphorical decipherment. The dream state (symbolized by U), lies between the waking state (A) and the state of deep sleep (M). Indeed a dream is but the compound of the consciousness of waking life shaped by the unconsciousness of sleep.

AUM thus also encompasses within itself the complete alphabet, since its utterance proceeds from the back of the mouth (A), travelling in between (U), and finally reaching the lips (M). Now all alphabets can be classified under various heads depending upon the area of the mouth from which they are uttered. The two ends between which the complete alphabet oscillates are the back of the mouth to the lips; both embraced in the simple act of uttering of AUM.

The last part of the sound AUM (the M) known as ma or makar, when pronounced makes the lips close. This is like locking the door to the outside world and instead reaching deep inside our own selves, in search for the Ultimate truth.

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.

The threefold symbolism of OM is comprehensible to the most 'ordinary' of us humans, realizable both on the intuitive and objective level. This is responsible for its widespread popularity and acceptance. That this symbolism extends over the entire spectrum of the manifested universe makes it a veritable fount of spirituality. Some 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 deep-sleep (sushupti).
  • Spheres: Earthly, Heavenly, 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 sphere-of-space (Rudras).
  • Deity: Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva.
  • 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.

Om Namoh Shivai Wrap

 

According to Indian spiritual sciences, God first created sound, and from these sound frequencies came the phenomenal world. Our total existence is constituted of these primal sounds, which give rise to mantras when organized by a desire to communicate, manifest, invoke or materialize. 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. Thus OM is the first part of the most important mantras in both Buddhism and Hinduism, for e.g. Om Namoh Shivai and Om Mani Padme Hum.

 

 

 

Om - Batik Painting on Cotton

 

 

In a further development of the mystic conception of AUM, the Mandukya Upanishad states:

AUM is a bow,
The arrow is the self,
And Brahman (Absolute reality) is said to be the Mark.

Another ancient text equates AUM with an arrow, laid upon the bow of the human body (the breath), which after penetrating the darkness of ignorance finds its mark, namely the lighted domain of True Knowledge. Just as a spider climbs up its thread and gains freedom, so the yogis climb towards liberation by the syllable OM.

 

 

 

Conclusion

The omnific and omniparous quality of OM makes it omnipresential, and in-omissible from any spiritual practice. As an omnipotent symbol, the yogi who penetrates its mystery is indeed truly omnicompetent and omnipercipient, and as an omniscient source, it is a virtual omnibus of sacred and mystical inspirations.


References and Further Reading

  • Chatterjee, Gautam. Sacred Hindu Symbols: New Delhi, 2001.
  • Cooper, J.C. An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols: London, 1999.
  • Danielou, Alain. The Myths and Gods of India: Vermont, 1991.
  • Johari, Harish. Tools for Tantra: Vermont, 1986.
  • Lysebeth, Andre Van. Tantra The Cult of the Feminine: Delhi, 2001.
  • Pandit, Bansi. The Hindu Mind. New Delhi, 2001.
  • Rao, Dr. I. Panduranga. the Voice of Vision: Calcutta.
  • Waterstone, Richard. India (Living Wisdom Series): London, 1996.
  • Zimmer, Heinrich. Philosophies of India: Delhi, 2000.

We hope you have enjoyed reading the article. Any comments or feedback that you may have will be greatly appreciated. Please send your feedback to feedback@exoticindiaart.com.


This article by Nitin Kumar
Editor
http://www.exoticindia.com


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Article Reviews

  • Hi. I would like to know how is the correct spelling of the word: mother earth in sanskrit? (sanskrit word) Thank you. Laura
    - Laura
    13th Aug 2012
  • send me a good picture of om for tatto
    - precious
    25th Feb 2012
  • Receive the attached article
    - RAJ SHARDA
    8th Dec 2011
  • OM is the best of all essences, deserving the highest place. i strongly believe in this word ``OM`` a word created by god itself. well i really enjoyed reading this site. it was not enjoyable but was full of wisdom . thank you for such article. God bless you and keeping writing with your magic pen . its really lovely ....ezna Fiji
    - Ezna Stephna
    19th Sep 2010
  • I sat, roughly, 10 years ago alone in a tent (at this time my own study of my feelings, emotions and the sensations inside my self were a personal study of daily routine.)

    Alone in a tent, I used my ears to gather all the sounds I heard (for fun, you could say) There was a lot of comotion around me. Music and dancing, laughter and drug use, several hundred people. So the everything I was hearing was already 'mostly' blurred together.
    I collected all the sounds with no intention. And of course as my breathe would get out of hand i would wrestle and relax it up and down until it became heavy and stable. as the irritations in my chakrs began I did wrestle and relax, wresle and relax as it gained stability thing. I did the same with my mind as the sensation of listening and trying to make all the sounds one (this was my intention) got more intense. And slowly OM began. Like 1,000 monks slowly and softly, my eyes wide open, it continued never beggining and never ending. OM. My mouth hung open and my eyes wide. I just listened in utter stupidity... amazed. OM!? I shook it off and never tried again.

    Though I have on occasion been curious if another had 'really' heard the sound too. And now I have read the story. Maybe I will try again sometime.
    - Self-is-ness
    6th Dec 2008
  • Interesting Article. Very insightful. Excellent.
    - Jaspal (jaspal@live.com)
    10th Sep 2008
  • Hi,
    Ever since I can remember ive been drawing the OHM symbol and seeing it in my dreams- sometimes in Colour. It wasnt until a few years ago Ive started researching this symbol and Ive really grown to love it. Any ideas to why I may have been seeing this symbol for so long?
    - HappyDreamer
    9th Jun 2008
  • Obviously, it very interesting and full with spiritual and philosophical meaninings.Glory to the Oim! A healing word.
    - Sanjay Mishra
    9th Jan 2008
  • There is a blog dedicated to Aum pictures. You can see it at aumblog.com Some amazingly beautiful and spiritual depictions of aum.
    - Ria
    18th Nov 2007
  • My father had Aum as a tatoo. He passed away few days ago. May he rise as a shining star to a new life.
    - Ronni Kristensen
    8th Feb 2007
  • Om Shanti, Transiting Matrika

    Dear Vac, Indian Goddess meaning Voice,
    I pray to you, letting you know that our
    Dreamers, our visionaries, our mystics are all
    drugged up, they are young, passionate
    Truth saying young people, these Fire Boys
    who wait patiently in jail for their day to come.

    Do we punish them for being our mirror?
    Look away from them on the street like new
    parents who realize the shock of their
    new born babies deformity? Don't be afraid,
    they are not deformed - they are the one’s
    who will help bring us the future.

    Matrika is the physical manifestation of the
    Grandmother who spoke the first word OM
    on the Sacred Mountain, Her original spoken
    Word meant: ‘She is contained in all that
    lies between the first and the last letter
    of our languages’

    When did OM become the word God,
    and why was Abraham so determined?
    Is it not truth - that our sacred bellies are now
    sliced open with knives, in fear of the
    power of her Mysteries of Birth and Death.
    We’ve made it a safe experiment, on a golf
    chart’s schedule.

    And why did women stop listening
    to Grandmothers Sacred Voice?
    I would suppose it was the when OM
    was first translated to the word Logos’
    and all Birth and Death, at that moment,
    changed.

    Keep Hope, these Fire Boys were born,
    to bring the changes and after the destruction,
    the Ancient Grandmothers Sacred Teachings
    will once again flourish in the land of all Nations.

    OM Shanti

    – M Novak
    April 17, 2005
    http://www.boloji.com/poetry/2000-2100/2077.htm
    - seattleshaman
    18th Feb 2006
  • Thank you so much i loved your article it helped me so much in my school article on Indian Culture.
    - Austin Jesnen
    3rd Feb 2006
  • calm down - if someone feels more comfortable inserting aspects of their own cultural and religious identity, Christianity included, into a practice, they are free to do so. Quite beautiful actually.

    And I disagree with Mahesh- we all chose that which suits our preference, hence the adherants to many religions on this planet. Relax people!
    - lovely
    3rd Jan 2006
  • Paul:
    Try reading Robert Monroe's series of books on out of vody experiences (OBE's). I think you may find some parallels to your experience. I have occassionally attained the states you described using the Monroe Institute's Hemi-Sync CD's. www.hemi-sync.com Your spontaneous achievement of this state sounds quite exciting and seems to be beckoning you to a new plane of awareness.
    I believe that you are hearing OM without chanting it because you have managed to relax and tune your body into the vibration of the universe. I've done a lot of sound research and my Tai Chi master has developed a sound table on which you lay during meditation. As different notes are played, you hear them through your headphones and feel the vibration through your body. Several of us students have had degrees of the experience you mention. The study of this science goes back to Pythagoras, who conducted sound experiments using the lute. If you Google "sound tables", you may find some of the research along with science and spiritual interpretations.
    Enjoy your Journeys.
    Paul F
    - Paulf
    1st Dec 2005
  • Ommmm is everywhere
    and it is the only path to comunicate with whole universe and recived the message from gods or other planet
    - hsiaofeng
    19th Sep 2005
  • I wanted to respond to Paul's comments...although it has no connection to the OM sound. I did, however, have an almost exact experience although I did not go as far into the light as he did...I felt I had to come back. I found his account interesting because I have not heard of anyone before describing this purple lava..this is exactly what I refer to it as. Not light, but lava. Beautiful beyond expression and completely enveloping me - seeming to come up from myself and out through my crown, then cascading slowly down. I was actually in a state of love and gratefulness and listening to a beautiful song on a cd called Mantras II....Danya Vad. Not sure of the spelling, but pronounced like that. My awareness lifted up and out as if through the crown and I was in a breathtakingly beautiful black space, beautiful in that all I could feel was overwhelming love and joy. My whole body began to shake and I was overcome with a feeling of total bliss. After returning I remained in a state of acute awareness for about a week. Awesome.
    - Robbie
    12th Mar 2005
  • most skilled professional tattoo artists will be able to do this symbol. check tattoo mags for an artist in your area.
    - pete
    27th Dec 2004
  • OM is GOD. OM is You and Me. Om is Gayatri. OM IS(AUM).
    - Octavio Po
    25th Sep 2004
  • I love your articles about OM. I have just recently got a tatoo of the sanskrit OM on my back. I researching other sanskrit symbols and words more ideas
    - sathira
    4th Sep 2004
  • hello, visiting for the first time, thoroughly enjoying the insightful information and images, thank you
    - sarah
    15th Aug 2004
  • I see puple and blue everywhere I look. It started about a year ago and has been present everyday scince then. I used to think it was spirits or maybe other things but know I relize its more than a word or something artificial. Your story is somehting that has touched me because I have expireinced this same color engulfing phenomina as well.
    - Emily
    26th Jul 2004
  • Please rephrase this sentence so someone who thinks at a second-grader's level (like me) can understand it...

    "The omnific and omniparous quality of OM makes it omnipresential, and in-omissible from any spiritual practice."

    uhh...omnibus??
    - bonjour, my friends
    12th Jul 2004
  • what a dumb girl, she spelled understand wrong...and enlightenment my ass.
    - presentlyLOST
    28th May 2004
  • well put.
    - Shashaank Thota
    26th May 2004
  • Interesting facts submitted by Timothy Smith. Would like to SEE the characters as he describes. Also would like to know if the symbol for AUM differs in Jain Sanskrit? May email any info..Thanks Mr. Smith
    - Lane Shurley (krisandlane@favorites.com)
    22nd Mar 2004
  • Can you weblog it for all of us who may follow similar path? I know I would (and perhaps Shashaank Thota). Thanks.
    - Unggit Sastra Tjitradjaja
    18th Mar 2004
  • I was thinking of using the [Om] letter itself with Red as its outline and Yellow for the circle.
    - Unggit Sastra Tjitradjaja
    18th Mar 2004
  • Where can I get the religious cloth featured in the article next to the section of "AUM is a bow, the arrow is the self..., etc.? i did not see it on the site.
    - Zeenat
    1st Dec 2003
  • Thanks for wondeful article about OM. All the articles in this website are full of knowledge and educational.
    It is a great website to learn about Hinduism. I love your this website and recommend my friends this for their knowledge.
    Thanks for excellent work.
    Wish you all the best...
    - Dinesh Sharma
    21st Nov 2003
  • I am desperately looking to get an AUM tattoo done. Any pointers ??
    - Shashaank Thota
    6th Nov 2003
  • To Sonja,

    If you appreciate all type of spirituality, please leave Hinduism as it is. Hinduism is a set of thoughts and ideas older than Christianity and there is no reason to try and fit it into a Christian framework. It is not meant to suit to your preference.

    Mahesh
    - Mahesh
    25th Jun 2003
  • yea i agree with sonja,,, lets change the entire indian religeon. and convert it to christian thought, starting with "god head" <insert sarcasm here>
    - itsme
    24th Jun 2003
  • A very descriptive article on OM indeed however 'OM' is the limit of our Mind which is an essence of 'OM' but our Soul is the essence of 'ANAMI' which is ZILLIONS AND ZILLIONS times Higher in terms of Spiritual Distance (Breadth of entire universes inside Brahm), Spiritual Awareness, Peace, Light (The Brightest as well as Coolest) and Sound (The Sweetest)- Imagine what that experience could be !!! Even our wildest experiences can not imagine it because it is beyond the limit of our mind's ability to even comprehend it. All these Aspects rejuvinate our Souls and take us beyond 'Maha-Pralaya' - making us truly Immortal while still here within the regions of 'Pralaya'. And it is our Birth Right !!!
    - Parm-Atman (webmasterspro@rediffmail.com)
    26th May 2003
  • Dear Nitin, What an excellent article on AUM.May God shower His/Her blessings on you and your family. Well done. Keep it up!
    - SaiSudha
    10th May 2003
  • What might it mean if your just sitting still and internally you begin to hear OM and you are not chanting?

    I began to hear this sound before I ever knew it existed or before I ever knew any other human beings have had any experience with OM at all.

    It really surprised me, in fact I had never noticed an audible sound internally in my life until that moment.

    It came in a spiral motion starting from outside and around me in an ever tighter growing spiral circle until it centered on me.

    When it did my visual field went and was infused with a bright metallic/molten purple/violet liquid purple dusted lava type fluid.

    This fluid was warm and peaceful and blissful and extremely pleasurable {almost like my whole body was an orgasm}.

    The Violet/Purple fluid continued to infuse my field of awareness until I/it was engulfed in a sea of purple liquid filled with immeasurable peacepleasurebliss.

    Afterward my senses were more acute and I was more intuitive to put it lightly.

    This experience has occurred at least 5 or 6 other times almost always the same except for where the location of the Violet/purple liquid begins to enter and pierce and infuse my field of awareness until it had filled and engulfed my being.

    The sound was BASS for sure and it definitely came from within and not from without.

    After the final occurrence I was doing the same practice ignore all and be still and stay aware{don't let myself drift into sleep!}.

    Then something unexpected happened again, this time instead of BASS I began to hear treble {High-pitched; shrill.}, an internal sound that would shatter glass and burst in a painful way your ear drums.

    But the sound had the reverse effect it would have if it happened from without{outside of me}, it felt pleasurable to listen to, it made me feel like I was satisfaction in itself, that I was pure peace and fulfillment. My field of awareness opened to an infinite expanse of the purest black empty space and I was infusing into it, and as I moved into it, a slit in the horizon of the purest while light pierced the center of the void and extended itself into a horizontal white line through the horizontal center of my field of awareness.

    The center grew brighter and as I got closer the feelings grew more intense, to a degree and magnitude I would have never imagined I had the capacity to experience as a human being. I got as close as I could until I couldn't get closer it was as if it could have continued to grow closer but I only went a certain distance before I re-emerged into waking awareness. Afterward my senses were even more attuned and my spiritual awareness was paramount, it seems everything was some how related to all of this, and I have been pursuing all possible explanations for such phenomenon ever since.

    What is your take on the above experience, has anyone described such an experience before, has anyone defined what such an experience is biophysically, what is the true spiritual implication of actually hearing OM though not actually chanting it.
    - Paul
    15th Jan 2003
  • I have an AUM tattoo, thankyou for your article it has opened my eyes still further as to it's meaning!
    - Kelvin Kuhle
    21st Sep 2002
  • Great article. I would like to see the God head expressed as:

    The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
    instead of
    The Father, Mother, and Son

    Just a preference submitted by a Christian who appreciates all Spirituality. I really enjoy the sound 'aum'. I feel good when I chant this sound. Thank you for your article.

    sonja
    - Sonja (sonjam12@aol.com)
    18th Sep 2002
  • This article helped me very much to undersatnd AUM. This information helped me so much on my lifes quest of reaching enlightenment.
    - Sarah Willard (penylane27@hotmail.com)
    8th Jul 2002
  • I really enjoyed reading the article on Om: An Inquiry into its Aesthetics, Mysticism, and Philosophy The real meaning of the syllable OM was explained well.
    Thank You!
    - Vasu Cholkeri
    16th Dec 2001
  • Another excellent article on OM.

    Further observations: OM can be written four ways (in Sanskrit -
    unfortunately Devanagari doesn't travel through email very well):

    AUM: - four characters (including the visarga) = the four states of
    consciousness separated out - as they appear to waking consciousness

    OM - two characters - a diphthong - O - and the M - = the three interior
    states melding together and separate from the outer state of waking
    consciousness

    UM - two characters, pure vowel and pure consonant = prâjña state of
    causal consciousness - all three lower states concentrated in one, laying
    side-by-side with turiya

    UM (THE CLASSIC OM SYMBOL) - the writing of the vowel (and all vowels for
    that matter) on top of, instead of next to, the consonant (and all the
    consonants). Turiya.
    - Timothy Smith
    16th Dec 2001
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