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.
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
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.
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
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
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:
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.
In a further development of
the mystic conception of AUM, the Mandukya Upanishad
AUM is a bow,
The arrow is the self,
And Brahman (Absolute reality) is said to be the
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
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.
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