The Mystical OM
OM was first revealed in the Vedic scriptures of Hinduism, approximately 1500-500BCE. Some scholars consider OM the most sacred sound/symbol of the Hindu tradition, not only because it’s considered to be the primordial sound, but also the beginning of many mantras.
OM stands for the ultimate Reality, and throughout the ages, OM has been interpreted in different ways. That’s to be expected, considering the vastness of what OM represents. One way to understand OM is to break it down by its syllables.
OM mantra integrates three sounds, which are represented by the letters A U M. Each sound represents a different layer of human consciousness. The “Aaa” sound represents the conscious mind or the waking, outer state called Vaishvanara.
The “U (oo)” sound represents the unconscious mind or dream, inner state called Taijasa. The ”Mmm” sound represents the higher mind state and the deep dreamless sleep known as Prajna.
The fourth state is called Turiya, and its pure consciousness, beyond the senses and the intellect. AUM represents Turiya. It’s experienced as the Silence that follows the sound. It is the totality of creation-all that is manifest, and all that is unmanifest. It’s the container that transcends the other states.
When the ancient practitioners went into deep states of meditation- that is their minds were quiet and there was space between thoughts; sound emerged into their inner awareness. The OM we chant today is the closest replication of this indescribable experience. They named OM pranava, which means the primeval word, the eternal. Through their practice of meditation, and the witnessing of the primordial sound, they explored the nature of existence.
The sage Patanjali, who lived in 200 BCE, instructs in his work The Yoga Sutras, that practitioners should repeat OM, and reflect and contemplate its meaning. We should let the substance of the sound imbue our whole being. When we do this inquiry, Pantanjali tells us that all mental obstacles and distractions will be quelled without the usual struggle. How does OM remove our mental obstacles? When we say OM, we are joining are energies to the Infinite. When we repeat the mantra with sincerity, and keep our attention on the infinite, consciousness turns inward and the finite world fades away. This is why OM is also known as the sound that leads to Silence.
Around the world today, OM is often chanted at the beginning and at the end of a yoga classes. Through joining their voices in chanting this universal vibration, practitioners prepare for asana practice. Chanting OM unifies their energy, calms their minds, and shifts their focus from the outer world to the inner world. Yoga practitioners have repeated OM mantra for centuries. When we chant OM in yoga class, or use it as a meditation mantra, we are sharing in a practice that has existed for thousands of years. OM links us to our yogic ancestors.
The symbol of the sound can also be used in daily life as a reminder to bring our awareness back to the infinite nature of existence. The symbol can be found on pendants and clothing, cards and coffee mugs. You can place the symbol on an altar or find it as a wall hanging. The symbol can be traced with your hand to invoke a blessing or to offer healing. You can invoke Grace by saying the AUM silently as you trace the symbol over food. In this way we connect our nourishment with the source of all nourishment. Every time we use the mantra OM, we are led back to the silence of the heart.