Om is a bija sound and a well-known symbol that represents many things. When chanted, a vibration is stimulated in the physical body that results in a sense of wellbeing and balance. That is because the sound positively influences and harmonizes actions in the pineal and pituitary gland, the area in the center of the brain behind the third eye. Psychically or metaphorically, OM represents the unfolding of the universe.
In Samkhya Philosophy, one refers to this as Brahman or Atman, the source, dividing into two equal parts. Purusha – also referred to as the Self, is pure consciousness, unaffected by the changing whims of the external; and Prakriti – Nature, or that which creates, representing everything which is changing, our every experience coming in through the five senses, our unconscious self.
Known as the basis of all uttered sound, OM is referenced early on in the ancient Vedic texts from India. It is considered an all-encompassing mystical entity in the Upanishads. In the Hindu tradition, OM represents the divine - unbounded consciousness taking form and becoming the first and original vibration manifesting as sound from the void, Shunyakasha. Before then everything existed in a latent state of potentiality, resting in the nothingness of the void.
“The mantra “OM” is considered to be the sonic body of God, a form of the ultimate reality, the vibration of the Supreme. When taken letter by letter, A-U-M represents the divine Shakti energy united in its three elementary aspects: Brahma Shakti (creation), Vishnu Shakti (preservation) and Shiva Shakti (liberation, dissolution, and/or destruction).” (1)
Referenced in all Upanishads, OM is most detailed in the Mandukya and also discussed in the Taittiriya and Chandogya Upanishads. The whole word as well as the three parts A-U-M have profound religious significance and are revered objects of meditation.
The Sonics of OM:
We know OM to consist of three phonemes: A (Vaishvanara) U (Hiranyagarbha or the vital self), and M (Ishvara or the thinking self) which symbolize the beginning, duration, and dissolution of the universe.In Hindu tradition, these correspond with the associated gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva or Mahadev. Each of the three parts is a distinct sound, as well as a distinct letter in the Sanskrit alphabet. When chanted, they each vibrate/awaken a specific part of the body. The sound A begins in the belly. U moves up into the heart and the area of the torso while M moves vibration into the throat, head and lips. This movement of vibration through the body serves to wake up latent energy and ultimately balance all systems, such that one has the potential of experiencing peacefulness and harmony throughout the body following the sounding.
More about each of the three parts of OM:
A – Represents form or shape, like earth, trees or other objects. The Mandukya Upanishad (MU) states that the letter A represents creation, from which all existence issued forth. This guttural sound, vibrating between the navel and the throat, is the first of the Sanskrit vowels. In Hebrew it represents God breathing life into Abraham, initiating creation. We are waking things up when we chant this part.
U – Represents the formless or shapeless, like water, air or fire. The MU states that this represents Vishnu, the God of the middle who preserves this world by balancing Brahma on a lotus above himself. A palatal vowel, the sound resonates through the whole of the mouth, sustaining sound. We experience this as a state of preservation, also represented by the dream state where we are aware of something more, yet that is often veiled from the everyday world of the senses. This also represents the subconscious, or sleep state.
M – Represents a condition that neither has shape nor is shapeless (but still existing) like energy. This symbolizes the final part of the cycle of existence, when Brahma falls asleep and Shiva breathes in, allowing all existing things to disintegrate, being reduced into their essence in him. M represents the state of full consciousness, where when we close the lips and sound turns inward again, there’s the potential of becoming aware of an internal, continuous sound that can lead us to awareness of a conscious non-duality.
For me, it is in the silence that follows the chanting of OM it really “comes to life.” It is in that pause where the potential to become aware of “something greater or more eternal” than the everyday exists.This is when we transcend, if only for a moment, the earthly realm. Like the silence, words are not adequate to describe this experience. One must play with it – practice chanting OM, and resting in the silence that follows the sound, and observe your own experience.
Maybe, like Gandhi and George Harrison, when you come to the end of your life, you too will be chanting OM with the intention of being carried up – back to source – on the waves of this eternal and primordial vibration.
1) Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia – en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Om
3) Signet Classics, The Upanishads, Breath of the Eternal, Swami Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester, 1948.