The Primordial Sound

The sound of the single syllable ‘om’ (or ‘aum’) has been very important in Indian culture for several millennia. Om is made up of four parts – ‘a’, ‘u’, ‘m’ and silence. It is also called praNava since it pervades life and runs through our prANa or breath. The four parts of om can also mean to represent birth, growth, letting go, and immortality.

An interesting comparison can be made with the four seasons and a tree. We can think of ‘a’ as spring (tree budding with fresh leaves), ‘u’ as summer (tree is rich with leaves), ‘m’ as autumn (graceful fall), and silence as winter (leafless but not lifeless). The tree that seems dead in winter springs back in due course. That silence represents eternity.
Om is used to represent brahman, the supreme being — all-powerful, all-pervading, and the source of all existence. The concept of brahman cannot be understood intellectually and has to be learned by experience. While we are constantly trying to understand the nature of this nameless, formless being, a symbol helps us relate it to the physical world with which we are familiar. Om, therefore, represents both the unseen, formless (nirguNa) and manifest (saguNa) aspects of brahman. Om is held sacred by the four major Indian religions: Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism.

Every hymn from the Vedas begin and end with om, for it is the supreme mantra in itself.
There are a few important references to om in the Bhagavad-Gita:
‘‘Arjuna, know me as... om in all the Vedas...’’ (7.8)
‘‘...I am the sacred syllable om...’’ (9:17)
‘‘...among words, I am the single syllable om...’’ (10:25)

A good way to chant om is:
first take a deep breath and start the chant
keep chanting ‘o’ (a-u) as long as you can
finally end with ‘m
followed by silence.
As we hit ‘m’, we can feel the resonance in our brain; we will have exhausted our breath so fully that silence becomes inevitable. The chant runs through every part of our vocal chord. All the primary vowel sounds including silence (no sound) are contained within the single syllable om. So if we learn to chant om properly, we can articulate our words better and also have greater vocal clarity.

During meditation, when we chant om, we create within ourselves a vibration that is in tune with the cosmic vibration. This creates the ideal environment for us to start thinking universally. The momentary silence between each chant becomes palpable. The mind moves between the opposites of sound and silence until, at last, the sound stops. In the silence, the single thought—om—is quenched; there is no thought. It is a rare moment where one finds perfect connection with the universe.

Om is at your finger-tips: go to Microsoft Word, choose the Wingdings font, and key in ‘\’ (back slash) to get the om symbol on your computer screen. For a more elaborate explanation of om, you can read the Mandukya Upanishad.

4 comments:

  1. Its a pretty nice explanation. But we have heard from a very long time that Om is made up of a,u and ma and they represent Rigveda, yajurveda and sama veda respectively. I am surprised to see a silence in the way of om..can u elaborate on this...

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  2. Different people like to use different analogies... and a lot of Indian texts use the analogy as a tool to explain a concept. The four parts of Om are explained in detail in the Mandukya upanishad.

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  3. Silence represents our immortality.

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  4. Beautiful post. Few other points that I would like to share are:
    1. Om is called as "anhad nad". That means it is a sound that is not created by any conflict. Rest all sounds are created by conflict.
    2. It is said that Lord Shiva is meditating on the point where "o" of Om is ending and "m" is beginning. This is a point where "maya" can't enter into. That means this is a point where your mind CAN'T have thoughts. This is that Brahman - the infinite.
    3. Om is the sound which has the capability of piercing infinite universes. It has done that and it has the power to do.

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