"Those who know they are neither body nor mind but the eternal Self, the divine Principle of existence, find the source of all joy and live in joy abiding. I see the gates of joy are opening for you." – the Katha Upanishad
* THE OM SYMBOL *
The OM is the universally accepted and supreme symbol of Hinduism. It has also been adopted by the other three main religions of India – Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism. OM is also referred to as “Omkara” which literally means “OM syllable” and “Pranava” which literally means “The primal sound.”
OM, which is sometimes written as AUM, is both a visual symbol and a sacred sound or mantra which can be both heard and spoken. It is the sacred word and sacred symbol of the Hindu religion.
The scriptures of Hinduism teach that OM is the symbol of Brahman. Brahman is a term for the Supreme Self, the Infinite, the Absolute, the Divine Allness, the Ultimate Reality. Brahman is all and in all. There is nothing but Brahman. Brahman is not a Being but – in the words of the Katha Upanishad – “the divine Principle of EXISTENCE.”
“I will give you the Word all the scriptures glorify, all spiritual disciplines express, to attain which aspirants lead a life of sense-restraint and self-denial. It is OM. This symbol of the Godhead is the highest. Realizing it one finds complete fulfillment of all one’s longings. It is of the greatest support to all seekers. When OM reverberates unceasingly within the heart, that one is indeed blessed and deeply loved as one who is the Self.” – Katha Upanishad
“This is the essence of essences, the highest, the eighth rung, venerated above all that human beings hold holy. OM, the imperishable OM, is the Self of all.” – Chandogya Upanishad
“AUM stands for the supreme Reality. It is a symbol for what was, what is, and what shall be. AUM represents also what lies beyond past, present, and future. Brahman is all, and the Self is Brahman.” – Mandukya Upanishad
“The mantra AUM stands for the supreme state of turiya, without parts, beyond birth and death, symbol of everlasting joy. Those who know AUM as the Self become the Self; truly they become the Self.” – Mandukya Upanishad
“Become established in AUM. … These three sounds when they are separated cannot lead one beyond mortality; but when the whole mantra, a, u, and m, indivisible, interdependent, goes on reverberating in the mind, one is freed from fear, awake or asleep. … Established in this cosmic vibration, the sage goes beyond fear, decay, and death to enter into infinite peace.” – Prashna Upanishad
There are two main perspectives from which the A-U-M can be understood in its deeper meaning and significance.
The passage quoted above from the Mandukya Upanishad states that AUM stands for “the supreme state of turiya.” The Vedanta (which is the philosophical core of Hinduism) teaches that there are three main states of consciousness which the human being experiences. These are called the Avastha-Traya and are…
* The waking state – Jagrat
* The dreaming state – Svapna
* The dreamless sleep state – Sushupti
Each of us experiences and functions in each of these three states at different times within every period of 24 hours.
When in the waking state (Jagrat-avastha) we are functioning in the gross body, the dense physical body, which Hinduism calls the Sthula Sharira.
In the dream state (Svapna-avastha) we function in the subtle body, referred to as the Sukshma Sharira.
In the state of deep and dreamless sleep (Sushupti-avastha), we are functioning in the causal body, called the Karana Sharira.
Transcending all of these three states of consciousness is a fourth state of consciousness called Turiya. This is Pure Consciousness. It is God-consciousness. It is the Superconsciousness which is also known as Samadhi. Very few people ever experience the Turiya state, which has been described as “the state beyond time and space.” It is reached through the consistent practice of the different forms and methods of Yoga, such as Raja Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, etc. It is safe to say that physical Yoga, with its many postures and stretching exercises, will never lead anyone to Turiya and indeed physical or Hatha Yoga is looked down upon in Hinduism as being the “lower” or “lowest” Yoga.
Above the gross body, the subtle body, and the causal body, is the Self. This is the Atman…the ONE Universal Self of all. The Atman IS Brahman, for our own Real Self is literally one and the same in essence and identity as the Supreme Self. Turiya is the permanent state of bliss, the constant and unchanging state of the Self.
Jagrat corresponds to Sthula Sharira and to the A.
Svapna corresponds to Sukshma Sharira and to the U.
Sushupti corresponds to Karana Sharira and to the M.
Turiya corresponds to the Atman (remember that Atman = Brahman) and to the AUM in its entirety.
Now we can understand why it is said that “AUM [or OM] stands for the Supreme Reality” and why it is Brahman. The correct pronunciation is “oh-m”…like “foam” but obviously without the F.
The other main perspective in which it can be understood is in regard to the three stages of manifestation. This can be represented as follows…
A – Beginning (Adimatva) – BRAHMA (Evolution)
U – Progress (Utkarsha) – VISHNU (Preservation)
M – Limit or End (Miti) – SHIVA (Dissolution)
This threefold divine energy of the manifested universe comes forth from Brahman, which is forever unmanifested, unconditioned, and undifferentiated. Thus AUM in its entirety represents and corresponds to Brahman, the One Supreme Reality. For more information about this, please see the article Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva – A Clearer Understanding of the Hindu Trinity.
To meditate on OM is to meditate on Brahman, for it is the all-encompassing sacred symbol which represents the Great Undefinable, the Great Indescribable, that is “The ONLY One” referred to in the Rig Veda where it is written that -
The ONLY One breathed breathless by Itself;
Other than It there nothing since has been.
– from the Hymn of Creation in the Rig Veda, the oldest scripture in the world
In reality there is no-one and nothing but Brahman. There is no-one and nothing but the Divine OM