"The goal which all the Vedas declare, which all
austerities aim at, and which men desire when they lead the life of
continence … is Om. This syllable Om is indeed Brahman. Whosoever knows
this syllable obtains all that he desires. This is the best support;
this is the highest support. Whosoever knows this support is adored in
the world of Brahma."
~ Katha Upanishad I
Om or Aum is of paramount importance in Hinduism. This symbol (as
seen in the image on the right) is a sacred syllable representing
Brahman, the impersonal Absolute of Hinduism — omnipotent, omnipresent,
and the source of all manifest existence. Brahman, in itself, is
incomprehensible; so a symbol becomes mandatory to help us realize the
Unknowable. Om, therefore, represents both the unmanifest (nirguna) and
manifest (saguna) aspects of God. That is why it is called pranava, to
mean that it pervades life and runs through our prana or breath.
The Power of Om
During meditation, when we chant Om, we create within ourselves a
vibration that attunes sympathy with the cosmic vibration and we start
thinking universally. The momentary silence between each chant becomes
palpable. Mind moves between the opposites of sound and silence until,
at last, it ceases the sound. In the silence, the single thought—Om—is
quenched; there is no thought. This is the state of trance, where the
mind and the intellect are transcended as the individual self merges
with the Infinite Self in the pious moment of realization. It is a
moment when the petty worldly affairs are lost in the desire for the
universal. Such is the immeasurable power of Om.
Om in Daily Life
Although Om symbolizes the most profound concepts of Hindu belief, it is
in use daily. The Hindus begin their day or any work or a journey by
uttering Om. The sacred symbol is often found at the head of letters, at
the beginning of examination papers and so on. Many Hindus, as an
expression of spiritual perfection, wear the sign of Om as a pendant.
This symbol is enshrined in every Hindu temple premise or in some form
or another on family shrines.
It is interesting to note that a newly born child is ushered into the
world with this holy sign. After birth, the child is ritually cleansed
and the sacred syllable Om is written on its tongue with honey. Thus
right at the time of birth the syllable Om is initiated into the life of
a Hindu and ever remains with him as the symbol of piety. Om is also a
popular symbol used in contemporary body art and tattoos.
The Eternal Syllable
According to the Mandukya Upanishad, "Om is the one eternal syllable of
which all that exists is but the development. The past, the present, and
the future are all included in this one sound, and all that exists
beyond the three forms of time is also implied in it".
The Music of Om
Om is not a word but rather an intonation, which, like music, transcends
the barriers of age, race, culture and even species. It is made up of
three Sanskrit letters, aa, au and ma which, when combined together,
make the sound Aum or Om. It is believed to be the basic sound of the
world and to contain all other sounds. It is a mantra or prayer in
itself. If repeated with the correct intonation, it can resonate
throughout the body so that the sound penetrates to the centre of one's
being, the atman or soul.
There is harmony, peace and bliss in this simple but deeply
philosophical sound. By vibrating the sacred syllable Om, the supreme
combination of letters, if one thinks of the Ultimate Personality of
Godhead and quits his body, he will certainly reach the highest state of
"stateless" eternity, states the Bhagavad Gita.
The Vision of Om
Om provides a dualistic viewpoint. On one hand, it projects the mind
beyond the immediate to what is abstract and inexpressible. On the other
hand, it makes the absolute more tangible and comprehensive. It
encompasses all potentialities and possibilities; it is everything that
was, is, or can yet be. It is omnipotent and likewise remains undefined.
How to Type it on your Computer
Try this! To get the Om symbol on your computer screen, open MS Word and
key in backslash ( \ ) in Wingdings font. You will type in Om!