What does Om mean?
You have likely chanted OM/AUM, or at the very least seen the symbol – but, what it is about OM, that makes people - even non-yogis - chant?
OM is a sacred Hindu sound that is used during prayer or the repetition of mantras. The syllable OM is composed of the three sounds A-U-M (the vowels a and u combine to become o) and the symbol's threefold nature is central to its meaning – this is also why OM can be spelled AUM. In Sanskrit, the sound “O” and “AU” are pronounced similarly, so OM and AUM represent the same vocalization of sound!
OM or AUM is also respected for the way the sounds form in the mouth. A is pronounced with an open mouth, U closes the lips and M seals and ends the sound. The word OM is said to encompass all sounds and words in languages across the planet. In this way it represents universality.
It is also significant in the way it can be tied to many other areas which helps explain how this sign has gained worldwide popularity. Some of the spiritual symbolic equivalents are:
AUM represents some significant triads, including:
The three major Hindu gods - Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva
The three worlds - earth, atmosphere, and heaven
The three sacred Vedic scriptures - Rg, Yajur, and Sama
The three time Periods: Morning, Midday, and Evening
The three parts of human beings: Man: Body, Soul, and Spirit
The three sections of Time: Past, Present, and Future
The three stages of Existence: Birth, Life, and Death
The three Phases of the Moon: Waxing, Full, and Waning
With these ideas in mind, it’s easy to understand why the most sacred sound AUM reflects the concept of universality.
AUM is spoken at the beginning and the end of Hindu prayers, mantras and meditations. It is also used quite frequently in Buddhist rituals, and in the practice of Yoga and is related to meditation. At the end of AUM is a pause to represent the state of consciousness often referred to as the Infinite Consciousness
Why do we use that little symbol for AUM?
The symbol itself has three curves, one semicircle and a dot - each with their own meaning:
The large lower curve refers to the mind state of waking up or becoming conscious. It is the largest part of the symbol because it is believed this state of consciousness state is
where most humans are found.
The slightly smaller top curve denotes the unconscious state where there are no dreams or needs in sleep.
The center curve is the state of consciousness between sleeping and waking. This state of dreaming allows us to turn inwards and see the world from an entirely different viewpoint than our other states of consciousness.
Maya – another name for the top most semi-circle, separates the top dot from the other three curves. It represents the idea that achieving the highest level of consciousness is not affected by the lower levels of consciousness.; but that it is the illusion that there is an obstacle to realizing our highest potential.
The small top dot indicates a plane of existence where there is happiness and complete joy or bliss. This is separate from all other parts of the symbol to indicate the other levels of consciousness do not impact the attainment of this level.
Interestingly, it is also felt that the physical form of Ganesha (a deity honoured in Hindu and Indian cultures) is said to be that of OM. (I will be writing an article about Ganesha in the future as he is near an dear to my heart!) The upper curve, of OM, is identified with the head or the face of Ganesh. The Lower curve his belly. The twisted curve, on the right side of OM is the trunk.
Hopefully now you have a little better understanding about the significance of the OM/AUM symbol, its sound and its meaning!