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What is the meaning of OM?

The whole world has evolved from Om;
The whole world is sustained by Om;
The whole world will merge into Om-
In Om resides my strength.

Aum: Often spelled Om. The mystic syllable of Hinduism, placed at the beginning of most sacred writings. As a mantra, it is pronounced aw (as in law), oo (as in zoo), mm. Aum represents the Divine, and is associated with Lord Ganesha, for its initial
sound "aa," vibrates within the muladhara, the chakra at the base of the spine upon which this God sits. The second sound of this mantra, "oo," vibrates within the throat and chest chakras, the realm of Lord Murugan, or Kumara, known by the Hawaiian people as the God Ku. The third sound, "mm," vibrates within the cranial chakras, ajna and sahasrara, where the Supreme God reigns. The dot above, called anusvara, represents the Soundless Sound, Paranada. Aum is explained in the Upanishads as standing for the whole world and its parts, including past, present and future. It is from this primal vibration that all manifestation issues forth. Aum is the primary, or mula mantra, and often precedes other mantras. It may be safely used for chanting and japa by anyone of any religion. Its three letters represent the three worlds and the powers of creation, preservation and destruction. In common usage in several Indian languages, aum means "yes, verily" or "hail."

Literally, Pranava in Sanskrit means "humming." The mantram "Aum" denotes God as the Primal Sound. This sound can be heard as the sound of one's own nerve system, and meditators and mystics hear it daily, like the sound made by an electrical transformer or a swarm of bees, or a thousand vinas playing in the distance. It is a strong, inner experience, one that yogis hold with great reverence. The meditator is taught to inwardly transform this sound into the inner light which lights up ones' thoughts, and to bask in this blissful consciousness of light. Pranava is also known as the sound of the nadanadi sakti. Hearing it one draws near to God Consciousness. When we are living in the lower chakras, or when the world too strongly dominates our mind, this sound may, for a time, not be heard. But it returns as awareness withdraws, as the mind becomes perfectly quiescent, silent, still. Listen for this sound in your quietest moments and you will learn to recognize it as a daily encounter with the Divine that lives within all men, within all creatures, within all existence.

The meaning of "OM"
by Anil Kapoor

"Omkar" is a religious symbol of the Hindus. But it is omnipresent in almost all the major cultures of our world.

Another way of saying Om is Aum. Aum is the sound of the infinite. Aum is said to be the essence of all mantras and Vedas, the highest of all mantras or divine word. By sound and form, AUM symbolizes the infinite Brahman and the entire universe.

"A" stands for Creation.
"U" stands for Preservation.
"M" stands for Destruction or dissolution.

This represents the Trinity of God in Hindu dharma (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva).
The three portions of AUM relate to the states of waking, dream and deep sleep and the three guans (rajas, satva, tamas). The three letters also indicate three planes of existence, heaven, earth and the netherworld. AUM can represent all the words produced by the human vocal organ. A is produced by the throat, U & M by the lips. In the Vedas, AUM is the sound of the Sun, the sound of Light. It is the sound of assent. It has an upward movement and uplifts the soul, as the sound of the divine eagle or falcon.

The pronunciation of the word "Om" symbolizes the totality of all sounds as it includes all other sounds that humans can utter. This idea of totality also exists in the English word "Omnipresent" that includes Om as its prefix. We also have words like Omnipotent and Omniscient, all of which have the concept of totality in their meanings.

The ancient Greek alphabet had Omega as its last letter. Omega written in the lower case of the Greek alphabet, if turned to its side, looks quite similar to the Sanskrit way of writing Om. It is from the Greek alphabet "Omega" that we have the English phrase "the alpha and Omega", which means, "to include everything". It is said that the word Om has been used to make other words. The Christian term "Amen" is said to have some link with "Om" as also the Islamic term "Amin". Both of these terms are similar to Om.

Arya Samaj


The Meaning of OM
by Jim Gilman

 Hari Aum. Aum ityetadaksharam idam
sarvam tasyopavyakhyanam
bhutam bhavad bhavishyaditi sarvam Omkara eva.
Yachchanyat trikalatitam tadapyomkara eva.

Hari Aum. Aum, the word, is all this.
A clear explanation of it is the following.
All that is past, present and future is verily Aum.
That which is beyond the triple conception of time, is also truly Aum.

This is the opening mantra of the Mandukya Upanishad, the shortest, and subtlest of all the major Upanishads, the most revered scriptures of Hinduism. In this Upanishad, we have the classic exposition of the meaning of Aum, the most sacred of all mantras.

For westerners, the ambiguity of spelling may be perplexing. Is it "Om," or "Aum"? In Sanskrit, the sound "O" is a diphthong, actually spelled "AU." It is pronounced more like the English "O" than the pure sound found in Italian or German. The difference in spelling is merely a matter of transliteration.

The mantra begins with a salutation, Hari Aum. It goes on to state that Aumkara (the word Aum) is all this. The term idam (this) is a technical term in the Upanishads, which refers to the phenomenal world. So that the student is not confused, the Upanishad goes on to define what the phenomenal world is. In this mantra, it is described in terms of Time. Anything that exists in the past, present, or the future, is included in Aum. It includes anything that has a beginning and an end, that has qualities and form, that exists in Space as well as Time, and includes subtle as well as gross phenomena, meaning thoughts and feelings as well as physical objects.

But is this all? The mantra goes on to state that Aum includes that which is beyond this triple conception of Time. To what is the mantra referring? What is That which encompasses the phenomenal world, yet is also beyond the phenomenal world? This is made clear in the next mantra.

Sarvam hyetad Brahma
Ayam Atma Brahma
Soyam Atma chatushpat.

All this is verily Brahman.
This Self is Brahman
This Self has four quarters.

This next mantra again uses the term idam (this). It states that all this is Brahman. Brahman is the Sanskrit word for Ultimate Reality. It is a neuter noun (beyond gender specificity!) that is difficult to translate. It means, God, Ultimate Sentience, Reality, Infinity, Immensity, and yet much more. Later on, the Upanishad will call it avyapadesham, which means "un-talk-about-able." But what is this Brahman? How do we come to know it? Where can it be found? This is discussed in the next phrase.

The next statement in the mantra is one of the four Mahavakyas, (Great Utterances) the most profound and concise teachings of the Upanishads, which indicate the essence of Vedanta philosophy. It states 'This Self (Atman) is Brahman."

What a revolutionary statement! It locates Divinity not in the heavens, not far away from us, not as some unknowable mystery only to be worshiped from afar, but as the very Self of every creature. This Self is not something with which we have some relationship. We will never know the Self as an object of our awareness. Rather, this Self shines as "I," the eternal Subject. Just as a person cannot see his or her eyes, or cannot taste his or her own tongue, so also, we cannot "see" the Self in any objective sense. But  even though we have not seen our eyes as objects, we KNOW that we see,. So also, this Self is eternally known, and directly experienced all the time, as "I," the one by whom all else is known. The Self is also swayam bhu, or Self evident. The Self knows Itself, not as an object, but as pure Subjectivity. This eternal Subject, which shines as the light of awareness, is infinite, spacious, without qualities or form, beginningless and endless. It is the Eternal Essence. This is what God is. This Self IS Brahman.

Now comes the interesting part! The mantra goes on to say that this Self, this Brahman has four quarters (pada). This doesn't mean four quarters like a cow has four feet. It doesn't mean that the Infinite can be divided up. It means that we can discuss it as four topics, trying to understand its nature. Remember, the scriptures do not define Reality, they only indicate it. They point to it using the suggestive language of images. Swami Chinmayananda used to say that a yogi must have the mind and heart of a poet to appreciate the suggestive quality of the sacred mantras of scripture. The Upanishad represents these four areas of discussion by the four matras, or letters of Aum. but wait a minute! Aum seems to have only three! No, it has four. "A," "U," "M," and "SILENCE!"

The first quarter, "A," represents the waking state. This includes the entire world of matter, from the smallest sub-atomic particle up to the cosmos itself. It is the world we see in our ordinary waking state mentality.

The second quarter, "U," represents the dream state. This is a metaphor. It stands for the subtle world of thoughts, emotions, images, memories, and the like. It is the interior world, perceived through the mind.

The third quarter, "M," represents the deep sleep state. This is the state where mind is folded up into complete unconsciousness. In deep sleep, the universal experience is "I know nothing." Yet it is experienced, because upon awakening, we can remember that we have slept.

The fourth quarter, "SILENCE," represents the Consciousness that illumines the three prior states, and which pervades them all. During the waking state, it is "I" who knows the phenomenal world. During the dream state, it is "I" who knows the various thoughts, emotions, images and the like. During the deep sleep state, it is "I" who illumines the mind submerged in the dark of deep sleep. Though this Consciousness pervades the three states, it is independent and beyond them too. It is the eternal Self, which was before the universe came into being, and which will remain not only after the body dies, but even after the dissolution of the whole creation.

The great saint, Gaudapada, in his Karika, or commentary on this Upanishad says, "He who knows both the experiencer and the objects of experience that have been described and associated with the three states, is not affected through experiencing the objects." He is referring to the great benefit of Self Realization. By contemplating and meditating on this Self, that is eternally present throughout all of our experiences, and is ever the same, we come to see that this Self is in fact immutable. It never changes. It cannot be improved, and it cannot be diminished. We don't become one with God. We already are what God is! We only need to realize this, as our own direct experience. This realization brings us true peace, and releases the mind from the tyranny of ego.

So now we have an intellectual understanding of Aum. The next step is to penetrate deeply into it. This takes long and continuous meditation. It also takes renunciation. This does not mean living in some austere life style. It means to give up our attachment to the belief that the world of objects, emotions, and thoughts has any intrinsic reality. It is in truth, like a long dream.... Only the Self is real. Only the Self IS. All else is but fleeting images projected on the Screen of Consciousness. Let them go. Don't get involved with them. Stay home in your Self Nature. Hurry home. Hari Om!

More on OM: The Sacred Syllable OM - Georg Feuerstein

In the Himalayan Yoga tradition, the OM mantra is also used, please visit SwamiJ's site for more information.

Tibetan Buddhists also use the OM "mantra" (prayer)

Tibetan Buddhists believe that saying the mantra (prayer), Om Mani Padme Hum, out loud or silently to oneself, invokes the powerful benevolent attention and blessings of Chenrezig, the embodiment of compassion. Viewing the written form of the mantra is said to have the same effect -- it is often carved into stones, and placed where people can see them.


Spinning the written form of the mantra around in a Mani wheel (or prayer wheel) is also believed to give the same benefit as saying the mantra, and Mani wheels, small hand wheels and large wheels with millions of copies of the mantra inside, are found everywhere in the lands influenced by Tibetan Buddhism.

"Om Mani Padme Hum"

Click here to listen to it

It is said that all the teachings of the Buddha are contained in this mantra: Om Mani Padme Hum can not really be translated into a simple phrase or sentence. 

It is appropriate, though, to say a little about the mantra, so that people who want to use it in their meditation practice will have some sense of what they are doing, and people who are just curious will understand a little better what the mantra is and why it is so important to Tibetan Buddhists. We begin in the next section with some information about the mantra itself.

The Mani mantra is the most widely used of all Buddhist mantras, and open to anyone who feels inspired to practice it -- it does not require prior initiation by a lama (meditation master).

The six syllables of the mantra, as it is often pronounced by Tibetans -- Om Mani Padme Hum --

Reading from left to right the syllables are:







The vowel in the sylable Hu (is pronounced as in the English word 'book'. The final consonant in that syllable is often pronounced 'ng' as in 'song' -- Om Mani Padme Hung. There is one further complication: The syllable Pad is pronounced Pe (peh) by many Tibetans: Om Mani Peme Hung.

The mantra originated in India; as it moved from India into Tibet, the pronunciation changed because some of the sounds in the Indian Sanskrit language were hard for Tibetans to pronounce.

Om Mani Padme Hum
mantra of Avalokiteshvara
Om Mani Peme Hung
mantra of Chenrezig

The True Sound of Truth

An old story speaks about a similar problem. A devoted meditator, after years concentrating on a particular mantra, had attained enough insight to begin teaching. The student's humility was far from perfect, but the teachers at the monastery were not worried. 

A few years of successful teaching left the meditator with no thoughts about learning from anyone; but upon hearing about a famous hermit living nearby, the opportunity was too exciting to be passed up.

The hermit lived alone on an island at the middle of a lake, so the meditator hired a man with a boat to row across to the island. The meditator was very respectful of the old hermit. As they shared some tea made with herbs the meditator asked him about his spiritual practice. The old man said he had no spiritual practice, except for a mantra which he repeated all the time to himself. The meditator was pleased: the hermit was using the same mantra he used himself -- but when the hermit spoke the mantra aloud, the meditator was horrified!

"What's wrong?" asked the hermit.

"I don't know what to say. I'm afraid you've wasted your whole life! You are pronouncing the mantra incorrectly!"

"Oh, Dear! That is terrible. How should I say it?" 

The meditator gave the correct pronunciation, and the old hermit was very grateful, asking to be left alone so he could get started right away. On the way back across the lake the meditator, now confirmed as an accomplished teacher, was pondering the sad fate of the hermit.

"It's so fortunate that I came along. At least he will have a little time to practice correctly before he dies." Just then, the meditator noticed that the boatman was looking quite shocked, and turned to see the hermit standing respectfully on the water, next to the boat.

"Excuse me, please. I hate to bother you, but I've forgotten the correct pronunciation again. Would you please repeat it for me?"

"You obviously don't need it," stammered the meditator; but the old man persisted in his polite request until the meditator relented and told him again the way he thought the mantra should be pronounced. 

The old hermit was saying the mantra very carefully, slowly, over and over, as he walked across the surface of the water back to the island.

Dharma Haven

Continue to Background: Namaste

Or continue to Ascension: Selections from "Ascension"

Back to: Ascension Index


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