The Significance of the Divine Syllable Om


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Since the time of ancient Vedic civilization, the syllable “Om” has had a prominent place in Hindu philosophy.  Today, it can be found in many Hindu contexts, whether or not authentic, and it has several mentions in pop culture.  But regardless of its representation, “Om” has retained its profound spiritual significance for Hindus around the world.

Om often serves as a divine invocation in prayer and precedes the revered Gayatri Mantra (Om Bhur Bhuvah Svah).  However, the syllable can stand alone in our prayers, as well.  Shvetashvatara Upanishad likens the perishable body and the syllable “Om” to two distinct fuel-sticks; together, they can spark the flame of knowledge of our own divine nature (1.14-16).  Likewise, Mundaka Upanishad metaphorizes that if the individual soul is the arrow and the target is the indestructible, supreme Brahman, then “Om” is the bow that makes it possible for us to discover our unity with that Divine (2.2.4).  Indeed, the Gita says that anyone who utters the monosyllabic “Om,” with the mind continually affixed on the Divine, transcending the material body, attains the Supreme Goal (8.13).

Apart from its spiritual function, “Om” represents the Divine in and of itself.  It is the sound of Brahman, of the atman, and describes the divine as part of the threefold appellation Om-Tat-Sat (B.G. 17.23).  In enumerating His vibhutis (divine manifestations) in the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krshna says, “Of speech, I am the transcendental syllable Om” (10.25).  In detailing the way in which the universe rests in Him, He says, “I am the divine syllable Om in all the Vedas” (7.08).

The iconic syllable “Om” actually has its own threefold division, A-U-M, representing many concepts in Hindu philosophy.  One important one is the progression of the universe:  A involves the opening of the mouth, the beginning of sound, and the manifestation of the material universe (presumably through the Big Bang).  U involves the narrowing of the lips as tapas, concentration of consciousness, propels the universe forward in its progression.  Finally, M brings the closing of the lips and the demise of the universe.  This model of creation corresponds with the Holy Trinity:  Brahmā the Creator, Vishnu the Protector, and Mahesh the Destroyer.

But apart from the course of the universe, the threefold division of AUM symbolizes many other concepts in Vedanta.  Maitri Upanishad declares that AUM, the sound of Brahman-atman, manifests as the:

  • gender-endowed body, through male, female, and neuter (in terms of the workings of creation, not the strict identities of humans)
  • light- and heat- endowed body, through vayu (air, which scatters light and carries heat), agni (fire, energy), and aditya (sun)
  • knowledge-endowed body, through Rig, Sama, and Yajur (the three main Vedas)
  • time-endowed body, through past, present, and future
  • growth-endowed body, through food, water, and the moon
  • thought-endowed body, through mana (mind), buddhi (intellect), and chitta (storehouse of memories and impressions)

In fact, AUM encapsulates the human condition itself.  According to Mandukya Upanishad, A-U-M represents the three realms consciousness—waking, dream, and deep sleep.  This corresponds with the three sub-lokas of mrityu loka, the realm of mortality—Bhu, Bhuvah, Svah—and with the three principal states recognized by neuroscience—waking, non-REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, and REM sleep.  Once again, Hinduism never had to be amended to coincide with science.

Overall, the mantra “Om” has great power in allowing us to synchronize with the universe and appreciate the divine.  Many non-Hindus recognize its significance, as its usage has spread from Hinduism to Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism.  Regardless of what Hinduism means to you, and regardless of your spiritual journey, consider embracing Om—and see where it takes you.

Author’s website: findingthetruthsite.wordpress.com

16 comments on "The Significance of the Divine Syllable Om"

  1. umashanker bepet says:

    Veda is knowledge and knowledge comes from “Indiadivine.org”. the real divine land non other then “bharat”. we should wright “bharat” and in bracket we should wright India.

    BHARAT (INDIA)

  2. Parthasarathy M A says:

    The pranava syllable ‘Om’ is supposed to be used strictly with Vedic Mantras only or used standalone. In the recent past, the pranava ‘Om’ is being used in all kinds of non-vedic verses praising different gurus, but it is wrong. Such wrongly usage may even lead to negative effects.

  3. chandru g advani says:

    wonderful exposure to Hinduism and the Vedas.Congratulations and please keep continued towards the Holyu Vedas and the Hinduism/Om Shanti Shanti Shanti

  4. PVAP SWAMY says:

    Eswara is Omkaara Moolam. Mata Eswari is Omkaara Beejaakshari and accordingly Mata is Shrushthi(Creation), Shthiti(Sustaining) and Laya(Destruction) Kaarini. These three Beejamulu also signify Trikaalamulu, Trigunamulu and three functions (breathing in , holding and breathing out) and also Jagrath, Swapna and Susupti Avashthalu. Eswara(Sat) is as Atma/Sakshe in all Bhutamulu. Eswari(Chit) is Atma/Sakshe Chaitanyam in all Bhutamulu. Eswara and Eswari are inseparable like a word and its meaning. SivaSaktaikyam(Anandam) is Self Realization. Mata is Sivakari. Hence chanting of Omkaara Naadam enlightens us to realize Self/Atma.

  5. Mahesh Shah says:

    Articles in your news letters are very informative, and simple to undestand.

  6. Hester Jacoba Louisa de Beer says:

    Thanks for this timely insight concerning the AUM, which incidentally was what kept me busy also withn my Kabbalah studies earlier this morning.
    Namasteji <3 <3 <3 Namasteji

  7. satyam says:

    any slok for solve problem of neurogenic bladder

  8. Rajeev says:

    Your post is really good. please keep it continue.

  9. S S R Ayyangar says:

    Recently It is revealed that Om sound is continuously
    emanating from SUN by NASA .

  10. D.V.J. Vittal says:

    INTRESTING Intesting information and great pictures. Thanks. D V J VITTAL

  11. Balkrishna Parchure says:

    A great article, one must read such as many as possible

  12. Anju Purohit says:

    Oooooooommmmmmm is a meditation chanting not om but ooooooooommmmmm it vibrates the atmosphere and with eyee closed you just enter your inner self

  13. Suresh Mannem says:

    Every Hindu, in fact every individual, should know the importance of AUM, – thanks for giving such important articles.

  14. S.Nagaraj says:

    Mr. ParthaSarathy says:
    Parthasarathy M A says:
    March 23, 2017 at 6:09 am

    The pranava syllable ‘Om’ is supposed to be used strictly with Vedic Mantras only or used standalone. In the recent past, the pranava ‘Om’ is being used in all kinds of non-vedic verses praising different gurus, but it is wrong. Such wrongly usage may even lead to negative effects.

    My question is: How would one know whether a particular usage of the pranava is wrong, unless they have been told not to do so, by experts?
    Another question: I have read that women who are in the reproductive group (and those who want to get children) are not supposed to chant “OM”, because that takes the Prana shakthi to higher centers whereas they need enough prana shakthi to properly give birth to children. Nobody seems to be bothered about this!!!
    What is your comment?

  15. Suryaji says:

    The post is really nice. I did not know so many things about OM.

  16. Murlidhar Bulani says:

    Wonderful explanation of AUM (OM).
    Thanks

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