View Full Version : Aum/OM {Symbols of Faith}

January 13th, 2008, 08:15 PM
Okay so this was a little something (experiment?) for Eastern Paths I decided to try. The plan is to post about the major symbols of the paths contained in this forum for discussion and informational purposes (similar to the Deity of the Week threads). Enjoy! Feedback is appreciated too ;)


As the cross is to Christians, the Om is to Hindus. It is made up of three Sanskrit letters, aa, au and ma which, when combined, make the sound Aum or Om. The most important symbol in Hinduism, it occurs in every prayer and invocation to most deities begins with it. As the symbol of piety, Om is often found at the head of letters, pendants, enshrined in every Hindu temple and family shrines.
This symbol is actually a sacred syllable representing the Brahman or the Absolute -the source of all existence. Brahman, in itself, is incomprehensible so a symbol becomes mandatory to help us realize the Unknowable. The syllable Om occurs even in English words having a similar meaning, for instance, 'omniscience', 'omnipotent', 'omnipresent'. Thus Om is also used to signify divinity and authority. Its similarity with the Latin 'M' as also to the Greek letter 'Omega' is discernable. Even the word 'Amen' used by Christians to conclude a prayer seems to be akin to Om.
FROM: Aum (http://hinduism.about.com/library/weekly/aa121400a.htm)

"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." (Upanishad I)

The Om (or Aum) sign is the main symbol of Hinduism.
Most religions indicate that creation began with sound-- In the beginning was the word...For the Hindus & Buddhists, Om is the primordial sound, the first breath of creation, the vibration that ensures existence. Om sign signifies God, Creation, & the One-ness of all creation.

The Om symbol is a sacred syllable representing Brahman, the impersonal Absolute - 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.

Aum is said to be the essence of all mantras, the highest of all matras or divine word (shabda), brahman (ultimate reality) itself. Aum is said to be the essence of the Vedas.

By sound and form, AUM symbolizes the infinite Brahman (ultimate reality) and the entire universe:

A stands for Creation
U stands for Preservation
M stands for Destruction or dissolution
This is representative if 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 gunas (rajas, satva, tamas)
The three letters also indicates three planes of existence, heaven (swarga), earth (martya) and netherworld (patala)
All the words produced by the human vocal organ can be represented by AUM. 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 (affirmation) and ascent (it has an upwards movement and uplifts the soul, as the sound of the divine eagle or falcon.

From: Aum Symbol (http://www.lotussculpture.com/my_articles_om.htm)
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.

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.

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.

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!

From: Aum, the Absolute Symbol (http://hinduism.about.com/od/omaum/a/meaningofom.htm)

More Detailed Symbolism With its threefold nature, special shape and unique sound, Om lends itself to a variety of detailed symbolic interpretations.

The symbol of AUM consists of three curves (curves 1, 2, and 3), one semicircle (curve 4), and a dot. The large lower curve 1 symbolizes the waking state (jagrat), in this state the consciousness is turned outwards through the gates of the senses. The larger size signifies that this is the most common ('majority') state of the human consciousness.

The upper curve 2 denotes the state of deep sleep (sushupti) or the unconscious state. This is a state where the sleeper desires nothing nor beholds any dream.

The middle curve 3 (which lies between deep sleep and the waking state) signifies the dream state (swapna). In this state the consciousness of the individual is turned inwards, and the dreaming self beholds an enthralling view of the world behind the lids of the eyes.

These are the three states of an individual's consciousness, and since Indian mystic thought believes the entire manifested reality to spring from this consciousness, these three curves therefore represent the entire physical phenomenon.

The dot signifies the fourth state of consciousness, known in Sanskrit as turiya. In this state the consciousness looks neither outwards nor inwards, nor the two together. It signifies the coming to rest of all differentiated, relative existence This utterly quiet, peaceful and blissful state is the ultimate aim of all spiritual activity. This Absolute (non-relative) state illuminates the other three states.

Finally, the semi circle symbolizes maya and separates the dot from the other three curves. Thus it is the illusion of maya that prevents us from the realization of this highest state of bliss.

The semi circle is open at the top, and when ideally drawn does not touch the dot. This means that this highest state is not affected by maya. Maya only affects the manifested phenomenon. This effect is that of preventing the seeker from reaching his ultimate goal, the realization of the One, all-pervading, unmanifest, Absolute principle. In this manner, the form of OM represents both the unmanifest and the manifest, the noumenon and the phenomenon.

As a sacred sound also, the pronunciation of the three-syllabled AUM is open to a rich logical analysis. The first alphabet A is regarded as the primal sound, independent of cultural contexts. It is produced at the back of the open mouth, and is therefore said to include, and to be included in, every other sound produced by the human vocal organs. Indeed A is the first letter of the Sanskrit alphabet.

The open mouth of A moves toward the closure of M. Between is U, formed of the openness of A but shaped by the closing lips. Here it must be recalled that as interpreted in relation to the three curves, the three syllables making up AUM are susceptible to the same metaphorical decipherment. The dream state (symbolized by U), lies between the waking state (A) and the state of deep sleep (M). Indeed a dream is but the compound of the consciousness of waking life shaped by the unconsciousness of sleep.

AUM thus also encompasses within itself the complete alphabet, since its utterance proceeds from the back of the mouth (A), travelling in between (U), and finally reaching the lips (M). Now all alphabets can be classified under various heads depending upon the area of the mouth from which they are uttered. The two ends between which the complete alphabet oscillates are the back of the mouth to the lips; both embraced in the simple act of uttering of AUM.

The last part of the sound AUM (the M) known as ma or makar, when pronounced makes the lips close. This is like locking the door to the outside world and instead reaching deep inside our own selves, in search for the Ultimate truth.

But over and above the threefold nature of OM as a sacred sound is the invisible fourth dimension which cannot be distinguished by our sense organs restricted as they are to material observations. This fourth state is the unutterable, soundless silence that follows the uttering of OM. A quieting down of all the differentiated manifestations, i.e. a peaceful-blissful and non-dual state. Indeed this is the state symbolized by the dot in the traditional iconography of AUM.

The threefold symbolism of OM is comprehensible to the most 'ordinary' of us humans, realizable both on the intuitive and objective level. This is responsible for its widespread popularity and acceptance. That this symbolism extends over the entire spectrum of the manifested universe makes it a veritable fount of spirituality. Some of these symbolic equivalents are:
Colors : Red, White, and Black.
Seasons : Spring, Summer, and Winter.
Periods : Morning, Midday, and Evening.
States : Waking-consciousness (jagriti), Dream (svapna), and deep-sleep (sushupti).
Spheres : Earthly, Heavenly, and Intermediary.
Poetic Meters : Gayatri (24 syllables), Trishtubh (44 syllables), and Jagati (48 syllables).
Veda : Rigveda (knowledge of the meters), Yajurveda (knowledge of contents), Samaveda (knowledge of extension).
Elemental Deity : Fire (Agni), Sun (Aditya), Wind (Vayu).
Manifestation of Speech : Voice (vak), Mind (manas), Breath (prana).
Priestly Function : Making offering, Performing ritual, and Singing.
Tendencies : Revolving, Cohesive, and Disintegrating.
Quality : Energy (rajas), Purity (sattva), and Ignorance (tamas).
Ritual fire : Of the home, of the Ancestors, and of Invocation.
Goddess : Amba, Ambika, and Ambalika.
Gods : Of the elements (Vasus), of the sky (Adityas), of the sphere-of-space (Rudras).
Deity : Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva.
Action : Creation, Preservation, and Destruction.
Power : of Action (kriya), of Knowledge (jnana), and of Will (iccha).
Man : Body, Soul, and Spirit.
Time : Past, Present, and Future.
Stages of Existence : Birth, Life, and Death.
Phases of the Moon : Waxing, Full, and Waning.
Godhead : Father, Mother, and Son.
Alchemy : Sulphur, Quicksilver, and Salt.
Buddhism : the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha (three jewels of Buddhism).
Qabalism : Male, Female, and the Uniting intelligence.
Japanese Thought : Mirror, Sword, and Jewel.
Divine Attributes : Truth, Courage, and Compassion. According to Indian spiritual sciences, God first created sound, and from these sound frequencies came the phenomenal world. Our total existence is constituted of these primal sounds, which give rise to mantras when organized by a desire to communicate, manifest, invoke or materialize. Matter itself is said to have proceeded from sound and OM is said to be the most sacred of all sounds. It is the syllable which preceded the universe and from which the gods were created. It is the "root" syllable (mula mantra), the cosmic vibration that holds together the atoms of the world and heavens. Indeed the Upanishads say that AUM is god in the form of sound. Thus OM is the first part of the most important mantras in both Buddhism and Hinduism, e.g. Om Namoh Shivai and Om Mani Padme Hum.

Another ancient text equates AUM with an arrow, laid upon the bow of the human body (the breath), which after penetrating the darkness of ignorance finds its mark, namely the lighted domain of True Knowledge. Just as a spider climbs up its thread and gains freedom, so the yogis climb towards liberation by the syllable OM.

The omnific and omniparous quality of OM makes it omnipresential, and in-omissible from any spiritual practice. As an omnipotent symbol, the yogi who penetrates its mystery is indeed truly omnicompetent and omnipercipient, and as an omniscient source, it is a virtual omnibus of sacred and mystical inspirations.

From: ReligionFacts.com "Aum" (http://www.religionfacts.com/hinduism/symbols/aum.htm)
Other sites:

Wikipedia "Aum" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aum)
Om & Mantras (http://www.omsakthi.org/worship/mantra.html)
Om - An Inquiry into its Aesthetics, Mysticism, and Philosophy (http://rds.yahoo.com/_ylt=A0oGkinHpYpHlqQATm1XNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTFhZzB0ZW0wBHNlYwNzcgRwb3MDOQRjb2xvA3NrMQR2dGlkA1BSMDE1XzExO ARsA1dTMQ--/SIG=11so5jjms/EXP=1200355143/**http%3a//www.exoticindiaart.com/article/om)
The Mantra OM— Symbol of Primordial Vibration (http://rds.yahoo.com/_ylt=A0oGkjMtqIpH_m4BHIFXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTFibXBhbXA5BHNlYwNzcgRwb3MDMTUEY29sbwNzazEEdnRpZANQUjAxNV8xM TgEbANXUzE-/SIG=12hkpl910/EXP=1200355757/**http%3a//www.mandalayoga.net/index-newsletter-en-mantra_om.html)
OM: The Symbol of Absolute (http://rds.yahoo.com/_ylt=A0oGkjMtqIpH_m4BFoFXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTFic2Vkc2lhBHNlYwNzcgRwb3MDMTIEY29sbwNzazEEdnRpZANQUjAxNV8xM TgEbANXUzE-/SIG=129nsk6b5/EXP=1200355757/**http%3a//www.webonautics.com/mythology/omthesymbol.html)
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