OM, The Symbol for Primordial Sound

OM, The Symbol for Primordial Sound
by Ray J. Rousseau


OM or AUM, is a Sanskrit word and symbol which is sacred in Dharmic religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Sanatana Dharma and Jainism. OM is often used to initiate or empower longer chants and mantras such as the Sanskrit chant, “Om Namah Shivaya”(1) or the Sanskrit chant often associated with Buddhism, "Om Mani Padme Hum"(2). Om is the best known of the bija or "seed" mantras and countless monks, priests, ascetics and sanyasis(3) have chanted OM over the millennia as a powerful and singular mantra. In her Doctoral Thesis, Dr. Diane M. Rousseau writes, “OM (when chanted) by itself can be understood as a “recluse mantra”, as the Power is so great, it will slowly (over time) take all relative situations of relationships and matter out of one’s life. It is not a Mantra for a householder, as it will slowly end all ones (worldly or relative) connections”.(4)

Linguists tell us that the West has a deep linguistic ancestry within the proto or “source” Indo-European languages and many believe that "amen" in Judaism and Christianity is now the OM mantra transformed in form and context as it traveled from the East, to the gulf region and then on to Europe. The vibration or sound of OM symbolizes the manifestation of God in form ("sāguna brahman")(5). OM is the reflection of the absolute reality, it is said to be "Adi Anadi"(6), without beginning or end and embracing all that exists. The mantra "OM" is the name of God, the vibration of the Supreme.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi states, “If you strike a bell it produces a hum.m.m.m. From that eternal silence a hum starts and this hum is called OM”. He further explains, “... OM is the sustainer of life ... OM is the beginning and end of all creation. All this is OM, that hum, which is the first silent sound... that starts from that silent ocean of un-manifested life”.(7) Paramahansa Yogananda, in his classic spiritual book, “Autobiography of a Yogi” relates that, “...Patanjali speaks of God as the actual Cosmic Sound of AUM (OM) that is heard in meditation”.

Hindu Trimurti: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva within an OM; Mahabharata manuscript dated 1795.
One of the earliest references to OM is in “The Mandukya Upanishad”(8) which is entirely devoted to OM. The first verse translates: “OM is this imperishable Word. OM is the Universe, and this is the exposition of OM. The past, the present and the future, all that was, all that is, all that will be, is OM. Likewise all else that may exist beyond the bounds of Time, that too is OM”. In the Puranas(9), OM (AUM) is the mystic name for the Hindu Trimurti, and represents the union of the three gods: “A” for Brahma, “U” for Vishnu and “M” for Mahadev which is another name of Shiva. Theses three sounds also symbolize the three Vedas, namely the Rigveda, Samaveda and Yajurveda. In the Bhagavad Gita (9.17): Lord Krishna says to Arjuna – "I am the father of this universe, the mother, the support and the grandsire. I am the object of knowledge, the purifier and the syllable OM. I am also the Rig, the Sāma and the Yajur Vedas."

Decoding the symbol as written in Sanskrit brings deeper insight: the parts that resemble a “3” and an “o” represent three stages of the human mind's states of consciousness or progression from ignorance to clarity and the “cup shaped half circle” symbolizes that which separates these states from the “dot” which represents the true self. Vaishvanara: the lower left curve (the bottom half of the “3”) is waking state, the Conscious mind which is focused outward to material objects and the gross or relative world.
Taijasa: (represented by the “o” to the right of the center of the “3”) is the Dreaming state, active unconscious or the subtle world; that which is focused inward to only the thoughts in the mind.
Prajna: (represented by the top curve or upper part of the “3”) is the Casual plane of existence, the dreamless deep sleep state, deep meditation and latent unconsciousness.
Turiya: (represented as a dot or point above the top curve”) the Bindu(10), absolute, pure unity consciousness, Atam/Brahman Self. The “True Self” in its most un-worldly and purest consciousness (where) "awareness of the world and of multiplicity is completely obliterated "(11). Turiya, “the true self”, is separated from the other 3 states by a horizontal curve, the Nadi which means Sound; this is how Maya, the illusory world, the manifest or relative is transcended.

OM is the primordial sound, Logos or word that was present at the creation of the universe. It is the original sound that contains all other sounds, all words, all languages and all mantras. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”, King James Bible, John 1:1.

Footnotes and Acknowledgements:
(1) Namah Shiva is the most holy name of the God Shiva; it means roughly, "I bow to Shiva." Namah: Adoration, homage, respect. Shiva: The Auspicious One, also known as Parameshwara (the Supreme God), Lord of the three realms, the supreme or absolute reality.
(2) Om mani padme hum, (“Behold! The jewel in the lotus!” or “Praise to the jewel in the lotus!”). The 14th Dalai Lama writes, “The six syllables, “om mani padme hum”, mean that in dependence on the practice of a path which is an indivisible union of method and wisdom, you can transform your impure body, speech, and mind into the pure exalted body, speech, and mind of a Buddha...".
(3) Sannyasin: A person (male or female) who renounces worldly and materialistic pursuits, transits from the householder phase of life and dedicates their lives to spiritual pursuits and contemplation.
(4) Chapter Seven, “Sound Waves of Color and Light” Thesis/Dissertation, “Spiritual Science of the Unified Field”, Dr. Diane M. Rousseau ©2010-2014.
(5) Saguna Brahman: "The Absolute with qualities" from the Sanskrit saguṇa "with qualities, gunas" and Brahman "The Absolute", personified as the creator, Ishwara, the manifested divine presence. According to Advaita as taught by Sankara, saguna brahman is eternal, He is not affected even when he appears in this world as he controls the effects of his own maya shakti.
(6) Adi Anadi: without any beginning or without beginning or end and embracing all that exists.
(7) “THE VEDAS - Source of the Subtle Science” by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi; transcription of a lecture from December 6, 1964, SRM.
(8) Upanishads: The Mandukya Upanishad is the shortest of the Upanishads – the scriptures of Hindu Vedanta. It is in prose, consisting of just twelve verses expounding the mystic syllable AUM or OM.
(9) The Puranas (Sanskrit: purāna, "of ancient times") are ancient Sanskrit verses eulogizing various deities, primarily the divine Trimurti God in Hinduism through divine stories, e.g., some scholars classify the Mahabharata, which contains the Bhagavad-Gita, as a purana.
(10) Bindu: the sacred symbol of the cosmos in its un-manifested state.
(11) Translation from the Isha Upanishad by Swami Nirmalananda Giri.

Note: How to access the Sanskrit symbol for OM your Computer: to type the OM symbol on your computer screen, open MS Word, go to fonts and scroll to the bottom, then select the Wingdings font and key in backslash "/" and you will have typed in the symbol for OM.

Copyright©2014 Ray J. Rousseau
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