1) Om is the primordial sound of the universe
Heard in temples, yoga studios, households, even television and movies, the chanting and symbol of Om is familiar to most as it has pervaded the western world since the counterculture of the 1960s.
While to the layperson it’s synonymous to meditation, and seen simply as a doorway to tranquility for yogic practitioners, the true meaning of Om is deeply embedded in Hindu philosophy and to comprehend its truly profound effects one must have a basic understanding of sound.
Though many comprehend sound as merely something to be heard, its mechanism is a little more complex. Sound is made up of vibrations. These vibrations are produced from a source, travel through the air, and then are picked up by the ear before being interpreted by the brain, which assigns them some value. The number of vibrations per second is known as frequency. Because all matter is composed of atomic material, which is in constant motion, everything and everyone vibrates on some frequency.
The great inventor and scientist Nikola Tesla once said, “If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency, and vibration.”
The word Om is defined by Hindu scripture as being the primordial sound of creation. It is the original vibration of the universe. From this first vibration, all other vibrations are able to manifest.
2) Why meditate on Om
It is well-substantiated that sound vibration significantly impacts a person’s physical, emotional, and mental state. By chanting Om, we can align our frequency with that of the original universal frequency, which is essential in spiritual practice. As an iron rod becomes as hot as fire when it comes in contact with its flames, a person can spiritualize their life by staying in contact with the spiritual energy of the Absolute.
Om is the seed of transcendental sound, and it is through transcendental sound one can transform the mind and the senses. By chanting Om, the mind becomes aligned with the breath, which enables a person to get into an elevated state of consciousness called samadhi. The activity of attaining samadhi brings the materially absorbed mind under control, which enables a person to have one-pointed focus towards spiritual realization.
Because the Absolute is beyond the understanding of the mundane material senses, spiritualizing the mind — the center of all sensual activities, through sound vibration, is necessary to set in motion the process of transcendental realization.
Like a majestic tree that can be generated from a tiny seed, the glorious tree of spirituality can grow from the sincere chanting of Om.
3) Symbolism of Om
While its symbol is recognized by most, much fewer actually know what the combination of curves, crescent, and dot, which make up Om’s visual representation, actually stand for.
Each aspect of the visual form of Om signifies a particular state of reality. The large lower curve marks the normal waking state (jāgrat). In this condition, the mind identifies with the physical body and perceives the world through the senses.
The upper curve indicates the unconscious state, or that of deep sleep (sushupti). This is a state of total unawareness, in which you are in a deep dreamless sleep, and you are withdrawn from both physical and mental activities.
The middle curve denotes the dream state (swapna). The dream state is in between the deep sleep and waking state, where a person explores the subconscious. Your consciousness is turned inwards, as your fears, hopes, and desires manifest themselves in an imaginary world.
The dot is a symbol of enlightenment (turiyā). In this state, a person becomes harmonized with the Absolute, recognizing that all of creation is made up of spirit and is united through that commonality. This state is beyond the mundane senses, and can only be achieved by associating with spiritual energy.
The crescent represents maya, which separates the three curves from the dot. Maya is the illusion that binds an individual soul to the material world. By chanting Om, one can transcend the three curves of material consciousness, and attain the dot of enlightenment.
4) Universal access of Om
Like an object depicted in numerous ways by numerous painters, Om’s essence is uniquely manifested and accessed by different types of people all over the world.
As yogis commonly conclude their meditations with the chanting of Om, the Judeo-Christian utterance of “Amen,” and the Islamic version “Amin,” are used by followers to evoke the energy of the Divine at the end of a prayer.
Even within Hinduism, the meaning and connotations of Om is perceived in a variety of ways. Though heard and often written as “om,” due to the way it sounds when it is repeatedly chanted, the sacred syllable is originally and more accurately spelled as “aum.”
Broken down, the three letters of A – U – M represent a number of sacred trinities:
- The different conditions of consciousness — the waking state, the dreaming state, and the deep sleep state.
- The deities in charge of the creation, preservation, and destruction of the universe — Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
- The three original Vedic scriptures — Rg, Yajur, and Sāma.
- The three worlds — earth, atmosphere, and ether.
- The three aspects of time — past, present, and future.
- In the Bhakti tradition (yoga of devotion) — Krishna (seen by his devotees as the God of Creation), Rādhārāni (Krishna’s eternal consort, or God’s female counterpart), and the ordinary living beings.
Om encompasses all of creation, and its merciful energy can be attained by any who seek it, regardless of who they are, where they come from, or whichever faith they follow.
5) How to chant Om
Though there are no hard and fast rules for chanting Om, understanding the fundamental techniques of how to produce its sound can help provide a foundation from which you can better connect to the Divine.
As explained earlier, Om represents the creation, preservation, and dissolution of the universe. The seven main chakras — wheels of energy in the body relating to the physical, psychological, and spiritual aspects of our lives, provides a path through which the sound of Om begins, passes through, and eventually dissolves itself.
After taking in a deep breath, the chanting of Om (Aum) begins at the solar plexus chakra, near the diaphragm, where the “A” of the syllable is emphasized. As the sound progresses, “U” sustains the mantra through the heart, throat, and third eye chakras, until it reaches the crown. The sound dissolves at the crown chakra, at which point the mantra has developed into its last part, the “M.”
It’s most beneficial to find a quiet place where you can focus without being disturbed. Keeping your spine straight, begin chanting, starting with the “A,” holding the “U” a little longer as it progresses through the chakras, and then ending on the “M,” as the exhale of your breath ends. Chanting in a strong but not loud voice for at least 15 minutes is generally ideal if you want to truly get something substantial out of your meditative practice.
Ultimately, regardless of technique, chanting Om is about connecting to the Divine. As long as your intention is sincere, everything else will fall into place.