The OM symbol, which has its origin in holy texts of different religions, is mainly associated with Hinduism. But there is much more behind it. In this blog article we will try to explore the meaning and symbolism behind the OM symbol.
In the West, OM is most often associated with yoga, meditation and other spiritual practices. But where does it come from and what does it mean? Did you know that OM is not only a symbol but also a sound? It is sung at the end of yoga classes (and sometimes at the beginning). More about this later.
The origins of OM
The fact is that the OM symbol is used in various spiritual practices and religions.
This symbol can be found in many places in the world, especially in Asian countries where Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism are practiced. It can be found in various Jain, Hindu and Buddhist temples, monasteries, retreats and spiritual texts.
Many people associate the OM symbol with Buddhism, especially in terms of meditation, but it has its origins in Hinduism.
The first mention of OM was in the Mandukya Upanishad, a Hindu text written around 800 B.C.
The Upanishads are sacred and mystical texts of the Hindu religion and are associated with the Vedanta philosophy. Within the Upanishads, the OM symbol is often used for abstract spiritual concepts. It is also associated with many other concepts, such as the mystical syllable, cosmic sound and affirmation of something divine.
Within the Upanishads there are also other meanings and concepts. For example, the oldest parts of the Upanishads, the Vedenta, suggest that the OM symbol refers to 3 different phonetic components, namely A, U and M, i.e. “AUM” (which is actually the correct pronunciation of OM) and is related to the 3 main stages of cosmic creation.
There are also many other parts of the Upanishads that associate OM with different meanings, for example when it is read or said, thus referring to the creative forces of the universe.
Some parts of the Upanishads suggest that OM is the “universe beyond the sun”, or something that is “mysterious and inexhaustible”, “the essence of breath, life and all that exists”, “that with which one is liberated”, “the infinite language” or “infinite knowledge”.
Besides, the meaning of OM can vary, especially in relation to Buddhism and Hinduism.
In Hinduism, OM is the first sound of creation and thus of the entire universe. Although it is considered to be an audible sound, it is also interestingly seen as the sound of silence, which blocks out everything else and brings thoughts to the inner world and peace.
The OM and its meaning in Hinduism
Now we will take a look at some of the most common and well-known meanings of the OM symbol in this religion.
According to Hindu belief “the essence of all beings on earth, the essence of the earth is water. The essence of water is plants, the essence of plants is people, the essence of people is language, the essence of language is Rig Veda, the essence of Rig Veda is Sama Veda, and the essence of Sama Veda is OM”.
The older Upanishads also claim that the OM symbol represents the struggle between gods and demons. Figuratively speaking, it is meant to refer to the conflict in man between good and evil. OM can inspire people to good thoughts and unselfish actions.
Furthermore, OM is called “the syllable of the whole world” within the Mandukya Upanishad.
In the first verse of this Upanishad, it says that time consists of three parts, the past, present and future, or in other words A – U – M.
OM in relation to the 4 states of consciousness
When it comes to meditation and spiritual enlightenment, the OM symbol is often used as a sacred representation of the 4 different states of consciousness.
All people pass through these states of consciousness. In fact, one could also say that these 4 states of consciousness exist at the same time and work in harmony with each other.
It is believed that these states must be reached one after the other in order to reach the final stage, the transcendental self, which is the ultimate goal of Hindu meditation.
The long arch at the bottom of the OM symbol is Vaishvanara and represents the first state of consciousness. This is the waking state of consciousness that focuses on the outer material world. The “A” in AUM.
The “bulbous” curve on the right, is Taijasa, the second state of consciousness. This is the dreaming state, the one that focuses inwardly on the mind. The “U” in the AUM.
The upper left curve of the OM symbol is Prajna, the third state of consciousness. This is the state of dreamlessness, which is reached through deep meditation. The “M” in the AUM. There is a state between the third and fourth states: the veil of material illusion, also called Maya. This is a state that must be passed through before the fourth stage can be reached. This intermediate stage is represented by the lying crescent in the OM symbol.
The fourth state of consciousness is known as Turiya. This is the state of the transcendental self. It is the ultimate and final goal of Hindu meditation. This is represented by the small dot in the upper right corner of the OM symbol.
OM and its meaning in Buddhism
Buddhism is another religion in which the OM symbol plays an important role. The early forms of Buddhism did not seem to use it very often. However, this changed in the course of time. This is especially true for Tibetan Buddhism, which was strongly influenced by Hinduism.
The OM symbol is often placed at the beginning and/or end of Buddhist mantras and texts. One of the most famous mantras is “Om mani padme hum”. It is the mantra of compassion. Many people also interpret it as the “totality of sound, existence and consciousness”.
In the 14th century the Dalai Lama described OM as consisting of 3 separate letters, namely the A, U and the M. There are various symbols associated with these 3 letters, including the “pure sublime body, speech and mind of the enlightened Buddha”.
OM also symbolizes “wholeness, perfection and the infinite”. On many statues and East Asian monuments, the Buddhist OM is represented by a pair of warrior guardian kings, one of whom pronounces the A part and the other the UM part. Taken together, these kings are considered “the Absolute”.
OM and its use in Yoga practices
Yoga, as already mentioned, has its origin in Hinduism. It is a combination of physical, mental and spiritual practices, with the aim of improving both physical and mental health and connecting the practitioner spiritually.
There are three main goals in Yoga
The first goal is to use meditative means to discover and overcome one’s own, still little developed perception and insight in order to alleviate suffering. It is the discovery of inner peace and salvation.
The second goal of yoga is to expand our consciousness and to realize that we are connected and coexist with everything and everyone in the world.
The third goal of yoga is to attain omniscience and enlightened consciousness as well as the knowledge of transience and rebirth.
In relation to Yoga, the OM symbol and, more importantly, the OM sound is very important.
Many yoga teachers* start and end their yoga class by singing the AUM. But why?
The yoga class is more peaceful and relaxed. The benefits gained through the practice of yoga – physical, mental and spiritual – are also deepened.
It is also believed that OM chanting helps to align the vibration of “AUM” with the vibration of the universe. The aim is to create a peaceful and relaxed atmosphere, which in turn makes the yoga class more harmonious. Furthermore, the OM chanting supports yoga teachers* to connect practitioners as well as the practitioners with each other.
Om is the sound of the origin of the universe and implies the idea of perfection. Singing OM teaches to exhale fully and to use the voice and words effectively; harmonizes the heart chakra (anahata chakra); leads to deep peace in the mind and heart. Recited in a group, its effect is greatly enhanced. thisisyoga.org/en