The Name of God

Swami Satchidananda

The mystic sound OM is the word expressive of God. It is God’s name.

We have to give a name to God, but it is rather difficult to find a suitable name for that nameless, formless, omnipresent and omniscient One. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali say, “Tasya vachaka pranava. That Name is OM or pranava.”

Here we have to understand why we give a name to a thing. In Sanskrit, there is a term, padartha. Padartha colloquially means a thing, but literally it means the pada and artha; the thing and its meaning. They are inseparable; the name and the form are inseparable. When you have a thought and you want to say it, you have to put it into words. Without words you can’t convey what you are thinking of.

In the normal sense every thought or every substance should have a word to denote, to express, or to convey. That is why we have a word or a name for everything in this world. For example, when I say “mango,” we all know what a mango is. That is why we are able to visualize the substance, the thing behind that name or word. But if you have never seen a mango or heard of it, to you the word mango cannot convey anything; it’s just a word. From the word itself you cannot create a picture. You may even try to split it and find out a meaning: Is it man-go? Man go?

So it is only according to usage that the name of that fruit has become mango. God’s name cannot and should not be like that. We have given many names to God. They may give a picture, an aspect of God, but not the fullness.

So the names of God, whatever they be, are more or less partial; they are not full. But in fact God is, God was, and God will be. God has no beginning and no end. God is infinite and is in everything—omnipresent. There is not a single thing where there is not God. To such an omnipresent, a beginningless, endless One, there should be a name that should convey the same idea. And it should not just convey the idea—the name can mean God, can remind you of God, but that alone is not enough. The very name, by repeating it, should create, should manifest God in you. That means the very name itself should become God.

The name chair can remind you of a chair, but the name itself cannot become a chair, you cannot sit on it. Sugar can remind you of something sweet, but if you say “sugar, sugar, sugar,” for hundreds and thousands of times, you still won’t feel the taste of it. In that respect the word sugar is only partial. But God’s name should not be like that.

God’s name should not only denote the fullness of God, but it should bring God to you, it should itself represent God. And such a full name is OM.

Please do not think that I say so because I am a Hindu and the Hindu scriptures say OM. I don’t belong to any particular religion as such. I say the OM can denote God and can be God itself because all the ancient scriptures say so, not only I. In the Bible it says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” All the ancient scriptures say the word should be God. There should not be any difference between the word and God. The word should have all the qualifications, capacities, powers of God. Or, strictly speaking, it should transcend your imagination of God. And such a word is OM.

Why? I was about to say this, when I quoted the Bible, saying that in the beginning was the word. A very similar saying is found in the Hindu Vedas. There is an entire Upanishad, called Mandukya, to expound the meaning of OM, and it says that the name of Brahman is OM, and OM is Brahman himself. Why do they say this OM is so rich, so deep, so capable of representing the omnipresent, the beginningless and endless God? Let us see why it is so.

In that Upanishad it is said that OM has four stages. The name OM is split into three letters: A, U, and M. That’s why often it is written as AUM instead of OM, and we can pronounce it as AUM also. So there is a combination of three letters, or stages, and there is a fourth stage also, the anagata, which transcends. Anagata means the one which cannot be pronounced, that is beyond verbal pronunciation.

Now, let us see these three letters: A is the beginning of all sounds. Every language begins with that letter A, or Ah. In English it is A, in Sanskrit it is Ah. Ah is pronounced without any difficulty whatsoever; simply open the mouth and make a sound. It is always Ah. It is produced at the throat, at the back of the palate where the tongue is rooted. So the sound, at least the audible sound, begins with Ah, and it ends with Mm. So there is a beginning and an end, and in between there is a continuation. It rolls down: Aa, Oo. Probably if you try it yourself you will feel it; it is not just hearing alone. Ah, Oo. From the throat it rolls between the tongue and the palate up to the lips. Ah is the creation; Oo is the continuation, the preservation; and the culmination is in Mm. So there is a beginning, there is a continuation, and there is an end also. The sound begins, lives for some time, and ends. That means all other sounds are contained in this. This is the origin, this is the seed from which all other sounds, all other words come. Or in other words, in each and every sound the OM is dormant, hiding.

And after the audible sound is ended, the vibration is still there. That is the unspoken, the anagata. That is always in you. Even before you said the Ah, and after you finished the Mm, there is a sound vibration in you that can never be destroyed. You can always listen to that sound if you do not make any sound whatsoever; if you do not disturb the sound within, you can hear that.

That is why it is called the ajapa, the unrepeated. Japa means repetition, but the ajapa is the one which need not be repeated; it is always. It is heard when all other movements, all other sound ceases. Even your thinking creates a sound. The speech has not come out, but your thought itself is a form of speaking. So you have distorted the original sound, which transcends the beginning, continuation, and ending of the OM sound.

You have to keep your mind quiet, stop all the thinking process, and dive within, to be able to listen to that sound. It is something like a humming sound. That is why it is called the pranava; pranava means the humming sound, and it is connected with prana. As I’ve said before, prana is the basic vibration; even in an unmanifested condition you have that vibration always. It’s never-ending. It’s something like, in our waking state we think and we speak, but in sleep the mind seems to be quiet; but still, movement is there. The vibrations are there in the mind in an unmanifested condition.

Scientifically, we can say that all these manifested forms, when they are reduced to their unmanifested condition, go back to the atomic vibration. Nobody can stop that atomic vibration. It vibrates always. In a stone you don’t see any motion. But because you do not see any motion that does not mean the stone is just lying motionless, no. There is movement within the stone. We need not go to the scriptures—the scientists have proven that.

So the movement is there. Likewise the sound; even without your repeating, the basic sound is always vibrating. That is what you call the humming sound or the pranava. From this all other sounds come. So OM is the seed for the other sounds to manifest from. That is why it is called the bijakshara; bija means seed, akshara means letter: the seed-letter of OM. And that is why OM represents God in the fullest sense. It has the seed to create that. Again, let us take the example of a mango. Make a nice mango out of clay, paint it well, keep it on a table, and by its side keep a real mango also. If you are an expert in making things, an ordinary person just by looking could not tell the difference between the clay mango and the real one. They look alike, they have the same name, and as long as you keep them on the table it is all right. But when you put them in the earth and pour water, your clay mango will not create a mango tree, but your real mango will. It has that creative capacity within itself. The seed is there. In the same way, words can be just like the clay mango, but this seed-word OM has that creative capacity, and it can bring the entire world out. The entire evolution is from that and it goes back into that again. And that is why God’s name could be OM. This name is more than adequate to represent God.

Again, it is not a name given by somebody. We should remember that also. It’s not that many people came together and decided what name should be given, and ultimately even had a vote, and the majority decided, “All right, let God have the name OM.” No. God manifested. The people who really wanted to see God face to face ultimately saw God as OM. And that is why it transcends all the limitations, geographical or political or whatever. It doesn’t belong to one country or one religion, it belongs to the entire universe.

A little variation of this OM is what we see in Amen or Ameen. Not that it is different. Truth is always the same, no one need go to someplace to learn it. Wherever you are, sit and meditate, try to see God in you, and ultimately you will end in OM. Because there is only the humming sound, the basic one. But when you want to say it, you say it in different words according to your capacity, your language. For example, somebody fires a gun. There are a few children playing nearby and they go running to the Mamas. One child will say, “Mama, Mama, we heard a big sound: Dhooomm.” Another child will say, “Yes, Mama, we heard a Boom.” A third child will say “Doop” is the sound. Is it Doop or Boom or Dhooom? These are all different versions of the same sound heard, by the different children. They all heard the same sound, but they express it in different ways. It need not be the same way.

In the same way, if you sit and meditate and go deep into that cosmic sound in you, and you want to say it, you may say, “I heard it as Mmm.” Another person will say, “I heard it Ameen.” A third one will say “Amen.” A fourth one will say “OM.” So the expressions vary. That’s why it says in the Upanishads: Truth is One, but the seers have said it in many ways. So all are right, because all have heard the same thing. That is the greatness of that word.

Having understood the greatness of that name, one should repeat that name. We are coming to the practice of japa. It’s a very powerful practice; at the same time it is an easy one also. It is the easiest, the simplest, and the best. Almost every religion has this, because all the prophets, sages, and saints have understood the greatness and the power of the repetition of God’s name. And that’s why, in the Hindu system, a particular word—if you like you can call it a mystic word—is given to students after knowing their fitness, and they are asked to repeat it.

That mystic word is called the mantra. The very meaning of mantra is “the one that will keep your mind steady.” And the repetition of the mantra is called japa, so the entire practice is called Japa Yoga, or communion through the repetition of God’s name.

The safest and the best mantra is OM. When we repeat OM, we create that divine vibration in us. That vibration vibrates our own body. It brings a sort of realignment in the cells of the body. So we attune our system to the cosmic vibration. Once we get that attunement, we are able to draw the force, capacity and everything from the cosmic world. That is what is really meant by communion. Communion is possible only when we raise ourselves to a particular level wherein we can vibrate in the same way as the higher force. Even in the material sense, union is possible only when two subtle matters vibrate in the same way. The same can be said of mental union also. Unless two minds function and think, or vibrate, in the same way, there can’t be real union between them.

So normally a mantra begins with OM. But with that basis, probably for a particular purpose, we can have a particular name. For a special benefit a special mantra is called for. But whatever be the mantra, the basis is OM. Cotton is the basis and with that you weave the cloth, then you cut it into different designs according to the necessity. A pillow case, a bed sheet, a table sheet, a cloth or a napkin or whatever it be—the basis is the same, but you cut it in different designs for different purposes. So in the same way the basic seed-word is OM, and for different purposes you have different mantras. That is why there are thousands of mantras, because they are all part and parcel of the original cosmic sound vibration, or a part of God.

So generally in mantras you have OM in the beginning. In the middle you have another holy name, or mystic sound. Take any name: Ram. Om Ram, Om Shakti, Om Siva, Om Shanti. OM is added to all the mantras. And most of the mantras end with “Namah.” If we want a meaning for this, we could say: Namah: My salutations. Namaskar is the Sanskrit word for “salutations.”

There is a Sanskrit prayer, universal in its nature. It is a prayer for this syllable, the sacred syllable OM. It goes like this:

Omkaram Bindu Samyuktam
Nityam Dhyanti Yoginaha
Kamadham Mokshadham Chaiva
Omkaraya Namo Namaha

The meaning is: OM is called Omkaram; the bindu is the vibration you feel after the repetition of the OM. So it is the Omkaram with that bindu or the vibration (some people may call that bindu as the dot of the letter OM). Nityam: daily; Dhyanti: meditate; Yoginaha: by the yogis. That means all the yogis meditate on that daily. You are all yogis, so you are all expected to meditate on OM. Of course, you might ask me, “What will be the result?” Well, the sloka itself says: Kamadham Mokshadham Chaiva. Kamadham means all that you desire. Moksha means the ultimate liberation. So you obtain all that you want; and you get the ultimate liberation also. That means you will be happy in this life, and the life after. An eternal peace is there by the liberation. That is the Kamadham and the Mokshadham. And that is why the yogis meditate on OM. Omkaraya Namo Namaha: To that Omkaram, to that glorious sacred syllable OM, I bow, Namo Namaha. I give my salutations to you. It is a prayer to the glory of OM and the benefit of the repetition of OM.

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti.

~ by Swami Satchidananda




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