OM is a letter and a word. It is also a sound or resonance. There are three sounds in OM, known as “matra” (vowel diacritics): ‘a,’ ‘u,’ and ‘m.’ When ‘a’ and ‘u’ merge, they form ‘o,’ and when ‘m’ is placed alongside ‘o,’ it forms OM. Thus, all sounds of all languages, whether vowels or consonants, are contained within OM. That is why OM is a uniquely universal sound.
According to the Mandukya Upanishad, the entire world of the waking state is expressed by ‘a,’ the first matra of OM. The entire dream world is expressed by ‘u,’ and the experience of deep sleep is expressed by ‘m.’ However, the waking, dreaming, and deep sleep states together form the entire universe, and the symbols for these states are ‘a,’ ‘u,’ and ‘m.’ Therefore, OM itself is an incredibly wonderful symbol of God.
OM is also the symbol of the attributes of God. According to the Mandukya Upanishad, the three states—waking, sleeping, and deep sleep—are created from Brahman or Atman and later merge back into It. Similarly, OM, consisting of the three states, is created from the silence or absence of sound and later merges back into it. That’s why the silence between the utterances of OM, which is called ‘amatra’ (Infinite knowledge), is the symbol of the attributes of Brahman or Atman.
During the utterance of OM, ‘a’ matra merges into ‘u,’ ‘u’ merges into ‘m,’ and ‘m’ merges into silence. In the same way, during worship while uttering OM as a support, a spiritual aspirant merges the gross waking world into the subtle world, and the subtle world into the causal world. Progressing further, they transcend that too and abide in the silence, attaining attributes of peaceful and non-dual Self. This is the ultimate state in OM worship.
OM indicates everything that exists and that which is the basis of the entire existence, as well as that which is beyond all. OM is also called ‘pranava’ (controller of life force), which means that through it, God is glorified.
The question arises: why do we chant OM at the beginning of all mantras and Vedic prayers? It is said that God started creating the universe after uttering OM and atha (auspicious particle). It is believed that before beginning any difficult task, the sound created by uttering OM is auspicious. That’s why most mantras and Vedic prayers begin with OM.
OM is also used as a greeting in daily life, like “Hari OM.” Therefore, OM signifies everything—the aim in life and the means to achieve that aim, the universe and the Truth as its substratum.
OM is the bow, the individual Self is the arrow, and the eternal imperishable Brahman is the target.
That target should be pierced very carefully, and after piercing it with an undistracted mind,
the Atman becomes one with Brahman, as the arrow with the target. ~ Mandukya Upanishad 2.2.4
About the Author:
Shweta Goyal is a teacher and a motivational speaker in Australia. Her journey with spirituality started when she faced certain difficulties in her personal life, the answers for which she was unable to find in the scientific world. Having inherited the values of Vedas from her parents, she started reading Vedic history and her perspective toward the same problems that had been bothering her changed, providing her the much-needed peace of mind. Then she realized that the path of spirituality starts where modern science stops giving answers. She decided to go in-depth into the Indian scriptures and it was the Bhagavad Gita that showed her the way to lead her life.