You will often hear the sound of Om from teacher and students as classes begin or end. Many times this sacred sound is repeated three times or connected with other sounds of simple chants that call us to concentrate on our yoga practice.
Visually, OM (as pictured to the right) is a mystical symbol and shows us a lower curve 1 which symbolizes the conscious turned outward through the gates of the senses. The larger size signifies that this is the most common state of the human consciousness.
The upper curve 2 denotes the state of deep sleep or unconscious state. This is a state where the sleeper desires nothing nor beholds any dream.
The middle curve 3 signifies the dream state. In this state the consciousness of the individual is turned inwards and the dreaming self beholds an enthralling view of the world behind the lids of the eyes. These three curves, the three states of a person’s consciousness, together represent the entire physical phenomenon.
The semi circle symbolizes maya and separates the dot from the other three curves. It is the illusion of maya that prevents us from the realization of this highest state of bliss which is represented by the dot above the semi circle. The semi circle is open at the top and does not touch the dot. This means the highest state is not affected by the by maya. Maya only affects the manifested phenomenon. The dot signifies the coming to rest of all differentiated, relative existence. This utterly quiet, peaceful and blissful state is the ultimate aim of all spiritual activity. This absolute and non relative state illuminates the other three states.
In Sanskrit the vowel ‘o’ is a diphthong compound of a +u; therefore, OM is representatively written as AUM and carries four sounds with it. The first sound “A” is pronounced at the back of the open mouth and is said to be included in every other sound produced by the human vocal organs. The second syllable is “U” and is sounded in the middle of the mouth, between the roof of the mouth and the floor of the tongue. The third sound “M “is at the front of the mouth and closes the lips. This last sound, known as ma or maker, when closing the lips is said to be like locking the door to the outside world and instead reaching deep inside our own selves, in search of the Ultimate Truth.
The fourth sound is the invisible fourth dimension, the soundless silence that follows the uttering of AUM. This space produces a quieting down of all differentiated manifestations and an emergence of the non-dual state. This peaceful and blissful state is symbolized by the dot in the traditional iconography of AUM.
According to Indian spiritual sciences, God first created sound and from these sound frequencies came the phenomenal world. Our total existence is constituted of these primal sounds which give rise to mantras when organized by a desire to communicate or manifest. Matter itself is said to have proceeded from sound and OM is said to be the most sacred of all sounds. It is the syllable which preceded the universe and from which all was created. It is the root syllable, Mula Mantra, the cosmic vibration that holds together the atoms of the world and the heavens. The ancient texts of the Upanishads say that OM is God in the form of sound. Thus OM is the first part of the most important mantras in both Buddhism and Hinduism, for e.g. Om Namoh Shivai and Om Mani Padme Hum.
Another ancient text equates OM with an arrow, laid upon the bow of the human body (the breath), which after penetrating the darkness of ignorance finds its mark, namely the lighted domain of True Knowledge. Just as a spider climbs up a thread and gains freedom, so the yogis climb towards liberation by the syllable OM. “Thus OM is the best of all essences, deserving the highest place” As stated in the Ancient text of Chandogya Upindishad.