Aum or Om

The sacred Indian Syllable

Katinka Hesselink 2007, 2014

aum or om - the sacred Indian syllable
Note on this picture

I used to be a math teacher in Middle School. My students would invariably find out about this website, and when they wanted to be cool - would sit with crossed legs on a table and chant 'aum'. As a teacher I was not amused, but it does go to show how famous this Indian sound is. The mantra Aum is the sacred syllable in Indian religions.

Aum is actually a sacred mantra for all Indian religions that I know of (Sikhism, Hinduism, Buddhism etc.). It is a symbol for the most sacred, the highest, the ideal, the source of all being. It can be used as a symbol for human spiritual growth, but also for the cause of all being. Learn more about the place of Aum (or Ohm, or Om) in Hinduism and Buddhism.

Blavatsky, whose books have started me on this quest, wrote the following:

Om or Aum (Sk.). A mystic syllable, the most solemn of all words in India. It is “an invocation, a benediction, an affirmation and a promise”; and it is so sacred, as to be indeed the word at low breath of occult, primitive masonry. No one must be near when the syllable is pronounced for a purpose. This word is usually placed at the beginning of sacred Scriptures, and is prefixed to prayers. It is a compound of three letters a,u,m, which, in the popular belief, are typical of the three Vedas, also of three gods-A (Agni) Y (Varuna) and M (Maruts) or Fire, Water and Air. In esoteric philosophy these are the three sacred fires, or the “triple fire” in the Universe and Man, besides many other things. Occultly, this “triple fire” represents the highest Tetraktys also, as it is typified by the Agni named Abhimānim and his transformation into his three sons, Pāvana, Pavamāna and Suchi, “who drinks up water”, i.e., destroys material desires. This monosyllable is called Udgītta, and is sacred with both Brahmins and Buddhists.

My Sanskrit teacher refused to give a meaning to the mantra, when asked, though he did say that the meaning is comparable to the Christian 'Amen'. But then mantras don't require a meaning. Blavatsky gives countles meanings to the aum in her work - but the essence is the sound itself. 

Mantras, like all ritual acts, acquire meaning in the act itself. In this case: in the speaking of it. This is why Blavatsky hints at the 'purpose' with which 'aum' can be pronounced. In India mantras are sounds of power, literally. Mantra's when pronounced by a teacher into the ear of a student is not just a rite of passage. With the knowleldge of the mantra, abnormal psychic powers are said to be transferred. In the West mantra's are often used as a basis for meditation. In some Western religious groups with roots in India a student is said to get a  'personal' mantra to meditate on. 

Aum stands symbolically, because it is the most sacred mantra, for the highest, the best, the essence... When talking about the universe, Aum stands for the Urground, the source, space, infinity. When the subject is a human being, Aum stands for the highest in a human being: their divine spirit, or Atman. In Mahayana Buddhist terminology: Aum stands for the Buddha-nature latent in all of us. ( more on Atman and Anatman in Buddhism ) Because Aum stands for the best and the highest, it also stands for the road to enlightenment. Since that path, the path of spiritual growth and purification, is the central theme of this website, it is only natural that I choose Aum (or Om) for my logo

So - what's a mantra?

Sacred Sound

A mantra is a sound that is repeated meditatively. It can be a phrase like 'Jesus Saves All', or a sound like 'aum'.

Many mantra's in India are very difficult to translate and their meaning probably has more to do with the sound, and the name of a deity being in there.

Chanting a mantra is a spiritual practice that has its roots in the East. Still, even in the West there are spiritual practices that are remarkably similar. Praying can be like saying a mantra, if it involves repeating the same text over and over.

With the rise of interest in Eastern Religions (various types of Buddhism and Hinduism) saying mantras has become a part of the spiritual practice of many westerners as well.

Chanting Aum is healthy!
I got this straight off Dr. Oz at Oprah.
Chanting OM (or just humming anything really) is good for your blood because it releases nitrogen or something. So OMMMM to you too!

Aum against sunsetSo Aum, or Ohm, or OM - which is it?

How to spell the Indian Mantra

The real spelling of the Indian Mantra is A-U-M. That's also the way it's spelled (in devanagari) in the pictures one sees everywhere, including on this article. The pronunciation is also better, the closer it gets to A-U-M (the M can be as long as you want though). Make the A round as in 'talk'. The U is pronounced like 'ou' in 'your'.

A reader on a previous version of this page wrote:

The sacred syllable OM is pronounced AUM. A sounding like a low soft "ah" with mouth open - starts at the base of your spine and continue this pronunciation until it reaches the throat area where your mouth will begin to close and create a rounding in the mouth and jaw - it will naturally take on the U part of the sound here in the throat area - from the throat this U rises to the top of your head and as your mouth closes the M becomes the ending and resonating in the temples with the focus of the energy being in the temples and top of head.
With this awareness one can gain great benefit from OM - tuning the breath, sound, body and spirit into one.

Gayatri Mantra

om bhur bhuva sva

The most famous of Hindu Mantra's is the Gayatri Mantra. It's present in all the Veda's, starting with the Rig Veda. Here's the full text, in transcription:

om bhur bhuva svah

tt savitr vreniyam

bhrgo devsya dhemahi

dhyo y nah prachodyat

Here's a translation:

"May we attain that excellent glory of Savitr the God:"

"So may he stimulate our prayers."

For chanting purposes I also include a phonetic transcription; pronounce as if it were English:

om bhoor bhuva suvah

tat savitur vareNyam

bhargo devasya dheemahi

dhiyo yo nah prachodayaat

Aum in Buddhism

In Tibetan Buddhism the most famous mantra is 'Om Mani Padme Hum', the mantra devoted to Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of compassion. The 'OM' there is the same as AUM here. This mantra is usually translated as 'Om, the Jewel in the Lotus'. 

Footnote

The glyph as shown is from Devanagari letters. Devanagari is the alphabet Sanskrit is most often written in and on which most Indian languages base their script. The sign itself has become famous in its own right. People get it tattoed, it's on bracelets and necklaces, and many people will not know what it means - but will recognize it as vaguely spiritual.