Om: Decoding the World’s Oldest Symbol
“Om is the imperishable word. Om is the universe, and this is the exposition of om. The past, the present, and the future, all that was, all that is, all that will be is om. Likewise, all else that may exist beyond the bounds of time, that too is om.” – Upanishads
To say Om is an important part of Hinduism is an understatement. It’s like everywhere you turn in eastern philosophy, the symbol of Om is in everything. But it’s more than just a symbol; in fact, it’s an entire state of consciousness that is representative of enlightenment. Considered to be the mother of the bija (seed mantras that correspond to chakras), Om has been chanted for many thousands of years, and has been around almost as long as the Hindu culture itself.
SEE ALSO: Ganesha Part 1: His Origin And Birth
Breaking it Down
So what does it mean, exactly? There are multiple levels of symbology in Om. Om is actually pronounced with three syllables: A, U, and M, or “ahh” “oooh” and “mmm”. Threes show up a lot in Hinduism, and can have multiple meanings just by itself:
A- Brahma, heaven
U- Vishnu, earth
M- Shiva, underworld
Paramahansa Yogananda even suggested it represented the waking, dreaming, and dreamless states. As far as the symbol goes, the three portion is the Sanskrit letter for “ahh” the little S on that same three is “oooh” and the small bindi or half-moon is “mmm”
While the meaning and symbology behind Om is important, it’s not as important as the actual practice of Om. Om has been chanted to thousands of years in many eastern rituals- in both Hinduism and Buddhism. This is because it’s considered to be the vibration or sound that underlines the entire creation…and Hindus believe that vibration is what created the universe we see and experience.
When Om is chanted over and over again, it has the effect of deepening the meditator’s consciousness and brings them into a deeper state of awareness. Even more than that- they say when Om is truly experienced, the practitioner can become one with the vibration and feel the universe as their own body.
This is one of the many different forms of samadhi.
While the goals and symbology of Om may seem lofty and sometimes out of reach, the real truth is that the simplicity of it gives it power. You can chant Om mentally or aloud, and the deeper you take it the more you start to really feel the benefits. But even beyond the chanting, it’s said the deepest experience of Om is just pure stillness- silence so deep that time seems to stop and peace overwhelms the practitioner.
And that universal experience is what has given its Om popularity- and relevance- for thousands of years.
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