Sunday, March 2, 2014

The meaning of Om


What is OM?

OM is the beginning of the universe

In the beginning there was only Brahman.
Brahman is infinite.
Brahman is the absolute.
Brahman is the Supreme Self.
Brahman is beyond space, time and causation.
Brahman is satchidananda: being, consciousness and bliss.

Brahman is our individual true Self.
All is Brahman.

Brahman brought forth the universe and everything in it.
From Brahman came the many.

This is beautifully described in the words of the Chandogya Upanishad:

“In the beginning was only Being, One without a second. Out of himself he brought forth the cosmos and entered into everything in it. There is nothing that does not come from him. Of everything he is the inmost Self. He is the truth; he is the Self Supreme. You are that, Svetaketu, you are that.”

OM is the sound of the beginning of creation.
OM is the first vibration that came from Brahman.
OM is the primal sound.

With OM Brahman created the universe and everything in it.
The name of Brahman and everything in creation is OM.

We do not create OM by chanting the name, but our chants produce a vibration that is in harmony with the cosmic sound that has been vibrating from the beginning. That is the secret of the power of OM.

Our chanting of OM resonates with the eternal vibration of Brahman. Om is like a divine tuning fork vibrating into eternity.

Why do we chant OM?

We chant OM to connect with our true Self. Since our true Self is the same as the Supreme Self, when we connect with our true Self we connect with the Supreme Self.

When we chant OM it produces a vibration in us which resonates with the universal vibration of OM, and we are elevated from our everyday minds to relationship with our true Self. We chant OM to be in tune with the true Self.

When we chant OM it puts us in a meditative mood. When we chant OM our minds become calm and we can rest in our true Self.

OM is the supreme mantra

All mantras begin with OM. OM is the supreme mantra.

Chanting OM calms and purifies our minds and helps us rest in our true Self.
If we chant OM we become filled with divine energy. It is like taking divine medicine.

In Yoga Sutra 1.28, Patanjali said “Let there by chanting of OM with meditation on its meaning.” By chanting OM our minds become still, and our true Self shines forth.

Chanting OM is the path of bhakti yoga or the path of devotion. Chanting OM helps us unite with the Supreme Being.

OM is a trilogy of meaning meanings

OM is comprised of three sounds: “A”, “U” and “M”. There is also a fourth sound which is a universal vibration and is the essence of all other sounds. This fourth sound is known as the un-struck sound.

OM is comprised of three letters and represents many trilogies of meanings.

Here are some examples:

Brahma Vishnu Shiva
Creation Preservation Destruction
Body Mind Soul
Rajas Sattva Tamas
Sat Chit Ananda
Past Present Future
Birth Life Death
Jagrat Svapna Sushupti
Father Mother Sun
Fire Sun Wind

OM is consciousness

OM is the four states of consciousness.

OM is the waking state or jagrat.
OM is the dreaming state or svapna
OM is the deep sleep state or sushupti.
Om is the transcendental state or turiya.

The three curves of the OM symbol represent jagrat, svapna and sushupti.

The large curve at the bottom represents jagrat. It is the largest curve because we spend most of our time in the waking state.

The smaller curve above it represents the deep, dreamless state or sushupti.

The curve in the middle represents the dreaming state or svapna because it is an intermediate state between the waking state and the dreamless state.

The dot (or bindu) signifies the fourth state of consciousness or turiya. In this state consciousness looks neither outward nor inward. This peaceful and blissful state is the ultimate aim of all spiritual activity. This state illuminates the other three states.

Finally, 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. The semi-circle is open at the top and does not touch the dot. This means that this highest state is not affected by maya. Maya only affects the manifested phenomenon.

Chanting OM causes our mind to become still, sets up harmonious vibrations in our mind and subtle body, elevates our mind to divinity, and raises our consciousness to the transcendental state of turiya. We unite with the Supreme Self.


One of the best resources on OM is the Mandukya Upanishad. It is quite short- only 12 stanzas- but is considered one of the deepest and most important of the Upanishads. Swami Krishnananda has published a free book in PDF form which contains the Mandukya Upanishad and his commentary. Here is the link to the book:

The Yoga Sutras contain two Sutras on OM: Sutra 1.27 and Sutra 1.28.

Sutra 1.27 states that the sacred word representing Isvara (the Supreme Being) is OM (pranava).

In Sutra 1.28 Patanjali gives us an important teaching for our practice: “Let there be the chanting of OM with meditation on its meaning.” If we read the two together we learn that meditation on the Supreme Being is an important path to realizing our true Self. It is the path of bhakti yoga or the yoga of devotion.

I sat alone on a block of stone
On the banks of the Ganges.
Mother Ganges blessed me.

I meditated on OM and its meaning–
The Word that is the symbol of Brahman.

The little personality was lost.
The mortal limit of the self was loosened.

But there was infinite extension.
I entered into the Nameless beyond;
I realized the unity of bliss.

No words can describe the thrill of joy,
The mystic experiences,
The supreme and divine height of felicity!

The little “I” fused into the incandescent brilliance.

Two become one now,
It was all Tejomaya Ananda–
One mass of transcendental light bliss.

Sri Swami Sivananda


  1. This post was really helpful! Thanks. :-)

  2. Thank you so much. Wonderful resource.

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