What Is OM: Its Meaning, Symbol & Chanting Benefits

om symbol

Have you ever try to feel the settlement of your breath after a physical workout or at sleep time after a busy day? Basically, these are a few times in our daily life when we really communicate with our inner selves.

Try to feel the sensation triggered up in your body while breathing & you will realize, at the core of your breath a sound is continuously going on, that is OM.

According to Hinduism, Brahma (creator of the universe) was the only entity before this universe began. Brahma’s thought ‘to become many’ has formed the vibration that settled down in a sound called ‘OM’. This whole process brought ‘the ultimate reality’ or ‘life’ or ‘the universe’ into existence.

What Is OM?

OM is a Sanskrit syllable , holds the vastness of comprising a sound that pervades the whole universe. In the mantras perspective, OM is a bija or seed mantra.

As a seed mantra, OM is usually used in the activation of the crown chakra and at the beginning (prefix) on the Saguna mantra (sound with meaning, form & a manifestation). By this fact of giving birth to a Saguna mantra, OM is also considered a Nirguna (unmanifest i.e. beyond 3 gunas).

Some example of saguna mantras which stems from OM are:

  • om shanti shanti shanti om
  • om namah shivay
  • om gan ganpataye namah

om chanting

In nutshell: ‘OM’ is the prana that you keep on breathing, whatever you see or able to perceive, your consciousness and its depth. The source of the very first vibration of the entire universe is ‘OM’.

OM Meaning & Interpretations 

Literally, as OM is nirguna (attributeless) it can’t have a certain meaning. But for the purpose of interpretations, OM can be elaborated in different ways.  

Syllable ‘OM’ is derived from the Sanskrit wordOmkara (ओंकार)‘. It is also called Pranava in Sanskrit, which means ‘Bow to the divine to the folded hands’. It’s the representation of the ultimate reality of the universe. 

In Hinduism, om means:

  • Atman ( soul, oneself) 
  • Brahman (truth, divine, supreme, etc)
  • Union of 3 gods or 3 gunas 

In Jainism, om means:

  • 5 supreme beings (Pañca-Parameṣṭhi 1) – Arihant, Ashiri, Acharya, Upajjhaya, Muni (A,A,A,U,M – AUM).

In Jainism, om means:

  • Ik Onkar – one god, sometimes also referred to “creator of Om”

Origin and History

How someone can find the origin of something, which in itself is the origin of everything? This same applies to the OM.

However, ‘OM’ has been first mentioned in the Upanishads (ancient Sanskrit texts of spiritual teaching and ideas of Hinduism).

Vayu Purana‘ has compared OM to the trinity of Hinduism, which represents the union of the three gods.

  • A for the Brahma – The creator
  • U for the Vishnu – The preserver
  • and M for shiva – The destroyer.

These three sounds also symbolize one of the sacred ancient texts called Vedas (Rigveda, Samveda, and Yajurveda).

Manduka Upanishads stated about the syllable OM, in the sense of initiator of the universe. Before the beginning of the universe, Brahmaa (absolute reality) was the single entity. Their thought to become many has given birth to the very first vibration, which further turns into the sound. Therefore, This sound came to be known as the syllable OM.

Upanishad Perspective of OM

In mandukya Upanishad, sages have said OM is a tool that can lead you to the ultimate reality of the self. According to this literature, a person has 3 dimensions of perception:

  1. Waking & waker’s world – Physical world that we perceive through 5 senses
  2. Dreaming & dreamer’s world – Inner thoughts or that we perceive in a dreaming state through virtual senses
  3. Deep sleep & darkness – Seeking the causes or the experience of nothingness that we perceive in deep sleep

In these 3 dimensions, there is an undisturbed or pure consciousness that experiences all but still unaffected from its consequences. This is the 4th dimension of our existence, called true-self.

The sound of OM also comprises these 4 dimensions of our existence in a hidden form.

  1. The sound of “Ahhh” (A) – Represents the waking state of our existence
  2. Sound of “Ouuu” (U) – Represents the dreaming state of our existence
  3. & The sound of “Mmmm” (M) – Represents the deep sleep state of our existence

In order to realize the true-self, the sound of OM (AUM) comprises “a silence” at the end of Mmmm sound which transcends all 3 dimensions of self. So by repetitive chanting of OM, one can realize the true-self lies within the self.

This is the reason why the sound of OM is considered Atman (soul within) or Brahman (ultimate reality) or the sound of God. In favor of this, Patanjali introduced OM in yoga sutras as:

His word is Om.
YSP 1.27

4 Parts of the OM Symbol

om symbol break down or the parts

Symbol of OM holds the knowledge of the universe in its structure. You will be surprised to know that the ultimate goal of one’s life is hidden in the symbol of OM.

When OM analyzed structurally, it has 4 parts:

  • 3 curve structures
  • 1 crescent structure
  • 1 dot.

1. Three Curves of the OM

  • First or the lower curve represents the waking state or ‘jagrati‘. This state broadened the consciousness to come out through the senses. The larger size of the curve signifies the majority or the common state among the human’s consciousness.
  • Second or the middle curve represents the dreaming state or ‘swapna‘ (the state between the deep sleep and waking state). This state brings the consciousness of the practitioner inwards. By closing the eye, practitioner dive within to know the self from more closely.
  • Third or the upper curve represents the deep sleep or unconscious state or ‘sushupti‘. In this state, the practitioner does not desire or dream anything.

2. A dot at the Top

Fourth or the dot represents the turiya. In this state of consciousness, the practitioner gazes neither inwards nor outwards, or the two together. However, this state brings the practitioner to the rest or peaceful or blissful state, which is the ultimate aim of all spiritual activity. This state also illuminates the other three states.

3. A Semicircle Between Curves & Dot

The semicircle signifies the barrier between the state of ultimate bliss and the rest three states. It prevents us from reaching the highest form of bliss. However, the gap between the semicircle and the dot represents that the highest state (dot) is unaffected by the Maya (semicircle).

So, in this way OM untwists the hidden mystery of the purpose of life and the universe.

Elemental Sound in OM

‘OM’ is the mother vibration of the universe, which refers to the Atman (ourself, soul) and Brahman (supreme truth, the initiator, the ultimate reality, divine aspect). The sound of OM on pronouncing has three parts. All have their specific meaning and significance.

1. Ah

‘Ah’ is the sound that comes when we begin the utterance of ‘OM’. This represents the first lord Brahama, who is known for the ‘creation’ of the universe. It’s concerned with the waking state and connects our gross conscious to the lower part of the body.

2. Ooh

‘Ooh’ is the middle sound, in which the practitioner dive into the deepness of self. This represents the second lord Vishnu, who is responsible for the ‘preservation’ of the universe. It is concerned with the dreaming state and connects our subtle consciousness to the middle part of the body.

3. Mm

‘Mm’ is the releasing sound. It’s fade away and takes the practitioner toward the supreme. This represents the third lord Shiva, who is known as the ‘destroyer’ of the universe. It is concerned with the deep sleep state and connects our casual consciousness to the upper part of the body.

Why Do We Chant OM?

Basically, the tongue is being used to produce all other sounds or vocals. When we chant OM, three sounds (Aa, Ooh & Mm) are produced very clearly through the mouth without moving tongue.  So, OM is the basic or the fundamental sounds in existence.

Human internal organs are very sensitive to the vibration produced by 3 sounds of syllable OM.

OM is the source of creation & by chanting it, we show our gratitude to that source power. According to modern science, the whole existence is reverberation. Wherever is a vibration, there is a sound and wherever is sound, there is creation.
For example, television has three color webs from which it produces millions of colors. Similarly, these three basic sounds of OM produces a variety of expression on a specific combination.

Sound ‘Aa’ is the basic sound not only in India but all across the world. Uttering of it starts from the roots of the energy body or beneath the naval, where 72,000 nadis (subtle energy channels) meet. This is the maintenance center or called the Manipura chakra in yoga. As you utter ‘Aa’ the Nadis reverberates the vibrations across the whole body. If you utter Ooh and Mm, it spreads in a different way, for every sound some part of the body gets affected.

Every sound activates a certain dimension of your energy system. So, these three sounds as a combination activate the whole system of the body. Sound not only creates emotion but it changes the whole system of your body. Therefore, chanting OM is the science that could make life happen to you. This is about making life happen in the highest terms of intensity and beauty.

Benefits of Chanting OM

om chanting benefits

OM is the sound whose vibrations have a grasp on the entire universe. Chanting OM in mediation has innumerable benefits in the sense of physical, psychological and emotional levels. Regular uttering of this sacred syllable could be of paramount way to change one’s life forever.

1. Om Cleanses the Surrounding

Chanting OM is not only beneficial for the one who is practicing but also for the surrounding. Uttering OM produces the sacred vibrations that overpower the negativities flowing in the environment around. Also, chanting OM maintains or prevents the positivity from leaving the place.

2. Reduce Stress and Anxiety

According to research 2, regular chanting of OM in the meditation practice helps in reducing stress and anxiety.

Vibrations produced while chanting OM activates certain centers and nerves (vagus), which are the most common treatment of stress. However, it also regulates the unspecific activity of the endocrine system responsible for the production of chemicals that causes stress & anxiety.

3. Strengthens Spinal Cord

It has been found that chanting OM while sitting (straight back) in meditation, impacts the spinal cord. ‘Aa’ sound of OM originates from the naval root, which is in the vicinity of the spinal cord. Vibrations Reveraberate throughout the spinal cord to vitalize the nerves. This further improves the function and strengthens the spinal cord.

4. Improves Digestive system

The digestive process is concerned with the vagus nerve 3 originates from the medulla of the brainstem.

OM chanting has a significant effect on the digestion. The vibration produced on the utterance causes a stimulation of the vagus nerve (controls the digestion related activities). Further, which regulates the digestive process of an individual.

5. Maintain the Rhythmic Activity of the Heart

Chanting OM has a calming effect on the heart. It maintains the natural rhythm of the cardiac cycle. As we start to chant OM, the ‘Ooh’ sound reaches the to the upper body from its originating position navel. This spreads through the entire thoracic region of the practitioner and preserves the heart’s natural rhythm.

6. Chanting OM Reduce Fatigue by Increasing Oxygen Level in Blood

A 14-year-old Indian girl 4 found in a study that chanting sacred syllable OM can reduce fatigue.

She got the inspiration for this research when she visited a holistic state Uttarakhand, & saw priests carrying water from Bageshwar to Kedarnath, covering 68 km every day, without tiring. The priests sang a tune of OM, all along.

OM Chanting FAQ’S

  1. How many times should I chant the OM mantra?

    You won't be harmed by over uttering or repeating this mantra. However, 108 time OM chanting is considered as the ideal one. But if time is the issue, then one can chant 11 or 21 times for the convenience.

  2. What if I chant the OM mantra in pregnancy?

    Garbha sanskar is an ancient Indian ayurvedic practice, which is performed to shape the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of the unborn child. Chanting OM mantra generates the positive vibrations that calm the mother and the baby as well. Chanting this sacred syllable helps in building the pure environment for the baby in the mother's womb.

  3. Dawn or dusk, what is the best time to chant the OM mantra?

    Normally one can practice the OM mantra at any time, but some fixed timing by the ancient sages is ideal in approach. Brahmamahurta (4 a.m), transition period or when the night is turning into the sunrise (dawn and dusk or sunrise), when the day is turning into night. These some of the timing when you can practice OM mantra chanting.

  4. Can I chant OM mantra while traveling or while sitting in an office?

    Yes, you can! There is no problem in chanting the OM mantra while traveling or while sitting in the office. However, OM chanting improves your mood and makes you feel more alive at given places. This helps in a happy journey and a productive day at the office.

  5. What should be the position of my body while chanting OM mantra?

    According to the ancient yogis, a sitting position with an erect spine is considered as the ideal position for the mantra chanting. This can be achieved by the Yogic poses, for example, Padmasana (lotus pose).

  6. My kid wants to chant the OM mantra. What should I do?

    You should be glad that he/she wants to practice the sacred syllable, which is going to shape his/her in the various aspects of life. There is no age restriction in practicing OM mantra chanting. Any age individual can practice OM chanting.

References

  1. Pañca-Parameṣṭhi https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki
  2. Beneficial effects of OM chanting on depression http://oaji.net/articles/2016/1496-1476352100.pdf
  3. Vagus Nerve Overview https://www.healthline.com/human-body-maps/vagus-nerve
  4. 14-yr-old girl discovers magic of ‘Om’ https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/

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  1. pvrmurthy April 22, 2020

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