Categories: Hinduism and Science

What Does Om Symbol Mean?

Hindu theology says that Om (Aum̐) is the primeval sound from which the entire universe was created. Om (Aum̐) symbol denotes the Para (supreme) Brahman. Actually Om (Aum̐) is called ‘Sabda Brahman’ or ‘Nada Brahman’. But as we know God is threefold in nature, same is the case for the single syllable Om. It consists of three different letters-A, U and M which are the seed of all other letters, sounds and words. A, U and M can also be signified as Brahma, Vishnu and Siva or creation, preservation and annihilation or satva (goodness), rajas (passion) and tamas (ignorance). In the Mandukya Upanishad, the Taittirya Upanishad, the Bhagavad Gita and many other Hindu texts deal with the matter of Om (Aum̐). Let’s know the meaning of Om (Aum̐).

Is it not fascinating that finite symbols can be used in language to express that which is Infinite? The meeting of two things, substances, or bodies is called friction. Friction creates vibration, energy, or sound. The Vedic tradition teaches us that sound is “that which conveys the idea of an object”. Thus akṣara-s (अक्षर) i.e. symbols and letters are potent frequencies or syllables inseparably connected to objects as sound (śabda शब्द) and its meaning (artha अर्थ).

In mathematics, this symbol for Infinity “∞” was invented in 1657 by an English mathematician. It is used in mathematics to express that which is Boundless or Endless, such as the Unlimited number of dots on a line or the size of the sequence of counting numbers that has no end.

In physics, the concept of Infinity exists in the context of Space, Time, Cosmology and the Dimensional Aspects of the Universe. It is the possibility of “Infinite Space” which gives the physical sciences and their proposed theories an actual seemingly tangible “canvas” or Relative Reality for all physical processes to be observed and operate in.

Śiva (शिव) is the finite word used to describe that in which all objects lay; in the metaphysical sense, that which is Boundless, Eternal and Independent; in which all processes exist including the so-called Space or Void i.e. Śūnya (शून्य) that surrounds and permeates it all. This is why we say Śiva is with form and without form because this includes all aspects including the subtle or non-physical. Modern science recognizes today that there is “matter” and what is called “dark matter” which is thought to account for approximately 85% of the universe. According to astrophysicists, galaxies would fly apart instead of rotating, if they did not contain a large amount of unseen matter. In this sense, dark matter sustains the cosmos.

“One can see the reflection without seeing the origin of the reflection.” – Śrītantrālokaḥ Ch.3, V.29

मुख्यग्रहं त्वपि विना प्रतिबिम्बग्रहो भवेत्।
स्वपश्चात्स्थं प्रियं पश्येट्टङ्कितं मुकुरे वपुः॥॥

॥श्रीतन्त्रालोकः ३।२९॥

Mukhyagrahaṁ tvapi vinā pratibimbagraho bhavet|
Svapaścātsthaṁ priyaṁ paśyeṭṭaṅkitaṁ mukure vapuḥ||29||

||Śrītantrālokaḥ 3.29||

The symbol for Śiva is called Praṇava “ॐ” or Aum̐, it is specifically indicating that which is: the Source of Eternality, Boundlessness, without alternative, without end, and without beginning, free from illusion or blemish, unparalleled and is the form of Pure Consciousness or Pure Knowledge.

All sounds, except Aum̐, are caused by the meeting or striking of two objects. This friction creates Vibration, Sound or Energy. There is no Sound without Vibration. There is no Vibration without Sound. There is no Energy without Vibration.

Because “Aum̐” is the Primordial Vibration, it doesn’t need another object outside of itself to create Vibration / Energy, and is therefore known as “ॐ” Supreme. What makes it the Unsurpassed Source or Śabdartha-Brahma (शब्दार्थ-ब्रह्म) is that it is the Source and Ultimate cause of all Vibrations that resonates throughout The Universe.

Today modern science has started to determine that the whole Universe is indeed a Vibration of Energy. Wherever there is Vibration, there must be a Sound. The Universe itself is an intricate composite of various frequencies the full spectrum of which is beyond our five senses. Mantra-s (मन्त्र) are specific vibratory values that ultimately all depend on Praṇava “ॐ” as the Source of all Mantra-s.

Praṇava “ॐ” is the complete Representation of Existence in its entirety: the physical, the subtle, the subtler, and the fourth state Turīya (तुरीय) which represents Transcendence of all three Existential Realities or states of Consciousness. “ॐ” contains all Constituents of Existence. It symbolizes that which is the holder of all Energies of Reality (Supreme Consciousness).

“Śiva himself, who is the form of the All-pervading is therefore called niśkala, without form. He is also called saguna because of his being also with form and beautiful. Saguna is called sakala (spotless or Paramiśvara or personal Lord).

Niśkala means devoid of art or beauty. Because of his being niśkala he is also called invisible or nirguna (without form or Absolute Reality). The formless Śiva takes the form of linga.

Because of his being both of saguna and nirguna form (formed and formless), he is called Prana- va “ॐ” Śabdartha-Brahma (pure Consciousness, Para-shakti) or the Highest (best of all).

Except for Śiva, no other Being has been called Pranava “ॐ” or Śabda-Brahma. Therefore none other could be called niśkala. This is the reason no other being is comparable with Śiva who can be adored in nirguna form (Paraśiva)”-Śivamahāpurāna, Vidyeśvara, Chapter 5.

“Śaṅkara has Brahmatva and the others Jīvatva.

This has been explained in the meaning of the Praṇava (Om), the essence of Vedānta, by Nandikeśvara when asked by Sanatkumāra, the intelligent son of Brahmā, at the mountain Mandara.

Sanatkumāra said—
The embodied form alone is often observed in the worship of the deities other than Śiva. But both the phallic and the embodied forms are seen only in the worship of Śiva. Hence O benevolent one, please tell me precisely making me understand the truth.

Nandikeśvara said—
It is impossible to answer this question without revealing the secret of Brahman.

O sinless one, since you are pious I shall tell you what Śiva Himself has said. Since Śiva has the bodiless aspect in virtue of His being the supreme Brahman, the Niṣkala liṅga, in conformity with the Vedic implication, is used only in His worship. Since He has an embodied form as well, His embodied form is also worshipped and accepted by all people. According to the decision in the Vedas, the embodied form alone is to be used in the worship of other deities who are only individual souls embodied. Devas have only the embodied aspect in their manifestation. In sacred literature both the phallic and the embodied forms are mentioned for Śiva.”-Śivamahāpurāna, Vidyeśvara, Chapter 5.

“It is only on admittance of consciousness as the most fundamental reality in the entire spectrum of the creation, and making that the focus of his meditation that the individual comes to get re-stored his inherent completeness.” -Śrītantrālokaḥ (ch.17)

॥ॐ नमः शिवाय॥

(Guest Post)

Talker: D. Campo


Krishna Das is an experienced article writer. He writes about Hinduism in his spare time.

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