This is the symbol ‘OM’, and there are many ways of writing OM, just as there are many ways of writing the letters in the English alphabet – just check out the number of fonts available on your computer! The most common way of pronouncing this mantra is OM, but more correctly, it is AUM. It is both a symbol and a mantra (as I spoke about in a previous blog, mantra is a sound or a collection of sounds that is/are spoken, sung or chanted).
It is made up of A – the waking sound of consciousness
U – the sub-conscious
M – the un-conscious
For this reason, using AUM rather than OM is more accurate, for when you understand the three parts that make up the sound, AUM represents the super-conscious.
As a mantra, AUM is a device which expands, liberates and protects the mind. It helps to free our minds of old patterns and conditioning, so that we can feel the deeper, more subtle parts of us. And when we repeat that mantra, saying it continuously for 3 or 5 or 10 minutes, the mantra becomes a meditation.
Chanting the AUM mantra uses the full range of vocal elements (larynx to lips) that produce sound in any language, so it is seen, therefore, as the essence of the entire range of the sound phenomena. This further explains why “AUM” is more correct than “OM”.
The essence of sound is vibration. All matter is composed of sub-atomic particles that are in constant motion – little “wiggly worms” of energy. So the whole universe is constantly moving, creating vibrational motion, which creates and transmits different sound waves with varying frequencies.
So what occurs when we use those vibrations in particular ways? It becomes a physical thing.
Hans Jenny was a Swiss physician and natural scientist who tested the vibration of different tones, music and mantras and found that particular mantras produced precise, balanced geometrical patterns – we call these “yantras” in Yoga. De La Warr Laboratories in England analysed waves generated by different kinds of music and recorded similar results. For example, they found that the final chord of Handel’s “Messiah” formed a perfect five-pointed star.
AUM is the basis of all sound. It is the sound representing the first formation from formless existence – the first acoustic expression of creation. That is, it is said to be the sound of creation – “In the beginning was the word” – and the word was AUM. So AUM is a vibration that is considered to be a part of everything – at a sub-atomic level. AUM is considered to be the sound of the universe. It has been said that when astronauts go “walking” in space, this is the sound they hear.
From it, comes the Latin word OMNE, meaning ALL, and from which we get the concepts of OMNISCIENCE, OMNIPRESENCE and OMNIPOTENT – these are the three words used to describe God, or Universal Intelligence or whatever it is that is ‘out there’ controlling the universe.
In Yoga, we use it as a way of blessing – you often hear “Om Tat Sat” or “Hari Om Tat Sat”, which are divine blessings (“tat sat” means, in Sanskrit, “that exists”).
So chanting AUM is not to be scoffed at, or trivialised. AUM is all-embracing, the symbol of universal consciousness. And when I offer the AUM to finish each of my yoga classes, I am conferring a blessing and a wish for peace, knowing that the vibrations of the A-U-M sound are doing exactly that.