Praṇava Oṁ ॐ

By Andre Haralyi, M.A., C-IAYT

The sacred syllable Oṁ represents the primordial sound, the infinite cosmic vibration,  the pulse of the universe, the Absolute/Supreme (Brahman)​*​ and therefore the means of Its meditation. It is considered the oldest and most venerated of all mantras according to Jainism, Buddhism, Hinduism and all Yoga traditions. Oṁ is also used as a “root,” often preceding other mantras. It is first mentioned by name in the Shukla-Yajur-Veda (I.1).

Later in the Māndūkya-Upaniṣad (9.12), Oṁ came to be explained as consisting of 4 parts: a, u, m and the after-sound which is represented by a dot placed above the letter “m” (in Sanskrit it is called anusvāra)​†​. These four parts are compared to the four states of consciousness — walking state, dreaming state, sleeping state and the forth state that is beyond the mind, which is the transcendental Self.

The continuous recitation, or concentration, on the syllable Oṁ is used to attain the state called “one-pointedness” (eka-agratā) that occurs when our consciousness drawn away from all other subjects and bounds to a single place or object, in this case the continuous repetition of the syllable Oṁ itself. 

  1. ​*​
    The existence of an ultimate transcendental Reality known as “Brahman” or the Absolute, is a wide spread concept among all the Eastern philosophies. Although different traditions propose different conceptions and offer different speculations about its nature, all agree that the Absolute is identical to the very essence of the human being, the Self (Ātman).
  2. ​†​
    “The sound is a special one that pervades both the speech and the grammar of the entire language. This so-called anusvāra (“after-sound”) is closely akin to the ordinary nasals, ‘m’ and ‘n,’ along with their siblings, ‘ì,’ ‘ë,’ and ‘ï.’ The crucial difference is that with the anusvāra (‘à’), the airway of the mouth is not entirely closed off, as it is with ‘n’ or an ordinary ‘m.’ As such, part of the vibration is transmitted through the nose and part is emitted from the mouth. The result is that the lungs, nasal, and oral cavities merge together into a large resonant chamber, like that of an acoustic string instrument.” John Casey Ph.D.

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