AUM or om—the most venerated mystical syllable (mantra> of Indian philosophy. Its full meaning cannot be completely translated (etymologically it corresponds to the word “amen”). It is a symbol of absolute reality and spiritual knowledge.

The mystician of aum is accepted basically by all orthodox schools (Brahmanic and Tantric) and heterodox schools, but it is variously interpreted. It is a mystic symbol in its vocal form and in its graphic form. In each version is expresses fullness, completeness and the highest consciousness.

It has been designated by the words “onkara” (the syllable “om”, “pranava” (the primitive sound), “aksara” (indestructible), and “udgita” (intonation). In the Vedas (and in the school of the grammarians) it is regarded as the original sound that combines in itself all the possible sounds of language (from the posterior open “a”, through the middle “u”, to the anterior closed “m”—extended into a fourth sound “om”). It symbolizes the trinity of Vedic deities—Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer, joined into a triad (Trimurti), and three times (past, present, and future), joined into Time. It is recognized in the Chandogya Upandishad as the quintessence of the Vedas (the revealed books), therefore according to mimamsa (and hathayoga) it is the sound-absolute (vac), the eternal divine word in an audible form (nadabrahman). It is the initial element of many Vedic mantras and the so-called great sayings of the Upanishads (e.g., OM TAT SAT).

According to the Upanishads and Vedanta and in classical samkhya and yoga, this syllable represents the Absolute, who is designated by it. In the Upanishad Mandukya it is mentioned as representing the four states of atman (being awake, sleep with dreams, deep sleep, and the perfect “fourth” state), and the four “steps” of brahman in its relation to the world (pantheistic, panentheistic, theopantic, and pure monism). Gaudapada’s commentary on this Upanishad is regarded as the first work of advaitavedanta. In classical yoga it is the name of God (Ishvara)—to repeat it and contemplate its meaning is a kind of practice of focus on God (bhakti) that is intended to lead to unformity of consciousness. It is name (the Name) of God in Sikh thought (“ek onkar”—“God is one”).

In Tantric thought this syllable is the root of every mantra (bijamantra). In Buddhist thought (vajrayana) it symbolizes the diamond body of the Buddhas (trikaya)—the perfection of the aggregate (skandha) of form: its three component elements represent the body, speech, and thought, and their combination in the sound “om” means that they are inseparable in the nature of the Buddha. It is used in many mantras (e.g., OM MANI PADME HUM, whereby it became widespread also in Tibet (OM), China, and Japan (AN).

E. Lesimple, Mandukya upanisad et Karika de Gaudapada, P 1944; A. Wayman, The Significance of Mantras from the Veda down to Buddhist Tantric Practice, Indologica Taurinensia 3 (1976), 483—497; L. Cyboran, Klasyczna joga indyjska [Classical Indian yoga], Wwa 1986; Mantra, NY 1989; Upaniszady, Kr 1998.

Maciej St. Zięba

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