From the frequently quoted ‘sound of the universe’ to its reported power as a means to unite those around us, Om is a small word that carries a multitude of meanings.
The word Om appears to have originated in the Mandukya Upanishad (one of a playlist of ancient texts concerning philosophical concepts of Hinduism) which tells us that ‘Om is what has been, what is and what shall be’.
Om represents everything – the beginning, the middle and the end, the past, the present and the future. It encompasses all sounds – mankind, nature, machinery … it is the hum of the earth.
Sound and meaning
OM is both a visual symbol and a sacred sound or mantra which can be both heard and spoken. The syllable Om is composed of the three sounds ‘A’, ‘U’ and ‘M’ – AUM.
‘A’ (pronounced as an elongated “awe”) – this sound represents the beginning – the creation of the universe and everything within it. It has been described as symbolising the ‘conscious or waking state’. In the Hindu tradition, this sound is associated with Brahma – the Creator. The sound originates in the belly, and vibrates in the upper chest. The tongue stays in the lower part of the mouth and the lips are parted, creating a feeling of openness.
‘U’ (a prolonged “oooh” sound) – this sound signifies the steadiness that carries you along and the energy that preserves and sustains you and the world. It is associated with the Hindu God, Vishnu – the Preserver. From the ‘A’ sound, the lips begin to move together and the sound gradually moves forward, rolling along the upper palate and vibrating in the throat.
‘M’ (“mmmm” sound) – characterizes the sound of closing in and the beginning of the end. It is associated with Shiva – often known as the ‘destroyer’ but also the force of culmination, completion, finalisation. Here the tongue comes to the top of the mouth and the lips come together to create a protracted humming noise.
The sound of silence …
There is also a fourth sound: silence; the residue we are left with once the breath and the sound fades away. Arising from stillness, maintained by steadiness and fading back into silence – Om represents the fact that everything constantly changes – from movement into stillness, from sound into silence, the endless cycle of life….
Practise in class with Irina Verwer
Learn more about the Mantra Aum in a practice with Irina. Starting with a short talk followed by a meditation you’ll learn more about the meaning of the mantra and become familiar with chanting it out loud.