What is the Meaning of Om?
You’ve probably chanted om in a yoga class, and there’s no denying this symbol dominates the world of spiritual symbolism. Om can literally be found everywhere these days. From t-shirts and stickers to tattoos and painted yoga studio walls, om is a symbol that has become mainstay with people dedicated to a spiritual path.
What exactly does om mean though? And why is it wildly popular amongst those who are searching for deeper meaning?
Some say it’s the symbol of human consciousness itself. Others claim it’s the sound of the universe and of which everything else is contained. If there’s one thing for certain, om is huge and saturated in sacred spirituality.
The History of Om
Om first appeared in the Upanishads, a collection of the most sacred ancient Hindu texts. Within the Upanishads is the core of Indian philosophy and ideas that have extended into many other facets of Eastern thought and idealism. Amongst these texts is found the Mandukya Upanishad and is one that examines the symbol om, imparts the four states of consciousness, and supports the presence and nature of Atman (the soul or the self).
The Mandukya Upanishad, which is one that shows the philosophical understanding between Hinduism and Buddhism, explains the meaning of om in the following way:
"Om is the imperishable word. Om is the universe, and this is the exposition of om. The past, the present, and the future, all that was, all that is, and all that will be is om. Likewise, all else that may exist beyond the bounds of time, that too is om."
Om is ancient…and it seemingly encompasses everything that is.
The Sound of Om
If you’ve ever chanted om you know the feeling it tends to evoke when you do so. Om has been called the sound of the universe and can make you truly feel magical when it is uttered aloud. When we chant the sound om, it helps to connect body and mind to the very soul of the universe itself. When we chant om as a group (as is often done in a yoga or meditation class) we get rid of the illusion of separateness and come together as one.
The sound of om is broken down into three separate syllables: A, U, and M. When said aloud they sound like “aaah, oooh, mmm”. These three syllables are in line with the power trinity which can be found throughout most religions of the world. In Hinduism the sound om is representative of the three major Hindu deities Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
Om is something that is thought to bring us closer to our own truth while allowing us to create a connection to those who lived before us. Paramahansa Yogananda (responsible for bringing Kriya yoga to the West) once said that we chant om because this is what yogis have done for thousands of years. He explained that when we chant om “we’re connecting to these yogis in a ritual way, and drawing upon the support of the practices they’ve been doing for a long, long time.”
When chanted, the sound om vibrates at the frequency of 432 Hz. This is the frequency of all vibrations in nature and one that helps connect us to the true vibration of nature itself. When we chant om we literally connect ourselves to everything that exists.
The Symbol of Om
The om symbol is a true representation of higher consciousness. Take the image it represents. It’s an interchangeable symbol for both the third eye and crown chakras, which are known as the two most spiritually powerful of all chakras in our energetic system.
The symbol (which is often likened to the number 30) goes into three different states of consciousness. Broken down, the first part of om that looks similar to the number 3 represents the state of consciousness we often refer to as our “waking reality”. The second part of om looks like the number zero and is representative of our dream state. The dot at the top of the om is known to represent pure consciousness and universal truth, with the half-moon shape below this dot indicative of the veil of illusion that keeps us from reaching this state of bliss.
The Connection Om Offers
Chanting om can offer a true connection to yourself and the world around you. There’s a reason we chant om before yoga class and it is used in so many mantras of spiritual faith. There is many a yoga teacher that will open class by having each student chant om three times together. It is thought to connect each individual not only to themselves, but to each other and also the universal consciousness of all that is. At the end of a yoga class om may be chanted to seal in the practice and all that has been gained because of it.
Om is also used in many different mantras. Mantras are spiritual words that invoke deep connection and spiritual power. Mantras are phrases that are repeated either aloud or silently in one’s mind, with om being a common part of many mantras that are used.
“Om mani padme hum” is a very popular mantra amongst Buddhist tradition and is used to inspire happiness, compassion, and peace of mind. It offers a connection to one’s self and the nature of one’s suffering. When repeated it is said to help one understand their own suffering and remove its causes.
Om not only offers us a deeper connection to ourselves, but to our own divine nature and everything that exists within the universe. A teacher once said that if someone is to walk around chanting om all the time, the very air around that person will sparkle.
Repeating the sound om over and over (either silently or out loud) connects this sound deeply to your own personal truth and essentially allows it to become a part of who you are. And when you’re connecting to the sound of the universe itself, there’s definitely a sense of magic in the air.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post on the beautiful sound that is Om.