Om – Its Definition and Presence in Hinduism,Jainism,Buddhism and Sikhism

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“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” It is a particularly human trait to be curious about our origins, and the origins of our universe. How could so much – the diversity of our planet, the vastness of our solar system, the unknown reaches of space – come from nothing? Spiritual traditions from all over the world have grappled with this question, and have recognized the profound role of the Divine Word as the origins, the beginning, of the universe. If at first there was nothing, the very first thing was a sound vibration, and from there everything sprang into existence and the material world was born. And Western science is now coming on board as well: quantum physicists have been studying the role of vibration at the root of matter itself.Om or ॐ is JUST a solemn and sacred exclamation,but chanting Om is a spiritual and purifying experience. It is also transliterated into English as “Aum.”

The three syllable A+U+M represents and salutes Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh and thus chanting OM invokes their blessings.

The three syllable also represent the three Vedas-

Brahma,Vishnu and Mahesh

Rig Veda, Yajur Veda and Sama Veda

Lord Brahma

Om  is a sacred sound and a spiritual icon in the Hindu religion. It is also a mantra in Hinduism, BuddhismJainism, and Sikhism.Om is the source of all religions and religious scriptures and is a part of the iconography found in ancient and medieval era manuscripts, temples, monasteries and spiritual retreats. The uttering of the sacred and mystical Om is called Onkar or Omkar. It is the sound of Brahma. It is a predominating force and power.The symbol  has a spiritual meaning in all Indian dharmas, but the meaning and connotations of Om vary between diverse schools within and across the various traditions and regions.

Om refers to 

Atman (soul, self within) and 

Brahman (ultimate reality, entirety of the universe, truth, divine, supreme spirit, cosmic principles, knowledge)


Origin and Meaning of 

Om is first mentioned in the Upanishads(mystical texts associated with Vedanta philosophy)

It has also been associated with concepts of “cosmic sound” or “mystical syllable” or “affirmation to something divine“, or as symbolism for abstract spiritual concepts in the Upanishads. The oldest layers of the Vedantic texts (the early Upanishads) offer various shades of meaning to Om, such as

  • “The Universe beyond the Sun”
  • “Mysterious and Inexhaustible”
  • “The Infinite Language”
  • “The Infinite Knowledge”
  • “Essence of Breath, Life, Everything that Exists”,
  • “With which one is Liberated”
Shiva

The Sama Veda, the poetical veda of hymns and songs, orthographically maps Om to the audible, musical truths, in its numerous variations  and then attempts to extract musical meters from it.

Shiva’s drum produced the sound of Om and through it came the notes of octave (SA, RE, GA, MA, PA, DHA, NI). 

ॐ defined by Different Religions

Hinduism

Om is often used as a standard utterance at the beginning of mantras, chants or citations taken from the Vedas.

The Gayatri mantra, which consists of a verse from the Rigveda Samhita is prefixed not just by but is followed by the verse bhuvaḥ svaḥ.

Upanishads

The syllable “” is described with various meanings in the Upanishads. Its descriptions include :

  • The Sacred Sound
  • The Yes!
  • The Vedas
  • The Udgitha (Song of the Universe)
  • The Infinite
  • The All Encompassing
  • The Whole World
  • The Truth
  • The Ultimate Reality
  • The Finest Essence
  • The Cause of the Universe
  • The Essence of Life
  • The Brahman
  • The Atman
  • The Vehicle of Deepest Knowledge
  • Self-Knowledge

Eight of the Upanishads have sections dealing with Om. These are

  • Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
  • Chandogya Upanishad
  • Katha Upanishad
  • Mandukya Upanishad
  • Mundaka Upanishad
  • Prashna Upanishad
  • Svetasvatara Upanishad
  • Taittiriya Upanishad

Chandogaya Upanishad

The Katho Upanishad is the legendary story of a little boy, Nachiketa – the son of sage Vajasravasa – who meets Yama, the Indian deity of death.

Yamraj

Their conversation evolves to a discuss the nature of a man,knowledge,Atman(Soul,Self) and moksha(liberation). Katho Upanishad characterizes Knowledge and Wisdom as the pursuit of good, and Ignorance. Delusion is characterized as the pursuit of a pleasant mind.The essence of Vedas is that man is liberated and free, from the past and the future, beyond good and evil, and the only word for this essence is the word .

Maitri Upanishad

The Maitrayaniya Upanishad in six Prapathakas (lesson) discusses the meaning and significance of Om. The text asserts that Om represents Brahman and Atman. The three roots of the syllable  , are A + U + M. 

The sound of  is the body of Soul, and it repeatedly manifests itself into:

  • As Gender Endowed Body – Feminine,Masculine and Neuter
  • As Light Endowed Body – Agni, Vayu and Aditya
  • As Deity Endowed Body – Brahma
  • As Rudra  and Vishnu
  • As Mouth Endowed Body – Garhapatya,Dakshinagni and Ahavaniya
  • As Knowledge Endowed Body – Rig, Saman and Yajur
  • As World Endowed Body – Bhūr, Bhuvaḥ and Svaḥ
  • As Time Endowed Body – Past, Present and Future
  • As Heat Endowed Body – Breath, Fire and Sun
  • As Growth Endowed Body – Food, Water and Moon
  • As Thought Endowed Body – Intellect, Mind and Psyche

Brahman exists in two forms –

  • The Material Form : The material form is changing, unreal. 
  • The Immaterial Formless  The immaterial formless is real.

Mundaka Upanishad

The Mundaka Upanishad in the second Mundakam (part), suggests meditation,self-reflection and introspection to know the Self and the Brahma.According to the Mundaka Upanishad,this can be aided by the symbol  

Mandukya Upanishad

The Mandukya Upanishad opens by declaring, “ , this syllable is this whole world“. Thereafter the Mandukya Upanishad presents various explanations and theories on what  means and signifies.This discussion is built on a structure of “four fourths” or “fourfold”, derived from A + U + M + “silence” (or without an element).

Shvetashvatara Upanishad

The Shvetashvatara Upanishad,  suggests meditation with the help of the syllable ॐ , where your perishable body is like one fuel-stick and the syllable ॐ is the second fuel-stick, which with discipline and diligent rubbing of the sticks unleashes the concealed fire of thought and awareness within. The text asserts that Om is a tool of meditation empowering you to know the God within yourself, to realize your Atman (Soul, Self).

Aitareya Aranyaka

Aitareya Aranyaka  explains Om as “an acknowledgment, melodic confirmation, something that gives momentum and energy to a hymn“.

Bhagavad Gita

The Bhagavad Gita, in the Epic Mahabharata, mentions the meaning and significance of Om in several verses. For example,  the Bhagavad Gita synthesizes the competing dualistic and monist streams of thought in Hinduism, by using “ which is the symbol for the indescribable, impersonal Brahman”.

The significance of the sacred syllable   in the Hindu traditions, is similarly highlighted in many verses.Uttering Om, the acts of yajna (fire ritual), dāna (charity) and tapas (austerity) as explained by the scriptures, are always begun by those who study the Brahman.

Yoga Sutra

The aphoristic  of Pantanjali’s Yogasutra links Om to Yoga practice, as follows,

तस्य वाचकः प्रणवः ॥२७॥

This verse highlights the importance of Om in the meditative practice of Yoga, where it symbolizes :

  • Three worlds in the Soul
  • The three times – past, present and future eternity
  • The three divine powers – creation, preservation and transformation in one Being
  • Three essences in one Spirit – immortality, omniscience and joy.


Jainism

In Jainism, ॐ is considered as a condensed form of reference to the Pañca-Parameṣṭhi, by their initials A+A+A+U+M . The Dravyasamgraha quotes a Prakrit line:

ओम एकाक्षर पञ्चपरमेष्ठिनामादिपम् तत्कथमिति चेत “अरिहंता असरीरा आयरिया तह उवज्झाया मुणियां”

Translation : Veneration to the Arhats, veneration to the perfect ones, veneration to the masters, veneration to the teachers, veneration to all the monks in the world.AAAUM (or just “Om”) is one syllable short from the initials of the five parameshthis: “Arihant, Ashiri, Acharya, Upajjhaya, Muni“.

ओं नमः (Oṃ namaḥ) Siddhanam , Om Nhi  and just Om are the short forms of the Paramesthi-Mantra, also called Namokar Mantra or Navkar Mantra in Jainism.

Buddhism

Om is often used in some later schools of Buddhism. The Tibetan Buddhism, was influenced by Indian Hinduism and Tantra.In  Buddhism,   is often placed at the beginning of mantras and dharanis. Probably the most well known mantra is “Om mani padme hum”.The six syllable mantra of the Bodhisattva and compassion is Avalokiteśvara. This mantra is particularly associated with the four-armed Shadakshari form of Avalokiteśvara. Moreover, as a seed syllable (bija mantra),   is considered sacred and holy in Esoteric Buddhism.

Om has been described by the 14th Dalai Lama as “composed of three pure letters, A, U, and M”.These letters symbolize impure body, speech, and mind of everyday unenlightened life of a practitioner.They also symbolize the pure exalted body, speech and mind of an enlightened Buddha. Om is a part of many mantras in Tibetan Buddhism and is a symbolism for “wholeness, perfection and the infinite“.

Sikhism

Ik Onkar, iconically is represented as  in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib.It is the statement of singularity in Sikhism, that is ‘one oang’ creation.  The phrase  is a compound of the numeral one (ik) and onkar, which means oang creation. “Ik Oankar” has a prominent position at the head of the Mul Mantar.These are the opening words of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

The creator of Sikhism is related to Om in Hinduism. ‘om‘/’oang‘ is theprimal sound of universe which still echoes and is heard by those who tune into the frequency of the universe either through meditation, prayer or yoga.  Onkar is, a “variation of   of the ancient Indian scriptures, implying that there is a single seed-force that evolves into the universe” .


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