Om is a sacred sound and a spiritual symbol in Hindu religion. It is also a mantra in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.
Om is also part of the iconography found in ancient and medieval era manuscripts, temples, monasteries and spiritual retreats in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. The symbol has a spiritual meaning in all Indian dharmas, but the meaning and connotations of Om vary between the diverse schools within and across the various traditions. But why do I bring this forward, especially in a ‘mindfulness’ context?
In Hinduism, Om is one of the most important spiritual symbols. It refers to Atman (soul, self within) and Brahman (ultimate reality, entirety of the universe, truth, divine, supreme spirit, cosmic principles, knowledge). The syllable is often found at the beginning and the end of chapters in the Vedas, the Upanishads, and other Hindu texts. It is a sacred spiritual incantation made before and during the recitation of spiritual texts, during puja and private prayers, in ceremonies of rites of passages (sanskara) such as weddings, and sometimes during meditative and spiritual activities such as Yoga. It is therefore a very important part of many faiths and spiritual practices. But what is its meaning and again why do I bring this up now?
The syllable Om is first mentioned in the Upanishads, the mystical texts associated with the Vedanta philosophy. It has variously been associated with concepts of “cosmic sound” or “affirmation to something divine”. In the Aranyaka and the Brahmana layers of Vedic texts, the syllable is so widespread and linked to knowledge, that it stands for the “whole of Veda”. The etymological foundations of Om suggests that the three phonetic components of Om (pronounced AUM) correspond to the three stages of cosmic creation, and when it is read or said, it celebrates the creative powers of the universe. In many texts there are various shades of meaning to Om, such as it being “the universe beyond the sun”, or that which is “mysterious and inexhaustible”, or “the infinite language, the infinite knowledge”, or “essence of breath, life, everything that exists”, or that “with which one is liberated”.
So, what does OM mean to me?
Over many years of ‘seeking for some meaning of our existence’ I found myself looking at both the physical and mental components that made up humanity and this led me to spend time (even doing a Degree in Psychology) to try to understand what made people tick. This was somewhat of a rollercoaster, one which also led me to question what lay beneath the surface of my own psyche. As I dove deeper and deeper, I started to realise that the elements that described people, while certainly descriptive, never really got to the core of who people actually were, partly because the depth was deeper than could be achieved and the limitations of written and spoken words couldn’t capture the complexity of it all. Every time we went a little further there was something else just outside of my reach and what it was I couldn’t describe.
The word OM therefore for me defines the vastness of incarnation, birth and death and the thing we call life. It is divinity, mother nature, science, the great mystery of evolution all wrapped up in a vocalised sound. It was nothing and something at the same time and it was something that captured what I see around me. The indescrible beauty and sometimes ugliness of life. It could be the beauty that was the smile on a baby’s face. The glorios sound of the singing bird in the tree. The glow of joy that came across me at a piece of music. It could however be the argument between parent and child. The death of a loved one. The fear of something. It was just OM. The great unknown.
You can, if you wish substitute, the sound/ word for something else, but due to its history and its foundations in spiritual practice, I find it a powerful word that in its simplicity captures what we know and what we don’t know. Spiritual for me isn’t just a Faith based (with the big ‘F’) concept, it is for me not religious in nature. It is about connection to something that feels right at my core, something that can’t be described or ascribed to any type of secular or non-secular story. It is a feeling that is raw and honest and that for me is truth enough. OM, as a descriptor of experience, ‘feels’ right and if it truly feels right then it must be.
Just look around you and see if OM feels right to express in this moment. Right now.
References: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Om (2018)