Three components of Om

We usually see Om spelled out in two letters: ‘o’ and ‘m’.  But there are three components in the sound vibration: “aum” – a, u, m. We sometimes we see it spelled this way as well.  In either case the pronunciation merges the two vowels into one rounded sound but the three components that make up this sacred vibration each have significance.

Let’s begin with some creative visualization: imagine that you are in the doctor’s office.  What’s the first stereotypical  thing the doctor says to you when he or she begins an examination? “Say ahh.”. According to the Bhagavata school of devotional yoga, this ‘ahh’ component of “aum” is an indication of Para Brahman or the Supreme Divinity: the ultimate source of all being and all energies.

The second part is the vowel ‘oooh’; the kind of thing one would say if you were watching a game show and you really like the prize that someone might win (if you’ve never been to a taping of a game show, they even hold up cards to prompt the studio audience as to whether they should “oooh” or “aahh”). This element in “aum” is ukara; it indicates the divine nature or the devotional energy of the energetic source; the ‘ahh’ that precedes it.

And then the final element is a consonant.  And this is actually not just pronounced by bringing the lips together as in “mm-mm good”.  In the west all of our speech tends to come from the front of our mouth. In Sanskrit different sounds are generated by using the entire speech generating apparatus from front to back and side to side. So to properly pronounce the ‘m’ in Om we raise the back of the tongue to the back of the roof of the mouth, closing off the sound in both the front and back of the mouth. The shape of the mouth is the same as when we engage Ujjayi breath during our practice. The result is a slight nasal effect; the sound reverberates through your nose and up into your third eye, between and above the two eyes you’re used to seeing when you look in a mirror.

This last component – ‘mm’– indicates the complete expansion of all living beings, the innumerable jivas (in other words, us) that are expanded from the divine source: ‘aah’. The jivas are united with that source through the agency of the devotional energy; ‘oo’.  So when all of these come together in ‘aum’, or Om, yoga occurs; the union of the chanter with the Supreme Being through the agency of the devotional energy of the Supreme Being.  This is the sound vibration of completeness.  And it brings us to completeness.

Om is a seed mantra; sat bija. Sat means eternal and bija means seed. So Om is the vibrational seed of eternality. And it is the vibration that delivers us from the illusory and temporary conception of the self into the real and eternal apprehension of self.

It’s also known in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra and The Bhaghavad Gita as pranava.  Pranava is a very beautiful Sanskrit word that means that which is ever renewing itself.  It is ever new, ever fresh.  It doesn’t get stale or old because the complete Absolute Truth is ever fresh and ever new.  And when we come in contact with that Absolute Truth we experience our own natural condition of pranava, of perpetual renewal.

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