Since our childhood, most of us have been hearing various mantras and shlokas. Ever noticed most of them have “AUM” in them? Although AUM symbolizes the profound concepts of religious belief, it is used daily. The Hindus begin their day or any work or a journey by uttering AUM. The symbol is often found at the head of letters, and at the beginning of examination papers. Many Hindus, as an expression of faith and belief, wear the sign of AUM as a pendant. What makes this word and its invocation so important?
Beauty of Symbol: With its threefold nature, special shape and unique sound, AUM lends itself to a variety of detailed symbolic interpretations.The symbol of AUM consists of three curves, one semicircle, and a dot. The lower larger curve symbolizes the waking state (Jagrat). In this state, the consciousness is turned outwards through the gates of the senses. The larger size signifies that this is the most common state of the human consciousness. The upper curve denotes the state of deep sleep (Sushupti) or the unconscious state. This is a state where the person who sleeps neither desires nor beholds any dream. The middle curve 3, which lies between deep sleep and the waking state, signifies the dream state (Swapna). In this state the consciousness of the individual is turned inwards, and the dreaming self beholds an enthralling view of desires. The dot signifies the fourth state of consciousness, known as Turiya. In this state the consciousness looks neither outwards nor inwards, nor the two together. It signifies an utterly quiet, peaceful and blissful state, the ultimate aim of all spiritual activity.
Finally, the semi circle symbolizes illusion (Maya) and separates the dot from the other three curves. Thus it is this illusion that prevents us from the realization of this highest state of bliss. The semi circle is open at the top, and when ideally drawn does not touch the dot. This means that this highest state is not affected by Maya. In this manner, the form of AUM represents the hidden and the manifest.
Music of Sound: Because the three-syllable AUM is a sacred sound, its pronunciation is open to a rich logical analysis. The first letter A is regarded as the primal sound. It is produced at the back of the open mouth, and is therefore said to include, and to be included in, every other sound produced by the human vocal organs. Indeed A is the first letter of the Sanskrit alphabet. The open mouth of A moves toward the closure of M. Between is U, formed of the openness of A but shaped by the closing lips. Here it is interpreted in relation to the three curves; the three syllables making up AUM are susceptible to the same metaphorical decipherment. The dream state (symbolized by U), lies between the waking state (A) and the state of deep sleep (M). Indeed a dream is but the compound of the consciousness of waking life shaped by the unconsciousness of sleep. AUM thus also encompasses within itself the complete alphabet, since its utterance proceeds from the back of the mouth (A), traveling in between (U), and finally reaching the lips (M).
Now all alphabets can be classified under various heads depending upon the area of the mouth from which they are uttered. The two ends between which the complete alphabet oscillates are the back of the mouth to the lips, both embraced in the simple act of uttering of AUM. This is like locking the door to the outside world and instead reaching deep inside our own selves, in search for the Ultimate truth. But over and above the threefold nature of AUM as a sacred sound is the invisible fourth dimension, which cannot be distinguished by our sense organs, restricted as they are to material observations. This fourth state is the unutterable, soundless silence that follows the uttering of AUM. The blissful and non-dual state this is the state symbolized by the dot.
Innumerous Logical Derivations: According to Indian spiritual sciences, God first created sound, and from these sound frequencies came the phenomenal world. Our total existence is constituted of these primal sounds, which give rise to mantras when organized by a desire to communicate, manifest, invoke, or materialize. Matter itself is said to have proceeded from sound, and AUM is said to be the most sacred of all sounds. It is the syllable which preceded the universe and from which the gods were created. It is the “root” syllable (mula mantra), the cosmic vibration that holds together the atoms of the world and heavens. Indeed the Upanishads say that AUM is God in the form of sound. Thus, AUM is the first part of the most important mantras in Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism. The threefold symbolism of AUM is comprehensible to the most ‘ordinary’ of us humans, realizable both on the intuitive and objective level. This is responsible for its widespread popularity and acceptance.