For those familiar with Hindu Scriptures, the word or symbol AUM has profound meanings. Is it a word, is it a syllable or is it a sound composed of many components, are all parts of extended discussions found in the scriptures, such as Vedas and their annotations through Upanishads and the many scholarly writings that have followed over the past two millennia. In this essay we look for the symbolism of AUM that is useful for our daily life, in the context of Spirituality in Practice.
Like many aspects of Hindu scriptures, the meaning of AUM has both theological as well as philosophical implications. Here are a few excerpts **:
The Prashna Upanishad:
Satyakama approached the sage and asked: “Those who have become established in AUM, what happens to them after death?”
The sage replied, “AUM is both internal or intrinsic and transcendent or beyond limits. Through AUM one can attain the personal and the impersonal”.
“The three sounds of AUM when they are separated cannot lead one beyond mortality; But when the whole of AUM is realized as indivisible and inter-dependent and when that understanding goes on vibrating in the mind, one is freed from fear, being awake or asleep”.
“AUM is the supreme symbol of the Lord. AUM is the whole, AUM Affirms; AUM signals the chanting of the hymns from the Vedas. The priest begins with AUM; Spiritual teachers and their students commence with AUM; The student who is established in AUM becomes united with the Lord”.
The Mandukya Upanishad:
AUM stands for the supreme reality. It is a symbol of what it was, what it is and what it shall be. AUM represents also what lies beyond past, present and future.
** Source: The Upanishads – Introduced and Translated by Eknath Easwaran.
The above Vedic Philosophy is articulated in great detail in Baghawath Geetha, which has been the basis of many of our essays earlier. There we learned the following:
All aspects of everything cognitive are recognized through the three connectors (Knowledge, Ignorance and Bias). Other terms used for these connectors are: Tranquility, Inertia and Turbulence; Stable, unstable, transient, etc. All that is cognitive exist in a state represented by or understood through these connectors (and their relative proportions, which creates the image or impression of the world of diversity that we experience).
In order to truly comprehend the nature and role of the connectors, one needs to step away from the three connectors and their immediate influence. This is the process of Self-control.
The result of such inquiry through reflection and meditation leads to a state, where the connectors are merely sources of evidences. The observer – the self – in due course, while engaged in the world of activities through the process of self-control, evolves to become unconnected with the world of objects where the connectors exhibit their role. At this stage non duality (absence of love and hate, like and dislike, friend and foe, etc.) become the very nature of such an evolved person. At that stage the self itself becomes the embodiment of enlightenment. Such enlightened existence enables all the rest that is cognitive, while remaining unattached with the same.
Each person evolves into his/her own personal understanding and absorption of the above concepts. Yet the Sanskrit letter AUM appears to codify the above philosophy and in a way consistent with the description we find in the Upanishads as referred to above. We offer such recognition of the symbolism in AUM in the following. We do not intend this as an authentic reproduction from the scriptures. Instead we offer this merely as a suggestion, as a tool for better understanding of the Vedic philosophy and its application for daily life.
The Sanskrit letter AUM (as illustrated above) has a symbol “3”, which we could use as a reminder of the three connectors. All we perceive and experience are as a result of these three connectors. This can also represent the three fold aspects of the cognitive world of Body, Mind and Intellect; Physical/Objects, Emotional/Feelings, Thoughts/Conceptual; awake, asleep,unconscious; etc. While being part of the cognitive world and being under the role of the three connectors, one can pull away from the influences of these.
The extending away from the “3”, would seem to suggest an extension away from the self, the process of self-control and introspection, while still being connected (living) in the cognitive world.
The “o” in the AUM merely exists. It is not connected with the other parts (representing the cognitive aspects) of AUM. By its mere presence the “o” completes the AUM. Without the “o”– the entire symbol of AUM – and by inference all that it represents – is not complete or ceases to exist! These are same decsriptions ascribed to Brahman in the Vedic literature: Brahman merely exists; Brahman is wholesome; Brahman has no properties; by Its mere presence everything becomes real (cognitive) and acquire their properties -enables the fire to burn, the wind to blow, etc.; One who understands the Brahman becomes Brahman; I – the self or cosnciousness – am the Brahman.
With the above symbolism of AUM in mind, now the reader is encouraged to re-read the excerpts above from the Upanishads. Now we can see that AUM represents the entire Vedic philosophy. As an example: “The three sounds of AUM when they are separated cannot lead one beyond mortality; But when the whole of AUM is realized as indivisible and inter-dependent and when that understanding goes on vibrating in the mind, one is freed from fear, being awake or asleep”. — When AUM is seen as the symbolism of the entire Vedic philosophy and when such philosophy is understood and appreciated by an individual, for him/her all events of life are causal, governed by the connectors and the entire life (or every moment) is changeless, since every moment is a mere repeat of the moment before or after (with the consciousness merely engaged in the process of observation and analysis of the connectors and their inter-play)!