“I am Om, the Word that is God” (Bhagavad Gita 7:8).
Writing about Ishwara, the Lord, Patanjali says: “His spoken form is the Pranava [Om]” (Yoga Sutras 1:27), as we have already seen. Swami Vivekananda translates vachaka: “His manifesting word.”
When Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi was asked if Om was the name of Ishwara, he replied: “Om is Ishwara, Ishwara is Om. That means Om Itself is the swarupam [the true form of Ishwara].” And at another time: “Om itself is Brahman.”
This sacred Word was the heart of the primeval esoteric wisdom of the sages of ancient India. An essential part of that wisdom is the knowledge of words of power or mantras which possess an inherent sound-power that can produce a sublime spiritual effect.
In the beginning…
In Chapter One it is said, “To enable the spirits to enter into this process, God breathes forth his own Self as the Power from which is manifested all the realms of relative existence, from the most subtle worlds of nearly-perfected beings to the most objective worlds of atomic matter.” Om is both the Consciousness and the Power that is God. It is his manifesting Word because it makes God manifest to us and is itself the power by which God manifests his will, especially through his creation.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men” (John 1:1-4). The first act of God is the projection of himself as the Cosmic Vibration: Om. He speaks himself and becomes all things. Then we enter Om itself to come into manifestation. The bodies which we take on are all formed of variations on the fundamental energy or keynote that is Om. We come into relative existence through Om, we evolve within relative existence through Om, and we transcend relative existence and return to God’s perfect Being through Om. It is no wonder, then, that Om is also called the Pranava, the Word of Life, the Living Word.
The Word that is God
“I am the Pranava,” declared the infinite Satchidananda through the lips of the avatar Krishna (Bhagavad Gita 7:8). And: “I am Om [Omkara]” (Bhagavad Gita 9:17). “Among words I am the single-syllable [Om]” (Bhagavad Gita 10:25).
How can a Word be God? How can God be a Word?
All things, the entire cosmos itself, are formed of vibrating energy. This cosmic energy possesses the dual nature of light and sound, both of which are essentially consciousness. The totality of that consciousness is contained and summed up in the Divine Word, Om, known as the Shabda Brahman, the Sound God. Om is spoken, yet it is beyond speech in its essence because it is the source of speech. Its spoken form is the final step in the objectification of the primal creative stream arising from the inmost depths of being itself, that “point of light within the mind of God” from which has issued all manifested being, all that IS. It is the original movement outward from the omnipresent center which took place when the Supreme Consciousness willed, “I am one; let me become many” (Chandogya Upanishad 6:2:3; Taittiriya Upanishad 2:6).
The Upanishads also tell us that Om is Brahman:
“Om is Brahman, the primeval being” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 5.1.1).
“I will tell you briefly of that goal which all the Vedas with one voice propound, which all the austerities speak of, and wishing for which people practice discipline: It is Om” (Katha Upanishad 1. 2.15-17).
“The udgitha [Om] is the supreme Brahman” (Shvetashvatara Upanishad 1:7).
“Om is Brahman” (Taittiriya Upanishad 1.8.1).
The Word that is me!
They also tell us that Om is our own Self, as well:
“The Self [Atman] is of the nature of the Syllable Om.…Thus the Syllable Om is the very Self” (Mandukya Upanishad 1.8.12).
“Meditate on Om as the Self” (Mundaka Upanishad 2.2.6).
Om the mantra
Om is the original Mantra, possessing sound-power that can produce a profoundly beneficial effect on physical, mental and spiritual levels. The word mantra [manat trayate] means literally, “that which when thought carries across.” It is a liberating thought. In the Yoga tradition, Om is the supreme mantra, and the most sacred of holy words in Hindu, Buddhist and Jain rituals and meditation. Tibetan Buddhism particularly emphasizes the power and value of Om.
In Chinese Pure Land Buddhism, Amida Buddha is invoked by saying Omitofo [Amida Buddha]. One time when I was participating in a Name Recitation (Nienfo) session, during the dharma talk at the close the leader, the Venerable Manpu, explained that in the depths of meditation–and especially at the time of leaving the body–the practitioner passes from Omitofo to Omito [Amida] and thence to Om which is the essence of Omitofo and is the force that carries the cultivator into the consciousness that is the Pure Land or Sukhavati. Pure Land Buddhists also bless water by drawing an Om symbol in it.
Om is called: Pranava, Omkara, and Ekakshara. Pranava means both life-giver (infuser of prana) and controller of life force (prana). Omkara means “the Om” or even “the Om thing” just as ahankara means “I-ness” or the principle of “I.” Ekakshara means one letter, one syllable or the one-syllable Word, because in Sanskrit the consonants are counted as letters or syllables and not the vowels, which is why the Torah has only consonants written out, the vowels being indicated by points. Since M is its only consonant, Om is considered to be ekakshara. Many monosyllables in Sanskrit have only a single consonant, but Ekakshara always means Om specifically. It also means “the Only Imperishable,” indicating its identity with God, and always refers to Om. The first recorded teaching of Sri Ramana Maharshi, written down by him in response to the request of a seeker, was: “The Ekakshara [Om] shines for ever in the heart as the Self.”
Throughout the ages Om has been the mantra specially commended to sannyasis (monastics), and the majority of them, especially those in the Swami Order of Shankara, have generally employed it as the heart of their sadhana (spiritual practice).
Om was the particular focus of the Nath Yogis, a most renowned and revered order of yogi-monks in India. The Nath Yogis claimed to be in direct line from the original yogis, the first of which was a divine manifestation known as Adinath, the Primal Lord. Appearing on earth in humanlike form, God himself taught Matsyendranath, the first liberated human being in this cycle of creation. He in turn taught Gorakhnath, the unparalleled teacher-adept in the yogic succession. Patanjali was also a Nath Yogi. The Nath Yogis claim Jesus–Sri Isha Natha–as a great adept of their order, as recorded in their sacred book, the Nathanamavali.
Nearer our own time, the great nineteenth-century Hindu reformer, Maharishi Dayananda Saraswati, renowned as a yogi par excellence, practiced the japa and meditation of Om and taught them to others, whatever their mode of life.
What do we do?
What do we do with this sacred word, Om? Krishna tells us: “Established in yoga concentration, uttering Om, the single-syllable Brahman, meditating on Me,…he goes to the supreme goal” (Bhagavad Gita 8:12, 13). Shankara in his commentary on the Mundaka Upanishad says: “Just as the bow is the cause of the arrow’s hitting the target, so Om is the bow that brings about the soul’s entry into the Immutable. For the soul when purified by the repetition of Om gets fixed in Brahman with the help of Om without any hindrance, just as an arrow shot from a bow gets transfixed in the target.” And commenting on Patanjali’s statement that Ishwara’s “designator [vachaka] is the Pranava [Om],” Shankara says: “This sutra explains the form in which the devotee contemplates on him.”
An anonymous commentator on a writing of Shankara says this: “The sound Om is the Name and Symbol of Brahman. One realizes Brahman by meditation on this Om. When Om is uttered with concentration there arises the consciousness of Brahman in the mind. [For] Om is the matrix of all sounds. Brahman is the substratum of the whole universe and Om, too, is the substratum of all sounds. Sounds and phenomena are non-different, so the substratum alone remains. Hence Brahman is Om.” The translator adds this comment: “The Pranava that indicates Brahman is not only the boat, but is verily the other shore reached after crossing the ocean of worldly existence [samsara].”
The master yogis of India have through the ages said that God and Om are one, that the infinite consciousness of God is inherent in the syllable Om, just as the tree is inherent in the seed. Since the individual spirit and God are essentially one, we can conclude that Om, repeated within the mind in japa and meditation, will produce the consciousness of God and bring about the restoration of our union with God through the awakening of our spirit-Self that is also Om.
God is guru in the form of Om
Immediately after telling us that God “is Guru even of the Ancients,” Patanjali says: “His spoken form is the Pranava.” In a hymn of the poet-saint Kabir, an Indian mystic of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, there are two important statements: “That Word is the Guru; I have heard it, and become the disciple.… That Word reveals all.” Beautiful as the thought of God being the guru may be, is it true? If so, how is God the guru?
In the depths of God’s being, Om is eternally present, is eternally flowing or rising, and the same is true of each individual spirit. The heart-core of God and the core of the individual spirit are the same in non-dual unity. Om is flowing from the single point where the spirit and the Spirit are absolutely one.
God is eternally stimulating or teaching the spirit to emanate Om as the agent of its evolution and perfection. In this way God is the guru of each one of us. One finite spirit may reveal to another finite spirit the way to realize its oneness with God, and thereby momentarily become a spiritual teacher for that spirit; but God alone will be the Sat–true and eternal–Guru.
Om is the ultimate guru, the infallible teacher and guide from within.
The first American disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda was Dr. M. W. Lewis, who perfectly assimilated the wisdom imparted to him by Yogananda. In a talk given in San Diego, California, in 1955, he said these inspiring words:
“To me the real meaning and understanding of discipleship is that a disciple, a true disciple, is ‘one who follows God.’ Many times the Master said that. In spite of his realization and his oneness with God, which he had and does have now, he said when leaving Boston, ‘Never mind what happens to me. That Light which you see is far greater than I am. That is God himself.’ And so, there is only one Guru, and that is God, and the greater the saint, if we can classify them that way, the surer they are to say, ‘I am nothing; God is all.’ And so, the Master said that. God alone is reality. He is with you. He is the One Great Guru. And the Master was most humble, because the more you realize there is One Reality, God himself, the more humble you become, because the ego cannot stay. If you have realization of God, the ego has left.
“And so, realize: who may become a disciple? Anyone; anyone who knows the Presence of God, and follows God. Master often said that someone said to him in India, ‘I hear so-and-so is your disciple in America.’ He said, ‘They say so.’ And seeing the confusion on the face of the inquirer, he said, ‘I haven’t any disciple. They’re all disciples of God.’ How wonderful that is. And so, just realize, he who knows God may be called a disciple. Now that means you must have contact with God. There must be a relationship between you and God, an understanding, a realization that God is in you, you are in God, there is one consciousness: God alone. Now if you have that, you may be called a disciple.” (Dr. Lewis was the disciple spoken of in India.)
It is commonly believed that an aspiring yogi must be empowered for yoga practice through some kind of initiation or transference of power. There are many exaggerated statements made about how it is impossible to make any progress, much less attain enlightenment, without initiation. But they have no relevance to the practice of Om Yoga, which requires no initiation because it is based squarely on the eternal nature and unity of the jivatman and the Paramatman, what to speak of the nature of Om itself. The japa and meditation of Om are themselves expressions of the eternal nature of God and man. The eternal spirits need no external input to return to their Source.
It is when the individual perpetually experiences the eternal point where Om is common to both itself and God that it can know its oneness with God, and separation from God is impossible for it. Yet it is still itself, still distinct, though its consciousness is totally absorbed in God and it sees only the One, and can say, “God alone exists. There is no other but God.” All we need is God himself in the form of Om.
Read the next chapter in Om Yoga Meditation: OM in the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, and Yoga Sutras
Om Yoga links:
Preface to Om Yoga: The Physics of OM
- The Word That Is God
- OM in the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, and Yoga Sutras
- Om Yoga Meditation
- The Yogi’s Subtle Anatomy and Meditation
- Breath and Sound in Meditation
- Points For Successful Meditation
- Afterword: It Is All Up To You
- Appendix Three: Practical Applications of Om
More on OM Yoga:
- Appendix One: The Glories and Powers of OM
- Appendix Two: Christian Insights on Om Yoga
- Foundations of Yoga
Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary
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