Perhaps the most widely known mantra in the world, AUM (popularly known as “Om”), is an ancient mantra which first appeared in Vedic writings as old as 1700-1100 BC and is found throughout sacred Hindu texts and at the beginning of many other mantras.
Its meaning is expounded in the sacred writings of the Upanishads, which were written between 1200-500 BC. It is described as the sound of creation, the essence of Brahman (the Absolute source), and present in all things.
“Om: this syllable is all this. A further exposition of it is: what was, what is, and what will be — all is only Om. And whatever else is beyond the three times, that also is only Om.”
~ Mandukya Upanishad
“Om is the primordial throb of the universe. It is the sound form of Atma (Consciousness).”
~ Maitri Upanishad
“This mantra Om indeed represents Brahman (the Absolute). It is the highest. He who knows its meaning and worships it attains the supreme goal and knows everything.”
~ Katha Upanishad
This sacred mantra is made up of three letters, “A,” “U,” and “M,” as explained below in the Mandukya Upanishad:
“This identical Ātman, or Self, in the realm of sound is the syllable Om, the above described four quarters of the Self being identical with the components of the syllable, and the components of the syllable being identical with the four quarters of the Self. The components of the syllable are A, U, M.”
~ Mandukya Upanishad
The text goes on to describe how each letter respectively corresponds to different states of awareness: A is Vaishvânara (worldly), U is Taijasa (brilliant), and M is Prâjña (cognitional), or waking, dreaming, and deep blissful sleep without desires. Thus to progress through each of the letters while chanting the mantra can represent a transition in consciousness from “worldly” perception to bliss (ânanda).
Try this mantra when you have some time to sit and not be disturbed. You can be in nature or somewhere comfortable inside. Sit, relax, and be clear within yourself of your intention in practising the mantra, reflecting on its deeper meaning.
A mantra practice can be a short or long duration — whatever you’re comfortable with — though it’s recommended not to exceed an hour. You can experiment with intoning the vowels longer than the “M,” or vice-versa. Try also doing the mantra out loud and then get quieter until you are just pronouncing internally in your mind. Find out what works best for you, and take note of how you feel after these mantra sessions.
“This syllable Om is used to give assent, for wherever one assents to something, one says Om (yes). Now, what is assent is gratification. He who knows this and meditates on the syllable Om, the Udgitha, becomes, indeed, a gratifier of desires.”
~ Chhandogya Upanishad
Here is a video of one way to pronounce this mantra along with a singing bowl: