Aum (also Om, ॐ) is the most sacred syllable in Hinduism, in which Vedic tradition it originated. The syllable is sometimes referred to as the "Udgitha" or "pranava mantra" (primordial mantra); not only because it is considered to be the primal sound, but also because most mantras begin with it. As a seed syllable (bija), it is also considered holy in Esoteric Buddhism. In Devanagari it is written ॐ (Unicode U+0950) and in Tibetan script ༀ (Unicode U+0F00).
Origin: Found first in the Vedic scriptures of Hinduism, Aum has been seen as the first manifestation of the unmanifest Brahman (the single Divine Ground of Hinduism) that resulted in the phenomenal universe. Essentially, all the cosmos stems from the vibration of the sound 'Aum' in Hindu cosmology. Indeed, so sacred is it that it is prefixed and suffixed to all Hindu mantras and incantations. It is undoubtedly the most representative symbol of Hinduism. The OM symbol's left part, which is like a figure 3, is also a component of some Devanagari letters, where it means "this syllable has no initial consonant".
Philosophy of AUM
Gods and Goddesses are sometimes referred to as Aumkar, which means Form of Aum, thus implying that they are limitless, the vibrational whole of the cosmos. Ek Onkar, meaning 'one god' is a central tenet of Sikh religious philosophy. In Hindu metaphysics, it is proposed that the manifested cosmos (from Brahman) has name and form (nama-rupa), and that the closest approximation to the name and form of the universe is Aum, since all existence is fundamentally composed of vibration. This is considered by some to be reminiscent of some current physical theories such as quantum physics and super string theory, which describe the universe in terms of vibrating fields or strings.
It is frequently used to represent three subsumed into one, a common theme in Hinduism. It implies that our current existence is mithya, or 'slightly lesser reality,' that in order to know the full truth we must comprehend beyond the body and intellect and intuit the true nature of infinity, of a Divine Ground that is imminent but also transcends all duality, being and non-being, that cannot be described in words. Within this metaphysical symbolism, the three are represented by the lower curve, upper curve and tail of the ॐ subsumed into the ultimate One, represented by the little crescent moon-shape and dot, known as chandrabindu. Essentially, upon moksha, mukti, samadhi, nirvana, liberation, etc. one is able not only to see or know existence for what it is, but to become it. In attaining truth one simply realizes fundamental unity; it is not the joining together of a prior manifold splitting. When one gains true knowledge, there is no split between knower and known: one becomes knowledge/consciousness itself. In essence, Aum is the signifier of the ultimate truth that all is one.
Examples of Three into One:
Creation (Brahma)- Preservation (Vishnu)- Destruction (Shiva) into Brahman
Waking- Dreaming- Dreamless Sleep into Turiya (transcendental fourth state of consciousness)
Rajas (activity, heat, fire)- Tamas (dullness, ignorance, darkness)- Sattva (purity, light, serenity/shanti) into Brahman
Body, Speech and Mind into Oneness
The Chandogya Upanishad (1.1.1-10) states, "The udgitha is the best of all essences, the highest, deserving the highest place, the eighth."
"Aum" can be seen as Sri Ganesh, whose figure is often represented in the shape of Aum. He is thus known as Aumkar (Shape of Aum). Sri Nataraja, or the Hindu god 'Shiva' dancing his dance of destruction, is seen in that popular representation mirroring the image of Aum. It is said to be the most perfect 'approximation' of the cosmic existence within time and space, and therefore the sound closest to Truth. "The First Word Om (Aum) It is also called Pranav because its sound emanates from the Prana (vital vibration), which feels the Universe. The scripture says "Aum Iti Ek Akşara Brahman" (Aum that one syllable is Brahman).
When you pronounce AUM: A - emerges from the throat, originating in the region of the navel U - rolls over the tongue M - ends on the lips A - waking, U - dreaming, M - sleeping It is the sum and substance of all the words that can emanate from the human throat. It is the primordial fundamental sound symbolic of the Universal Absolute." Today, in all Hindu art and all over India and Nepal, 'Aum' can be seen virtually everywhere, a standard sign for Hinduism and a vast but economical storehouse for the deep mythology inherent in the world's oldest religion.
It has been argued that Aum can be translated, into English, as "Eternal Yea". Notes the Chandogya Upanishad, "That syllable, is a syllable of permission; for, whenever we permit anything, we say Aum." However, this is seen by others as a myopic perspective because the same Hindu scriptures, the Upanishads, that aver this function also attribute to it the divine property of the source of the universe. Aum is seen as the source of existence as we know it within the causal dimensions of time and space, and thus affirmatory meanings in languages are a natural progression. Aum is not only affirmation, but negation, and transcends both.
The AUM sound is sometimes called "the 3-syllable Veda". The third syllable arises because in Devanagari and similar alphabets, a consonant at the end of a word is sometimes written as a separate consonant letter with the virama "no vowel" sign, and this combination is treated as a syllable when talking about Devanagari writing rather than about phonetics. The Sanskrit word omkāra (from which came Punjabi onkār, etc), literally "OM-maker", has two families of meanings: Brahma (god) in his role as creator, and thus a word for "creator". Writers' term for the OM sign.
Some quotations from Hindu scriptures regarding AUM
In the Rig-Veda we find the following information; "One who chants om, which is the closest form of Brahman, approaches Brahman. This liberates one from the fear of the material world, therefore it is known as tarak Brahman."
"O Vishnu your self-manifest name, om, is the eternal form of cognizance. Even if my knowledge about the glories of reciting this name is incomplete, still, by the practice of reciting this name I will achieve that perfect knowledge. "He who has unmanifested potencies and is fully independent, manifests the vibration omkara, which indicates Himself. Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan are the three forms He manifests."
Aum takes the form of Gayatri, then Veda and Vedanta sutra; then it takes the shape of Srimad Bhagavatam and the lila, the divine pastimes, of the Lord."
Other traditions, interpretations and understandings
ༀ Tibetan "Om" symbol
With Buddhism's evolution and breaking away from Vedic/Hindu tradition, Aum and other symbology/cosmology/philosophies were co-opted from the Hindu tradition. This character often appeared as "唵" in Buddhist scripts in East Asia. In Buddhism this syllable is almost never transliterated as Aum, but instead as Om. This syllable is also incorporated in the mantra "Om Mani Padme Hum".