The Meaning of Aum

Question: I want to know the meaning of Aum.

This is a very significant question. First, Aum is not a word, it is a pure sound, so it has no meaning as such. It is a pure sound, like the sound of waterfall; what meaning has it? – no meaning at all. So the first thing to be understood: AUM is not a word, it is pure sound. All other words have arisen out of it, but it itself is not a word. It is the source of all sounds; it cannot have any meaning whatsoever.

This sound AUM consists of three sounds: a, u, m. These are the seed sounds; all other sounds are created by a, u, m. All our words, the whole alphabet, is created by these three seed sounds: a, u, m. Aum is the source of all these three.

That’s why in India Aum is not written alphabetically. It has a symbol of its own. That is simply to designate: don’t be confused and don’t try to think about Aum as a word. Aum is the only sound in India which is not written alphabetically. It is written pictorially; it has a picture, a symbol, which is outside the alphabet. These are symbolic things.  It has to be kept outside the alphabet because it is the source. The source is always out, beyond, transcendental.

Aum consists of three sounds and one anuswar.  Anuswar is a very subtle sound; it represents a kind of humming. When you say, “a,” that m prolonged, that humming sound that goes on reverberating, is the anuswar. Anuswar means just a dot, that too represents something. So Aum consists of four things: three visible, a, u, m, and the fourth invisible the rhythmic, humming shadow.

These four represent the whole of Indian metaphysics. “a” represents one state of mind when you are awake, the waking consciousness. “u” represents when you are dreaming, the dreaming consciousness. “m” represents when you are asleep, dreamless asleep – sushipti – deep, profound dreamless sleep. These are the three state of the human mind, human consciousness.

And the anuswar, the dot – that humming sound that goes on reverberating – that represents the fourth, turiya, the transcendental state when you are neither asleep nor awake nor dreaming, when you are just a witness to all that is happening; the state of Buddha or a Christ, the state when I am, where one can declare oneself Bhagwan, god.

Turiya. The word turiya also means “the fourth,” simply the fourth. It has no other name, because it cannot be named. It is beyond names. This has to be understood first.

And then the second thing: when you have reached the fourth state, turiya, when there is nothing but a melody heard, the celestial music – what Pythagoras has called the music of the heavens, the music of stars, the music that is the very undercurrent of existence – when you have reached the fourth state of awakening, awareness, buddhahood, you hear a music, a music which is not produced by any instruments.

People who discovered aum were in search of something which could be a bridge, a link between the word and silence. While the word has a meaning, silence is neither meaningful nor meaningless; it is beyond both, it is beyond. Really aum came as abridge between the word and silence.

Krishna says if someone can think of him in his aum form – which is beyond word and meaning – at the moment of his death, he will attain to reality, to truth. Because aum is at the boundary line of the world and the beyond, one who can remember it at the time of his departure from the world is destined to be carried to the beyond.

India’s genius has packed this word aum with far-reaching meanings and immense significance. Aum became tremendously meaningful – so that it has no more any meaning. And its significance is limitless, infinite.

Aum occupies the same exalted position in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. It is one universal word. Aum is one ultimate sound.

Aum is not a mantra. So, don’t use it as a mantra. It is a scientific formula, just like H2O. H2O is not water. You can go on repeating – when you feel thirsty you can sit and go on repeating – “H2O, H2O” – you can make a mantra out of it, and it may help you fall a sleep. And when you awake from a sleep, you will feel fresh, but you will still be thirsty, and it won’t quench your thirst. And not that the formula is wrong, but a formula is not a mantra.

Aum is the H2O of the spiritual transformation. It has all the secrets in it, but it is not something to be repeated. It has to be understood, so understand these things. First, aum is not a word; it is a pure sound, the purest, the ultimate sound of existence. When all is gone, that sound remains. That is the sound of soundlessness, the sound of silence.

So, aum is not meant to be uttered and chanted; it has to be really heard and experienced. When you go deep into meditation, when all words disappear, the sound aum will begin to vibrate. You don’t have to say it; if you say it you can have the illusion while meditating that you are hearing it. If you chant it during meditation you can miss the real music of aum, which is very subtle.

The real aum is heard when all words disappear, all noises cease. When mind and intellect, thought and word all come to an end and silence begins, then an extraordinarily subtle vibration remains, which this country, India has interpreted as aum. It can be interpreted in other ways too, but they all will be our interpretations. It is like you are traveling in a railway coach and you hear whatever you want to hear in the rattling noise of the moving wheels of the train.

When the immense emptiness comes into being, it has its own sound, its own music. It is called the sound of cosmic silence, it is called anahata, unstruck, the uncaused sound. It is not caused by anything. It is the aum. The sound of clapping was created, caused; so is the sound of drum. But the meditation is a journey into silence; when all sounds disappear, when there is no duality, when you are utterly alone, then the causeless sound comes into being. India’ sages have called it aum.

Variations of aum are found in other lands and languages. Christians use a word amen. Mohmmedans also say amin, which is the same. Every invocation of the Upanishads, Hindu scripture begins with aum and ends with aum shanti, shanti, shantih. Shanti means peace. A Mohmmedan ends his prayer with the word amin. This amin is also meaningless; it is the same sound of cosmic silence.

The English language has three words: omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent – all of which are constituted with the word aum. Philologists may not be aware that omniscient means that one who has know the aum, omnipresent means one who is present in the aum, and omnipotent means the one who has become as powerful as the aum.

Knowingly I did not give aum a place in our meditation. It is deliberate, because if you utter aum it is caused by you. It cannot be the uncaused aum. I wait for that real aum which will appear when you completely disappear. This aum will arise from your inmost depths, but it will not be caused by you: And Krishna is right in saying that if one comes to know aum rightly and lives aum with awareness till his last breath, he will attain to the ultimate. But this is not the aum that you will utter with your mouth; it will be a waste of efforts if you keep chanting aum at the time of your death. Then you will not even die peacefully.

The real aum is an explosion; it emerges from the depths of your innermost being. And it happens.

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