The most sacred symbol in Hinduism, "Om" has a lot of significance in other religions as well. The SpiritualRay article explains the precise meaning of Om in Hinduism, as well as in three other religions.
The Purpose of Chanting ‘Om’
“What world does he who meditates on Aum until the end of his life, win by That? If he meditates on the Supreme Being with the syllable Aum, he becomes one with the Light, he is led to the world of Brahman [the Absolute Being] Who is higher than the highest life, That Which is tranquil, unaging, immortal, fearless, and supreme.”
― Prashna Upanishad 5:1,5,7
The word “om” or “aum” is made of three sounds, “aah”, “uh”, and ”mm”, which together form “aum.” The word literally means “that which is sounded out loudly.” It is calledpranava in Sanskrit. Om is considered as the beginning and end of all things; it is an all-encompassing identity.
Although Om originates in the Hindu religion, it is sacred in many other religions like Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism as well.
Significance of Om in Various Religions
- Om is one of the most significant symbols in Hinduism, and is considered as the first and original vibration of the Universe. It is seen almost everywhere. Most of the mantras begin with Om.
- It is all-embracing, and has no beginning or end. It is the reflection of absolute reality. Chanting Om during meditation helps one to connect with his/her spiritual self.
- The three letters in A-U-M represent the three aspects of life: (i) Creation (Brahma), (ii) Preservation (Vishnu), and (iii) Destruction (Shiva).
- Every Upanishad mentions the symbol. The different elements of the symbol have been beautifully described in the Mandukya Upanishad.
- The first curve in the Om symbol means the deep sleep state or the casual plane.
- The second curve is the dreaming state, subtle world.
- The biggest curve is the waking state or the conscious mind.
- The bindu or the dot at the top signifies the absolute reality, atma, the self, or the pure consciousness.
Uttering the monosyllable Aum, the eternal word of Brahman, one who departs leaving the body (at death), he attains the Supreme Goal (i.e., he reaches God).
― The Bhagavad Gita (8.13)
- One of the most powerful mantras in Buddhism begins with Om. It is known as the lotus mantra and is chanted as ”Om mani padme hum”.
- It is used in many other mantras like Om vagishwari hum, Om dhrung svaha, Om vajrapani hum, and Om vajrasattva hum.
- Aum, as a part of the bija mantra, is regarded as sacred in Esoteric Buddhism.
- Buddhism in Nepal was characterized by meditation, and did not involve chanting of mantras. Practice of mantras started with the emergence of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism.
- Chants and meditation were used for spiritual well-being, self-protection, and purification.
- Om represents the living being―body, speech, and mind―for the Buddhists.
- In Jainism, Om refers to the initials of the Pañca-Parameṣṭhi or the five supreme beings. Om is made up of five letters: A, A, A, U, and M, which together form AAAUM.
- The first letter “A” represents Arihant (vanquisher of enemies).
- The second “A” represents Ashiri (one who is accomplished).
- The third letter “A” represents Acharya (a highly learned man).
- The fourth letter “U” represents Upajjhaya (an ascetic teacher).
- The fifth letter “M” represents Muni (monks/nuns, who are initiated).
Hence, the Om represents the salutation to the five profoundly respected beings of Jain religion.
- “Om Namah” is used like a short form to the Navkar Mantra, which is the most significant mantra in Jainism.
- Ik Onkar means One God, One Supreme Reality, and is considered a cardinal tenet of Sikh religious philosophy.
- ‘Ik’ means one or united.
- ‘On’ means ultimate or highest brahma (God) and the Atma (soul) of the entire Universe.
- ‘Kar’ means without shape or form.
- Onkar is another way of spelling Omkar, and both represent the Supreme Divine.
- It is also the opening phrase of the Mul Mantra (Mool Mantar) from the Guru Granth Sahib, which is the first composition of Guru Nanak.
As you can see, although different religions interpret the symbol differently, the basic meaning of the symbol remains unchanged. Om is not just a symbol, or a single word; it is the divine vibration of the Universe.