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The Significance of Om, the Vedic Pranavam

From: V. Sadagopan (
Date: Sun Oct 15 1995 - 17:48:58 PDT

Dear Members of the Prapatti Group:

I will be away on a business trip for two weeks to Europe starting from
tomorrow. I thought that I will post the two notes ,which I referred to in my
previous postings.One of the two notes   would focus on  the significance of Om,
celebtated in the Vedas and Upanishads . The other would concentrate on the
relationship of Pranava to Sama Veda"s Udgita and the Udgita"s close link to
Nadhopasana, a supremely effective Upasana practised by Nadhopasakas such as
Saint Thygaraja. 

The Importance of the recitation  of and meditation on the meaning of Om:
  A  mantra of Yajur Vedam salutes the Sacred syllabale OM and comments on the
significance of Pranavam this  way: " O, Men, by me, the resplendent protector,
the matter , the face of the eternal cause is protected. The spirit yonder is
the Sun, the spirit dwelling inside the Sun is ME. I am  vast 
like the atmosphere,greatest of all in merit,action and nature.OM IS MY NAME."

The View of the UPanishads on Pranavam
            	A Mantra of the Maha Narayanopanishad echoes the above message of
Yajur Vedam as Follows: " Aditya, the supreme cause of this Universe isa denoted
by the syllable Om.That form of Sun is Brahman. That is the pervading cause of
All. That  is water,fire, flavor and ambrosia
(Immortality) . The three Vyahritis (Bhu:, Bhuva:, and Suvaha:) representing the
three worlds and the PRANAVA  representing the cause of the universe denote
Brahman." Maha Narayanopanishad states elsewhere that the One syllable Om is
Brahman. It also reveals that the Pranavam is recited and reflected upon to
acheive the union with Brahman, who exists as the manifold universe.

            The all-encompassing nature of Pranavam is explained by the Mandukya
Upanishad mantra  as  follows: " OM(AUM) the syllable is the whole world. It is
the past , present and the future. Everything is just the word AUM. " Pranavam
is recognized here as the resonating sound embodiment of the supreme being ,who
pervades Space, Time and Form Completely.

       Prsana Upanishad points out that AUM is recommended for the meditation on
and the worship of Supreme Reality  in its Saguna Brahman Form with attributes
and the Nirguna Brahman Form without attributes . In a Katopanishad Mantra, The
Lord of Death (Yama Raja) reveals to the aspirant Nachiketas that " this word
(Om) is verily Brahman, this word is verily the highest . He ,who knows this
word obtains ,verily, whatever he desires."

     A passage in the Brugu Valli of the Taittiriya Upanishad explains to us the
benefits accrued from recognizing and worshipping Om as Brahman. It says: " Let
him, the aspirant, meditate on the supreme (Aum) as the support; he becomes well
supported. Let him worship Aum (Brahman) as great; he becomes great. Let him
worship it as Mind; he becomes thoughtful. Let him worship Aum as
Nama(obesiance); to him all desires  shall come to pay homage. Let him meditate
upon that as the Supreme; he comes to supermacy in Life." 

    At the conclusion of the Vaiswa Deva Mantra passage  of the Narayana Valli
of the same Upanishad, we get another insight into the significance of Om. "
Brahman is the meaning  of Omkara. It is the embodiment of All that is
subtle,gross and casual. My salutations to that Brahman! 
That Omkaram resides in the caves of the hearts of the human beings. O
Brahman(Pranavam)! You are the sacrificial ritual, You are the Vashatkaram
(Power). You are Indra, Rudra, Vishnu, Brahma, Water, Shining Stars and Ambrosia
(Immortality).It is for these reasons that the Brahadaranyaka Upanishad points
out  again that the Pranavam is identical to Brahman  and should therefore be
worshipped as Brahaman.In the fourth Anuvakha of Siksha Valli of the Taittiriya
Upanishad, Om is
pointed out as the most sacred Mantra for the aspirant to illuminate all his
faculties including his own intellect(Medha Sakti) . Pranavam is recognized here
as the sheath of Brahman and the invocation of OM is declared as the equivalent
of the invocation of Brahman.
The Etymology of Pranavam(AUM)
       The Syllable AUM arises from the Sanskrit root "AV"  , which means to
protect.. AUM is understood therefore to protect the Universe and all of its
inhabitants. This role of Pranavam makes all living beings bow before the
Supreme Lord: " Pranan sarvan Paramatmani Pranamayati iti Pranavam" is thus the
other  defenition of Pranavam. AUM Or Om or Pranavam is also known as the Brahma
Vidya Mantram. In this context, it is recognized as the Mantra that leads the
Sadhakas (aspirants) to the other shore (Tara) of the ocean of  Samsara(viz) ,
the abode of the Supreme Lord.
 Vedic and Taantric Pranavams 
Aum is known as the Vedic Pranavam to distinguish it from the other Pancha
Pranavas known as EYM(Saraswati worship), HREEM ( Sri Vidya Worship) ,SREEM (
Maha Lakshmi Worship), Kreem (Kali Worship), and KLEEM (Kama Kala Worship). The
above Pancha Pranavams are known as Tantric Pranavam; It is generally agreed
that the Tantras are not totally disconnected to the Vedas , since Vedic
Sookthams such as Sri Sooktham, Durga Sooktham , are  attached to the powers
behind these Pancha Pranavams. These  are meditated upon to get specific boons
such as Knowledge from Saraswati, Worldly wealth from Maha Lakshmi etc. AUM on
the other hand is recited and reflected upon to get the Supreme Brahma Gyanam.

        Multifold Structure of Pranavam(AUM):

The syllable AUM has a four fold division according to Vedic Niruktham or
Etymology. Nrsimha Uttara Tapini Upanishad explains how this four fold Vyashti
(Constituents) from the Samashti (Whole). A, U, M and the Ardha Matra (Half
Letter) at the end of the sacred syllable represent the four constituents of
Pranavam. The letter "A" represents the Rg Veda.  It represents the terrrestrial
world  surrounded by the seven seas according to this Upanishad. The Garhapatya
Agni (Householder"s fire ) is its Agni.
                                         The letter"U" represents the Yajur Veda
and the intermediary world. The second Vedic fire , Dakshinagni is its Agni. The
letter "M" represents the celestial world and the Sama Veda. Its fire is the
Ahavagni. The half letter or the nasalization at the end of the three letters,
"A, U, M " represents the Lunar World and the Atharva Veda. The Ekarshi fire of
the Atharva Ritual is its Agni. In its Samashti form, The Pranavam thus contains
all the 4 Vedas  and their immortal hymns from which the Brahman , the truth
symbolized by the sound "Om" arises.

The Vishishtadvaita Tradition and the four fold structure of AUM
         The letters A,U, M are accepted here as representing Vishnu, Lakshmi
and the Jeevan or the individual soul. The Jeevan represented by M is recognized
as the Jnata (the Knower), Karta (the Doer), Bhokta (the Enjoyer)  and the Sesha
(the subservient being of the Lord Narayana and His Consort) . The Fourth part,
the nasalization is recognized as the eternal, subservient relationship of the
Jeevan to the Divine Couple, who represent Eka Seshitvam.
                                The Narada Parivrajaka Upanishad goes one step
further  and explains the 8 fold  structure of Pranavam. The 16 fold and the 128
fold divisions of Pranavam are also explained by Brahma to His son , Sage Narada
in the same upanishad. The 16 fold  division adds to the above four subdivisions
following additional 12  subdivisions:  Bindu,Nada, Kaala(Time), Kaaladita(
Beyond  Time), Santi (Tranquility), Santyatita(Beyond tranquility)  , Unmani
(the state of absence of Gross Mind),Mnaonmani(State of Absence of Subtle Mind),
Puri,Madhyama, Pasyanti and Para  . The last four are associated with the
formation of Speech. Lord Brahma explains to His son that this Pranavam is
Turya-Turya or the Supreme Bliss and identifies it as the Prop of ALL. He points
out that OM should be sought by every one and that It is the beginning of every
thing and the bestower of the final Beautitude.

Svetasvatara Upanishad"s explanation of the means of Realizing Brahman

It says: " Making the Self , the lower kindling stick and the Pranavam  , the
upper kindling stick and by the practise of vigorous rubbing (Meditation), the
sage may  realize the hidden effulgent being as the Fire hidden in the sticks.
As Oil present in the Sesamum seeds, ghee in curds, water in the underground
springs, and Fire in the kindling  sticks, so is the Supreme Being realized in
the individual self  by one, who visualizes Him thru Truth and Penance."