What Does Om Really Mean?

You’ve seen it, you’ve heard it. People say Om in yoga class, or when making fun of bohemian hippie types. There are puns and you can get an Om symbol emblazoned on anything. Anything at all. But what does OM really mean?

It isn’t a word per say. It is a sound and a symbol that represent the vibration of the entire universe.

This is what the symbol looks like (not counting the circle):
Om, Aum, Ohm

Om is sometimes written Ohm or Aum. It actually comes from three letters put together: Ah-Ooo-Ma (with the -a removed from the final letter). अ उ म Over time these letters became stylized into the symbol we know as Om today.  It is pronounced like “Home” without the “H” (which is why you can get t-shirts and bumper stickers that say Ganesha Is My Om Boy!)

Here is a graphic showing how the pieces came together. (A dot above the line is often how a nasal sound is written in Sanskrit, particularly at the end of a word)

aum

If you are familiar with Christian symbology you may know that God is sometimes called the Alpha and Omega. That refers to the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet and so it is a way of saying that God is all encompassing. The same thing is true of Om. As you chant an Ah into an Ooo into an Mmm, you go through all the sounds of creation. Or so they say.

The three sounds represent the past, present, and future as well as many other sets of three. The beginning, middle, and end. The three gunas. The three worlds (subtle, physical, causal)

Om is said to be the very first sound of creation and it is thought to resonate throughout the world on a subtle level.

Sounding it is used for centering, for honoring the divine, for tuning ourselves to the universe. There is no symbol more sacred and it is universal to all Hindus. (It’s not often I feel confident to make such a bold claim!)

It can be used as a mantra in meditation. Not just for Hindus, but also for Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jains. It appears often at the beginning and end of sacred texts or prayers. Most Vedic prayers end with “Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti”, which is “Om Peace, Peace, Peace.”

Om is sometimes thought of as a seed. A small sound that contains vast life within it.

This article says that the Ah represents the launch of creation, the Oo represents the maintenance of the world, the Ma represents transformation and there is a fourth aspect: silence and vibration, which represents pure consciousness, Self, and God.

You will also find Om all around East Asia. Tibetan has its own way of representing Om. It looks like this:

TibAum

It also exists in Cambodia, Thailand, and China, according to Wikipedia.

So it is very difficult to say exactly what Om means. It is a small syllable with a meaning too large to translate. It encapsulates all of Hindu philosophy. And it goes even beyond Hinduism as the sound that you will find at the center of creation. This world has a vibration and Om is the best human approximation of that vibrational energy.

New to this blog? Check out these posts:

What Makes Me A Hindu?

Did I Start Out Christian?

Why Am I Called “The White Hindu”?

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About Ambaa Choate

Ambaa is an American woman of European ancestry who is also a practicing Hindu. She is fascinated with questions of philosophy, culture, and the meaning of life. Join her in the journey to explore how a non-Indian convert to Hinduism experiences her religion.

  • Sanjeev Maheshwari

    Chanting OM stimulated your Vagus nerve which releases anti-ageing neuro-trasnsmitters.. It helps regenerate your organs and cells by activating stem cells.

    Resonances of earth, ie, 7.83, 14, 20, 26, 33, 39 and 45 Hertz of earth. 7.83 hz being the strongest of all, OM or Schumann frequency.

    Ohm- 7.83 Hz
    Gam – 14 Hz
    Hleem – 20 Hz
    Hreem – 26 Hz
    Kleem – 33 Hz
    Krowm – 39 Hz
    Sreem – 45 Hz

    The Christian AMEN and the Jewish SHALOM is nothing but a lift from the Hindu King Mantra OM. OM releases Nitric Oxide– Amen and Shalom does nothing.

    ISLAM 786 is also mirror image of Hindu Mantra OM in Devnagri digit https://youtu.be/i5PZYDWPmD4

    • Michael Reid

      “Amen” and “shalom” have no etymological relationship to “om”. Nor do they mean the same thing.

      • Sanjeev Maheshwari

        Judaism created by Kerala namboodiris Brahmin who are ex communicated from society they moved to Jerusalem.
        You can see reflection of OM in every religion
        Shalom (Jewish)
        Amen (Christian)
        786 (Islam mirror image of OM in Devnagri lipi)
        Omkar (Sikhs)

        They all have lifted from Hindu Mantra OM although other has nil effect or useless.

  • Carole Gaddis

    Om and Amen are very similar in sound and I believe in meaning.

    • Agni Ashwin

      God is Om-niscient, Om-nipresent, Om-nibenevolent, and Om-nipotent.

    • Tina

      I had looked this up some time ago, curious about the source of words. The term “amen” goes back millenia!

      From old Egyptian texts we can see that people regarded the Sun as the emblem of the Creator. They called the Sun Ra, and all other gods and goddesses were forms of the Creator. One of these gods was Amen; a secret, hidden and mysterious god named variously Amen, Amon, Amun, Ammon and Amounra.

      For the first eleven dynasties (c. 3000-1987 B.C.) Amen was just a minor god, but by the 17th dynasty (c. 1500 B.C.) he had been elevated to be the national god of southern Egypt. This position gave Amen the attributes and characteristics of the most ancient gods, and his name became Amen-Ra, that is, a supreme form of God the Creator. By the 18th Dynasty (1539-1295 B.C.) a college had been established to study Amen-Ra and as a focal point for worship.

      http://www.nairaland.com/283217/pagan-origin-word-amen

      • Michael Reid

        Sounds cool, but it’s a false etymology. The Hebrew word “amen” derives from the triconsonantal root “aleph-mem-nun”, and means “truly”, or “so let it be”. No demonstrated relationship with the Egyptian god. Or the Sanskrit “om”, either. Just one of those cool coincidences; although once you know that “amen” translates as “verily”, “truly”, or “so mote it be”, you can see that it doesn’t mean the same thing as “om”.

    • Ambaa

      I never thought of that! How fascinating!

  • Carole Gaddis

    I had an experience I’d like to share with you. One evening I received an email from an unknown person that said he was instructed to give me a gift. The gift was an audio version of Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda. I had read this book several times but I welcomed the audio version so the stranger emailed it to me. As the download finished, there was a sudden loud sound in my condo. It sounded like a large jet engine winding down. All the lights and electricity in my place went out. I was startled and got up to see if the neighbors were also without power. No, everyone else was fine. I sat in the darkness for about 10 min then it occurred to me that the sound I heard was the sound of AUMMMMMM!!!I As I listened to the book I came to the part that said that yogis can interfere with electrical currents. I m sure now that what I heard that night was definitely AUMMMMMM. I received another email from this stranger about a month later. He told me he was a descendant of Paramhansa Yogananda. He would not tell me who instructed him to send the gift to me. I’ve never heard from him since then.

  • Agni Ashwin
  • Mukundan PR

    The symbol AUM contains the secret and meaning of creation. Our
    scriptures have compared the soul with Purusha, and mind with Prakriti. A
    similar comparison is that of the sun and the moon. Purusha is man and
    Prakriti woman. Sun masculine and moon feminine. The ‘bindu’ (point) and
    ‘kala’ (crescent) in Aum represent the principle of Purusha and
    Prakrkti. The One becomes two, i.e. from the One God originates the
    Prakriti, the world of name, form and gunas, i.e. our universe.

    The figure in the shape of the number ‘3’ in Aum stands for the three
    worlds. It also means three Gunas (temperaments) in nature, i.e. satva,
    raja and tama. It can also suggest the three states of consciousness,
    i.e. jagrat, swapna and sushupti. We become aware of the world in these
    states of consciousness.

    A perfect symbol as Aum that reflects the principle of creation does not
    exist in the world. The connecting line in Aum suggests the supramental
    path of consciousness through which a soul travels back to its origin,
    the Supreme Purusha.

  • Aubreythecat

    Look up the Glorious Om riff (otherwise Gong’s Master Builder) on Youtube: my introduction to Om.

    • Ambaa

      I will do that!

  • Pratim Gupta

    Om the first word in existence, when big bang occurred, since there is no air in space, it made the Om sound, and interestingly it comes from umbilicus (the birth line), doesn’t touch any part of mouth.

  • Simba

    This is the anahata( un ahat–non-struck) sound( a sound rising spontaneously without ant instrument being struck against any other).Amen/Amin are the same.The question as to which is more correct is difficult to answer.It’s difficult because the sound heard at the highest level of absorption of mind filters through various levels–Para( transcendental),Pashyanti( when there is a vague vision of the truth which was only a transcendental entity),Madhyama( when one can interpret it in words),vaikhari( actual articulated sound).It’s at the Madhyama–interpretation level that the confusion occurs and hence the problem with Om/Amen/Amin.As anahata sound,Om should not ideally be chanted but should be allowed to rise within on its own.It,of course, helps us focus so we chant it.

  • newindexp

    This is really Awesome article.Thanks for sharing inforation.Great.