The symbol OM (Aum)

- Jayapaul Azariah, Ph.D.,

Professor of Zoology, University of Madras-Guindy Campus, Madras 600 025, India


Eubios Ethics Institute Newsletter 4 (July, 1994) 44-45.
This symbol was found in the responses of Indians to the question of the image of "life", (pictures on p. 415, Bioethics for the People by the People).

Two impressions:

1) Hinduism, in India, is a religion of symbols - the best example of symbolism. A good Hindu description is found in Swami Vivekananda, Selections from Swami Vivekananda, Advaiba Ashvama, Calcutta, India, 1981. (The symbol OM, pp. 362-4): "A symbol is the manifestation of the thing signified, and if the thing signified has already an existence, and if by experience, we know that the symbol has expressed that thing many times, then we are sure that there is good relation between them. There must be natural connection between the symbol and the thing signified: then, when that symbol is pronounced, it recalls the thing signified.

So the word and thought are inseparable, "Although the relation between thought and word is perfectly natural, yet it does not mean a rigid connection between one sound and one idea. For every idea in the mind has a mouthpart as a word. In Hinduism, God is an the idea, God is connected with hundreds of words and each one stands as a symbol for God."

2) In my understanding, a Tamil version written by a Christian: OM (AUM) is a sound, "a material sound of which all other sounds must be manifestations", one of which is the most natural sound: the basis of all sounds. The word "sound" is an inappropriate word for the original word "Nalham". It is true that the word Nalham is a sound but the original word denotes the following: the wind is taken in through the nostrils, with mouth closed, and it is sent out by passing through the larynx with the music (sound), A..U..M - the music of life.

This nalham (music) of life is "you" and connects with "me/I" and makes it "we". Then "we" is connected with Him. So it means "The manifesting word of God is OM". So Christians in India, see the similarity with John chapter 1, "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God (John 1:1). However since the word OM has a definite Hindu connotation, it is still not recognised in Christian circles in India.

Some Christian scholars say Aum (om) the letter A in Tamil means Creator, U means Redeemer, and M is completion of salvation. So it is a very ancient word and no one is able to tell the exact significance of the word. The sounds A...U...M... is an explanation that the Creator Himself comes as a redeemer and saves souls to make them His own.

Some other people think OM is the bow, soul is the arrow and Bramhan is the target. Just like the arrow merges with the aim, the soul with Bramhan. The soul shoots with good aim by constant meditation. I find that Tamils were extraordinary clearer in that the word 'OM' is inbuilt in the language itself. When we say "we are coming" we say in Tamil "Varukeerom", so we say it everyday. But in today's rushed life most Tamils do not realise it when they say it.


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