The Word

1. If you go through Christian scriptures, in the Fourth Gospel of the New Testament you will find a verse as follows:

"In the beginning was the Word

And the Word was with God

And the Word was God"

2. There also a verse in the Vedas that reads as follows :

"Prajapati vai idam agre aseet

Tasya vag dvitiya aseet

Vag vai paramam Brahman"

"In the beginning was Prajapati, the Brahman

With whom was the Word

And the Word was the Supreme Brahman"

3. The New Testament does not tell us what the Word is, but in the Maitrayana Upanishad we are told that the Word is AUM.

4. Today we shall try to look at some aspects of this sacred syllable AUM.

5. Before trying to understand AUM, it is relevant for us to try to understand who we are. Hum hain kaun? Who am I?

  • Basically we are little droplets of soul or Atman that have been showered into the Universe during its creation. These droplets of soul originated from the transcendental Godhead, which is the Supreme Soul or Paramatman. We are provided with a temporary material abode, called the body, and also certain tools such as the heart and the intellect.
  • Lost in this material world, the Atman hops from one body to another, its fate determined by the Laws of Karma, its ultimate goal being to return to and reunite with the Supreme Soul.
  • The soul or Atman within us is the eternal True Self. Unfortunately we tend to become too attached to this illusory material world and develop the mistaken notion that our temporary material body is our True Self. We also tend to misuse the tools like the heart and the intellect.
  • Certain negative elements, like our ego, lust, ignorance and submission to the physical senses, act as obstacles to our final goal of reunification with the Supreme Soul. Realisation of the True Self replaces these unfavourable qualities with unconditional devotion and surrender to the Lord.

6. So where does the Word come into the picture?

  • There is a philosophy derived from the Vedas called the Sphota-Vada or the philosophy of the Word.
  • According to this philosophy, at the time when the Universe is created, the Brahman or Impersonal God first manifests Himself as a Word or Logos called the Sphota and then, through the power of the Word, the perceptible Universe comes into being.
  • This Sphota is an eternal inexpressible word. It is the essential basis from which all ideas and names are derived.
  • The eternal Sphota is symbolised and expressed by the sacred word AUM.
  • The syllable AUM is not something that was invented by man. It was revealed directly by God to our ancient rishis in the same way that the ancient Vedic language and philosophy were revealed.
  • AUM is accepted as the sound manifestation of Brahman. The sound of AUM is a medium linking Man with God.
  • AUM is also variously referred to as Omkara or Pranava. Pranava means "that which runs through the prana or breath".

The Sound

1. It is a scientific fact that matter and energy are interchangeable. All material things in existence are, at the level of the atoms and molecules, made up essentially of vibrating, pulsating energy. This primal, or fundamental, energy is manifested in our hearing awareness as a continuous humming sound within and around everything. This is the sound of the Universe and in Sanskrit this sound is called Anahata Nada or Unstruck Sound. The audible sound that most resembles this Unstruck Sound is the sound of the syllable AUM.

2. AUM is the most natural and universal sound that can be uttered - for example:

"Oh my God!" : an English exclamation of shock

"Umumum" : a baby's first words

"Omni-" : English prefix meaning "all" or "completely", derived from the Latin word "Omnis" meaning "all", it sounds and means like the word AUM

"Amen" : Hebrew, Arab and Christian prayers usually end with this word which remarkably resembles the word AUM

3. When we chant the mantra AUM, the process covers the full range of vocal elements that produce the sounds of any language.

  • The sound commences in the vocal cords as A
  • then proceeds through the palate area as U, producing a sense of vibration
  • and it ends humming at the gently closed lips as M, resonating in the mouth and nose, and buzzing throughout the head
  • We must not forget the fourth sound, the sound of the silence, which begins and ends the audible sound and surrounds it. There is no such thing as absolute silence. Silence is only relative and best appreciated in relation to audible sound. The silence is the word behind the word. Even when the audible sound ends the silence remains.


The Meaning

1. There is no literal meaning of the syllable AUM that can be translated into the English language. But there is a tremendous amount of meaning and philosophy behind the sacred word.

2. The syllable AUM constitutes the central theme of the Mandukya Upanishad. This Upanishad analyses AUM in terms of the different states or planes of consciousness in which the individual can exist:

  • The sound A represents the waking state (jaagrata-avasthaa)
    • individual is in the material universe
    • subject and object exist as separate entities
    • the level of mechanics, science and logical reason
    • matter exists on a gross level, is stable and slow to change
    • soul + body + heart + intellect


  • The sound U represents the dream state (svapna-avasthaa)
    • individual is in the inner world
    • subject and object are intertwined in awareness and both are contained within the individual
    • the level of spirits (the astral plane), divinities, imagination
    • matter becomes subtle, more fluid and rapidly changing
    • soul + body + heart


  • The sound M represents the deep-sleep state (sushupta-avasthaa)
    • the individual is in the unknown world
    • neither subject nor object exists
    • all things are beyond the comprehension of the intellect
    • the ultimate aim of Yoga is to enter this state while awake
    • soul + body


  • The silence represents the state of transcendental consciousness (turiya-avasthaa)
    • the individual is in a state of Perfect Bliss, recognising his identity with the Supreme
    • neither observing subject nor observed object exists
    • all things are one and everything is perceived as it is, infinite
    • only pure consciousness exists
    • pure soul


3. Thus AUM, in a single syllable, represents the totality of Atman-Brahman, which is the Supreme Reality, the Pure Consciousness and the Ultimate Truth. AUM is knowledge absolute, existence absolute and bliss absolute.

4. AUM symbolises the whole Universe, encompassing all planes of being and all phases of existence.

5. In the individual, AUM represents the Atman or True Self that pervades the three-fold existence of the waking state, dream state and deep sleep state.

6. AUM also represents all the Vedanta and all Hindu philosophy.

Practical Application

1. The chanting of AUM brings the mind under control, creating a state of mental peace and tranquility, a state in which the individual becomes one with God.

2. AUM brings relief from pain, expresses mental moods and brings peace and harmony to the mind even when uttered in distorted forms. So you can imagine the power of AUM when chanted in its true undistorted Vedic form.

3. The sacred word AUM is found at the beginning of most Vedic Mantras e.g. Om Namasivaya, Om Namonarayana. It is also by itself a Mantra. Many hymns commence with AUM e.g. Om Jai Jagdish Hare.

4. From early Vedic times AUM has been an aid to meditation. Invoking AUM inevitably invokes the Supreme Absolute.


1. AUM, when chanted with a feeling of total surrender to the Supreme Brahman, takes us through all the planes of consciousness, from the waking state through the dream state and the deep sleep state to the state of Pure Consciousness and oneness with the True Reality, Brahman.

2. AUM is the most powerful and most sacred sound, syllable and symbol in the Universe.

3. The mantra AUM provides the individual with a direct path to God and a direct line for communicating with God. So, if you wish to contact the Supreme Godhead, just dial A-U-M and ask for the Lord.


Compiled by Dr Diljeet Kumar Bhanot

© 1996-