Almost all Hindu prayers begin with Aum. In recent times, Aum has transcended the strict confines of the spiritual and has assumed wide prevalence among the world population as a tool for meditation and yog practice. Why does it enjoy such wide currency?
Kripananda Variar, a renowned spiritualist of Tamil Nadu, relates the story of how Kartikeya, the younger son of Shiva imprisoned Brahma for not knowing the real meaning of Aum. It is held that creation began with the use of the Pranava mantra ‘Aum’. Kartikeya was annoyed with the creator for using the mantra without knowing its true meaning and significance. Aghast at his son’s act, Shiva is said to have asked of him whether he knew the meaning of Aum. Kartikeya then explained to Shiva the kernel of Aum.
The shortest of the Upanishads further states that man abides in four states of consciousness: waking, dreaming, deep sleep and turiya. The first three states are denoted by the sounds ‘a’ – as in agnostic – ‘u’, and ‘m’, which when conjoined form the syllable Aum. The silence that follows the syllable is the fourth state and is known as turiya, simply an abbreviation for ‘chaturtham’ which means fourth.
This fourth state, according to the Mandukya Upanishad is the Atman. It’s the Atman, which is the continuing witness to other three states of consciousness, which independently are unaware of each other. For example, the waking state is ignorant of the dream state and vice versa. In the deep-sleep state, there’s absence of wakefulness or dreams. Thus, the Atman as a ‘sakshi’, witness, is the one that’s ever present in all the three states and the Mandukya Upanishad verse 2 avers: ‘Ayam atman brahmn,’ meaning, Atman is the Brahmn, the truth, the one that is omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient.
The Atman which is signified by Aum is described by positive and negative affirmations. The positives are its quintessential tranquillity, its auspiciousness and non-duality. The negative affirmations are that it’s unseeable, ungraspable, uncharacteristic, unthinkable and indescribable. This Atman is deemed to be the fourth state which has to be contemplated upon and studied.
Thus, the chanting of or contemplation on Aum enables us to relate to the four states of consciousness and takes us to the Truth. The chanting of ‘a’ makes us conscious of our waking state and vibrates the Vishuddhi, Ajna and Sahasrara chakras. The chanting of ‘u’ activates the Manipur chakra and the chanting of ‘m’ acts on the Swadishthan and Muladhar chakras. The chanting of Aum activates and balances all chakras, thus leading to optimisation of the autonomic and limbic systems of the nerves.
On a phenomenal level, it can be noted that Aum can be uttered only during the expiration of breath, probably signalling how human beings have to rid themselves of the various toxins of senses and ego to attain the realisation of Truth.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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