The meaning of the ohm symbol

Updated April 17, 2017

The Ohm (also spelt AUM or OM) is often recognised in the West as a word repeated in meditation. A variety of Southeast Asian and Indian scripts write the Ohm symbol, including Tamil, Nagari and Kannada. It is sacred word, sound and symbol with origins going as far back as 3000 B.C. The Mandukya Upanishad included the first direct documentation of the symbol around 1000 B.C.

What Is Ohm?

The yoga sutras define Ohm simply as "underlying intelligence." In Hindu philosophy, the vibration created when saying the word Ohm symbolises the vibration of the universe.

What Does Ohm Mean?

The Mandukya Upanishad breaks down Ohm, or more accurately A-U-M, into its three matras (syllables), defining each as a state of consciousness. The A represents wakefulness, the U stands for dreams, and the M for deep sleep. These matras are visible as distinct strokes in the Ohm symbol.

A-U-M Or Jagrat, Swapna And Shushupti

Each distinct matra can be identified in the symbol for Ohm. The A (jagrat or waking state) is the crescent resembling a backward "C" on the top left side. The U (swapna or dream state) is the curve resembling a backward "G" on the right side. The M (shushupti or deep sleep) is the large curve on the bottom left side. The symbol also includes two extra, unpronounced strokes.

The Bindu And Raif

The Bindu and Raif are the two strokes at the top of the Ohm symbol. The point at the very top is the Bindu, and the Raif is the smaller curved stroke underneath. Bindu means point or dot, and is often called the transcendental point. It represents all particles in the universe. The Raif represents the vibration of the universe. This unpronounced section of Ohm represents the vibration of the universe ringing through every particle in the universe, connecting all things.

The Fourth Concept Of Ohm

When said slowly and correctly, Ohm resonates through the abdomen, then the chest and finally the head. A silent pause then represents the higher consciousness beyond thinking or speech. Through meditation, this leads to a fourth transcendental state called turiya. While jagrat (A), swapna (U) and shushupti (M) represent the physical universe, the silence beyond the word Ohm represents a level of reality that includes Ohm but is beyond it. Understanding this reality means understanding the true meaning of Ohm.

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About the Author

Travis DeLingua has been writing professionally for print and online publications since 2005. He has been published in magazines including "Time Out New York" and the "New York Press." DeLingua has a Bachelor of Arts in English from SUNY Albany.