The power and importance of om ॐ is not understood in its proper perspective. It is important that supreme value of this akṣara (अक्षर) om ॐ understood in its proper perspective. In the first place, ॐ is the connecting factor between a mantra, the practitioner and Brahman. Why ॐ is accepted as akṣara? Because Vedas say so and Upaniṣad-s explain this further. This is how it is explained in Vāc (pp 15). “It is likely that the syllable ॐ, the initiator, was also, as early as Brāhmaṇa-s (Brāhmaṇa-s are explained as rules for the employment of the mantras or hymns at various sacrifices, with detailed explanations of their origin and meaning), the continuous humming sound it will become at a later date in the Upaniṣad-s. Though imperceptible, it would underlay the whole ceremony ……”

Rig Veda (I.164.39) subtly refers to ॐ. This verse says, “The Supreme Lord is omnipresent like space and eternal like his word… {word here is explained as ‘upon which akṣara, the indestructible syllable, the supreme position (parame vyoman) of all the gods (viśvedevāḥ} taking their seats}…..the one who understands this comes close to Him and those who do know this cannot reach Him.” In another context it is said, “Somehow it happened that he could not take the essence from one syllable (ॐ); just of ॐ. This syllable (ॐ) became this speech and this speech namely ॐ became the essence of breath……”

The above Vedic references go to prove the importance of ॐ and based on this, Kulārṇava Tantra (XV.56) says, “A mantra in its beginning entails the impurity of birth and at the end of impurity of death. Associated with these two impurities, a mantra does not fructify (impurities are explained as not prefixing and suffixing ॐ).

Taittirīya Upaniṣad (I.viii.1) says, “om iti brahma; om iti sarvam; …..” which clearly says that there is no difference between ॐ and Brahman and this statement is further emphasized by the next verse which is says ॐ is everything (omnipresent). This goes to prove that without ॐ, Brahman cannot be attained. All of us know that the very purpose of Mahāṣoḍaśi Mantra is only liberation (Ṣoḍaśī kevalṁ mokṣa sādhanam – Ṣoḍaśī is meant only for liberation).

Praśna Upaniṣad (V.6 and 7)) says, “He who meditates on three letters of AUM (ॐ) separately will end up being subject to death. But if they are taken together, this meditation is rightly done……If you are able to meditate on that deity in the right manner, you will know the real meaning of ॐ and once you know the meaning, you go far beyond. If you meditate on ॐ as Brahman, it takes you to the higher worlds. It is again through ॐ that you attain the state of peace and fearlessness and you overcome age. You attain immortality and become one with Brahman.” (Please compare this with the last line of the previous paragraph).

Kaṭha Upaniṣad (I.ii.16) says, “ॐ is Brahman with attributes and also without attributes. He knows this ॐ can get whatever he wishes.” It must be remembered that Brahman without attributes is Śiva and Brahman with attributes is Śakti. There are subsequent verses also to explain this in Kaṭha Upaniṣad.

Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad (1) begins with by saying, “ॐ is this phenomenal world. To make this clear, it is the past, the present and future. All this is nothing but ॐ. If there is anything beyond this, that too is ॐ.”

It is also that ॐ is the root mantra out of which all other mantra arise. It is clear that without ॐ in the beginning of any mantra, rest of the bījākṣara-s of a mantra will not have any power. Further ॐ is also compared to prāṇa (vital air; our inhalation and exhalation). Without prāṇa how can we sustain and similarly how can a mantra work without ॐ in the beginning?

There are quotations from Śivapurāṇa. It says, “ॐ, known as praṇava is so called because it is the ideal guide to liberation (mokṣa), by eliminating karma of those who recite and worship it……” There are innumerable references to ॐ and its importance towards attaining liberation. All mantras are practiced for two purposes. One is for realizing the Self and the ultimate purpose is to attain liberation. The latter always succeeds the former and this is the pinnacle of our spiritual journey.

Patañjali in his Yoga sūtra-s (I.27) says, “tasya vācakah praṇavaḥ”. This means that there is no difference between ॐ and Śiva and we know that Śiva is the one who can give liberation and not Śakti, who is only Śiva-jñāna-pradāyinī (Lalitā Sahasranāma 727). This interpretation is reproduced below for easy reference.

“She imparts the knowledge of Śiva, the Ultimate.  Śiva jñāna (knowledge) means the knowledge of the Brahman, which is also known as the Supreme knowledge.  To know Śiva, one should first know His Śaktī, who alone is capable of leading a person to the Brahman or Śiva.  Rāmāyaṇa says ‘wind can be realized through movements, fire can be realised through heat and Śiva can be realized only through Śaktī.’ It can also be said that Śiva is the source of knowledge for Her.

It is said śaṁkaraṁ caitanyam which means that Śiva is both jñāna and kriyā.  He is the sovereign, pure free will in knowledge and action.  Based upon this principle, Śiva Sūtra-s opens by saying caitanyamātmā.  Caitanyam means consciousness of the highest purity and knowledge.  There is no difference between Brahman and the highest form of consciousness.  But how Śaktī alone is capable of unravelling Śiva?  This is answered by Śiva Sūtra (I.6) again which says that by meditating on Śaktī, the universe disappears as a separate entity thereby unveiling Self illuminating Śiva.  The process of such happening is described in Spanda Kārikā (I.8) (another treatise of Kashmiri Saivism) which says ‘the empirical individual cannot ward off the urge of desires.  But entering the energetic circle of the Self (Śiva), he becomes equal to that Self.’ The seeker of Śiva becomes Śiva himself.  This is known as Śiva jñāna and She imparts this kind of Supreme knowledge.

It is also said that Śiva cannot be attained without first realising Śaktī. She alone can lead one to Śiva. Śiva is inaccessible directly. Unless She chooses to impart the required Supreme knowledge, none can realise Śiva. Hence, She is called Śiva-jñāna-pradāyinī.”

Thus there are very strong, authentic and proven evidences to prove that ॐ is the cause of any mantra and if ॐ is not prefixed to any mantra, the mantra becomes ineffective. And if we go with Kulārṇava Tantra and various Upaniṣad-s cited above, one can understand the importance of ॐ and its presence at the beginning of any mantras. If this is not done, then the mantra will not fructify.

To conclude, we must understand that purpose of any mantra is only to get liberation. There is no point in arguing whether ॐ is to be prefixed or not. This has been explained with help of various sources in this particular article. My Guruji told me that without ॐ, mantra will never be fructified. If we place ॐ in the beginning, I have observed that one is able to reach the highest spiritual level within six months. If prefixing ॐ is a mistake, these men and women would not have attained this highest spiritual level. What is important is the goal and our goal is liberation. I am of the opinion that ॐ should be prefixed to all mantras without fail. If this is not followed, then anyone could be wasting his or her precious life in performing fruitless sādhana. Even after this detailed explanation, if doubts still persist, nothing else can be done. Beyond this point, it is not right on my part to comment on this issue and hence, I close this issue with this article.

This article is posted here as my reply to various observations made in Mahāṣoḍaśī Mantra explained

Part 2 of this article is here.