After having discussed about the importance of praṇava (ॐ) at the beginning of all mantras, we will now proceed to discuss why ॐ is so important. ॐ consists of three alphabets and nāda and bindu. Thus om has five components a, u, m, nāda and bindu. Tirumūlar is one of the ancient sages and he had composed Tirumantiram which consists of 3047 Tamil verses. In verse 2035 he has referred om subtly. On the grosser side, this verse means namaḥśivāya, Shiva pañcākṣara mantra. But on the subtler side, this verse refers to om. The verse says that everything is sublimated by om; if om is meditated upon (using it as a mantra), it causes trance, leading to liberation and those who do this are truly blessed.
Tirumūlar has confirmed these through four other verses beginning from 2675 to 2678. In 2676 he says that om is Shiva and om is Shakti as well. Shiva, because of its subtle nature; and Shakti because of its power of manifestation from subtle to gross (Prakāśa and Vimarśa). In 2677 he says that om is Brahman, who is formless (nirguṇa Brahman), it encompasses infinity and diversity, and om alone gives liberation. Everything originates from om and dissolves unto om. In the next verse he says that five principle elements (ākaśa, air, fire, water and earth) originated from om, the entire creation originated from om (because om is Brahman), three types of creations originated from om (three types of creations/ jīva-s are bound, liberated and eternal; there are other interpretations for three types of jīva-s; sakala, pralayākala and vijñānākala) and om represents the union of individual self with the Supreme Self. In 2688, he says om comprises of a, u and m and this alone causes Bliss, Divine Grace, creation, expansion, substratum and everything else. The wise fully realising this, repeat om and get liberated.
Dhyānabindu Upaniṣad explains om like this. “One has to transcend nāda and bindu of om and reach the ultimate state of “akṣara”, where all sounds are absorbed, that is the state of Liberation. The one who understands om reaches the state of ‘pūrṇtvam’ (completeness, the state of complete knowledge, the state of doubtlessness). The one who does not realize the essence of om, can never become a yogi. The essence of om is explained as the inherent oil in sesame seeds and the smell of flowers. Presence of oil cannot be realized unless the oil is extracted and on the contrary, the smell of the flowers is always felt. The Upaniṣad says that om is both gross and subtle. Om is bow; individual soul is arrow and the Brahman (the destination) is the aim. This subtly conveys Self-realization.” Upaniṣad goes on explaining about the importance of om.
Now let us analyse what Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad says in detail about om. “This Self is in the form of letters and it is om. It is in the form of adhimātraṁ (in the form of mātrā or letters). These letters are a, u and m which corresponds to three states of consciousness, active, dream and deep sleep states. Nāda and bindu are the states of turya (realization of the Self) and turyātīta (merging into Brahman - Liberation). Om is the beginning, the middle and the end of everything and the one, who knows this reality, knows Brahman. Brahman is the Self, witnessing all our actions. The wise who understands this reality is not troubled by dyads i.e., pleasure and pain etc., and he transcends all dualities. He alone is liberated.”
Amṛtanāda Upaniṣad says that praṇava (om) is not to be pronounced, it is neither a vowel nor a consonant. It is akṣara, the indestructible (kṣara means perishable) and omnipresent. It is both subtle and gross, like Brahman and His manifestations. Hence om is called akṣara (imperishable).
Vedas originate from om. Om should not be recited with svara. Svara-s are of seven types and they are niṣāda, ṛṣabha, gāndhāra, ṣaḍja, madhyama, dhaivata and pañcama as it is beyond svara. It is beyond everything. It is the source of origin and absorption. It is imperishable. Many times, om is grossly mentioned and rarely it is subtly mentioned. Any mantra or Vedic recitations should begin only with om and end with om. It is said, “If anybody says that the om is the only sound symbol, with nothing else being suitable, he is wrong”. That is why Patañjali did not use om, and instead he said ‘tasya vācakah praṇavaḥ’.
This article is not in response to the comments made on the previous part, but only to elucidate the utmost importance of om. Someone distastefully commented and asked: “Which lineage adds it? Show me?” I respectfully submit to them that it is not my job to look into what others teach or follow. I follow and teach what my Guruji taught.
Ø Previous part can be read here IMPORTANCE OF OM AT THE BEGINNING OF ALL MANTRAS
Ø Other comments on prefixing om to any mantra can be read in this article