“AUM” And The Answer To Who Am I
Aum has gained significant importance in today’s spirituality. However, many believe that the vibration of Aum sound is present ages before any life started. In almost every religion Aum has its own place. There are many interpretations of Aum. In Hinduism, it is considered as the highest sound and it is used at the beginning of almost all the Mantras. It is also used in Buddhism in mantra Aum Mani Padme Hum. It is also found in Jainism and Sikkhism. Some even compare Aum with Amen of Christianity. Most of us know Aum as a mantra, but today we will have a different perspective or rather find the core meaning of it.
The highest meaning of Aum that I have come across is found in Mandukya Upanishad. Upanishads are the most ancient texts available to humankind. They are the summary of four Vedas of Hinduism. Though Vedas are considered to be part of Hinduism, they were written for the entire human race. They are the results of the meditation of realized beings, but we will cover them in detail in other posts. This post is dedicated to “Aum” and its meaning according to Mandukya Upanishad.
In Mandukya Upanishad, we find the core meaning of Aum and we also find the truth of our self. It explains the four stages of life with three letters of “Aum”. I am not sure if it is a coincidence or a conscious effort that Aum in English has three letters as the original Sanskrit language in which Upanishad are written. They are mainly written as अ (A) उ(U) म (M). Mostly it is written as the symbol “ॐ “. We can consider three letters or three parts of the Aum symbol. For the sake of simplicity, we will use “Aum” of English to explain.
The three states explained in Mandukya Upanishad are waking, dreaming and deep sleep state. We will first understand the three states as the fourth one is not the real state. “A” represents our waking state. This is the state in which we spend most of our time when we are awake. We do our duties, we feel pleasure and we face our miseries. We are associated with family and make friends. We achieve success, we earn money and we face failures. We identify our self with the physical body. We label this physical body with a name given by our parents. In this state, we are not conscious of our dream or deep sleep state.
“U” represents our sleeping state in which we see dreams. Normally these dreams are a combination of our memories and our imaginations. We are not aware of our physical body at that time. We have a subtle body may be similar to the physical body. Our physical body does not disappear anywhere, but we are not conscious of it. We experience altogether a different world, which is constructed by our mind.
“M” represents our deep sleep state in which we are not conscious of our self. Ego is not present at that time. There are no dreams as well. An outsider can see our body, but we are not aware of it. Also, there is no consciousness of our subtle body like dream body. We don’t have any memory of this state, but we feel very relaxed when we have experienced the state for a longer time. All our attachments, pleasures and miseries are not present. However, this is a temporary state and the moment we wake up, we regain the memories and we again experience our physical body.
We all are aware of these three states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep, but we never think about that. We follow this cycle as a routine, but this is so astonishing that the same entity is experiencing all these three states every day. Out of this understanding, we can find our true self that is separate from all this three. The aim of Mandukya Upanishad or for that matter entire Vedanta is to make us realize that we are not these three states. We are the one, who experiences these three states. We are the fourth one. In Sanskrit and in Mandukya Upanishad, we are being referred to as Turiya (The fourth one).
Taking one step further. In reality, we don’t have four states. There is only one reality and that is we are consciousness. We are the silence that comes after “Aum”. We are present while we are awake. In this state, we realize as our self as this physical body. We don’t identify as a subtle body of the dream. Similarly, in the dream state, we are not conscious of the physical body. We are the one who is passing through these states. We are neither the physical body nor the subtle dream body and we are not the absence of these bodies.
We are the ever-illumining, ever existing, unattached from everything, Atman, the consciousness. We are the light that illuminates everything. You might question then that why don’t I experience this. You and I both live in the same world as this physical body. We don’t feel that we are the consciousness which experiences this physical and subtle body. In Vedanta, this is termed as an error. This error can be eliminated when we meditate on our true self.
Vedanta uses the example of gold ornaments to explain this further. For, e.g. you have three gold ornaments such as bangles, ring and a chain. All these three have different forms and sizes. However, there is only one reality that they are made up of gold. Can you remove the bangle from gold? No, as bangle itself does not have any identity. You can melt the bangles and make a ring or chain out of it, but gold will always be present in them. Similarly, our waking, dreaming and deep sleep state also has no existence without our consciousness.
There is another aspect to “Aum”. Many religions refer to “Aum” as the name of God. In spite of having crores of Gods in Hinduism, “Aum” will always be considered as the highest one. We cannot limit God to a waking state. God illuminates all three world of gross (waking), subtle (dream) and causal (deep sleep). “Aum” represents all three world and hence it is the highest name of God. Again, let us not label “Aum” to any particular religion. Religions are tools to help us realize our true nature.
First, it is important to listen to the truth multiple times until we are able to absorb it. After that, we should meditate on the same. You can follow the meditation practice in which you can utter “Aum” word and plunge into the meaning of it as described above. You can consciously observe the three states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep and see how you are separate from it. Then, realize that you are the silence that comes after “Aum”. I can write an entire book on this (Will leave it for later part), but that might steal the aha moment when you will do the discovery on your own.
It might come as a surprise or a shock to many of you and you might not want to go into the explanation of waking, dreaming and deep sleep state. Also, it is OK if you don’t want to relate “Aum” as God, as many modern people don’t believe in God. You can still consider “Aum” as the absolute reality of our self and meditate on the same.