The Word That Is God
Writing about Ishwara, the Lord, Patanjali says: “His spoken form [vachaka] is the Pranava” (Yoga Sutras 1:27). Swami Vivekananda translates vachaka: “His manifesting word.”
“Pranava” is derived from prana, which means both life-force/breath and life. So we could call it the Word of Life or the Prana-Breath Word. The Pranava is commonly thought to be the monosyllable Aum or Om, but its true, original form is Aom. This error came about either when the sacred texts such as the upanishads passed from exclusively oral to written form or when the original Sanskrit script was changed to Devanagari which either could not reflect it or was simply transliterated in the wrong way.
The true Pranava is pronounced “Ah-Oh-mm” as a single syllable The A is pronounced like the a in father and palm. The O is pronounced like the long o in the Italian or common American manner–as in home and lone. The M is pronounced normally as in English. Aom is a single syllable: Ah merging seamlessly into Om to form a single word. The three letters should be intoned in equal length–at least approximately.
This sacred Word was the heart of the primeval esoteric wisdom that long predated even the sages of ancient India and Sanskrit. An essential part of that wisdom is the knowledge of Words of Power or mantras–a series of verbal sounds whose effect lies not in an assigned intellectual meaning, as is the character of common language, but which possesses an inherent sound-power that can produce a sublime spiritual effect.
Though almost lost through the intervening ages, that wisdom was preserved in scattered, hidden centers of knowledge in the Himalayas, including Tibet, and further north in China, Mongolia and even Siberia. The existence of these centers and their esoteric teachings was first revealed to the outer world at large in the latter part of the nineteenth century by Madame Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society. She herself had lived for some time in Ladakh where the Lord Jesus had also lived in the Hemis monastery in the district of Leh.
Blavatsky taught that the original esoteric spiritual language revealed to humanity was Senzar, from which Sanskrit was derived. This was corroborated by the great nineteenth-century Hindu reformer Swami Dayananda Saraswati, founder of the Arya Samaj of India with which the Theosophical Society was originally affiliated. He said that in several secret places in India he had seen entire caves filled with manuscripts written in Senzar. In his major work, Satyarth Prakash (The Light of Truth), under the heading “The Highest Name of God,” Swami Dayananda says: “‘Aom’ is the highest Name of God; it is composed of three letters, A, O, M.” On the next page under the heading “Vedic and Other Holy Texts in Support of This View” he quotes four verses from the Vedas and the Upanishads in support of the statement that Aom is the Name of God, and is the source of all other Divine Names:
“Aom is the Great God Who is Omnipresent like ether” (Yajur Veda 40:17).
“He alone, Whose name is Aom, Who is immortal, is worthy of our adoration and none other” (Chandogya Upanishad).
“All the Vedas and the shastras declare Aom as the primary and natural Name of God. All others are His secondary names” (Mandukya Upanishad 1:1).
“He, Whom all the Vedas declare worthy of homage, Whom all devotion and righteous actions lead to, and for Whose realization the life of brahmacharya (chastity), is led, is called Aom” (Katha Upanishad 1:2:15).
Two pages later he states: “It should be borne in mind that Aom is the Name of God only and of no other object, material or spiritual.” After analyzing one hundred descriptive titles of God, Dayananda says that all spiritual writings should begin with Aom as an invocation-offering to God, since It alone is the true Name of God. It will be no surprise to learn that he recommended the meditation and constant repetition (japa) of Aom. After his death, in some subsequent printings of Satyarth Prakash the Sanskrit AUM was substituted, but in a recent printing by the Sarvadeshik Arya Pratinidhi Sabha of New Delhi the original form of Aom is restored as well as in Easy Bal Satyarth Prakash (Satyarth Prakash For Children), published by Satya Prakashan in Mathura and translated into English for use by the Arya Samaj in America.
Aom: the Original Word
Aom is the Senzar original; AUM is the Sanskrit variation. Paul Foster Case, a student of Theosophy, a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and a priest of the Liberal Catholic Church, wrote about Aom in his book Esoteric Secrets of Meditation and Magic as the Word from which Om or Aum has been derived. Practice will reveal that Aom is the real Pranava: the Life/Breath Word.
In Tibetan Buddhism Aom is often used in mantras such as the mantra of Padmasambhava, and Blavatsky claimed that the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum originally began with Aom, not Om.
In The Book of God, E. V. Kenealy wrote that the ancient Greeks who were conversant with the spiritual lore of the Far East considered Aom [AΩM] to be the “Ineffable Name of God.”
Because of this, throughout this book to avoid confusion I have substituted Aom for “Om” in quotations of translations from Indian yoga texts.
Aom in Christianity
No one–including me–would expect to find Aom in the Christian tradition. Yet, Saint Augustine wrote in the fourth century: “The identical thing that we now call the Christian religion existed among the ancients and has not been lacking from the beginnings of the human race until the coming of Christ in the flesh, from which moment on the true religion, which already existed, began to be called ‘Christian.’” Earlier Saint Paul had written that the Christian Gospel was that which had already been taught throughout the whole world, “which was preached to every creature which is under heaven” (I Colossians 1:23).
Authentic–original–Christianity is not new, but eternal in essence, embracing the Ancient Wisdom that has existed from the beginning of the world. This is why the esoteric Christian creed says: “We strive towards the ancient narrow path that leads to life eternal: So shall His blessing rest on us and peace forevermore.” All master teachers of humanity are revivers of that Wisdom, reminders of what was at their time either lost or almost extinguished.
It has been established as historical fact (see The Christ of India and The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ) that sometime after the age of twelve Jesus journeyed to India and spent many years there learning the Ancient Wisdom, spending some of that time in the Buddhist monastery of Hemis which is located in the Leh district of Ladakh. After fourteen years or so, having spent half his life in India, Jesus returned to Israel, bringing the teachings he had learned there.
In his previous incarnation as David, Jesus had made many prophecies regarding himself including: “I will declare thy name unto my brethren” (Psalms 22:22). On Holy Thursday Jesus prayed: “I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world.…I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it” (John 17:6, 26). From this we see that the Name of God was not known to the disciples until Jesus revealed it to them. Therefore Jehovah, Adonai, El Shaddai and suchlike which they all knew well, were descriptive titles rather than proper names, none of them being the true Name of the Godhead. But Jesus did teach them that Name, though the early Christian texts do not reveal it.
De Laudibus Sanctae Crucis
However, we find Aom twice in the illustrations of The Praises of the Holy Cross (De Laudibus Sanctae Crucis) a cycle of poems by Blessed Rabanus Maurus, a ninth-century abbot and archbishop of Mainz, Germany, who was also author of the renowned hymn Veni Creator Spiritus that is sung on Pentecost and at all ordinations of deacons, priests, and bishops in the Western Catholic tradition.
As you see, the Greek letters for Aom–are on the arms of the cross in the aura of Jesus. Some think that they should be read amo–Latin for “I love”–but the letters are not Latin but Greek, in which “amo” has no meaning. Also, you can see that the Latin O is used in several places in the text written over the icon, but in the cross the Greek Omega is used. So the Greek letters are not meant to read amo, but are put there to distinguish them from the Latin words. It is not unusual to find esoteric elements hidden in seemingly ordinary religious depictions and texts throughout the world, and this is a prime example.
One of the most valuable conversations I ever had was with a disciple of Swami Purnananda of Assam who was a disciple of the immortal Master, Babaji Brahmananda–the “Babaji” of Autobiography of a Yogi. An expert in all aspects of yoga, Dr. Mukherji told me many things about yoga that I never learned anywhere else. One morning as we sat in the free dispensary of the Anandamayi Ashram in Ranchi which he administered, he began going through the Sanskrit alphabet and explaining to me how each letter affected a different part of the physical and subtle bodies. He particularly gave emphasis to the fact that the letter M, when intoned, caused the subtle life force (prana) to move upward into the thousand-petalled lotus in the head and specifically activate the brahmarandhra chakra at the crown of the head. Throughout the Christian era mystics have discovered just what the yogis of India have known for thousands of years. So it is no surprise that in the illustrations of his mystic poetry, Rabanus Maurus had the M placed in the preceding illustration as though it were resting on the crown of Jesus’ head.
The positioning of the A(lpha) and O(mega) are also significant. The two sides or lobes of the brain are like the two poles of a magnet. The right brain is the dominant, positive pole, and the left brain is the subordinate, negative pole. The subtle energies of the mind should flow from right to left in the physical, astral and causal brains of the individual. So the right brain is Alpha and the left brain is Omega, the energies and subtle magnetism flowing from A to Z, we might say. (Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet and Omega is the last letter.)
In the beginning…
In Chapter One it is said, “To enable the spirits to enter into this process, God breathes forth His own Self as the Power from which is manifested all the realms of relative existence, from the most subtle worlds of nearly-perfected beings to the most objective worlds of atomic matter.” Aom is both the Consciousness and the Power that is God. It is His manifesting Word because It makes God manifest to us and is Itself the Power by which God manifests His will–especially through His creation.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men” (John 1:1-4). The first “act” of God is the projection of Himself as Cosmic Vibration: Aom. He “speaks” Himself and becomes all things. Then we enter Aom Itself to come into manifestation. The bodies which we take on are all formed of variations on the fundamental energy or keynote that is Aom. We come into relative existence through Aom, we evolve within relative existence through Aom, and we transcend relative existence and return to God’s perfect Being through Aom. It is no wonder, then, that Aom is also called the Pranava, the Word of Life, the Living Word.
The Word that is God
“I am the Pranava,” declared the infinite Satchidananda through the lips of the avatar Krishna (Bhagavad Gita 7:8). And: “I am Aom [Aomkara]” (Bhagavad Gita 9:17). And: “Among words I am the single-syllable [Aom]” (Bhagavad Gita 10:25).
How can a Word be God? How can God be a Word?
All things–the entire cosmos itself–are formed of vibrating energy. This cosmic energy possesses the dual nature of light and sound, both of which are essentially consciousness. The totality of that Consciousness is contained and summed up in the Divine Word, Aom, known as the Shabda Brahman, the Sound God. Aom is spoken, yet It is beyond speech in Its essence because It is the source of speech. Its spoken form is the final step in the objectification of the primal creative stream arising from the inmost depths of Being Itself, that “point of light within the mind of God” from which has issued all manifested being, all that IS. It is the original movement outward from the Omnipresent Center which took place when the Supreme Consciousness willed, “I am One; let Me become Many” (Chandogya Upanishad 6:2:3; Taittiriya Upanishad 2:6).
The Upanishads also tells us that Aom is Brahman:
“Aom is Brahman, the Primeval Being” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 5.1.1).
“I will tell you briefly of that Goal which all the Vedas with one voice propound, which all the austerities speak of, and wishing for Which people practice discipline: It is Aom” (Katha Upanishad 1. 2.15-17).
“The udgitha [Aom] is the Supreme Brahman” (Svetasvatara Upanishad 1:7).
“Aom is Brahman” (Taittiriya Upanishad 1.8.1).
The Word that is me!
They also tell us that Aom is our own Self, as well:
“The self [atman] is of the nature of the Syllable Aom.…Thus the Syllable Aom is the very self” (Mandukya Upanishad 1.8.12).
“Meditate on Aom as the self” (Mundaka Upanishad 2.2.6).
“The udgitha [Aom] is the Supreme Brahman, and in It are the Triad” (Svetasvatara Upanishad 1:7). Brahman, God the Absolute, is absolutely One; yet Brahman is threefold in manifestation: as the transcendent Parabrahman, as Ishwara immanent in creation, and as Mahashakti or Prakriti the living substance of the creation.
This is also the Christian Trinity, although Christians really have no understanding of it. (As a priest of the Saint Thomas Christian Church of South India once commented to me: “You cannot understand the teachings of Jesus if you do not know the scriptures of India.”) The Trinity is spoken of in the Christian tradition under the symbolic titles of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father is the Divine Transcendent Consciousness beyond all relative existence, including the creation. The Son is the Divine Immanent Consciousness within all creation, guiding it to its destined perfection. The Holy Spirit is the Conscious Divine Creative Evolving Power that is manifesting as the universe and the evolution of all it contains. This Trinity is absolutely and uncompromisingly One God.
All relative existence is a reflection of the “Triad” spoken of by the Svetasvatara Upanishad: the threefold Brahman. Furthermore, each of us is a mirroring of that “Holy Trinity.” The “Father” in us is our transcendent spirit, finite yet existing eternally within God–the Spirit of our spirit–and ever conscious of God. The “Son” in us is that aspect of our consciousness which is aware of ourselves as distinct individuals within God, through never separate from God. At the same time it is aware of the vibratory creation around us, and through its will it directs that creation to forward our evolution. The “Holy Spirit” is the dynamic energy aspect of us that is being directed by the “Son” for our ultimate liberation (moksha). Yet we, too, are absolutely one as is Brahman.
The three letters of Aom embody the fundamental consciousness and power of the three aspects of God–the mystery of the eternal Trinity Itself. They are a triune unity that restores our personal, eternal unity/trinity and unites it with the Cosmic Trinity. Thus Pranava Yoga is invocation and evocation. It invokes the cosmic Trinity and evokes our personal trinity.
“Aom is Brahman. Aom is all this. He who utters Aom with the intention ‘I shall attain Brahman’ does verily attain Brahman” (Taittiriya Upanishad 1.8.1). Sound and consciousness are one; this principle has been expounded by the illumined masters of all ages. Consciousness can be translated into sound, and sound can be translated into consciousness. This second principle has the been the basis of spiritual practice from the very beginning: the Yoga of the Word. Inherent in the Divine Consciousness is Aom, and inherent in Aom is the Divine Consciousness. All things–the entire cosmos itself–are formed of vibrating energy. This cosmic energy possesses the dual nature of Light and Sound, both of which are essentially consciousness. And the totality of that consciousness is That which we call God.
Aom the mantra
Aom is the original Word of Power, a mantra. A mantra is a series of verbal sounds whose effect lies not in an assigned intellectual meaning, but in an inherent sound-power that can produce a specific effect on the physical, mental and spiritual levels. The word mantra itself comes from the Sanskrit expression manat trayate which means “a transforming thought;” literally, “that which when thought carries across”–which produces an objective, perceptible change. It also literally means “a liberating thought.” In the Yoga tradition, Aom is the supreme mantra, and the most sacred of holy words in Hindu, Buddhist and Jain rituals and meditation.
Aom is also called: Pranava, Aomkara, and Ekakshara. Pranava means both life-giver (infuser of prana) and controller of life force (prana). Aomkara means “the Aom” or even “the Aom thing” just as ahankara means “I-ness” or the principle of “I.” Ekakshara means “one letter,” “one syllable” or “the one-syllable Word,” because in Sanskrit the consonants are counted as letters or syllables and not the vowels. (Which is why the Torah has only consonants written out, the vowels being indicated by “points.”) Since m is the only consonant, Aom is considered to be ekakshara. Many monosyllables in Sanskrit have only a single consonant, but Ekakshara always means Aom specifically. It also means “the Only Imperishable,” indicating its identity with God, and always refers to Aom. The first recorded teaching of Sri Ramana Maharshi, written down by him in response to the request of a seeker, was: “The Ekakshara [Aom] shines for ever in the heart as the Self.”
Throughout the ages Aom has been the mantra specially commended to sannyasis (monastics), and the majority of them–especially those in the Swami Order of Shankara–have generally employed It as the heart of their sadhana (spiritual practice).
Aom was the particular focus of the Nath Yogis, a most renowned and revered order of yogi-monks in India. (See Mother Worship, p. 46, by Swami Swahananda.) The Nath Yogis claimed to be in direct line from the original yogis, the first of which was a divine manifestation known as Adinath–the Primal Lord. Appearing on earth in humanlike form, God Himself taught Matsyendranath, the first liberated human being in this cycle of creation. He in turn taught Gorakhnath, the unparalleled teacher-adept in the yogic succession. Patanjali was also a Nath Yogi. The Nath Yogis claim Jesus–Sri Isha Natha–as a great adept of their order, as recorded in their sacred book, the Nathanamavali. (See The Christ of India.)
Nearer our own time, the great nineteenth-century Hindu reformer, Maharishi Dayananda Saraswati, renowned as a yogi par excellence, practiced the japa and meditation of Aom and taught them to others, whatever their mode of life.
What do we do?
What do we do with this sacred word, Aom? Krishna tells us: “Established in yoga concentration, uttering Aom, the single-syllable Brahman, meditating on Me,…he goes to the supreme goal” (Bhagavad Gita 8:12, 13). Shankara in his commentary on the Mundaka Upanishad says: “Just as the bow is the cause of the arrow’s hitting the target, so Aom is the bow that brings about the soul’s entry into the Immutable. For the soul when purified by the repetition of Aom gets fixed in Brahman with the help of Aom without any hindrance, just as an arrow shot from a bow gets transfixed in the target.” And commenting on Patanjali’s statement that Ishwara’s “designator [vachaka] is the Pranava [Aom],” Shankara says: “This sutra explains the form in which the devotee contemplates on Him.”
An anonymous commentator on a writing of Shankara says this: “The sound Aom is the Name and Symbol of Brahman. One realizes Brahman by meditation on this Aom. When Aom is uttered with concentration there arises the consciousness of Brahman in the mind. [For] Aom is the matrix of all sounds. Brahman is the substratum of the whole universe and Aom, too, is the substratum of all sounds. Sounds and phenomena are non-different, so the substratum alone remains. Hence Brahman is Aom.”
The master yogis of India have through the ages said that God and Aom are one, that the infinite Consciousness of God is inherent in the Syllable Aom. Since the individual spirit and God are essentially one (though not the same), we can conclude that Aom, repeated within the mind in japa and meditation, will produce the consciousness of God and bring about the restoration of our union with God through the awakening of our spirit-Self that is also Aom.
God is guru in the form of Aom
Immediately after telling us that God “is Guru even of the Ancients,” Patanjali says: “His spoken form is the Pranava.” In a hymn of the poet-saint Kabir, an Indian mystic of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, there are two important statements: “That Word is the Guru; I have heard it, and become the disciple.…That Word reveals all.” Beautiful as the thought of God being the guru may be, is it true? If so, how is God the guru?
In the depths of God’s Being, Aom is eternally present, is eternally flowing or rising, and the same is true of each individual spirit. The heart-core of God and the core of the individual spirit are the same in non-dual unity. Aom is flowing from the single point where the spirit and the Spirit are absolutely one.
God is eternally stimulating or “teaching” the spirit to emanate Aom as the agent of its evolution and perfection. In this way God is the guru of each one of us. One finite spirit may reveal to another finite spirit the way to realize its oneness with God, and thereby momentarily become a spiritual teacher for that spirit; but God alone will be the Sat–true and eternal–Guru.
Aom is the ultimate guru, the infallible teacher and guide from within.
The first American disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda was Dr. M. W. Lewis, who perfectly assimilated the wisdom imparted to him by Yogananda. In a talk given in San Diego, California, in 1955, he said these inspiring words:
“To me the real meaning and understanding of discipleship is that a disciple, a true disciple, is ‘one who follows God.’ Many times the Master said that. In spite of his realization and his oneness with God, which he had and does have now, he said when leaving Boston, ‘Never mind what happens to me. That Light which you see is far greater than I am. That is God Himself.’ And so, there is only one Guru, and that is God, and the greater the saint, if we can classify them that way, the surer they are to say, ‘I am nothing, God is all.’ And so, the Master said that. God alone is reality. He is with you. He is the One Great Guru. And the Master was most humble, because the more you realize there is One Reality, God Himself, the more humble you become, because the ego cannot stay. If you have realization of God, the ego has left.
“And so, realize: who may become a disciple? Anyone; anyone who knows the Presence of God, and follows God. Master often said that someone said to him in India, ‘I hear so-and-so is your disciple in America.’ He said, ‘They say so.’ And seeing the confusion on the face of the inquirer, he said, ‘I haven’t any disciple. They’re all disciples of God.’ How wonderful that is. And so, just realize, he who knows God may be called a disciple. Now that means you must have contact with God. There must be a relationship between you and God, an understanding, a realization that God is in you, you are in God, there is one consciousness–God alone. Now if you have that, you may be called a disciple.”
(Dr. Lewis was the “disciple” spoken of in India.)
It is commonly believed that an aspiring yogi must be empowered for yoga practice through some kind of initiation or transference of power. There are many exaggerated statements made about how it is impossible to make any progress, much less attain enlightenment, without initiation. But they have no relevance to the practice of Pranava Yoga, which requires no initiation because it is based squarely on the eternal nature and unity of the jivatman and the Paramatman–what to speak of the nature of Aom Itself. The japa and meditation of Aom are themselves expressions of the eternal nature of God and man. The eternal spirits need no external input to return to their Source.
It is when the individual perpetually experiences the eternal point where Aom is common to both itself and God that it can know its oneness with God, and separation from God is impossible for it. Yet it is still itself, still distinct, though its consciousness is totally absorbed in God and it sees only the One, and can say, “God alone exists. There is no other but God.” All we need is God Himself in the form of Aom.
Read the next chapter in Pranava Yoga: Pranava Yoga Meditation
Pranava Yoga links:
Preface to Pranava Yoga: Yoga and Freedom
- The Word That Is God
- Pranava Yoga Meditation
- The Yogi’s Subtle Anatomy
- Breath and Sound in Meditation
- Points For Successful Meditation
- AOM in the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, and Yoga Sutras
- The Glories and Powers of AOM
- Afterword: It Is All Up To You
Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary
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