The Meaning of the Om Symbol

A metal carving of the
... cicada-wing/iStock/Getty Images

The syllable “om” begins and ends many Hindu prayers and scriptures, and both Buddhists and Hindus often repeat it as a mantra during meditation. Sometimes written as “ohm” or “aum,” the word comes from Sanskrit, according to “Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology.” The word “om” has no direct translation, but according to Swami Krishnananda Saraswati, Hindu divine and scholar, it conveys "all this.”

1 Three Phonemes, One Symbol

The symbol for “om” resembles a calligraphic inscription of the three Sanskrit phonemes that make up the word: “a,” “u” and “m.” Brahma, the chief Hindu god, is said to have first spoken the syllable, according to Swami Nirmalananda Giri's commentary on the Hindu holy text, the Upanishads. The two vowels form a diphthong, two sounds that blend together, that is represented by the long “o” sound. From these three phonemes arose the Hindu scriptures, Saraswati teaches, and thus the word is the ultimate beginning of all creation. The symbol provides a visual focus for meditation, and the sound produces vibrations that practitioners believe help put them in touch with the cosmos.

Jennifer Spirko has been writing professionally for more than 20 years, starting at "The Knoxville Journal." She has written for "MetroPulse," "Maryville-Alcoa Daily Times" and "Some" monthly. She has taught writing at North Carolina State University and the University of Tennessee. Spirko holds a Master of Arts from the Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-on-Avon, England.