Sanatana Dharma for Kids: Sacred Symbols: AUM
Nov 01, 2005 06:54 AM
"Today we'll discuss AUM, the most sacred of the symbols of Sanatana
Dharma", said daddy, as they sat for dinner.
Mummy had prepared vegetable briyani with onion raita and green
salad, and the usual curd rice with mango pickles for dinner. Two
large bowls of briyani and curd rice with the side dishes in
satellite bowls were neatly arranged on the table. The aroma of
briyani wafted in the air, increasing everyone's appetite.
"Before we start eating", said daddy, "let us close our eyes for a
full minute and intently listen to this sacred mantra." He pressed
the Enter key of his laptap on the tall stool, and the sacred sound
of AUM reverberated in the room, wave after wave, as the computer
played the sound file for a full minute.
The children had promptly closed their eyes as had the elders, and
everyone listened to the mantra. When it was over, daddy said,
"Don't open your eyes now, but repeat the mantra AUM inside
yourselves, with your mouths closed, pronouncing every sound as you
heard just now, for another thirty seconds."
The children did as they were told, and finally opened their eyes at
their daddy's word. Daddy asked mummy to serve the dinner, and
started his discussion.
"The mantra you heard now is called the mula mantra or the root
mantra. AUM is also known as the maha mantra. First you should know
how to pronounce this mantra. Any idea, children?"
"Daddy, we have been pronouncing this mantra as simply om", said
"Yes dad, we pronounced the vowel O for a longer time than the
consonant M. We sarted with Ohhhhhhh... but stopped rather short at
the M, without humming it properly as your demo showed now."
"How did you pronounce the mantra?" daddy asked mummy.
"Well, I knew that the mantra is written using the three letters A,
U, M. But I have not been articulating it the way we heard it here."
"I have also been guilty of your mummy's habit", admitted daddy.
"From now on, let all of us give due regard to this great mantra and
articulate it properly, in the way we heard it here. Reciting the
mantra correctly will greately benefit us."
Daddy continued: "Even though the mantra has three sounds A, U and
M, it is considered as a single letter and as a single syllable. You
already know that it is written as a single letter, and now you know
that it is pronounced with a long AU sound, which starts with a
short, bursting Ah sound, followed by a long O (or Oo as in moo)
sound, and an equally emphatic humming sound M, which gradually
wanes into silence. A single chant of the whole mantra takes at
least five seconds."
They continued eating the delicious briyani, between bites on their
green salad. When they paused for a second helping, daddy asked the
children, "Did both of you utter the mantra inside yourselves?"
"Yes, daddy", said the children in chorus.
"Well, did you notice or feel anything?"
"Yes daddy", said Padma. "It slighly choked in my throat."
"And it seemed to pass out of my ears", said Arvind.
"I felt peaceful", said mummy. "What did you feel?"
"Well, since I knew how it would feel, I did not feel anything
today!" said daddy. "My mind was preoccupied with how to teach this
great mantra to the children in a way that they will never forget."
"Did we feel the correct way, daddy?"
"Is there anything more, dad?"
"You are both wonderful children. I am really blessed to have you
two and mummy for a family", said daddy, his tone echoing his
gratitude and pride. "All the three of you felt it exactly the way
it would be felt. And there is a lot more to it."
The children looked at each other with widened eyes.
"There are three ways of reciting a mantra personally. In the adhama
or inferior way, a mantra is uttered loudly, as most of us do. Some
people just lisp a mantra, pronouncing the words without sound, but
with their lips moving. This is the madhyama or the medium way. The
uttama or the best way is to recite a mantra inside us with our
mouths closed, mentally listening to the articulations of the
"We chant the mantras loudly in the morning assembly at school",
"The pundits chant the Veda mantras out loudly dad", said Arvind.
"Both are examples of community chanting", said daddy. "In a family
or community chanting of a prayer or a ceremony, the mantras are not
chanted for personal gains, so they must be recited out loudly.
Vedas are chanted by a group of pundits in order that the vibrations
set forth by the mantras benefit the people around, and the house
they are chanted at. In a personal chant, a mantra is best recited
in the uttamic way, because its vibrations mainly need to propagate
in the inner space."
"And how does this uttamic chanting of AUM benefit us, dad?"
"As you say the AUM mantra inwardly, it reechoes inside you, causing
vibrations in your throat and ears. The vibrations travel upward to
the skull and downward to the navel. If the mantra is chanted with
pure aspirations and devotion, these vibrations calm the nerve
centers and tune up your chakras for meditation."
"But I didn't feel anything in my skull or navel", said Padma.
"I think I felt a slight knotting up in my navel", said Arvind.
"Padma felt the vibration in her throat, Arvind in his ears and
mummy had a peace of mind. So all of you are on the right track.
With sincere practice and when you learn yoga and meditation, the
benefits of AUM will be felt more and more. Yogis hear this pranava
sound in their meditation."
"Mummy has told us that Ganesha is the symbol of pranava. What
exactly is pranava dad?"
"The term pranava is from the Sanskrit roots pra + nu, and means to
utter or bring forth a droning or humming sound. This sound is AUM,
with which Brahma created the world. This is the primordial sound of
the universe, and is the base of every form of manifestation.
Pranava pervades everything from the macrocosm of the universe to
the microcosm of the atoms, from the outer space to the inner space,
so the term stands for these two forms of manifestations, as well as
Brahman from whom it all originates."
"That is why Brahman is also known as the Nada Brahman", said mummy.
Daddy nodded at her and continued. "In the term pranava, the suffix
nava indicates new. Every moment something is born and something is
destroyed. As modern science has discovered, atomic particles turn
into energy and energy crystallizes back into particles. Our cells
die and are replaced constantly. This is why Shakespeare said, And
so, from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe, And then, from hour to
hour, we rot and rot; And thereby hangs a tale.."
"I think the quote is from the play As You Like It", said mummy who
was an M.A. English. "Jaques used these words of the court jester
Touchstone, remarking that he met that motley fool in a forest."
"You have a good memory", said daddy. "Mandukya Upanishad has the
AUM mantra for its entire subject matter. Of the three letters of
this mula mantra, the letter A represents the Adimatwa or the
beginning, the letter U represents the Utkarsha or progress and the
letter M represents Mitti or limit or dissolution. Thus the letters
A, U, M stand for creation, preservation and dissolution, and
represent the Trimurti--Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva."
"How deep and correlating our concepts are!" exclaimed mummy.
"There are other correlations. The letter A stands for the Satva
guna, U for Rajas and M for Tamas, which are the three gunas or
qualities of Prithvi or Nature. And then, the letters also stand for
the three worlds: A stands for the earth, the Bhurloka, U for the
astral world, the Bhuvarloka and M for the heavens, the Svarloka".
"Wonderful", said mummy.
"There is more", said daddy. "Children, don't worry if you can't
follow the relationship between AUM and yoga meditation that I am
going to explain now. Just listen to these advanced concepts without
seeking any explanation. Things will be clearer to you as you grow
older and practice meditation."
"I heard that AUM has a significant role in meditation", said mummy.
"But I am not familiar with the details."
"To understand the details, you need to know that the mantra AUM has
actually four parts: the three sounds A, U, M--and silence. These
four parts are associated with the four levels of consciousness. The
sound A represents the waking level, called vaishvanara. The sound A
has a bursting quality. It arises quickly, in a flash from the
previous level of silence."
"I see. The sound O is actually a diphthong, comprising A and U",
said mummy, drawing on her knowledge of the English language. "Of
these two sounds A and U here, A is short and U is longer. Together
they make the O, pronounced Oh... and then Oo... in AUM. So AU is
svara and M anusvara that completes the vibration into silence."
"Nicely put", said daddy. "The U sound represents the dreaming level
of consciousness, called taijasa. The M sound stands for the deep
sleep level, called prajna. The fourth level is turiya which is
Consciousness itself permeating all other levels. At this level, the
observer, the observed and the process of observing all become one."
"Is turiya the equivalent of samadhi?" said mummy.
"Turiya is said to be a case of high samadhi. You might say that
turiya is the highest level of consciousness that results in the
state of samadhi."
The children appeared dumbstruck and were eating the curd rice
silently, as daddy continued his Vedanta.
"It is not just the sacred sound, but the very letter AUM
represents the four levels of consciousness.", said daddy, pointing
to the AUM letter displayed on the laptap screen. The children
looked up eagerly.
"The lower curve of the letter represents the waking level, the
right curve represents the dreaming level and the upper curve stands
for the deep sleep level."
"Above the upper curve is an arc, daddy" said Padma.
"On top of that is a dot" said Arvind. It was obvious that the
children wanted at least a small part in the discussion of which
they understood nothing.
Daddy smiled at them benevolently. "The dot or point or bindu
represents the fourth level turiya. The arc below the dot indicates
that the bindu or turiya level is separate from the other three, and
oversees them silently, standing above as well as permeating them.
Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati, popularly known as Swami J, of the
Himalayan Yoga tradition, has a very detailed analysis of all the
aspects of yoga meditation as he calls the process, in his Website
http://www.swamij.com. A nice feature of this Website is that the
concepts expounded by Swami J are those of Vedanta. This Website is
a treasure house of pure spiritual information and instructions."
Mummy closed her eyes and took a deep breath, savouring the
pronouncements made by daddy. She said, "I have a question. When you
say that the individual sounds of AUM represent a level of
consciousness, what exactly does that mean in practice?"
"A good question. Swami J says that as you medidate, when your
awareness is on each sound of the AUM mantra, 'you cultivate and
train yourself to have a simultaneous awareness of each level of
consciousness' at the personal microcosm and gradually transfer it
to the universal macrocosm. I think this is something like
meditating on successive chakras, starting from the muladhara, the
They had finished their dinner a little while back and their hands
started to dry up. Daddy belched loudly and said, "AUM is also used
in Buddhist and Jain rituals. Well, I think that's all I can explain
about this great mantra."
"I have a question, dad" said Arvind. "How do you spell the mantra
in English--AUM or just OM?"
"You can spell it either way. You can also pronounce it AUM with
full articulation or the simpler OM that we say in our shlokas. The
AUM articulation, however is used in meditation, and as a personal
mantra for the spiritual benefits it offers."
"The mantra is captivating daddy", said Padma. Arvind played the
sacred sound once again on daddy's laptap. With their eyes glowing,
the children played the mantra repeatedly for sometime, before they
dispersed to complete their school homework.
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