The One True Sound

The most famous symbol and sound from Sanskrit is the classic “OM”.

Only it’s completely messed up. Why is this important? Because we’re talking about the alphabet of nature itself, the sounds that give rise to all form.

Firstly, the above symbol is Hindi, not Sanskrit. In Hindi, they adopted the simpler-to-write Sanskrit U to replace the Sanskrit A. So the above symbol is actually a stylized UUM (long U) in Sanskrit.

Here is the unstylized version.

Secondly, OM is not the Pranava mantra or primordial sound of creation becoming. That’s AUM. O and AU are 2 different letters or mantras with distinct qualities, genders, and effects. Even in English, for example, Tau and To are completely different words.

Thirdly, for a practice, both are monks mantras, not suitable for use by householders in the world. They will cause possessions and relationships to fall away from your life. The sage Shankara was responsible for a revival of the monastic transition in India. But it came to dominate Indian philosophy and overshadowed the householders path – the one the vast majority of us are on.

You often see people begin all chants and recitations with Om. This is not part of the original texts. And as you’ll note above, it’s the wrong letter anyway.

The Correct Form

ATo illustrate the correct form, lets build the letter step by step. First we begin with A. This is the beginning of all things, including the Sanskrit alphabet and the Rig Veda. And it is Shiva’s right hand, held open and down, the thumb across the top. While his drum beats out the sounds, his hands show the correct symbols to use. We might even call the letter-shapes mudras.
The long A adds a second bar
AAUU is added with the “feathers”, making it AAU.
The dot above right adds the M, making this a long AAUM. This is the correct form of the primordial sound, AUM in Devanagari. This is the language of the devas, of nature itself. And this is the sound that contains all sounds and all form.

For more detail on Sanskrit, here is a chart of the letters. I spoke of this prior here.

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9 Responses to The One True Sound

  1. Davidya says:

    A note with mantra. A number of common mantras begin with Om. This is fine for occasional chanting and such but I would not use this for a daily practice or meditation if you’re a householder. It will incline your possessions and relationships to fall away. Good for monks.

    The easy substitution is to replace Om with Shri or Jai if the mantra references a being.

    For example, Om Gam Ganapataye Namah references Ganesha

    The simple shift is:
    Shri Gam Ganapataye Namah

    If the mantra does not reference a being, simply drop the Om or Aum. Largely, Om has been added after the fact.

    I should also note the value of proper instruction and the use of appropriate mantra. While there are some broadly beneficial ones like the above, there are some laws of nature you may not want to amplify in your life at a given time.

    Also, the importance of treating them with respect. They are subtle but profoundly potent.

  2. Davidya says:

    Similarly, in the paternalistic era, a lot of ‘a’ endings were dropped. Veda became Ved, Ananda became anand, etc. I would suggest this is incorrect.

    Ananda or bliss, for example is the liveliness of being. It is very much the feminine aspect.

    • Ana says:

      I may be wrong, but supposedly in Sanskrit most nouns ending with an ‘a’ are masculine. P.e., ‘yoga’, ‘karma’, ‘ananda’, ‘dharma’, ‘bhava’, “linga”, etc. Those ending with an ‘i’ are generally feminine: ‘kundalini’, ‘shakti’, ‘shanti’, ‘sri’, ‘kundali’, ‘yoni’, etc.

      • Davidya says:

        Hi Ana
        Sanskrit is a language where the basics are simple but it gets complex very fast.

        The Varna Shiksha tells us the non-aspirated consonants are masculine and the aspirated ones feminine. The others are neuter. Vowels are a mixture – longs go feminine.

        Until the above text was found, gender was a subject of debate as it wasn’t defined. There were references but no definition. But letter gender doesn’t directly translate into word gender.

        The consonants all end in a by default. The short a is masculine but the long a is feminine. So it’s not just if it ends in a. And this is only the word closing.

        In Hindi use, they drop the a to make the word masculine.

        Ending in an I is the same. Short I is masculine, long is feminine. But ending in i does tend to be a feminine version of the word.

        You also have to be careful about r’s. The vowel r is transliterated as ri. So Shri is neutral, not feminine.

        Jai on the other hand is the vowel “ai” which is feminine.

        I didn’t study much of Sanskrit grammar (a huge topic) so I’m sure there’s other rules in there on the subject.

  3. Davidya says:

    An ironic note.
    In the article, I had spelt the primary Veda Rik. This is indeed the correct spelling but due to sandi (grammar) rules, when the next letter is sounded, Rik is converted to Rig. So “Rig Veda” is the correct spelling.

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  5. Davidya says:

    A little insight on Om. One of the old texts says it’s added out of respect for Shiva. In fact the backstory to the Lalita Sahashranam (1,000 names for Divine Mother) is that they left Om off the start of a prayer and Shiva’s wife threw herself in the fire to compensate.

    People take that seriously.

  6. Leo says:

    The Actual sound is AUM DAH that is short AUM followed by very long DAH until the sound of DAH fades out. Try it, it is much more powerful then just saying AUM.

    • Davidya says:

      Hi Leo
      Different traditions talk about this a bit differently but the pranava or sound of creation becoming is Aum. Thats been the experience.
      Adding Dah is adding a flavour, a consonant or specificity.

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