This is the symbol for the sacred sound, ‘OM.’ When spelled out in Devanagari (Sanskrit writing), it looks different. The transliteration of the Sanskrit spelling is ‘AUM,’ which is a phonetic spelling.
Omkara is usually taught as “the four stages of speech,” but first, I will present it broadly as four stages of nada, or sound, and relate this to meditation experience.
When OM is chanted, it goes from gross to subtle, beginning with the sound, ‘ah’ (A) in the chest area, passing through the sound of ‘uh’ (U), and ending with the sound, ‘mm’ (M) as the vibrations of the sound move into the head. Though the symbol shows all four stages, only three sounds are represented in the spelling (AUM) because only three of the four are audible to the ear.
If you were to chant Om from the other direction, from subtle to gross, the direction of manifestation, you would begin with the ‘Mm’ sound. If you were to hear it this way, it would sound like ‘Ma,’ as in mother—the Universal Divine Mother as Creator. This was one of my first experiences of spontaneous nada in meditation, and this is how I understood that experience.
We chant Om the way we do, gross to subtle (AUM), to find our way home, the way to God and our original situation of perfection, peace and unconditional love. For this reason, mantras, meditation and other spiritual undertakings, begin and end with the sacred word, Om.
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Light is the substance, Sound gives it form
The Four Stages of Sound
Sound is associated with the subtlest element, akasha (ether, or space).
Om, spelled “AUM”
The large symbol that looks like a three, called vaishvarivani, means “all world sounds,” (i.e., languages, etc.)
Surrender Meditation: Spontaneous chanting, speaking in tongues, and all manner of sounds are expressed vocally.
The the loop below the curved line, called madyamavani, means “middle sound”.
Surrender Meditation: Nada ranges from noise (irregular vibrations) to the beginnings of tones (regular vibrations) as a result of the sense faculties operating without the sense organs (pratyahara) in deep meditation.
The curved line beneath the dot, called pashanti, means “he perceives”.
Surrender Meditation: Nada of subtle and refined sound consisting of tones (regular vibrations) is heard directly in deepest meditation as a result of pratyahara.
The dot, paravani, means “beyond sound”.
Surrender Meditation: Nada samadhi, direct perception of divine sound, the sound of God. In deepest meditation, the sound of OM is experienced in its pure and complete form. Indistinct sounds moving up the sushumna nadi, transform into clear musical tones along the way, until all tones are heard independently and simultaneously as one True Tone, ultimately reaching the top of the head, beyond perception. The experience is one of inexpressible joy.