What are Mantras? The whole of this universe has, according to Hindu philosophy, both name, and form as its conditions of manifestation. In the human microcosm, there cannot be a single wave in the mind-matter undefined by name and form. If nature is built throughout on the same plan, this kind of conditioning by name and form must also be the plan of the structure of the whole of the universe.
In The Beginning Was the Word
“As one lump of clay being known, all things of clay are known,” so the knowledge of the microcosm must lead to the knowledge of the macrocosm. Now, the form is the outer crust, of which the name or the idea is the inner essence or kernel. The body is the form, and the mind is the name.
The sound-symbols are universally associated with the name in all beings having the power of speech. In the individual man the thought-waves rising in the mind-matter world, must manifest themselves, first as words, and then as concrete forms.
In the universe, Brahma first manifested himself as name, and then as form, that is as this universe. All this expressed sensible universe is the form, behind which stands the eternal Symbols or Word.
Sphota signifies spoken language, with the distinct sound (dhvani) as its special quality. It brings meaning or idea on the mind as a spoken language. In this concept, while the audible sound may vary depending on the speaker’s mode of articulation, sphota as the meaning unit of language is not subject to such variations. This is so because meaning is conveyed by the sentence. This theory depends on the root of sphota, namely sphut, meaning “to burst forth…” as in the “idea that spews forth” (in an internal mental state) when a meaningful sound, the sentence as a whole, is expressed.
The Sphota is the material of all words, yet it is not any definite word in its fully formed state. That is to say if all the peculiarities which distinguish one word from another are removed, then what remains will be the Sphota; therefore this Sphota is called the Nâda- Brahma or, the Sound-Brahman.
AUM: The Generalized Symbol of All Possible Sounds
This eternal Sphota, the essential eternal material of all ideas or names, is the power through which the Lord- the peer of the realm, creates the universe. The Lord first becomes conditioned as the Sphota and then evolves Himself out as the yet more concrete sensible universe. This Sphota has one word as its only possible symbol and this is the OM. And as by no possible means of inquiry can we separate the word from the idea, this Om and the eternal Sphota are inseparable.
The letter A is the least differentiated of all sounds; therefore Krishna says in the Gita, “I am A among the letters.”
All articulate sounds are produced in the mouth beginning with the root of the tongue and ending in the lips. The throaty sound is A, and M is the last lip sound. U exactly represents the rolling forward of the impulse which begins at the root of the tongue till it ends in the lips.
If properly pronounced, this OM will represent the whole phenomenon of sound production, and no other word can do this; and this, therefore, is the adequate symbol of the Sphota, which is the real meaning of the OM. This means that the sound of OM incorporates all words, all sounds in human language.
The Symbol and the Thing Signified
As the symbol can never be separated from the thing signified, the OM and the Sphota are one. And as the Sphota, being the finer side of the manifested universe, is nearer to God, and is indeed the first manifestation of Divine Wisdom, this OM is truly symbolic of God.
OM is a matrix of all sounds and its symbol visually consists of three curves, one semicircle, and a dot.
- The large bottom curve symbolizes the waking state, A.
- The middle curve signifies the dream state, U.
- The upper curve denotes the state of deep sleep, M.
- The dot indicates the fourth state of consciousness or Turiya.
- The semi-circle at the top represents Maya and separates the dot from the other three curves. It indicates that it is the illusion of Maya that is an obstacle to the realization of the Highest.
Oṃ śānti śānti śānti.
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