Om, also written as Aum, is a mystical and sacred syllable that originated from Hinduism but is now common to Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhism and the Bön faith.
According to the Hindu Mandukya Upanishad, which is entirely devoted to the explanation of the syllable, "Om is the one eternal syllable of which all that exists is but the development. The past, the present, and the future are all included in this one sound, and all that exists beyond the three forms of time is also implied in it". Although Om symbolizes the most profound concepts of universal creation including the three stages of existence (birth, life and death), it is in use daily. The devout begin their day, work, prayers or a journey by uttering Om, the symbol is enshrined in every Hindu temple and it is often found at the head of letters and at the beginning of important documents. Many wear the sign of Om as a pendant, and it is the first syllable of the sacred mantra "Om mani padme hum".
Interestingly, it is believed that the Christian "Amen" and Islamic "Amin" are both derived from Om. In western culture both the spoken word and the written symbol have become synonymous with eastern spirituality, meditation and the very concept of peace itself. Repetition of the word Om is said to slow the breathing, calm the nervous system and send the glands and organs of the body a gentle vibrational massage. Om is also a very popular symbol in contemporary body art and tattoos.
Om is the first syllable of the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum, seen here in stylised form on a gau (miniature shrine) a prayer to Avalokitsvara, the Compassionate Buddha.
Photo credit: Kashgar
Om in jewellery form. Photo credit: Kashgar
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