Meditation on OM: Relevance from Ancient Texts and Contemporary Science

Article excerpt

Byline: Sanjay. Kumar, H. Nagendra, N. Manjunath, K. Naveen, Shirley. Telles

Background: In Indian scriptures the sacred syllable Om is the primordial sound from which all other sounds and creation emerge which signifies the Supreme Power. Aims: To explore the significance of the syllable OM from ancient texts and effects of OM meditation in contemporary science. Descriptions from ancient texts: The descriptions of Om have been taken from four Upanisads (Mundaka, Mandukya, Svetasvatara, and Katha), the Bhagvad Gita, and Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. Scientific studies on Om: Autonomic and respiratory studies suggest that there is a combination of mental alertness with physiological rest during the practice of Om meditation. Evoked potentials studies suggest a decrease in sensory transmission time at the level of the auditory association cortices, along with recruitment of more neurons at mesencephalic-diencephalic levels. Conclusion: It is considered that a person who realizes Om, merges with the Absolute. Scientific studies on Om suggest that the mental repetition of Om results in physiological alertness, and increased sensitivity to sensory transmission.

References to OM in the Scriptures

General

Symbolism has a place in spirituality. Healing methods based on altered states of consciousness are common in spiritual or shamanic traditions but escape neuroscientific explanations based on classical cognition. [sup][1] They are described here as a "perceptual-cognitive-symbolic" characteristic of ordinary states of consciousness. Another channel source of information processing, called "direct-intuitive-nonlocal," characteristic of nonordinary states of consciousness is required to be introduced for interpretation. The first one is capable of modeling via symbolism and is more culturally bound due to its psycholinguistic features. The second one lacks symbolism; therefore, the first one has more transcultural similarity, though culture-specific transliteration may occur.

Among many symbols used, Om is one of the fundamental symbols used in the yoga tradition.

References in the Upanishads

Om is the name or symbol of God ( Ishwara, Brahman ). [sup][2] Om covers the whole threefold experience of man. It is the combination of three letters, namely, A, U, and M. [sup][3] "A" represents the physical plane. "U" represents the mental and astral plane, the world of intelligent spirits, and all heavens. "M" represents the whole deep-sleep state, which is unknown even in our wakeful state. [sup][3] This concept has been well described in various Indian scriptures. In Mandukya Upanishad , it has been described that Om is the syllable of the past, the present, and the future. [sup][4] From the original sound, Om , all things become manifest as its extension embodiments. [sup][4]

The analogy in Mundaka Upanishad describes that Om is the bow; the soul is the arrow; and Brahman is the target. The target is attained by an unerring man. One should become one with the target just like an arrow. This is to become one with the imperishable by eliminating the ideas of the body, ego, prana, hence being the self with nothing less than union with the absolute .[5]

Svetasvatara Upanishad describes that Om is like the fire which though potentially present in firewood is not seen until two sticks are rubbed against each other. The self is like that fire; it is realized by constant awareness of the sacred syllable Om . Let the body be the stick that is rubbed and Om be the stick that is rubbed against. Then the real nature is realized which is hidden within, just as fire in a sense hidden in the wood. [sup][6]

References in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras

Patanjali's Yoga Sutras (PYS) is one of the classical yoga texts in which the explanation about Om is well defined. [sup][7] In PYS, there is a single direct mention about Pranava ( Om ). That is Tasya vachakah pranavah (Ch: I; V: 27). …