The Mandukya Upanishad explains the meaning and philosophy of Om. Om is the ultimate cosmic sound. Let us not consider it as a holy word. Let us also not confuse Om with religious divinities. When I talk about Om, I am talking about the sound principle; sound at various levels or vibrations. It is a combination of three sounds: A-U-M. These three sounds represent the three states of an individual. The individual consciousness undergoes changes during a lifetime. The three states are known as waking, dream and sleep.
Waking, dream and sleep are the three phases of experience of an individual. In these three different phases of experience, the individual is passing through different phases of incarnation. Therefore, the sound ‘A’ represents waking, ‘U’ represents dream, and ‘M’ represents sleep consciousness.
According to our understanding, Om seems to be a combination of three sounds, but the Upanishad goes on to tell us that these three sounds are not transcendental sounds, they are empirical sounds which are subject to sensorial and mental experiences. After the three sounds of A-U-M, there is the fourth sound which is unheard, transcendental and non- empirical. Therefore, it has four matras or sounds. ‘A’ is one matra, ‘U’ is the second, ‘M’ is the third, and the fourth one is transcendental.
While the three matras represent waking, dream and sleep, the fourth represents samadhi or moksha. In the same way as an individual experience is divided into three, time is also divided into three. There are two categories of time: relative and absolute time. What is relative time? Past: that is gone; present: that is; future: that will be. That is called relative time. What is absolute time? Absolute time is known as timelessness. Time is a category of the mind; time is an experience of the mind. As long as you are aware of time, you have a mind, or as long as you have a mind, you have knowledge of time. If you transcend the mind, then naturally you transcend time.
What is that experience when you have transcended the reality of time? What is that experience when you have transcended the experience of mind? The Upanishads say, ‘Timelessness.’ It says, ‘You are there for all the time you are there.’ The whole time is understood or experienced in an atomic space. It is a very important topic, and it will become a little bit technical if I talk to you in the language of the Upanishads and physics.
The philosophy of the Upanishads with regard to Om and the theory of modern physics move parallel to each other. Om therefore is not a holy word, it is what we call the equation of total time and timelessness. If you have studied science, you will understand what I mean by equation. These great things that are very deep have to be reduced to some sort of equation. Just as E represents energy and O represents oxygen, like that there are thousands of equation signs.
‘A’ represents the waking consciousness, when the body, mind and senses are functioning, depending on the objective experience. ‘U’ represents dream consciousness, when there is no object, no functioning in the senses, when the mind is completely isolated, bereft of the sensual contacts. However, when there is no experience or no experiencer and homogeneity pervades human consciousness, at the same time, the seed of incarnation is there, the seed of karma is there and karma is not obliterated, that is represented by ‘M’. But when these three are brought together, and the sound is produced as Om, that represents the unity of different phases of time or timelessness.
The word Om was first found in the Rig Veda, and it is said in the Vedas that Om is the symbol of the cosmos. The whole cosmos is time, space and matter. Time, space and matter is universe, and time plus space plus universe is equal to Om. So, Om should be considered as the symbol of total creativity. However, it is also said that Om is the creator. It is a very peculiar concept.
When time and space come close to each other and they meet with each other in the nucleus, the object explodes. This object explodes into millions and millions of fragments. These fragments are what we call the different planets. We call them nebula. Time and space respectively represent the two forms of energy called plus and minus. Time represents plus and space represents minus. Object is the nucleus which is completely hidden and unmanifest.
During a certain moment in creation, time and space come close to each other. There is an automatic attraction between time and space. It is only during the period of total destruction of matter that time and space fly apart. During the process of creation, there is a natural coming together of these two forces. The funny thing is that when time and space interact with each other, they always interact in the nucleus. That is the philosophy of nuclear fission; that is the secret of the atom bomb and the secret of the whole of creation. Millions and millions of different planets are nothing but fragments of the object which is the nucleus. Therefore, in this particular context, we can also consider Om not only as creation, but also as the Creator.
There is a difference between philosophy and religion here. In every religion there is a god as Creator and there is creation. God is the Creator and creation is different from him. In philosophy, the Creator and creation are the same. Just as there is a pot maker who makes pots by putting a little mud on the wheel and creating the little earthen pots. The pot here has two causes, one is called the instrumental cause and the other is known as the efficient cause. If there was only a pot maker, the pot would not be there, and if there was only earth, even then the pot would not be there. The pot came into existence because of two causes – the pot maker and the earth.
So here an object has two causes – instrumental and efficient. Is this the situation of creation? Is there a God somewhere who takes a little flesh from here and a little bone from there, and a little blood from here and a little mud from there? Religions say, ‘Yes, God took something from here and something from there and made man, animal, horses, donkeys, pigs and rats’. Philosophy says, ‘No. This is the reply of a person who is very innocent, who does not want to think too much. He says God created and the problem is finished’. The intelligent man says, ‘No, it is not possible. What should be the relationship between the creation and the Creator? Are they different or are they the same?’
In essence, Hindu philosophy believes that the Creator and the creation are inseparable. Of course, not the Hindu religion. The Hindu religion is as innocent as Christianity or Islam. “Who created this? Is he alive? Or did he transform himself in creation? Why? Does the creation exist at all? Well, why am I thinking?” All these funny questions have been raised in the Upanishads and they came to a scientific equation called Om, which represents the lower and higher stages of existence. This Om was emphasized and transformed into waves of sounds. That is known as Gayatri.
In the Vedas, the first equation of the cosmos is Om and the second explanation of the cosmos is Gayatri. Therefore, Gayatri is as important as the mantra Om. It is a mantra of 24 syllables which represent the same as A-U-M.
20 January 1981, Munger