CHAPTER 8 – Gayatri Mantra
By the letters of the English alphabet, one cannot capture the total essence of the meaning of Aum. In Devnagari, the word is written in a special manner. This is not the simplest manner in which it can be written in that script; the simplest representation for the sound would be….. But it is written symbolically with a characteristic flourish… Like all the other things in Vedanta, This particular symbol is designed in such a way that one distinguishes the subtle from the gross.
The form of the sound aids in visualizing the different states of consciousness in conjunction with the vibrations caused by the chant. (Lengthening the ‘u’ sound while chanting is supposed to transfer the effect of the chanting to everyone, while lengthening the sound of the ‘m’ is good for one’s own getting into a meditative mood.) As written in Devnagari, the upper bend of the character stands for the bhur and jagratawastha, the lower bend for the bhuvar and swapnawastha. The other bend, which is like an elephant’s trunk, represents the suvarloka and sushupti. (Lord Ganesha is called Aumkararupa for the reason that Aum in Devanagari is more like the ideograph of the face of an elephant.)
The small crescent moon with a star on top is the ardha matra, the reverberatory or resonant sound that continues after completing the utterance of Aum. This is also called the anahata chakra. Anahata means that which is not struck and, therefore, it denotes an unstruck sound. In meditation, one is supposed to hear this sound internally.
Since an exposition on Aum can be endless and, therefore, beyond the scope of this short essay, only one final reference need be made as to its importance by turning to the Katha Upanishad: (Yama tells Nachiketas): That word which all the vedas declare, which all the austerities proclaim, desiring which people live the life of a religious student, that word to thee I shall tell in brief. That is AUM. This syllable is verily the everlasting spirit. This syllable, indeed, is the highest end; knowing this very syllable, whatever anyone desires will, indeed, be his.