In my mantra workshops around the world, one of the most common questions I hear is about the timeless mantra OM. It can be written in different ways, and there is a lot confusion about it, because different teachers like to share what has worked well for them, but they might not know the experience of others.
Especially with a mantra like OM, it’s important to understand different perspectives and open ourselves up to the direct magical experience of the sound, rather than get limited by dogmatic ideas. Therefore, I’d like to share a few different answers to the question, “Is it OM or AUM? Which is correct?” The short, practical answer: OM is for short chanting. It is chanted as 1 beat, usually at the beginning of a longer mantra.
AUM is for extended chanting. It will take you 3 to 10 seconds or more to pronounce each unique vowel sound, if you’re chanting AUM as a mantra meditation on its own. (The method, in summary: Start with AA sound in the belly, slowly transition to an U sound using the lips, and then allow the M sound to slowly internalize the sound back into silence, by closing your lips and allowing your tongue to rest gently on your upper palate.) The nerdy tantric Sanskrit answer: The vowel sound O in OM is made up equal parts A and U. It is a perfect blend of the first position (guttural) and the fifth position (labial). The vowel sound AU in AUM is made up of two parts A and one part U. It emphasizes the first position (guttural) more than the 5th position (labial). Because there is more A sound, and A represents infinite consciousness (cid sakti) and the A sound itself has a direct heart-opening power, it could be considered to be more powerful than the blended O sound.
The infinitely esoteric answer: Actually, it really doesn’t matter how you spell OM, or how you chant it, because the audible OM is an only an echo of the inaudible sound. The true OM cannot be perceived by the ordinary senses; the ability to hear it is available only through the internal, spiritual, subtle senses. It also cannot be expressed in such a limited sense by one person’s voice, because in fact, the true expression of OM is pulsing in all life itself. If you listen to any sound deeply enough, and trace it back to its source in silence, you can hear OM within that sound, whether it be the wind in the trees, a rushing river, a speeding train, or dinner conversation in a restaurant.
We chant OM as a mantra meditation practice not to “make the perfect OM sound,” but to focus our minds, experience the power of sound vibrations internally, and tune ourselves into the listening for the inaudible sound.
The final answer: In my view, you’re chanting OM correctly (regardless of how you spell it and how protracted each sound is) if by the mere thought of OM, without even opening your mouth, you become absorbed in the bliss of fullness and love. If chanting audibly is required in that moment, either to serve your own internal focus during your own meditation, or to serve an audience of listeners to join you in chanting, the sound will be saturated with that love. It should come from the heart of sound, and touch the hearts of all around you. Just like love, the experience of OM is beyond words..
Anandra teaches Sanskrit mantra and the yoga of sound to empower students to affect lasting transformation and find consistently deep inner peace. She has been practicing yoga and meditation for more than 20 years, and has been teaching and helping clients internationally since 1999. She is known for a teaching style that integrates esoteric philosophy with practical, daily life applications in a fresh, modern way.