The Meaning of AUM

According to the late Sanskrit scholar Eknath Easwaran, the Mandukya Upanishad “Captures the essentials of mystical insight.”  It is the tiniest of the Upanishads and also the one in which the metaphor of AUM is revealed.  I’ll present for you the first stanza and then offer my reflection on the remaining eleven.  

“AUM stands for the Supreme Reality.

It is a symbol of what was, what is,

And what will be. AUM represents also

What lies beyond past, present and Future” (1).

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I clearly recall taking a workshop with Dharma Mittra, in which he urged his students to draw attention to each of the three syllables featured in the A-U-M.  His teaching clearly maps to the modes of consciousness explored in the remaining verses.  To paraphrase, ‘A’ represents wakefulness, ‘U’ – dreamlike reflection, and ‘M’ – meditative stillness.  Today, I am musing about the origin of the whole universe.  I’ve heard more than one Vedic expert claim AUM to be the subtle sound of the big bang.  This wisdom nicely coincides with the Mandukya Upanishad upon reading its last stanza.

“The mantrum AUM stands for the supreme state

Of turiya, without parts, beyond birth

And Death, symbol of everlasting joy.

Those who know AUM as the Self become the Self;

Truly they become the Self” (12).

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We know that the Self and the universe and not separate.  Einstein proved this, and much more, when he formulated his theory of General Relativity.  If space and time are indeed curved, perhaps too, the past, present and future coincide at its edges.  In this way, AUM represents not only the union of the Self and Atman, as written, but also a semblance of our personal life cycle with that of the greater universe.


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