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Significance of OM in Hinduism

Why do we use OM before beginning any mantra? It is so widespread that we assume OM is part of mantra. It is not. OM is prefixed to each and every mantra in Hindu scriptures. Since we've been listening to it for long, it appears OM is part of every mantra.

There are two reasons for beginning mantras and prayers with OM.

The first one is well known by Hindus of any religion.

The OM symbolizes Godhead. We all pray to different gods and goddesses. These gods are supposed to be in charge of different laws acting upon universe. But these gods too, have to dissolve into the Supreme God at some point of time.

The Godhead is beyond human comprehension. You cannot and should not associate Godhead with any form - human or otherwise - because Godhead is not your God only but God to everything in this universe. If you associate a human form, and give God a name, you might spend rest of your life jumping from one form to another, changing religions, taking pride in your religion and belittling other religions.
That doesn't go well with the theory of rebirths.

I will not talk about rebirths in this post. But imagine, today you are Hindu, praying to one or more forms of God. You'll be confused which God to pray because Hindu religion lists 33 types of gods. Some assume it is 33 crore gods but actually the word "koti", taken as "crores", also means "types". And tomorrow, in your next birth, you are born into a Muslim family. Did your God change? Only your method of prayer changed.

Coming back to assigning a form and name to God, it simply helps you focus better. You shouldn't forget the real God and start praying only to one of the many forms that our ancestors had imagined.

If you look at it that way, my Lord Krishna would be different than your Lord Krishna. See those ISKCON guys. Their believe their Lord Krishna is different and Supreme. Your God doesn't stand any chance before their Krishna. Likewise, your Krishna is better than their Krishna. Are there really so many Krishnas?

God, Ishwar, Allah are the same entity. We simply use a name because it becomes easier to pray if we imagine God. Since we are humans, we assign a human form to God to be able to relate. There is nothing wrong in imagining God but never forget He is the creator; He or She or It has no form. It is our imagination that gives a form to God.

Anyway, the topic of this post is significance of OM in mantras. Like I said, we have 33 types of gods (notice that I've used lower case of "G"). Besides these 33 gods, Hindus also pray to nature and elements of nature. Other religions too assume God to be in a human form, as far as I know. They too pray to things other than Godhead. Some go to Jesus, some invoke Muhammad, and some of us even go to mazaars (graves of saints). I am not saying you should not do that. Take whatever path you want because all paths lead to the same Supreme, the same Godhead.

Vedas have associated the sound "OM" with this Supreme God. Other gods are Yogis. They've learned enough to see both past and future. They have learned to cure people and do similar things because as Yogis, they can control the elements of nature. But the Ultimate Source of prana (life) remains same. It is the Godhead. I address Him using the word "Ma". Some of you use the name "Vishnu". Some call him "Allah". Hindu Christians address Him saying "Khuda".

Irrespective of names, God remains the same across religions and beliefs. Beyond any comprehension, beyond names, and beyond forms.

After much study and experimenting, scholars associate "OM" with the Supreme God. They acknowledge that He is to be remembered and invoked every time you pray to the other types of gods I mentioned above.

The significance of "OM" is that it contains all the sounds our universe can make and therefore is a good method to remember (and invoke) the Supreme God. That's one explanation why we use OM before beginning any mantra. It's not a part of Mantra. Rather, you are remembering the Godhead even if you are praying to something else.

Another theory is there but is based on Hindu religion only. According to this lesser known theory, OM denotes Lord Ganesha, the remover of obstacles. So when you say OM before the beginning of any mantra, you are asking Lord Ganesha to help you by removing any possible obstacles that may prevent your mantra from being accepted by the god/God to whom you are praying.

I guess that explains the significance of OM in Hinduism. OM is not restricted to Hindu religion. OM refers to Supreme God and hence can be uses by anyone willing to invoke/pray to Lord Supreme - Ishwar, Allah, Khuda, etc.

Arun Kumar
22/09/17 - 0939 hours (IST)


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