by Anandra George
One of the most common questions I get in mantra workshops and mantra teacher trainings is about Om vs. Aum. Which is correct? Does it matter how we spell it, and how we say it? There are several different ways to answer this question.
The short, practical answer:
OM is usually for short chanting. It is chanted as one beat in a rhythmic repetition, usually at the beginning of a longer mantra, like Oṁ Gaṁ Gaṇapataye Namaḥ.
AUM is usually for extended chanting. If you’re chanting AUM as a mantra meditation on its own, it will take you 3 to 10 seconds or more to pronounce each unique vowel sound, and then allow the M sound to slowly internalize the sound back into silence. (*See the free mantra e-book for detailed chanting instructions for beginners.)
Sometimes, in properly transliterated mantra material, you’ll also see a dot above the M, as in Oṁ or Auṁ, to indicate a special Sanskrit pronunciation called “anusvara,” sometimes translated as “the after-sound.” This dot indicates that the sound dissolves into a single point before being absorbed back into silence.
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 śakti) 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.
“Let Om be the bow, mind the arrow, and Higher Consciousness the target.
Those who want enlightenment should reflect on the sound and the meaning of Om. When the arrow is released from the bow it goes straight to the target.”
Dhyāna Bindu Upaniṣad