Avoiding the Unwanted Effects of Om Through Pranava

“We love Om, and we love what it means. We love its aspects. Pranava is the euphemism we use to not have to say O-M, but we’re not silly about it, we’re knowledgeable about it. And in that knowledge, we move forward with great success.”

Thom Knoles

Anyone who has attended hatha yoga classes outside of India at some time has probably been invited by the teacher to begin or end the class with a group chant of the sound of Om. Or maybe they’ve experimented with the use of Om in a meditation practice.

It can sound and feel beautiful, and when we hear it chanted by a group of monks it can have a deeply resonant effect on the body and the mind.

But what most people don’t realize is that the sound of Om has a very specific intention, and it’s not an intention that most of us would want for ourselves.

In this episode, Thom gives us reason to be more discriminate when it comes to making the sound of Om, as well as offering up a loophole, so to speak, that allows us to reference it without making the sound.  

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Episode Highlights


What Is Om and Why Is It Important?



Pranava: The Secret Behind Om



Omkara: The Spiritual Layer of Om



Om and Its Impact on Daily Life



The Influence of Om



Financial Detachment and Om Chanting



Replacing Om with Shri



Strategic vs. Tactical Use of Om



Why We Don’t Use Om as a Mantra in Vedic Meditation


Jai Guru Deva


Avoiding the Unwanted Effects of Om Through Pranava

[00:45] What Is Om and Why Is It Important?

It seems as though one sound has emerged from India as the sound which typifies and sometimes is the stereotype of Indian spiritual practices, sometimes for legitimate reasons, other times in a jocular fashion, and that word is Om.

Om typically is spelled O-M, but in fact, if we want to break it down, it is spelled ‘A’ as in ‘AA,’ and then ‘U’ a long U, ‘UU,’ and then the final sound, the humming sound, ‘MMM,’ ‘M.’ Aum.

But it’s pronounced Om. It’s not pronounced Aoom. It’s pronounced Om.

And Om, I say sometimes jocular, I noticed some kindergarten kids, when they found out that one of my sons meditated, they kind of placed their thumb and forefinger into a circle and started saying, “Om, Om, Om,” like that, because they saw that on some cartoon or something that was designed to ridicule other cultures.

And completely unintentionally, absolutely innocent children just having a bit of fun. But later on, that could turn into something nasty if their parents aren’t aware of the effect of these sacred sounds.

Om is a sacred sound that is described as Pranava, P-R-A-N-A-V-A, Pranava. Pranava. Pranava, sometimes just Pranav.

Pranav because in Sanskrit, in practical use in Sanskrit, most frequently a soft ‘A’ on the end of any word that has a soft ‘A’ as its last sound, that soft ‘A’ is swallowed. And so Pranava turns into Pranav.

[03:00] Pranava: The Secret Behind Om

And Pranava is used to describe and imply the word A-U-M, AUM. And the reason why Pranav is used to describe it is because it’s considered that one has to take great care in the circumstances in which one pronounces the word Om, Pranava.

Pranava is a way of referring to Om without saying the word Om. Pranava.

And why is Pranava an essential way of describing that sound? It’s because the word Om, if pronounced on a regular and intentional basis, as a chanted or expressed mantra in either chanting, which is called kirtan, or in out-loud mantra repetition, has a tendency to cause the intoner of the Pranava to begin having reclusive tendencies.

It’s a very powerful mantra that is precious to, adored by, and considered to be the basis of reclusive and monastic life. Om itself is the initial primordial sound of creation.

The first sound that is made when the unmanifest Unified Field breaks its symmetry and becomes relative is the sound, Om. That sound is the sound that is there in a continuum. It’s not just one Om. It is Ooommmmm… ad infinitum with that humming sound. Ad infinitum.

[05:16] Omkara: The Spiritual Layer of Om

And this is a verbal imitation of another sound known as Shruti, which is the actual sound that emerges out of the Unified Field. The first sound, the noise made, by the Unified Field in its unmanifest state, breaking its symmetry, there’s a noise that’s created when the flat line of unmanifest breaks its symmetry to become the manifest world.

When Being is becoming, it creates the Shruti. If one tries to imitate the Shruti with one’s voice, and if one could do a voice that was very high pitched, the sound of it would be that sound of Om.

And so that layer at which Om exists, is also referred to as the Omkara. Kara means layer of existence. Omkara. Omkara is that layer of Om.

Pranava is the word that’s used to refer to Om without saying Om. And why would we do that? Because more than 99 percent of us are not reclusive people by nature. We’re householders, and when householders intone the sound of Om, Pranava, with regularity, intensity, and strategically, and very intentionally, then one of the benefits for reclusive people begins to appear.

One starts to become very content in not having a regular functional relative-world approach to relationships. See, what is it that a monastic person wants? They want to be alone without having a broken heart.

They want to be able to experience solitude as blessed solitude. They want to be able to experience the blessed solitude as, indeed, the only blessedness. They want to be a hermit. They want to be someone who eschews all relationships except relationship with The Divine. In aid of relationship with The Divine.

[08:05] Om and Its Impact on Daily Life

In the reclusive state, it’s natural as this Oming away continues to have its effect that one begins to perceive one’s own body as a bag of skin filled with all kinds of disgusting products.

And then one begins to experience the bodies of others as also being bags of skin filled with all kinds of disgusting products. One of the most natural conclusions on our way to living a reclusive life is that one feels less and less inclined to get one’s own bag of skin up against and rubbing against another bag of skin.

Now, what is the ideal of having a householder relationship? Well, you like that bag of skin. And you like yours, and you like others. And you’ve chosen someone with whom you’d like to spend a lot of time, and you just can’t wait to be with them.

Having shared experience is the ideal. Solitude is considered to be loneliness. And civilization building.

“Let’s build something. Let’s go out and express ourselves. Let’s build structures. Let’s build structures of relationship. Let’s build alliances. Let’s build friendships. Let’s build acquaintances. Let’s capitalize on the acquaintances we already have.

Let’s have family. Let’s reproduce. Let’s do all the activity that’s well known for causing reproduction. That sounds like a yummy way to spend an afternoon or an evening. Rub around one’s bag of skin with somebody else’s bag of skin. Let’s really get into it here.”

Sexuality becomes desirable and all of that.

[10:05] The Influence of Om

What is it that disintegrates that Om? Om is the sound which, if strategically used, strategically practiced, strategically intoned by someone, is going to move them away from all that householder togetherness, shared experience, agenda, and so on. Value. The householder value. One starts to become reclusive.

What are some of the other desirable effects of the intentional intoning of the sound Om? Intentional means that I’m intentionally making that sound, putting it at the beginning, or beginning and end, of some mantra that I’m chanting.

Om Bhur Bhuva Swaha. Tat Savitur Varenyam. Bhargo Devasya Dhimahi. Dhiyo Yo Nah Prachodayat. Om. If I’m doing that over and over and over and over and over again with lots of Om. Om at the beginning. Om at the end. Om everywhere. 

Pranava, a very Pranava-dominant way of thinking, speaking, chanting, reading, and all of that. Then, one of the other effects is going to be that of being unconcerned about pecuniary movement.

What does that mean? Pecuniary means money. That whether you have material conveniences or you don’t have material conveniences, and the means whereby the material conveniences come is going to get more and more sparse and more and more sparse.

What does a reclusive person want? They want to live a life of absolute self-sufficiency and literally to be utterly content with no money whatsoever. To be living completely at the mercy of nature and at one with nature is an ideal of a reclusive person.

[12:15] Financial Detachment and Om Chanting

Not to have the means whereby one can decide to change one’s fortune if it starts raining. So when you have the means whereby you can change your fortune when it starts raining, it means you have an umbrella, you have a raincoat, you have a roof under which you can get where no one will kick you out, or maybe you have a place of your own, called home.

And you welcome the rain because you have a nice waterproof environment to be in that you made arrangements to live in. And so one of the things that will be a desirable effect of using Pranava, Om, is less and less roof over the head, less and less means whereby one can live human life with others, but more and more just living at the mercy of nature, mother nature herself and learning to love that.

And so then the reclusive finds oneself moving in that direction and loving it. Fewer possessions, fantastic. Completely not attached. Someone comes and says, “I’ll take that thing that you have.” You say, “Oh, thank you very much. It’s just one less thing to be attached to.”

These are the effects of Om. When we want to have reclusive, solitary experiences, no shared experience, and we want to be left alone, and we want to be living a solo life and all of that, we use Om a lot.

[14:03] Replacing Om with Shri

Now, a little salting of Om here and there. It’s a bit like salt on the food. Little sprinkle of salt here and there, no harm. Might bring out some nice flavor in a thing. Om may appear here and there.

It can also be replaced by another sound that householders can use. So, for example, if one wanted to do the Gayatri Mantra, which actually doesn’t have Om in it.

Gayatri Mantra is: Om Bhur Bhuva Swaha. Tat Savitur Varenyam. Bhargo Devasya Dhimahi. Dhiyo Yo Nah Prachodayat. Om. This is a mantra that is used for awakening one’s relationship with that personality, the divine personality known to be Surya, the Sun. The Sun. S-U-N, Sun.

And it doesn’t actually start with Om Bhur Bhuva Swaha. It starts with Tat Savitur Varenyam. Bhargo Devasya Dhimahi. Dhiyo Yo Nah Prachodayat. Om doesn’t need to be said at the beginning and the end of it.

If one does have some mantra that’s been recommended by one of the great masters of our tradition, the Shankaracharya tradition, then instead of using the word Om, one can substitute the word, Shri. Shri, S-H-R-I. Shri. Shri.

So where, for example, one might be told it’s good to do Om Namah Shivaya. This is a mantra in praise of the great Lord Shiva. One can say, Shri Namah Shivaya. Shri Namah Shivaya. Shri Namah Shivaya. Shri Namah Shivaya. Shri Namah Shivaya.

Or one can just say, Namah Shivaya. Namah Shivaya. Namah Shivaya. Namah Shivaya. And just avoid using the word, Om.

[16:02] Strategic vs. Tactical Use of Om

As householders, we don’t want strategically to use the word Om. Although occasionally, tactically, it might appear somewhere in some kind of sacred text reading, we don’t want to be silly about it if we’re reading some Vedic text and it starts with the word Om. We don’t want to get our Sharpie out and black out the word Om. We don’t want to be silly about it.

It’s not going to hurt you for the word Om to appear on your lips. But if you regularly, intentionally, and strategically apply it, you will start becoming reclusive.

Reclusive meaning less and less money, less and less goods, less and less material possessions. Less and less access to the organizing power needed to operate within the relative world of other humans. Less and less desire to be with other humans. And a success in less and less humans wanting to be in contact with you. That’s considered success in the reclusive world.

Whereas in the householder world, most of those things opposites are considered to be signs of success.

A tactical use of Om here and there, a little bit of salt on the food, no problem. Too much salt, food no good. No salt at all, maybe food a little bland.

Some little Om here and there, no problem. Too much Om, then if you start to notice you’re moving in a reclusive direction, you are creating this by creating the cascades of reclusivity.

[17:45] Why We Don’t Use Om as a Mantra in Vedic Meditation

This is the knowledge of our tradition as passed down by my master, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, which he learned all of this about Pranava from his master, Guru Deva.

This is one of the reasons why, in Vedic Meditation, we don’t use Om as a mantra. It’s a very simple explanation for it. We love Om, and we love what it means. We love its aspects. We love Pranava.

Pranava is the euphemism we use to not have to say O-M, but we’re not silly about it, but we’re knowledgeable about it. And in that knowledge, we move forward with great success.

Jai Guru Deva.

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