Om or Hare Krishna?
By Kurappiah Chockalingam
Though the sacred sound om is often associated with impersonalists, only the devotees understand its full import.
The Gosvamis of Vrndavana have analyzed om (a-u-m) as follows: The letter a refers to Krsna, the master of all planets and all living entities. The letter u indicates Srimati Radharani, the pleasure potency of Krsna, and m indicates the living entities. Thus omkara represents Krsna; His name, fame, pastimes, potencies, and devotees; and everything else pertaining to Him.
THROUGHOUT THE VEDAS there is much mention of the syllabel om. This spiritual vibration, which is sometimes called omkara or pranava, comprises three Sanskrit sounds – a, u, and ma (the a in ma is silent). When these three sounds are combined, the result is the single-syllabled vibration om.
An unusual attribute of om is that it has no direct translation from Sanskrit into English. And though every Vedantist will accept om to be a representation of God, exactly how om is viewed differs according to various schools to thought. These schools can be classified into two main categories, the Mayavadi, or impersonalist, and the Vaisnava, or devotee.
The impersonalist, as the name suggests, is happy to treat om as an impersonal, formless, representation of the Absolute Truth. Therefore, the Mayavadi will very openly chant om, being careful to avoid names such as Krsna and Rama, which according to them, are limited. A Mayavadi might explain his theory of pranava om like this: “Since this whole universe has been created by Him (God), whatever there is in the universe is Him alone.
As such, He has no name. But if He has to have a name, then all names are His, for He alone is appearing in all forms. The first sound in most languages is a; the last sound to leave as our mouth closes is m; u is the center of the two. Together, they represent all the basic sounds from which words are produced. And threfore, these three sounds, making up the syllable om, represent the entire universe of names and forms.”