Most of us know what Om is. It’s likely you’ve been chanting it since your first yoga class. You’ll find the Om symbol on bumper stickers, t-shirts and ankles. But when we ask what Om means, we have a question with no answer.
Sutra 1.27, tasya vācakaḥ praṇavaḥ, says that Om is a symbol for Ishvara. Om is called praṇavaḥ— “prana carried forward.” It is movement, breath, life carried forward. What this suggests is that Om exists as the first sound outside of time, and all other sounds are like an echo of an echo of an echo of it. Om is analogous to the big bang. Everything that is ongoing comes out of it, and there isn’t a moment in time that corresponds to it.
The concept of Om takes us away from the idea of God as the creator. And so, if Om is a symbol for Ishvara, the repetition of the Om sound in our meditation can be a way of understanding ourselves here in this moment in relation to ourselves as higher spiritual beings.