Is it OM or AUM? Which is correct?

In my Sanskrit mantra workshops and sound healing yoga training courses  around the world, one of the most common questions I hear is about the timeless mantra OM. It can be written in different ways, and there is a lot confusion about it, because different teachers like to share what has worked well for them, but they might not know the experience of others.

Especially with a mantra like OM, it’s important to understand different perspectives and open ourselves up to the direct magical experience of the sound, rather than get limited by dogmatic ideas.

Therefore, I’d like to share 4 different answers to the question, “Is it OM or AUM? Which is correct?"

1. The short, practical answer:
OM is for short chanting. It is chanted as 1 beat, usually at the beginning of a longer mantra.

AUM is for extended chanting. It will take you 3 to 10 seconds or more to pronounce each unique vowel sound, if you’re chanting AUM as a mantra meditation on its own.

A quick guide to how to chant AUM:

  1. Start with AA sound in the belly (relaxed, like you're saying "aaah" as you slip into a warm bath at the end of a long day)
  2. Slowly transition to an U sound using the lips, timing your breath capacity so you're fully making an (OOO like Oooh la la!) when you've used up about 3/4 of your breath.
  3. For the last 1/4 of your breath, make an M humming sound by closing your lips and allowing your tongue to rest gently on your upper palate.
  4. As your breath runs out (don't strain), slowly internalize the sound back into silence
  5. Listen in to the silence and feel the sensation of the vibration.

2. 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 sakti) and the A sound itself has a direct heart-opening power, it could be considered to be more powerful than the blended O sound.

Crazy story: Photo of me in Chandni Chowk New Delhi, during the years I lived there to study Hindustanī vocal music. My guruji doesn't like this photo, because classical musicians don't perform on the street! I thought it'd be a cool shot, and I was doing touristy things with two photographer friends so we made it happen. I was amazed to be able to sit in the middle of a famously chaotic street during rush hour, sit to play my tanpura and sing, and be instantly in the heart of sound, absorbed in love. THAT is the heart of OM/AUM, and is why I named our 200/500HR sound & mantra training Heart of Sound. Therefore, I cherish this pic regardless of what my old-fashioned music guru thinks of it!

3. The infinitely esoteric answer to correct Sanskrit pronunciation of AUM vs OM

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.

4. The final answer to correct Sanskrit pronunciation of AUM vs OM

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.

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.

Anandra teaches Sanskrit mantra and the yoga of sound to empower students to affect lasting transformation and find consistently deep inner peace. She has been practicing yoga and meditation for more than 25 years, and has been teaching and helping clients internationally since 1999. She is known for a teaching style that integrates esoteric philosophy with practical, daily life applications in a fresh, modern way.

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