Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Sutra 1. 27

Sutra 1. 27

tasya vacakah pranavah

The name of God is the sacred syllable OM

I'm not sure how I feel about the fact that the Devanagari or Sanskrit alphabetization of OM is as ubiquitous as Disney. On the one hand you would think it would bring joy to my heart that on the back of a Prius I see the word GOD. I see it on tee-shirts, yoga mat bags,  yoga mats, perfume, flags, jewelry, and sometimes even food. I guess I should be happy that there is an option to eat God. Instead, I have the sinking feeling that the profusion of OM cheapens the sacred quality of this most powerful mantra, the mother of all other mantras. OM is the hum of the universe and all its creation, evolution and destruction.  I feel fairly confident that the manufacturer of yoga t-shirts did not have the Lord God on High in mind when printing OM on the cheapest possible goods from China. 

The WORD, the name of God, is, in some sacred traditions held in such regard that one may not utter it. One may not even spell the name of God, and one may only contemplate the limitations of language to express the Mystery.  Consider the story of Moses—when he asks God for his name he received this response: "I Am That I Am", followed by "I Am," and finally "YHWH." God states that this is his name forever and a memorial name to all generations.YHWH has its etymological roots in Semitic language as "being" or "becoming." It is not at all miraculous that in the Vedic culture there is a common mantra OM TAT SAT which translates as "I am That" which in repetition forms the same message from God to Moses. And though dear Moses was a chronic stutterer he managed to convey the words and their sentiments which were carried down the generations.

So what does it mean that we've adopted this divine symbol as one of our own? What does it mean that the Vedic sound representing the whole experience of birth, life, death is slapped onto the bumper of a car? Is it the presence of the great Mystery making Itself known in all things or is it just vain repetition—the machinery of consumption doing its thing? I have tried to change my attitude when I see the OM symbol. I try to interpret it as a friendly wave hello from the Divine, a shout out from God who Resides in All things, even t-shirts. But on a bad day,  I am uncertain as to our casual relationship with this symbol.

What would it be like around here if OM were like the word "Voldemort." What if we talked about God with such reverence that we referred to the Divine as "It Who Shall Not Be Named" and everyone shivered when we even came near the utterance. Well for one, it would make awkward beginnings in yoga classes across the land, but on another level re-investing the word OM with it's profound and mystical value has a place in our practice. Reverence is hard won these days, but when we slow the train of thought and activity, awe is available in the most common of circumstances including being stuck behind a Prius who's driver is insisting on going the speed limit.

When you chant the sound OM, what does it mean to you?

Is there an image, thought or practice that fills you with reverence on a regular basis? 
If so what is it?

If not where do you find reverence and how do you speak to it?


The Emblemist said...

I love these posts. They give me a lot to think about. Looking forward to returning to yoga in 2011.

Anonymous said...

Ditto - love your blog, Alice. I'm not a student at Loka, but hope to get there in the coming year.

kelly said...

What I experienced during the recent yoga immersion…
A major revelation was on the final day during meditation. My mind was completely silent for a split second, no incessant thinking, a feeling of great calmness, when an overwhelming awareness of the Divine surfaced. It was only for a brief moment, but in that moment my relationship with the Divine was very clear. I also notice when I chant Pranava Mantra (Aum/Om), again, an awareness of the Divine is very strong - a white light or strong energy is evident in the area of the third eye (inner eye). Chanting OM is a direct connection with the Divine.

MIke said...

I think that it is neat that om is a household term it reminds us that God is everywhere all the time. I think that is awesome!!!