Sri Aurobindo translates Katha Upanishad, First Cycle: Second Chapter, Verses 15-17: “Yama speaks: ‘The seat and goal that all the Vedas glorify and which all austerities declare, for the desire of which men practice holy living, of That will I tell thee in brief compass. OM is that goal, O Nachiketas. For this Syllable is Brahman, this Syllable is the Most High: this Syllable if one know, whatsoever one shall desire, it is his. This support is the best, this support is the highest, knowing this support one grows great in the world of the Brahman.’ ”
The Katha Upanishad, in 3 verses, takes up the significance of the mystic syllable OM. This is a very abbreviated treatment compared to the more extensive one in the Mandukya Upanishad.
OM, or AUM is declared to be Brahman. Some commentators note that it is the “sound of the universe”, the combined sound that all creation makes. The physical senses and the mind work to separate and distinguish individual sounds and in so doing, they do not attend to the harmony of the combined sound and vibratory impulse of the entire created universe. Recitation of OM brings about a state of quiescence of the mind that allows a wider and deeper knowledge to take root and grow in the being.
It is more than a symbol of the Brahman, it is the “sound-body” of the Brahman. By meditating on the syllable OM, one aligns oneself with the Brahman and with the creation. The letters A U M are said to relate to the 3 states of waking, dream and dreamless sleep consciousness, and combined together to Turiya, the transcendent consciousness that encompasses all. The three states represent the awareness of the soul, not simply states of the physical being.
When the seeker recites this Mantra, the being is brought to a state of peaceful yet concentrated awareness in alignment with the consciousness of Brahman, leading to a state of “knowledge by identity”. This is the underlying meaning of the term Brahmacharya, action that aligns with the consciousness of the Brahman. It implies the absence of egoistic desire. It is in the state of pure conscious awareness manifesting the entire universal creation, yet not seeking any specific individual fruit or result, that is created by and represented by the syllable OM. When one absorbs the vibration of OM in one’s awareness, one approaches and eventually one becomes one with the Brahman.
An experiment using kirlian photography some years ago showed “before and after” effects of chanting OM. The energy radiating out of the fingertips of the subject was dramatically enhanced through chanting of this Mantra compared to the “before” images. The energy alignment the seeker experiences can be clearly recorded by external instrumentation. Peace, harmony and balance result from chanting OM.
Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Katha Upanishad, pp. 213-241, and Kapali Sastry, Lights on the Upanishads, pp. 104-129