Yoga Vasistha [English], Volume 1-4

by Vihari-Lala Mitra | 1891 | 1,121,132 words | ISBN-10: 8171101519

The English translation of the Yoga-vasistha: a Hindu philosophical and spiritual text written by sage Valmiki from an Advaita-vedanta perspective. The book contains epic narratives similar to puranas and chronologically precedes the Ramayana. The Yoga-vasistha is believed by some Hindus to answer all the questions that arise in the human mind, an...

Chapter II - Orthography of om

Firstly: Om with respect, to its name and utterance is called


1.  The letter  ~~

Onkara, that is, the nasal On in combination with the adjunct kara (signifying a sound) and meaning the letter On. For all sounds whether vocal ( ~~) or sonant ( ~~), nasal ( ~~) or not-nasal ( ~~), articulate ( ~~) or onomatopoeia ( ~~), are denominated letters; as the letters a &c. ( ~~) are called vowels, the letters Ka &c. ( ~~) consonants; so the nasals An, in ( ~~) &c., as also the inarticulate ones ( ~~) &c., are all letters; but the Onkara is the root of all; thus  ~~  ~~ Manu calls it a letter in the passage:—"This one letter is the emblem of the Most High. II. 83. Vide Dr. Mitra's Ch'hand Up, p. 4.


2.  A conjunct Letter  ~~

But here a question is raised as to whether a conjunct vowel or consonant may with propriety be styled a single letter or not. To this says Dr. R. L. Mitra in a foot-note to his translation of the Ch'handogya Upanishad that—"It is true that this emblem conveys two sounds, that of O and m, nevertheless it is held to be one letter in the above sense; and we meet with instances even in the ancient and modern languages of Europe that can justify such privileges, such as xi and psi, reckoned single letters in Greek, and Q. W. X. in English and others." (Ch 1. Sec. 1. p. 4). So is lamalif in Persian &c. The Sanskrit conjunct ksha ( ~~) is considered a single consonant, when they say,  ~~


3.  The Syllable Om  ~~

It is also like every other single or conjoint letter of the alphabet ( ~~) termed an akshara ( ~~) or syllable, which forms either a word by itself when standing alone, or part of a word followed by an adjunct as  ~~,  ~~ &c.; where the first is a word of one syllable or monosyllabic term  ~~, and the others as dissyllabic and trisyllabic words ( ~~,  ~~  ~~), according as they are uttered by the help of one or more articulations of the voice. Om akshara apart from its other signification of the Imperishable and the like, and its symbolism of the Supreme Spirit, is also used in the sense of a syllable in the original writings and their translations. Thus says the Kathopanishad:  ~~

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Manu says:—

"That which passeth not away is declared to be the syllable om, thence called akshara." He calls it also a triliteral monosyllable. II. 84. So says Mon. Wm.: "Om is a most sacred monosyllable significant of the Supreme Being." (Indian Wisdom p. 103 note 1).

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4.  The character Om  ~~

Omkara likewise indicates the written character Om, because the suffix Kara like Akara is used to signify its written form or sign ( ~~), and in this sense the Bengali  ~~, corresponds with Greek character w[Greek: ô] omega the inverted  ~~, or the Omikron = English O, and Oao Persian, and likens to the Sanskrit bindu O, which is but another name of Om ( ~~). But the  ~~ is formed by the union of two dots or cyphers (O bindu) like Greek Omega of two omicrons and the English w of two u's. So says the Gayatri Tantra,  ~~  ~~ And again:  ~~.  ~~ It is the union of two circlets, one being the symbol of one's own divinity and the other that of Brahma." This character by itself is regarded with high veneration as an emblem of the Infinite, independent of its meaning or utterance, and is marked on the forehead of every devotee in the form of a spot or crescent.

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5.  The Symbol  ~~

The symbolical Om is represented by four cyphers as placed over one another  ~~, and each designated by a different name in the aforesaid Tantra, and supposed to form the cavities of the heart and mouth of Brahm,  ~~ These bindus or cyphers are differently named in the Vedanta, as we shall shortly come to see under the denominations of omkara. (No. IV).


6.  Symbolized as Jagannatha.

The best representation of Om is the image of the god Jagannatha, which is said to be an incarnation of the mystic syllable  ~~, or made in the form of Om, and not in that of Buddha, as some of our antiquarians have erroneously supposed it to be. There is a learned dissertation on the subject of Jagannatha's representation of Onkara to be found in one of the early articles of the Asiatic Society's

Researches, where the reader will get much more light on this mysterious subject.


7.  Comparison of om and on.

It will further be found on comparison that  ~~ bears not only a great resemblance to the Greek on written as [Greek: ou] with the nasal above the O, but their perfect agreement with each other in sense will leave no ground of suspecting their identity with one another, as it will be fully treated of afterwards.