The Meaning of Om
Theosophical Forum, September, 1900
According to the tradition of the Eastern Mysteries, the syllable Om is divided into three parts: a-u-m. These three parts stand for the three worlds: a for the natural world; u for the psychic world; m for the celestial world; the fourth, the world of the Eternal, in which these three rest, is symbolized at once by the whole word, and by the silence which follows it. To the three worlds correspond the three bodies: the natural body, the psychic body, and the causal body;—our consciousness being, for the present mainly in the middle of the three, in the psychic body, or emotional nature. The causal body is above birth and death, and guides the personal life in both. Again, the three measures of Om stand for the three selves: the animal self, which dwells in the natural body; the human self, which dwells in the psychic body; and the divine self, which dwells in the causal body. Above these is the fourth, the Self of all beings, the Eternal. This Self, with its three deputy-selves, and their three vestures, make up the real seven-fold division of the Eastern mysteries, which is therefore symbolized by Om.
But Om is more than a symbol or a creed. It is a invocation. The three measures do actually correspond to the three worlds, and reinforce the mental aspirations which should go with the pronunciation of the word. This pronunciation means the ascent of consciousness from the animal life of the natural world by way of the psychic world of human emotions to the divine life of the spiritual world; and this ascent should be held in mind, and realized in imagination, at each pronunciation of the word. In the East, the invocation ts generally completed thus: “Om, earth, midworld. heaven.”
The three worlds correspond to, and are the same thing as, the three modes of consciousness: waking, dreaming and dreamlessness. They also stand for this world, purgatory, and paradise, by whatever names these may be called, and thus imply the teaching of the three destinies after death; immediate rebirth, for purely animal natures; rebirth after an interval in the paradise of dreams, for religious natures; and liberation, which escapes rebirth, for the spiritually illumined.
Therefore Om is a creed which, in a single syllable, embodies the whole Mystery-doctrine. And, as an invocation, it helps the intuition to call up the single reality which, looked at from various points, appears as the three worlds, the three bodies, the three selves, the three destines after death. It represents the return of the will from matter to the divine. For an invocation is an expression of the will, not merely of the thought or imagination. The instinct that an invocation should have magical effects, is a true one; and all real magic depends on the control of the psychic world by the divine world above it; the control of the personal man by the causal self, who sent him into the world. So that Om is really an invocation of the Higher Self, in the old, intuitive language of the earliest race, in which sounds actually correspond in nature to the things they expressed; in which all words were alive. An invocation is an act of the will, as well as of the thought; the thought of what is invoked, and the effort of invocation should go together, as a single act.