Isvara, being unlimited by time, is also the teacher of the ancients. The expression of Isvara is OM.
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1:26-27.
Adapted from translation by Shelli Carpenter
The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali are the oldest known collection of writings specifically about yoga. They are the foundation of our modern yoga practice. The Yoga Sutra were written in 200-400 CE. They are attributed to a teacher called Patanjali. The Yoga Sutra are special because they were not written for people living in monasteries. Rather, they were compiled for common householders like us living in the Indus Valley region at the time.
What is OM?
As yoga practitioners, most of us have chanted OM or heard it chanted in class. OM is a sacred syllable. It is said to be the vibration that created the Universe. There are four parts to the syllable OM. “Ah” initiates the sound. “Ooo” sustains it. “Mmm” completes the syllable. The silence at the end of OM is the final component of this syllable. Together, the four components of OM reflect the cycle of birth, life, death, and the void between where everything dissolves into the space from which it came.
Brahma and Saraswathi
The first component of OM is “ah”, as in Brahma. In yogic mythology, Brahma is the divine creator. According to sacred texts such as the Mahabharata, Brahma created all beings, both human and divine. He created the earth and all her creatures. In fact, it is said Brahma created time itself!
Saraswathi is the goddess of inspiration, wisdom, and the ability to bring that which exists only in the imagination into form. There is a dynamic interplay between the god and goddess, form and thought, manifestation and inspiration. Brahma’s hands fashion the cosmos, but Saraswathi is the whisper in his heart-and ours- through which the sacred work of creation is conceived and birthed.
Vishnu and Lakshmi
“Ooo” is the second component of OM and it sustains the sound. It is associated with Vishnu, the deity who sustains creation. Vishnu maintains order. When creation is greatly disturbed, Vishnu manifests as an avatar to bring the cosmos back into balance.
Lakshmi is the goddess of abundance and prosperity. We often associate abundance and prosperity with money. Money is one expression of how we exchange energy, but there are others. We may have an abundance of talent or be prosperous in our relationships. Lakshmi brings balance by ensuring the flow of universal giving and receiving is sustained.
Shiva and Parvati
The “mmm” in OM is Shiva Maheshwara. Maheshwara, meaning “lord”, is one of the many names of the deity Shiva. Another is Shiva, the Destroyer. Associated with death and completion, “mmm” is the last audible component of OM.
Shiva is also called the Great Yogi. He is said to be the first yoga teacher, and Parvati the first yoga student. Parvati approached Shiva expressing her burning desire to study yoga. At first, Shiva refused. However, Parvati did not give up. All of her persistence eventually paid off. Shiva taught her yoga and eventually the two were married.
Parvati teaches us the great lesson of devotion. As yogis, our duty is to pursue yoga even when faced with seemingly unsurmountable challenges. We will face obstacles on our yogic path. Parvati’s biggest obstacle was the Lord of Yoga himself! Nevertheless, she pursued yoga. Parvati realized that practicing yoga is not about obtaining particular results. For Parvati, the obstacles she faced were not in the way of her path as a yogi, but part of the journey itself!
The sound of silence.
There is a pause at the end of OM in which nothing occurs. It may seem like nothing is happening in this in-between space, but it is here we have the most potential for growth.
This is our womb-time. In this empty space we take time to nourish ourselves by listening. It is only when we are still and quiet that we can properly hear guidance. In the silence of this vast space, we stop doing and simply rest in our beingness.