One of our favorite descriptions of AUM, which touches on many of the symbols described above, can be found in Joseph Campbell’s book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.” Campbell breaks down each of AUM’s three phonemes:
- The A, representing the realm of waking experience: “cognitive of the hard gross facts of an outer universe, illuminated by the sun, and common to all.”
- The U, representing the realm of dream experience: “cognitive of the fluid, subtle forms of a private interior world, self-luminous and of one substance with the dreamer.”
- The M, representing the realm of very deep sleep: “dreamless, profoundly beautiful” (the person unified with the unconscious and the greater self).
For Campbell, the most profound element of AUM is not the sound, however, but the silence that surrounds it:
The silence surrounding the syllable is the unknown: it is called simply ‘the fourth.’ The syllable itself is God as creator-preserver-destroyer, but the silence is God Eternal, absolutely uninvolved in all the openings-and-closings of the round.
Watch the video at right to hear Campbell explain the concept — and experience the silence!