AUM: Symbol, Sound and Silence

The meaning of the AUM (OM) symbol

Travelers to Buddhist and Hindu countries might find a review of AUM valuable, as it exemplifies many of the fundamental tenets of these faiths.

The AUM symbol (also spelled “Om”) consists of three curves, one semicircle, and a dot; these are symbols of each person’s self and his potential:

  • The large curve (the lower left corner of the image) symbolizes the waking state.  Perhaps it is best to think of this curve as symbolic of the ego, our outward persona, the person we think we should be, that identity that we consciously associate with the self.
  • Moving clockwise, the upper curve (upper left corner) symbolizes the unconscious state, that part of the self that is hidden to one’s consciousness, but is equally part of the self.
  • The middle curve, which extends from the center to the right side, symbolizes the dream state. This dream state, positioned vertically between the conscious and unconscious elements of the self, serves as a means to connect the two, a means for the conscious and unconscious to interact.  This is certainly what we do when we dream: the unconscious becomes conscious, affording a more complete view of the self.
  • The semicircle or crescent (upper right corner) symbolizes illusion, specifically in this case, the illusion that the self exists as a separate entity at all.  Notice that the crescent separates the dot from the other three curves.  It is this illusion that separates the individual from becoming one with his infinite self, beyond boundaries.
  • The dot signifies the infinite, absolute self, hidden from the individual by illusion; this is what the Eastern faiths of Hinduism and Buddhism consider God.  Dispelling the illusion and becoming one with this infinite self is the ultimate experience of life and the experience of the divine.

Joseph Campbell’s interpretation

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, a, u and m:

  • 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.”

Experience the silence!

Top things to do in Tokyo: Tsukiji Fish Market

The Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo is definitely worth a visit, if for nothing else than to see the early-morning tuna auctions. The complex is enormous (it makes the old Fulton Fish Market in New York City seem like child’s play) and contains hundreds of vendors selling tremendous quantities of super-fresh fish.

Tuna at Tsukiji Market in Tokyo, Japan

Tuna at Tsukiji Market in Tokyo, Japan

Tips for visiting Tsukiji Market

  • You will have to register onsite to gain access to the auctions. The registration office — on the 1st floor of the “Fish Information Center,” located by the Kachidoki Bridge entrance — opens at 5:00 am.
  • There are only 120 visitors permitted per day, so be sure to arrive at the registration location a little before it opens (4:30 am will assure you a spot).
  • Tours of the auctions are offered at two times: (a) 5:25-5.50 am; and (b) 5:50-6:15 am.
  • It is closed Sundays, national holidays and frequently on Wednesdays.

Visit the official site of the Tsukiji fish market for more details.

Map of Tsukiji Market


For your convenience, we have also marked the location of Tsukiji in Google Maps.

After spending the morning walking around Tokyo’s famous fish market, take your breakfast at Daiwa Sushi, the quintessential place to go for a reasonably priced sushi breakfast. There are only 8 seats, but it is a great and totally unique experience.


What to Order: Sushi and Sake in Japan
Guide and eBook to Sushi and Sake in Japan

A helpful resource for any visitor to Japan is our guide to sushi and sake. This ebook gives travelers a glossary of different types of sushi and sake, and tips that range from how to order and eat sushi at a restaurant (dip the fish side, not the rice side, of a piece of nigiri sushi into soy sauce) to alcohol pouring etiquette (pour for others, not yourself).