Chapter # 1, Anuvakaha # 8, Shloka # 1:
The sacred sound Om is Brahman. All this is the syllable OM.
Chapter # 1, Anuvakaha # 8, Shloka # 2:
It is widely known that Om is uttered to indicate consent. The priest officiating at the sacrifice encourages his assistants with the words “O Sravya”. With the chanting of Om they start singing the Sama verses; and with “Om Som” they recite the shastras; Adhvaryu answers with the syllable “Om”.
With Om the chief priest, Brahma expresses his assent. One permits the offering of oblation to the fire with “OM”. May I obtain with Brahman; with this determination, the Brahmana says” Om” before he begins to recite the Veda; and he does obtain the Brahman.
Continuing his teaching of the Upanishad, Swami Paramarthananda said we have completed the first four upasanas of chapter # 1. They are Samshito Upasana, Vyahriti Upasana, Hiranyagrabha upasana and Pankta Upasana. Now in anuvaka # 8, the fifth and final upasana of this chapter known as Omkara upasana is introduced.
In this upasana the word OM is introduced as a symbol or Alambanam and upon it Ishwara is invoked. Omkara can represent Virat (Samashti Prapancha), Hiranyagarbha (Sukshma prapancha) and Ishwara ( Karana Prapancha). Omkara can thus represent the macro or Samashti. “ May you practice upasana of Brahman on Omkara” It is a Saguna Brahman. Nirguna Brahman cannot be an object of Upasana. If it is an object it cannot be nirguna. Thus, if an object is meditated upon such an object cannot be nirguna. In such an instance the meditator alone is the Nirguna Brahman.
Therefore, Brahma upasana connotes Saguna Brahman. It can represent the Virat (Samashti Guna), Hiranyagarbha (Sukshma guna) and Ishwara (Karana Guna).
When there are so many scared words in Scriptures why choose Omkara? Omkara is a most sacred and unique mantra. We have seen before in Shikshavalli’s anuvaka # 5 that Brahmaji extracted Omkara from Vedas. Therefore, Omkara chanting is equal to chanting all Vedic mantras. Thus, we get the Omkara mahima. Any word in scripture can refer to a particular object. Thus, when we say chair it means only “chair” and not a table. So it is also with the name Rama or Krishna. Thus, words have limitations. They don’t represent the totality of Brahman. To describe God, a word describing all objects in cosmos should be used. One word should represent all objects of creation. OM is such a word. Om encompasses all objects of creation Thus:
A: All Sthula objects
U: All Sukshma objects.
M: All Karana objects.
A is the beginning of sound. Last sound produced is M. U represents all intermediate alphabets. Thus, AUM represents all characters. They also represent all words of the language. Thus: OM represents alphabets. Alphabets represent words or padam. Padam represents objects. Therefore, OM represents all objects of the world. All objects put together represent the Lord. Hence Om is his best description. Lord is one and OM is also one. Therefore, Om is Pranavaha or the ideal name for God. Hence it is used in the upasana.
Omkara is very important in upasana. It is also very important in meditation. Omkara is also very important in Karma Kanda. Everywhere Om is important.
How is it important in rituals?
Omkara is a versatile mantra. Thus, Omkara is used as:
Anukriti or acceptance. Omkara conveys acceptance. Hasma-vai-api means well known. In olden times different priests were involved in rituals. There are special invitation mantras for specific devatas. The concerned priest had to be ready with oblations. Then the main priest asks his assistants to invoke the God.
O Sravya, he says to his assistants. Then, the assistant starts the Vedas with Omkara.
OM iti samani gayanti. Each priest of the ritual handles one mantra. Thus Rg, Yajus and Sama are chanted.
The Rg Veda priest is called Hota. His assistants are called Hotraganaha. Usually there is a main priest with three assistants or a total of four.
The Yajur Veda head priest is called Adhvaryuhu. His assistants are called Adhvarganaha. Here also there is a head priest with three assistants.
The Sama Veda priest is called Udgata and his assistants are called Udgataganaha. They also total four.
The Atharavana Veda has no direct application in Vedic rituals. The priest does not play a direct role. Therefore, he becomes the supervisor of the entire ritual. He is called Brahma. He too has three assistants known as Brahmaganaha.
Thus, a total of 16 priests are involved including the husband and wife (Yajamana and Yajamani). They all add up to 18 people for a yagna.
The Brahma (atharvanavedi) supervises to ensure all priests are performing their rituals properly. If mistakes happen there are built in prayaschittas in every ritual. The prayaschita can vary depending upon the mistake made in the ritual. Thus, prayaschita can include from donating one’s property to chanting gayathri japa. Thus, a Brahma must be very knowledgeable and must be very alert. He has to be a Chaturvedi, one who knows all four Vedas. All four ganas use Omkara in rituals. Thus, OM iti Samani gayanti.
Rg veda mantras are called Shastrani and they can be chanted with or without swaras. They also start the mantras with Om.
Swamji said nowadays there are not many Chaturvedi’s available for such Yagnas. Therefore, a seat is assigned for one in a yaga, although it is empty. It is assumed a Brahma is sitting there.
Adhvaryuhu, the Yajur Veda priest, gives permission using OM. Agni Hotra is a basic Srauta karma performed twice every day. It is a fire ritual. Aupasana is also a fire ritual performed every day after one’s marriage.
In these daily pujas OM is the beginning of all mantras. For spiritual cleansing of house too water is sanctified in front of God and then used with chanting of OM and sprinkling in many parts of a house.
A Brahmachari starting to learn Vedic chanting also begins his chant with Om. Through the chanting he grasps the Vedas.
A Sanyasi does not have gayathri mantra. They only have Omkara mantra to chant.
Since a Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra, all chant Omkara mantra, it is a very important mantra for all castes as well.
With Best Wishes,