LINGUIST List 6.565

Sat 15 Apr 1995

Disc: Aum

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  1. Martin Jacobsen, Aum (fwd)

Message 1: Aum (fwd)

Date: Tue, 11 Apr 1995 07:56:43 Aum (fwd)
From: Martin Jacobsen <>
Subject: Aum (fwd)

 I have been following the discussion of "AUM" and recalled that the
omnipresent Joseph Campbell discussed the syllable from the Indian perspective
in his _Myths to Live By_. In chapter VI (pgs. 113-16 in the Bantam edition),
Campbell asserts that the vibrations created by the pronunciation of the
syllable symbolize/mimic the states of consciousness one encounters on the
way to enlightenment. "A" represents waking consciousness because it is
an open sound (113); "U" represents dream consciousness because "the sound
mass, moving forward, fills the whole head as it were. . ."(113); "M"
represents dreamless sleep, because it is the point at which "the holy sound
terminates forward," which seems to make sense as sustained nasal sounds
tend to block extraneous and internal input (114); and the entire "AUM"
which represents supreme consciousness by both combining and transcending its
three component sounds (114). He further states that a fifth level exists at
the level of the larynx and represents "purification" (115). He says that at
this level "the aim is to eliminate all interpositions of the world
between oneself and the immediate hearing of the AUM" (115). The silence
following the utterance represents the sixth and final stage:
enlightenment (116).
 The delineation of "AUM" is in the Mandukya Upanishad. There is
a certain allegorical connection between the feeling produced by the
utterance (or utterances) and the level of consciousness which
Campbell claims it represents. My copy of the Upanishads does not
describe the feeling created by the sounds, only the correspondence
between sound and state. Whether that is a matter of translation I do
not know at present. Campbell offers a credible explanation, but where
he starts and the Upanishad begins is not clear to me. The sources I
have at present indicate Campbell added the sound/feeling correspondence.
 Nevertheless, the sound/feeling connection does not seem to have
been made in this discussion yet. I find it interesting that a sound is
connected to a religious meaning. Often, the meaning is wholly lexical.
As a holy product, can the utterance purify one following a dread act?
What sort of manipulation can a charismatic leader use this sound to achieve?
Does the difference in pronunciation change its power? The questions
are endless, I suppose, and I think it would be easy to wander away
from linguistics by asking too many "What ifs" (if the pondering of how a
linguistic act affects or is used to affect behavior is digressive). At
any rate, the disscusion of AUM is an enduring one and I thought I would
recapitulate part of it for this present exchange.

Campbell, Joseph. _Myths to Live By_. Toronto: Bantam, 1972.

Mascaro, Juan, trans. "Mandukya Upanishad." _The Upanishads_. London:
 Penguin, 1965.

Martin M. Jacobsen
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