I.27 तस्य वाचक: प्रणव:

tasya vācakaḥ praṇavaḥ
“The speech of that [īśvara] is OM.”

OM is the sacred syllable uttered before and after prayers. It can also be used as an affirmation, a solemn agreement. It is a mystical sound that is referred to as praṇava (from praṇu, “to sound, reverberate”), so when Patañjali refers to praṇava here, he is indicating OM:

“AUM* stands for the supreme Reality.
It is a symbol for what was, what is,
And what shall be. AUM represents also
What lies beyond past, present, and future.”
Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad, translated by Eknath Easwaran

(*In Sanskrit, the vowel “o” is considered to be a dipthong made up of the two simple vowels “a” and “u.”  The Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad breaks the sound OM into four parts: a, u, m, and silence. )

OM is a sound more than it is a word. Its meaning is in a sense beyond language. In the Book of Exodus, Moses meets the Divine Being in the burning bush and the light is so bright, he must turn aside. He asks what to call him/her/it. The answer is “I am that I am.” It is a name that is not a name; the acronym YHWH is used in the Hebrew to refer to the sacred meaning.

That the divine is beyond language is an idea that occurs in many religions. Language shapes our ideas and perceptions. The fourteenth-century theologian and mystic Meister Eckhart sought to get beyond his own conventional thinking when he prayed, “God, free me of ‘God.'”

Vyaas Houston describes OM as the “primary sound frequency of creation.”



“Sound is vibration, which, as modern science tells us, is at the source of all creation. God is beyond vibration, but vibration, being the subtlest form of His creation, is the nearest we can get to to Him in the physical world. So we take it as his symbol.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary of I.28

“Since Om is the whisper of the Spirit it needs a remarkable sensitivity of consciousness to listen to its still small voice. Praṇava represents the Voice of the Silence, the Soundless sound. How can one listen to it without rendering the consciousness utterly pure and infinitely sensitive?” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 50

• What role does sound play in your personal practice? Listening?
• What would be an example from your own life of how language has shaped your understanding? Have you had an experience of how changing the words for something changes your perceptions? (This is the theme of the new movie Arrival. I recommend it!)



pronoun, 6th case singular

of that


masculine noun, 1st case singular

speech, that which expresses something (from vac, “to speak”)


masculine noun, 1st case singular

sacred syllable OM; drum;  an epithet for Viṣṇu (from praṇu, “to resound, reverberate, praise”)

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