The Seed Syllable HUM (with a Comparison to OM)
HUM is a large topic, full of depth, so in order to try and discuss this topic as best as I can I will approach it from two different contexts: HUM in comparison to OM and then the structure of the seed syllable itself.
I’ll begin with a quote from Lama Anagarika Govinda, “The Sanskrit syllable ‘HU’ means ‘to sacrifice, to perform a sacrificial act or rite.’ The sole sacrifice that The Buddha recognizes, is the sacrifice of one’s own self.”
…. And a quote from The Buddha….
“I lay no wood, Brahman, for fires on altars. Only within burneth the flame I kindle. Ever my fire burns, ever composed of self ……. and the heart is the altar; the flame thereon — this is a man’s self well tamed.”
In the experience of OM, man opens himself, liberates himself by breaking through the bounds of ego, and thus becomes one with all, the infinite. To remain in this state would be the end of existence as a living, experiencing being. This is the attainment of perfect self-annihilation, perfect quietude, but also perfect immobility, passivity, emotionlessness, and insensibility with regard to all differentiation and individuality, within and without, i.e., with regard to all living and suffering beings.
On the surface these properties alone seem to be sufficient to raise one to the level of Buddhahood, but these properties alone are not sufficient enough to make a Buddha. What really makes an Enlightened One is the radiance and universality of his being, his power to reach the heart of every living being with his infinite compassion, his infinite capacity to participate in the joys and sufferings of others, without being torn or swayed. In simple terms it is his human element that helps others connect with him. The fact that he has ‘been there.’
In Buddhahood one is consumed by the purifying flames of OM and returns to the human plane without losing any of the essence of OM, thus in the depths of his heart the primordial sound of reality (OM/AUM) is transformed into the sound of the cosmic human mystery, purified through suffering and compassion, which reverberates in the sacred seed syllable HUM. (pronounced hoom)
OM is the ascent towards universality, HUM is the descent of the state of that universality into the depth of the human heart. HUM cannot be without OM, but HUM is more than OM. HUM is the middle way which gets lost neither in the infinite nor the finite, and is neither attached to one nor the other extreme.
OM, as stated previously, is the breaking through towards the absolute, the liberation from ego hood, from the illusory “I.” To dwell in the absolute is as impossible for a human being as floating in a vacuum, because life and consciousness are possible only where there are relationships with things and other beings. The experience of OM must be sheltered and brought to maturity in that of HUM.
“OM is like the sun, but HUM is like the soil, into which the sun’s rays must descend in order to awaken the dormant life.” — Lama Anagarika Govinda
“OM is the infinite, but HUM is the infinite in the finite, the timelessness in the moment, the unconditioned in the conditioned, the formless as basis of all form: It is the Wisdom of the Great Mirror, which reflects the Void as much as the objects, and reveals the ‘emptiness’ in the things as much as the things in the ‘emptiness.’”
HUM is the seed syllable of the Dhyana Buddha Akshobya, the Buddha of Mirror like Wisdom, whose color is blue. He is associated with the skandha of Form and the element of water. His mudra, or gesture, is the earth-touching gesture which is the gesture of The Buddha Shakyamuni’s enlightenment, when He called the earth to witness his enlightenment.
Whereas OM is the wisdom of recognition that, to put it in simple terms, ‘everything is nothing,’ HUM is the recognition that ‘nothing is everything.’ And that is divine.
We must have passed through the experience of OM to reach and to understand the still deeper experience of HUM. OM is the door to knowledge, HUM is the door to the realization of this knowledge in life, through experience.
Now I am going to switch gears a bit and take a look at the structure of the seed syllable HUM as it is written in Sanskrit and Tibetan.
The syllable is constructed of five sections, each with its own association with one of the Five Dhyana Buddhas (who each have associations of their own), a color, and the specific sound of the overall syllable.
Have you noticed that Tibetan Buddhism is like a jigsaw puzzle? All the pieces are there, some are beautiful and clear, some just don’t make sense, but we know when it is put together it will be inexpressively beautiful….
At the top of the HUM seed syllable, is a flaming drop (thig-le). This drop is blue in color and represents Vairocana, the Dhyana Buddha of Dharmadhatu Wisdom. Below the flaming drop is the crescent. This crescent represents the Buddha Aksobhya and Mirror-like Wisdom. It is white in color. Below the Crescent is what is described as the head of ‘H’, it looks like a horizontal bar, like a platform for the Crescent. This represents the Buddha Ratnasambhava and Equalizing Wisdom. This is yellow in color. Below the head of ‘H,’ is what is referred to the body of ‘H,’ which is at about in the middle of the seed syllable HUM. It looks like the number five (5) lying on its side. This section represents the Buddha Amitabha and Discriminating Wisdom. Finally, the bottom of HUM is separated into two parts, the upper half being the lengthening sign, and the lower half is the vowel ‘U.’ Both of these are represented by the Buddha Amoghasiddhi and All-Accomplishing Wisdom.
HUM is a wonderful topic, full of depth, replete with insight and with all honesty; words can never do justice in explaining its true depth and meaning. We can talk about it and point to different aspects of it, but the true experience of its nature is left to us, the meditators.