Sacred Letters

Aum (Om)

Om, also written as Aum, is a mystical and sacred syllable that originated from Hinduism, but is now common to Buddhism and other religions. In Hinduism, Om is the first sound of creation and symbolizes the three stages of existence: birth, life, and death.

The best known use of Om in Buddhism is in Om Mani Padme Hum, the “Six-Syllable Great Bright Mantra” of the Bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteśvara. When chanting or looking at the syllables, we invoke the compassion of the Bodhisattva and instill his qualities. AUM (Om) consists of three separate letters, A, U, and M. They symbolize the body, spirit and speech of the Buddha; “Mani” is for the path of teaching; “Padme” for the wisdom of the path, and “hum” denotes wisdom and the path to it, as explained in Buddhism: A Brief Introduction.


In Zen Buddhism, ensō is a sacred symbol often referred to as “The Circle of Enlightenment.” It is a circle that is hand-drawn in one or two brushstrokes to express a moment when the mind is free to let the body create. Some artists draw ensō as an open circle, while others complete the circle.

At first, ensō may appear as a roughly drawn circle, but it symbolizes many things: strength, elegance, the universe, our true and innermost self, beauty in imperfection, and the oneness of all things in life. It also symbolizes the perfect meditative state or enlightenment.

Ensō is a visual expression of the Heart Sutra. Form is emptiness and emptiness is form—a circle in which everything is contained within, or, equally excluded by its boundaries.


The ancient swastika is one of the oldest symbols on Earth. It is a symbol of peace, good luck, and positivity, predating the Indus Valley Civilization and is found in the art of many cultures: Egyptians, Romans, Celts, Greeks and Native Americans. It is also used in Vedic mathematics. The Sanskrit translation means "to be good," or “being with higher self.”

In Buddhism, the swastika symbolizes the seal of the Buddha’s heart and contains within it the entire mind of the Buddha. It can be seen imprinted on the body, palms, chest, or feet of Buddha images. In China, the swastika represents the number ten thousand (wan), meaning infinity and auspiciousness.

This is the same swastika that the Nazis rotated counter-clockwise and made it into a symbol of discrimination and slaughter. With Buddhism coming to the West, however, the symbol is regaining its original meaning of auspiciousness.

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