Symbols of oneness, unity and non-dualism are revealed in various traditions, which shows its importance in spiritual life. In Sikhism the Oneness of the Divine is the first and primary message with which the Guru Granth Sahib begins depicted below:
This symbol has four primary aspects to it. The first is . This is the same as the number “1” and represents the transcendent One before creation and division into various manifestation. Ik is the sound current from which the streams of creation manifest (Guru Granth Sahib, Page 3). In mathematics a zero on its own is nothing but with a one before it, we can create tens, hundreds, thousands, millions and more. So also without the manifestation of the One, the universe itself only has potential. Before creation the indivisible One alone existed with full potential for manifestation.
After IK we have ON or OM, which is the sound symbol of creation also used in Hindu and Buddhist chants as OM or AUM. Through the sound current of ON, the “One” or Ik becomes Anek or “many.” In scientific terms it can be equated to the point of the Big Bang.
The arch KAR represents the manifest through myriad streams of evolution, where the one has become many but yet the essential unity is still contained in the universe though hidden behind the veil of egoism. The unrepresented part in the diagram is the universe collapsing back into the One, since the universe has expanded and collapsed many times, oscillating between manifest and potential. So here is the whole symbol:
This symbol is good representation of how the one becomes many through creation but yet the essential oneness or connection is not lost through evolution. The full symbol would read “1 OM MANIFEST” with the collapse back into the one unstated but elaborated elsewhere in the Sikh scriptures.
Another aspect to understanding <i>Ik Omkar</> requires an explanation of the Hindu Trinity or <i>Trimurti</i> (literally “three images”). The Trimurti is composed of three deities of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva responsible for creation, sustenance and destruction. By adding Ik or “One” before “On” or “Om,” Guru Nanak is clarifying that the three functions of creation, preservation and destruction are part of the One Supreme Being.
So when we put the various aspects of Ik Onkar together, a good way to explain it in English would be the following: “One Sound-current Manifest” or alternatively “One Creator-Sustainer-Destroyer Manifest,” which can simplified to “One Supreme Being.”
This becomes a statement of monotheism in Sikhism, where only One Supreme Being exists and all others have their source in that One. Oneness always exists but due to the wall of egoism or haumai, we imagine division and separation as ego-influenced mind produces dualistic thoughts and hides Oneness of all creation. The mystical journey for a Sikh is to recover the unity through the teachings of the Gurus.