Thursday, April 24, 2014

What does "Om mani padme hum" mean?

Amber Larson, Dhr. Seven, Wisdom Quarterly; Donald S. Lopez (U. Michigan); Wiki edit
The mantra in Tibetan script on rock outside the Potala Pueblo/Palace (
Tibetan script of Om mani padme hum ["Hail, Jewel-Lotus Bodhisattva [Avalokiteshvara, who is Kwan Yin]" or "Jewel in the lotus"] mantra (Tashi Mannox/

Yes, but what does it mean?
Buddha on cash (Omoo/gansv1846/flickr)
Mantras (sacred incantations) may be interpreted by practitioners in many ways, or even as mere sequences of sound whose effects lie beyond strict linguistic meaning.
In this, the second most famous Buddhist mantra behind the selfless climax of the Heart Sutra literature (Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi swaha), we must question our common sense literal interpretation. Dr. Donald S. Lopez, professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies at the University of Michigan, in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, points out a more sensible explanation.

Om is the cosmic sound in Sanskrit
The middle part of the mantra, maṇipadme, is commonly interpreted as "jewel in the lotus," Sanskrit maṇí ("jewel, gem, cintamani") and the locative of padma "lotus"). But according to the distinguished professor, it is much more likely that maṇipadme is in fact a vocative, not a locative, addressing a bodhisattva called Maṇipadma, "Jewel-Lotus," which is an alternate epithet of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara

It is preceded by the syllable oṃ (aum, shown at right) and followed by the syllable hūṃ. These are both interjections without direct linguistic meaning. This lack of direct meaning is easy to understand when one considers corresponding Judeo-Christian exclamations used in and around prayer, praise, and worship such as "amen" (a Western corruption of the East's aum), "Hallelujah," "So be it!" "So may it be!" It's not that they have no meaning or serve no function; it is that that meaning and function is indirect and open.
In this case, one opens and places oneself in a proper frame of mind/heart with the cosmic sound oṃ then seals the utterance with another syllable (hum, the sacred sound corresponding to the throat chakra). Many mantras, such as the epitome of the Heart Sutra, end in svaha ("all hail").

Om mani padme hum: mantra of Avalokiteshvara Tibetan script (Christopher J. Fynn)
31 Planes (
Another suggested translation runs: Om purifies bliss and pride (realm of the gods); ma purifies jealousy and the need for entertainment (characteristic of the asura loka, the realm of the jealous angels/godlings); ni purifies passion and desire (characteristic of the human realm); pad purifies ignorance and prejudice (characteristic of the animal realm); me purifies greed and possessiveness (characteristic of the realm of the hungry ghosts); hum purifies aggression and hatred (hell realm).
Prof. Lopez also notes that the majority of Tibetan Buddhist texts have regarded the translation of the mantra as secondary, focusing instead on the correspondence of the six syllables of the mantra to various other groupings of six [such as the Six Realms, which are the first six planes of existence, categorized as the Sensual Realm in the three realms within the Buddhist cosmology of 31 Planes of Existence] in Buddhist tradition (Lopez, p.130). 

For example, in the Chenrezig Sadhana, Tsangsar Tulku Rinpoche expands upon the mantra's meaning, taking its six syllables to represent the purification of the six realms of existence... More

In other words, ᠣᠧᠮ ᠮᠠ ᠨᠢ ᠪᠠᠳ ᠮᠡᠢ ᠬᠤᠩ

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