by Linda Heaphy July 03, 2017 3 min read

om mani padme hum mantra
Along the paths of Zanskar, in the eastern half of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, the traveller will find so called "Mani walls", carved stones each with the inscription Om Mani Padme Hum. Traditionally these stones should be circumvented from the left side, the clockwise direction in which the earth and the universe revolve according to Buddhist belief. Photo credit: Shakti

In Sanskrit: ॐ मणिपद्मे हूं

A mantra may be defined as a sacred utterance, consisting of a single or group of sounds, syllables, words or phonemes. One of the best known and loved of all mantras is Om Mani Padme Hum. Its six syllables roughly translate to:

Om – “hail”, a sacred sound and the first uttered out loud in the newly created universe
Mani – jewel or bead
Padme – lotus flower
Hum – the embodiment of enlightenment

Together the syllables literally mean Hail, jewel in the lotus, where lotus-jewel is one of the many names of Avalokiteswara, bodhisattva of compassion. However, the significance of the mantra goes much deep than mere literal translation. The late Dilgo Khyentse, Rinpoche and head of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism from 1987 to 1991, provides one interpretation:

The mantra Om Mani Pädme Hum is easy to say yet quite powerful, because it contains the essence of the entire teaching. When you say the first syllable Om it is blessed to help you achieve perfection in the practice of generosity, Ma helps perfect the practice of pure ethics, and Ni helps achieve perfection in the practice of tolerance and patience. Pä, the fourth syllable, helps to achieve perfection of perseverance, Me helps achieve perfection in the practice of concentration, and the final sixth syllable Hum helps achieve perfection in the practice of wisdom.

Although its origins date to at least the 1st century CE, deriving from a chant associated with the Hindu god Shiva, the mantra first appears in Buddhist doctrine via the Karandavyuha Sutra (4 or 5th century CE), where it is associated with Avalokiteswara – indeed, one of his names is Ṣaḍākṣarī, meaning "Lord of the Six Syllables". The mantra is considered to be at the very heart of the concept of Avalokiteswara, defining him as the embodiment of compassion. When reciting Om mani padme hum, one is said to “harmonise in the choral resonance of pure compassion”, in turn producing a calming and healing effect on the chanter. Ultimately, recitation of the mantra is capable of bringing about enlightenment and salvation, both for individuals and for the world at large.

The mantra Om mani padme hum commonly appears on jewellery originating in Thailand, Nepal and Tibet. Photo credit: Kashgar

In antiquity, many Buddhist mantras with different meanings and purposes have gained ascendancy over others. However, in our modern world, a time of uncertainty and heartlessness fuelled by mass media paradigms and polarisation of geographical politics, Om Mani Padmi Hum has become the most recognised and revered of all mantras, the most frequently invoked. It is often found inscribed on jewellery, on objects of importance, on stones and walls, on pieces of paper (for example, when inserted thousands of times over into prayer wheels), on prayer flags and across many other devices as a form of protection. Tibetans and Nepalese recite the mantra and invoke Avalokiteswara during times of danger or hardship. The Dalai Lama is believed by Tibetan Buddhists to be an incarnation of Avalokiteswara, increasing its popularity and helping to spread its message of kindness throughout the world, making Om mani padme hum a right and fitting mantra for our time.

 prayer wheels
Large brass prayer wheels surrounding the Tsuglagkhang Temple (also known as the Dali Lama temple) in McLeod Ganj, a suburb of Dharamshala in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh, India, where the Dali Lama currently resides. Payer wheels are always turned in a clockwise direction, in keeping with Buddhist doctrine. Photo credit: Liz Highleyman

References and Further Reading:

Buswell, Robert E. Jr. & Lopez, Donald S. Jr. 2014. The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and Patrul Rinpoche, 1992. Heart Treasure of the Enlightened Ones[. Shambhala Publications.

Kāraṇḍavyūhasūtra. Wikipedia. Accessed 30th June 2017

Mantra. Wikipedia. Accessed 30th June 2017

Om Mani Padmi Hum Wikipedia. Accessed 30 June 2017

Studholme, Alexander 2002The Origins of Om Manipadme HumState University of New York Press, Albany NY ISBN 0-7914-5389-8



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Linda Heaphy
Linda Heaphy

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