The Tibetan Buddhist Translation of Om Mani Padme Hum
The meaning of the Buddhist mantra Om Mani Padme Hum, has been debated and theorized over, for hundreds of years. Even within the different lineages of Buddhism ie. Theravada, Mahayana, Tibetan etc, there are varying views on what the mantra means, and basically there is no definitive correct answer. However, the often quoted definition ‘the jewel in the lotus of the heart’, is not a satisfactory translation of such a significant mantra. So why is this mantra repeated in meditation by millions of Buddhists around the world, and can be seen on Buddhist prayer flags, in temples, and carved into rocks or stones?
It is generally accepted that this six-syllabled Sanskrit mantra, first appeared in written form in the Mahayana Karandavyuhasutra, which was compiled around the end of the 4th century. In this sutra, the Buddha said that Om Mani Padme Hum is the most beneficial mantra, and it is often thought of as the condensed form of all the Buddha’s teachings. It is associated with Shadakshari, (an avatar of Avalokiteshvara) who was the bodhisattva of compassion. It is the most prominent mantra in Buddhism, especially the Tibetan Buddhist lineage, repeated by lay followers as well as monks all around the world. It is said that by repeating it you will develop immense compassion, achieve the six perfections and experience enlightenment, or the wisdom/awakened intellect of the Buddha, or Buddha nature.
Translation and Achievement
In Tibetan Buddhism, the literal translation of this mantra is actually considered less important than its association, or what you can achieve by repeating it. Following are the 2 predominant Tibetan schools of thought on what Om Mani Padme Hum means, and what you will accomplish by using this mantra in meditation.
The 14th Dalai Lama
According to the current Dalai Lama, the word Om is actually composed of the 3 letters A, U, and M and symbolize the practitioner’s impure body, speech and mind, as well as the Buddha’s pure body, speech and mind.
The word Mani literally means jewel, but symbolizes the intention, motivation, or method, a practitioner uses to be compassionate, loving and enlightened. The reason for this, explains the Dalai Lama, is that just as a jewel can remove the pain, restraints and difficulties of poverty, so can it remove the pain, restraints and difficulties we find in reaching enlightenment, or from releasing ourselves from cyclical re-birth. So the jewel fulfills the wishes of our human, and spiritual being.
The word Padme meaning lotus, as in the flower that grows from the mud underwater, following the light to burst through the water and bloom. The light represents the wisdom we gain to finally reach enlightenment. This wisdom allows us to realize the emptiness of dualism, or the reality of impermanence.
The word Hum means union, and refers to the union that must be made between the intention (mani) and the wisdom (padme) in order to achieve the purity in body, speech and mind of the Buddha. The intention and the wisdom are therefore one, because intention cannot exist without wisdom, and vice versa.
According to the Dalai Lama therefore, Om Mani Padme Hum means that on the path of life, with intention and wisdom, we can achieve the pure body, speech and mind of a Buddha.
Dilgo Khysentse Rinpoche, Tsangsar Tulku Rinpoche, Donald Lopez and others
According to others within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the six syllables of the mantra, represent the purification or achievement of the six perfections, or six realms of existence, or the accomplishing perfection in the six practices. Therefore each of the six syllables represents one of the perfections, which are the six noble qualities of the character of an enlightened being. By repeating the mantra, you will achieve these 6 noble characteristics on your journey to enlightenment. The related syllable and characteristic are as follows:
- Om – generosity
- Ma – ethics
- Ni – patience
- Pad – diligence
- Me – renunciation
- Hum – wisdom
There is ultimately no completely correct, or definitive translation, of the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum, or of what you will achieve by repeating it. Its meaning, and what practitioners would like to accomplish by using it in meditation, is very personal. However, reducing the translation to ‘the jewel in the lotus of the heart’ really does not do it any justice. For meditation it can be repeated in silence, aloud, using mala beads, and ideally a minimum of 108 times. At the very least, it is a point of focus in meditation for you to return to each time you get distracted. What effect it has on you, what it means for you, and what you achieve by repeating it in meditation, is for you and only you, to experience.
For a more in depth description of this mantra you can check this Wikipedia page, and for a poem on the Buddhas life you can click here.