Om mani padme hum is an ancient mantra that is related to the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara, and with therefore the Dalai Lama, who is considered to be an incarnation of Avalokiteshvara.*
Let’s look first at how Tibetans pronounce om mani padme hum, in this video:
Tibetans, who typically pronounce the mantra as “Om mani peme hung,” believe that Avalokiteshvara, who we call Chenrezig, has a very special connection with Tibetans as our protector.
In Tibetan, we say, “Chenrezig po kang chen pay lha kyel,” which means: “Chenrezig is the Tibetans’ Buddha.” By practicing Chenrezig’s mantra, we believe that we can accumulate merit and purify our delusions.
Every Tibetan child is taught the mantra by our parents, and we all use it very commonly in daily life, and especially if we make a prayer walk (kora) or go to the temple, or pray using a rosary (mala).
Basically, any mantra is “a sound, syllable, word, or group of words that is considered capable of ‘creating transformation.’” ** See also our posts on the Green Tara mantra, White Tara and her mantra, and the Buddha Shakyamuni mantra.
This mantra naturally comes to our hearts in any kind of difficult situation. For example, when I was in an earthquake in Dharamsala once, when the earth started shaking, I automatically started praying, “Om mani peme hung.”
Many people recite the mantra thousands of times in a day as part of their daily prayer practice. We also print it on prayer flags that blow the prayer to the winds, carve it on stones, and insert papers printed with it inside holy statues and in prayer wheels.
Almost all Tibetans recite the prayer, even though many of us don’t know the meaning.
The most common meaning offered for the mantra is usually something like “Behold! The jewel in the lotus!” or “Praise to the jewel in the lotus.” But it is almost impossible to give one exact meaning for “om mani padme hum,” since it has been interpreted in many ways. Below, you can see His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche’s interpretations.
Also, we might say that its meaning as a spiritual sound goes beyond the literal meaning of its syllables.
The Meaning of Om Mani Padme Hum From Two Buddhist Masters
From His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
It is very good to recite the mantra Om mani padme hum, but while you are doing it, you should be thinking on its meaning, for the meaning of the six syllables is great and vast …. The first, OM … symbolizes the practitioner’s impure body, speech, and mind; it also symbolizes the pure exalted body, speech, and mind of a Buddha….
The path is indicated by the next four syllables. MANI, meaning jewel, symbolizes the … altruistic intention to become enlightened, compassionate and loving….
The two syllables, PADME, meaning lotus, symbolize wisdom….
Purity must be achieved by an indivisible unity of method and wisdom, symbolized by the final syllable HUM, which indicates indivisibility….
Thus the six syllables, om mani padme hum, mean that in dependence on the practice of a path which is an indivisible union of method and wisdom, you can transform your impure body, speech, and mind into the pure exalted body, speech, and mind of a Buddha….
— His Holiness the Dalai Lama, www.sacred-texts.com* and Wikipedia
From Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
The mantra Om Mani Päme 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.
So in this way recitation of the mantra helps achieve perfection in the six practices from generosity to wisdom. The path of these six perfections is the path walked by all the Buddhas of the three times. What could then be more meaningful than to say the mantra and accomplish the six perfections?
— Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Heart Treasure of the Enlightened Ones, ISBN 0-87773-493-3
Kindness, Clarity and Insight, by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, has a chapter on this topic.
* The first known reference to the mantra is in the Karandavyuha Sutra, “a Mahayana sutra that was compiled at the end of the 4th century or beginning of the 5th century” A.D. (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karandavyuha_Sutra)
** Feuerstein, G. The Deeper Dimension of Yoga. Shambala Publications, Boston, MA. 2003. (Via Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mantra)
*** Several web sites contain the same information, and we have not been able to locate the original source of the information, though the transcription is attributed to Ngawang Tashi (Tsawa) of Drepung Loseling, Mundgod, India.
We welcome your thoughts and opinions about the Om Mani Padme Hum mantra in the comments section below. And we’d love to hear about any great resources for Tibetan spirituality online.
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By Lobsang Wangdu