Among the Buddhist mantras commonly used by Tibetans, the Buddha Shakyamuni mantra – om muni muni maha muniye soha – is one of the most popular. (Along with some others, like the mantras associated with Avalokitesvara and Green Tara.)
Many Tibetans recite this mantra every day, many times a day, while praying on their malas, or circumambulating or prostrating. (If you wish to experience this for yourself, you can learn how to visit Tibet here.)
Who was the Buddha Shakyamuni?
Although there are various Buddhas – such as Maitreya, the Future Buddha, or Amitabha, the Pure Land Buddha – it is the Buddha Shakyamuni that we mean when we say “the Buddha.”
Shakyamuni Buddha was, historically, a spiritual master who lived and taught in modern day India and Nepal in either the 6th or 5th century BCE, and who founded Buddhism. The name Buddha means the “awakened” or “enlightened” one, and after his own awakening, Shakyamuni taught a path by which others might also be awakened to the true nature of reality, and freed from suffering.
Before we explore the meaning of om muni muni maha muniye soha, you may want to know how Tibetans commonly pronounce it.
Video: How to Say the Buddha Shakyamuni Mantra
What Does Om Muni Muni Maha Muniye Mean?
One simple way to interpret the mantra is to consider that:
Shakyamuni’s mantra is a play on his name. Muni means sage. Maha means great. So the mantra reads “Om wise one, wise one, greatly wise one, wise one of the Shakyans, Hail!”*
Of course, the mantra, like all of the great Buddhist mantras used by Tibetans, signifies infinitely more than the words that comprise it. This is a classic case of the sum of the whole being much greater than its parts.
The great Nyingma scholar Mipham Rinpoche said:
It was through the force of discovering this dharani that the King of Shakyas himself attained enlightenment, and that Avalokiteshvara became the supreme of all the bodhisattvas. Through simply hearing this dharani, a vast accumulation of merit will easily be gained and all karmic obscurations will be purified, and when reciting it, obstacles will not occur. This has been taught in the abridged Prajnaparamita.
Other teachings say that by reciting this dharani only once, all the harmful actions you have committed throughout 800,000 kalpas will be purified. They say that it possesses boundless qualities such as these, and is the sacred heart-essence of Buddha Shakyamuni.
From the Rigpa Wiki
When we recite the Buddha mantra, we are expressing and embodying that heart-essence.
Here’s another interpretation from the Purify Mind site, this one using a variation – tayata om muni muni maha munaye soha – of the mantra:
The mantra of Shakyamuni Buddha could be said to be the essence of the Buddha, the essence of his enlightenment. It is in no way separate from the Buddha himself.
Mantras are said to carry this enlightenment essence in the very sound of the syllables themselves. It’s an energetic thing. So, translations can sometimes get in the way of the experience of the energy of the mantra if we focus on the so-called meaning of the words at the expense of simply experiencing the sound that is being generated.
Mantra has been described as “a creative sound considered expressive of the deepest essence of things and understandings” thus the recitation of the mantra “can evoke in a formulaic or even magical way” a transcendent state of mind and energy. Also, “mantra is the pure sound of enlightened speech.”
It is Sanskrit, not Tibetan. In fact, mantras are almost untranslatable. But, what we can do is interpret the syllables.
This is Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s interpretation of the Buddha’s mantra:
TA YA THA – it is like this
OM – The All-Knowledge of the three bodies of a buddha and of the infinite Buddha’s Holy Body, Speech and Mind. The knowledge of the two paths to enlightenment (Method and Wisdom), and of the two truths (Absolute and relative) that contain all existence within them.
MUNI – Control over the suffering of the three lower realms and over the wrong conception of the self-existent I.
MUNI – Control over the suffering of all samsara and over self-cherishing thoughts.
MAHA MUNIYE – Great control over the suffering of subtle illusions and over the dualistic mind.
SVAHA – May my mind receive, absorb and keep the blessings of the mantra, and may they take root.
I’ll finish with a quote from Lama Thubten Yeshe:
“Reciting a mantra…does not mean the mere vocal repetition of speech syllables. Many meditators know from experience that the act of reciting mantras transcends external sounds and words. It is more like listening to a subtle inner sound that has always inhabited our nervous system.”
Using the Mantra for Meditation
There’s a long, helpful guide to using the Buddha mantra for meditation at the Federation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition’s (FPMT’s) Osel Shen Phen Ling’s web site. Here’s an excerpt, below, but check out the whole page, too:
From your heart, generate the request to the Buddha that he grant you inspiration to follow the path to full enlightenment; make this request on behalf of all living beings who are trapped in samsara.
Rays of light stream from the figure of the Buddha before you. This light enters your body and quickly removes all negativities, obscurations and hindrances, freeing you to progress quickly on the path. Imagine that this light flows not only to you, but to all living beings situated in space around you. Imagine that they all receive such inspiration and blessings as you recite the name mantra of Shakyamuni Buddha as many times as possible.
tayata om muni muni maha munaye soha
*Wildmind site article: Shakyamuni Mantra
More Resources on the Buddha Shakyamuni and his Mantra
Want to be ready to travel to Tibet?
Sign up to get instant access to our FREE Tibet Travel Planning Guide that shows you exactly how to:
- Get your visa and Tibet permits
- Avoid altitude sickness
- Choose a reliable, Tibetan-owned agent
- And much more…so you can feel peace of mind about your trip, and have a great, safe journey!
Along with instant access to your free, comprehensive online guide for planning your Tibet travel, you will also get our weekly newsletter, with tips, tools and strategies for simple, safe and meaningful Tibet travel.
Sujith S Menon says
Is there any food regime I should follow while I recite the mantra? Should I avoid non veg food, or is it ok?
Lobsang and Yolanda says
No food restrictions.
Pasang Sherpa says
Anyone in 2023? I am here to thank Mr. Yowangdu Sir for such a great information to us about Tibetan Buddhism and mantras.
I absolutely love the painting of The Buddha Shakyamuni at the top of the page. I would really love to use it for a recording of the mantra I am working on. Is there any way you could connect me with the makers so I can see what it would take to get their permission?
Lobsang and Yolanda says
Hi Rafael, The photo is ours and you are welcome to use it, with a link to https://www.yowangdu.com/ and credit as Photo by YoWangdu Tibet. So glad you like it. The photo is of an applique thangkha we own that was created by Tibetan artisans at the Norbulingka Institute near Dharamsala. Cheers.
Thank you so much. That’s super kind.
I’ve got very fond memories of Dharamsala. I was there, in Mcleod Ganj and Bhagsunag, in 2005 when I did a Vipassana retreat
If you also have a hi res version at all I’d be very grateful if you could forward it to my email
Kindly advise if there is any food restriction which needs to be followed. Can I consume non veg food in those days when i am chanting the mantra.
Lobsang and Yolanda says
There are no specific food restrictions.
Greetings,can I meditate in a campervan and do I have to be on blessed ground?
Also do i have to meditate facing East?
Lobsang and Yolanda says
You can meditate absolutely anywhere — you need not be on sacred ground. Your intention to generate the mind of enlightment is all you need.
Dave Keen says
i think my banner was misspelled…mine says OM MUNE MUNE MAHAMUNEYE SOHA
Can we chant Swaha instead of soha..kindly enlighten…
Yes, no problem!
No fire is needed for swaha…i mean can we chant swaha without homage into the fire…or fire is compulsory…
Is it like one who chants swaha need to perform fire ritual…Or we can chant swaha without fire ceremony also..?
please bless me wisdom …
Fire ceremony can happen internally. You are the fire. It’s all about intention 🙂
Dear Lobsang, may i know if there is a rule of thumb on when is best time to chant the mantra, how many times should I chant on each occasion, and does it differ between different mantras?
I currently chant Om Mana Padme Hum (x 21) and Om Tare Tuttare Ture Soha (x21) each morning and night. Now I hope to include Om Muni Muni Maha Muniye Soha into my daily chanting.
May I seek your advice please?
There is something that I don’t understand: the mantra
OM MUNI MUNI MAHA SHAKYAMUNI SVAHA it’s the same of OM MUNI MUNI MAHA MUNIYE SOHA?
I’ll thank you deeping if you explain to me that question!
Those are just two variations on the same mantra. Hope that helps.
I’ve came across a lot of video, audio and articles on Shakyamuni Buddha Mantra. Most video chants “Om Muni Muni Maha Muni Shakyamuniye Soha” while most of the audio and articles shows “Om Muni Muni Maha Muniye Soha”.
May I know which one should I chant?
Hi Phylis, You can do either one. Tibetans use both of them. The longer one is sometimes said at the end of reciting the shorter one many times.
Thank you for explaining very clearly on the meaning of the Buddha mantra!
Namaste Lobsang and Yolanda,
I have no words to describe what your teachings have done for me.
I feel, light, informed and most importantly headed in a positive direction upon my path. Reading, absorbing and interacting with everyone on this website has been one of the greatest choices I have ever made.
It has given me an understanding of what I must do to achieve my personal , let’s call it, contract of life.
I believe I have found the middle way, and it is this part of knowing, a knowing I have obtained through your guidance, where I feel I have found my inner peace. Thankyou so much. 1 million Blessings to you both. Bonded friendships that will survive forever.
Xxx. _/\_. Om.
I will dedicate offerings with your name in mind and send you blessings from the positive merit conducted. May you reach enlightenment soon. Om ami dewa hri
Tina M says
Thank You Lobsang for this informative post. I’m happy to have found your website. I now know how to practice this mantra. May the light of the Buddha be with you always. 🙂
Thank you Tina for this message 🙂
Thank you Lobsang it was more than educational it brought me closer to my guru Lord Shakyamuni Buddha.Mantras are celestial magic like stars within reach.
You are welcome, Rachael 🙂
Bobby Wilson says
Thank you, Lobsang… I feel like I am making progress with your helpful videos and web articles.
Special thanks for the great cooking videos!
Thanks so much Bobby! This means a lot to me 🙂
Finally I’ve found someone that teaches mantras. Thank you Lobsang. Can you also teach the Tibatan language for beginners maybe with your newsletter? All the best to you.
Thanks, Gianluca! We’ve never taught language before, but will think about this. All the best to you.
Thank you Lobsang you generate much joy in all you do…Dharma Love
Thank you for your kind comment Anila!
Please can you keep me informed when you are running online mantra accumulations.
Also do you perform pujas for individuals.
Thanks and Buddha blessings.
Thank you Martin, we will do if we do run online accumulations (thanks for the idea! :-). We don’t perform pujas for individuals. The best way to stay up to date is to sign up for the newsletter on the sidebar of any of our blog pages. All our best to you!
Ron Fairfield says
Great post Lobsang, I especially enjoy your videos, it feels as if I am in your home with you 🙂
Thank you Ron!
suresh lama says
om mani padme hum
arun kumar ramteke says
maitrya buddha puja vidio by my email.
Sorry, Arun, we are too overloaded to handle individual requests like this. Wish we could help more.