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The Power of Six Syllables


In my recent trip to Nepal, I spend a day at Boudhanath. The 36-meter-high stupa of Boudhanath is one of the largest stupas in South Asia. With countless monasteries surrounding it, Boudhanath is the center of Tibetan Buddhism in Nepal. Built in the shape of a mandala designed to replicate the Gyangtse of Tibet, the stupa was renovated by Licchhavi rulers in the 8th century. The location of the stupa is interesting as it once lay on the ancient trade route to Tibet and it was here that Tibetan merchants rested and offered prayers for centuries. On each side are a pair of the all-seeing-eyes of the Buddha symbolizing awareness. The canopy has 13 stages. At ground level there is a brick wall with 147 niches and 108 images of the meditational Buddha inset behind copper prayer wheels.

I took an early morning to evening stroll around the inspiring white dome buzzing with energy; observed the devout passersby, lit a butter lamp and looked around for souvenirs, observed all from a nearby rooftop restaurant, coffee in hand. But apart from the peace and calmness that was attained at the spot, what caught my attention is the continuous chants of this Mantra all around the place.

The first time I heard the words Om Mani Padme Hum was when it was being chanted by a group of monks seated around the stupa.  I had no idea what it said, but was struck by the feeling this hymn evoked in me, and so I started searching and asking around, to learn more about it. This is the chronicle of what I unearthed and hope you take away something from this post!

Tibetan Buddhists believe that saying the mantra (prayer), Om Mani Padme Hum, out loud or silently to oneself, invokes the powerful benevolent attention and blessings of Chenrezig, the embodiment of compassion. Viewing the written form of the mantra is said to have the same effect -- it is often carved into stones, like the one pictured on the walls of the stupa, and placed where people can see them. Spinning the written form of the mantra around in a Mani wheel (or prayer wheel) is also believed to give the same benefit as saying the mantra, and Mani wheels, small hand wheels and large wheels with millions of copies of the mantra inside, are found everywhere in the lands influenced by Tibetan Buddhism. You will often see people going around these stupas, rotating the prayer wheels with their hands, and no, they are not doing that for fun!


The Mantra 

It is said that all the teachings of the Buddha are contained in this mantra: Om Mani Padme Hum can not really be translated into a simple phrase or sentence. It is appropriate, though, to say a little about the mantra, so that people who want to use it in their meditation practice will have some sense of what they are doing, and people who are just curious will understand a little better what the mantra is and why it is so important to Tibetan Buddhists.

The Mani mantra is the most widely used of all Buddhist mantras, and open to anyone who feels inspired to practice it -- it does not require prior initiation by a lama (meditation master).
The six syllables of the mantra, as it is often pronounced by Tibetans -- Om Mani Padme Hum -- are here written in the Tibetan alphabet:

Image result for om mani padme hum history
Reading from left to right the syllables are:

Om
(ohm)
Ma
(mah)
Ni
(nee)
Pad
(pahd)
Me
(may)
Hum
(hum)

The mantra originated in India; as it moved from India into Tibet, the pronunciation changed because some of the sounds in the Indian Sanskrit language were hard for Tibetans to pronounce.

Sanskrit
form
Om Mani Padma Hum
mantra of Avalokiteshvara
Tibetan
form
Om Mani Peme Hung
mantra of Chenrezig

The Meaning of the Mantra

The monks believed that the chant 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. Päd, 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?

People who learn about the mantra naturally want to know what it means, and often ask for a translation into English or some other Western language. However, Om Mani Padme Hum can not really be translated into a simple phrase or even a few sentences. All of the Dharma is based on Buddha's discovery that suffering is unnecessary: Like a disease, once we really face the fact that suffering exists, we can look more deeply and discover it's cause; and when we discover that the cause is dependent on certain conditions, we can explore the possibility of removing those conditions.

The Chants 


This has now become a part of my daily calming process. The simultaneous amalgamation of peace and energy that this chant induces is beyond words. But then again, no two people are same, so this could be your pacification or just another track that plays in the background! Click on the link above and find out for yourself.

- SR 

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