Om Mani Padme Hum is the most frequently used mantra in Buddhism, recited by laymen as well as ordained nuns and monks. Whether you are new to meditation or a devout practitioner, Om Mani Padme Hum is an excellent mantra to recite in just about any context. According to the Tibetan tradition, all six syllables in the mantra are said to contain the sum of Buddha’s teachings.
Unfortunately, translating the mantra directly from Sanskrit to English doesn’t quite capture its spiritual significance, which is multilayered and nuanced. When translated literally, Om Mani Padme Hum means, “The jewel is in the lotus”, or “Hail to the jewel in the lotus,” a poetic but perhaps esoteric phrase to those of us unfamiliar with the deeper aspects of Buddhist philosophy. But with a thorough examination of each word, we can get at the heart of this mantra’s true meaning.
A Translation of Om Mani Padme Hum
Om: Om represents the pure body, mind, and speech of a Buddha.
Mani: Mani, or “jewel”, signifies the Buddhist practices that alleviate suffering. Buddha defined these as compassion, love, and an intention to achieve enlightenment.
Padma: Padma, or “lotus”, represents wisdom.
Hum: Hum alludes to indivisibility, a pure unity of wisdom and Buddhist practices.
Together, Mani, Padme, and Hum also represent the path to enlightenment.
In other words, in order reach enlightenment and obtain the pure mind, body, and speech of a Buddha, one must follow the path of dharma, a path built upon the inextricable union of wisdom and the Buddhist practices of compassion and love.
Or, in the words of the 14th Dalai Lama,
“…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….”
The Deity of Compassion
Om Mani Padme Hum is also the official mantra for the bodhisattva of compassion, known as Avalokitshvara, or Chenrezig in Tibetan Buddhism. Many practitioners recite the mantra to invoke Avalokitshvara’s blessings and develop his qualities of selflessness and benevolence. When used regularly, Om Mani Padme Hum is said to help cultivate compassion for one’s self and for others.
Om Mani Padme Hum in Tibet
Countless Buddhists chant Om Mani Padme Hum as part of their regular meditation and prayer ritual. Throughout Tibet and Nepal, you can spot the mantra on signs, prayer flags, and even carved into stone piles. Devout Buddhists coming upon these piles customarily walk around it clockwise, offer a prayer and then move on. The mantra is also the most frequently used mantra on prayer wheels, and spinning a prayer wheel embossed with Om Mani Padme Hum is considered the equivalent of saying the words out loud. Knowing both its poetic translation and its invitation to live a life of compassion, you may feel compelled to start using Om Mani Padma in your own practice. Whether recited during meditation, or worn as jewelry, this beautiful mantra is a beautiful yet profound reminder to embrace the qualities of love, wisdom, and goodness.