skip to Main Content
01252 338765 info@bccuk.org

Significance of Oṃ maṇipadme hūṃ in Vajrayana Buddhism

  • News
Significance Of Oṃ Maṇipadme Hūṃ In Vajrayana Buddhism

 

By Ven. Hungtram Khen Rinpoche

Homage to Avalokiteśvara, the Bodhisattva/Buddha of Compassion!

In this paper, I would like to deal with the below mentioned points in order to get a broader understanding of Avalokiteśvara and his mantra Oṃ maṇipadme hūṃ in Vajrayana Buddhism.

  1. Connection of Avalokiteśvara with Tibet

 

  1. a) Source citing how Buddha prophesied the Land of Snow, Tibet to be gDul zhing(the land to be tamed of Avalokiteśvara)
  2. b) First Tibetan race as the offsprings of the monkey (Avalokiteśvara’s disciple) and ogress (Goddess Tārā)
  3. c) Tibetan King Srong btsan sgam po and many masters from different Tibetan traditions believed to be the emanations of Avalokiteśvara

 

  1. Sources on Avalokiteśvara and the six-syllable mantra, Oṁ maṇipadme hūṁ

 

  1. a) Kangyur, bKa’ ’gyur (Sūtra and Tantra)
  2. b) Tangyur, bsTan ’gyur (Śāstras/Commentaries)
  3. c) rNying ma rgyud ’bum (Collection of Nyingma Tantras)
  4. d) rNying ma bKa’ ma (Transmitted teachings of the Nyingma Tradition)
  5. e) rNying ma gTer ma’ (Collection of Rediscovered Teachings)

 

  1. Oṃ maṇipadme hūṃ
  2. a) Connection between the Oṃ maṇipadme hūṃ and Avalokiteśvara
  3. b) Meaning of the Oṃ maṇipadme hūṃ (literal and symbolic)
  4. c) Benefits of reciting Oṃ maṇipadme hūṃ
  5. d) Influence of Oṃ maṇipadme hūṃ and Avalokiteśvara practices in the Himalayan region where Vajrayana widely spread

 

  1. Connection of Avalokiteśvara with Tibet

 

  1. a) Source citing how Buddha prophesied the Land of Snow, Tibet to be gDul zhing(the land to be tamed) by Avalokiteśvara

 

Even though it is widely accepted in the Tibetan Buddhist world that Buddha Śākyamuni prophesied that Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara will be ’Dul ba po (the tamer of beings) of the Land of Snows (Himvant), referring to the Himalayan region including Tibet, and the Land of Snows to be his gDul zhing (the place to be tamed), I tried hard to find the keywords in the existing sutra and tantra texts but in vain. However, the first Tibetan text that explains this important event mentioned above was Nyang ral Nyi ma ’Odzer (1124-1192; BDRC: P364) who details in his religious history that Amitābha Buddha sends Avalokiteśvara to request Buddha Śākyamuni not to pass away into nirvana as there were beings of the Land of Snows who need to be liberated. Śākyamuni in turn responds that Bodhisattva like Avalokiteśvara should take care of the beings of the Land of Snows.

At once Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara went to the Jetavana grove, bowed down in homage with his forehead before the feet of Buddha and sat in front of him. The disciples gathered there were happy and also did prostrations. Avalokiteśvara prayed, “Bhagavan, you still have not fulfilled your aspirations. You have not turned the wheel of Dharma to the beings of the Land of Snows.” The Bhagavan replied, “The beings of the Land of Snows cannot be ripened now. In the future, a Bodhisattva like you should be ripening them.” Avalokiteśvara at once disappeared from Jetavana grove. He went to Sukhavati and reported to Amitabha of his conversation with the Buddha. Amitabha told him, “Noble son, the beings born in the Land of Snows will head downwards in (the lower realms) without rising up just like a sand that flows down from a bag overturned. Beneath the Land of Snows is the hell realm like a closed casket. Tame these beings and gather them by providing them material things. Ripen them with Dharma and then bring all of them to Sukhavati in front of me.

 

  1. b)First Tibetan race as the offsprings of the monkey (Avalokiteśvara’s disciple) and ogress (Goddess Tārā)

Being the tamer of beings of Tibet, Avalokiteśvara was also instrumental in producing the first Tibetan race as he sends his monkey disciple to unite with the mountain ogress. Both of them gave birth to six children who were considered to be Mi’u gdung drug, the six main source of the Tibetan lineage.

(The monkey reported to Avalokiteśvara) O preceptor, I united with the ogress and resulted in birth of many children that multiplied further. However, I could not raise them. I am tortured by suffering and my physical state has also become pitiable. What should I do now? The Ārya Bodhisattva was extremely delighted and whilst knowing he asked, did you come and further responded to the monkey as follows. Whatever you have done is good. Tibet, the Land of Snows is a land of utter darkness conquered by non-human beings and they are not eligible to be tamed by the perfect Buddha. You were sent there to produce and increase the human race and lead them to the higher realms of existence and liberation. Do not doubt and lose faith in me. Do not be pained by suffering. They are objects of being tamed by me. You don’t have fault in this and what you have done accords with the doctrine of liberation.

 

  1. c) Tibetan King Srong btsan sgam po and many masters from different Tibetan traditions believed to be the emanations of Avalokiteśvara

 

I would like to mention here some of the renowned and prominent political and religious personalities of Tibet who were considered to be the emanations or manifestations of Avalokiteśvara with their corresponding date in chronological order.

 

  1. Songtsan Gampo (617–650; BDRC: P8067).
  2. Dromton Gyalwe Jungne (1078–1143; BDRC: P2557).
  3. Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (1092–1158; BDRC: P976).
  4. Gyalse Ngulchu Thogme (1295–1369; BDRC: P1830).
  5. Karmapa Rolpe Dorje (1340–1384; BDRC: P1456).
  6. Jamyang Choje Tashi Palden (1379–1449; BDRC: P35).
  7. Kunkhyen Pema Karpo (1527–1592;  BDRC: P825).
  8. The IXth Dalai Lama, Lungtok Gyatso (1805–1815; BDRC: P274).
  9. Dza Paltrul Rinpoche (1808–1887; BDRC: P270).
  10. The XIVth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso (1935–

 

  1. Sources on Avalokiteśvara and the six-syllable mantra, Oṁ maṇipadme hūṁ

 

  1. a) Kangyur, bKa’ ’gyur (Sūtra and Tantra)
  2. b) Tangyur, bsTan ’gyur (Śāstras/Commentaries)
  3. c) Nying Gyud, rNying ma rgyud ’bum (Collection of Nyingma Tantras)
  4. d) Nyingma Kama, bKa’ ma (Transmitted teachings of the Nyingma Tradition)
  5. e) Nyingma Terma, gTer ma (Rediscovered teaching of the Nyingma Tradition)

 

  1. a)Kangyur, bKa’ ’gyur (Sūtra and Tantra)

In Kangyur, the existing Tibetan translation of Buddhavacana, as much as six sūtra texts and thirty-seven tantra texts can be found related to Avalokiteśvara at least with the titles of the texts that I focused mainly upon. In these texts, Avalokiteśvara comes with different epithets and features namely ’Jig rten dbang phyug (Lokeśvara), ’jig rten mgon po (Lokanātha) sPyan ras gzigs (Avalokita), Don yod zhags pa (Amoghapāshā), Khasarpani (Khasarpaṇi), Seng ge’i sgra (Simhanāda), mGrin sngon can (Nīlakaṇṭa), Padma cod pan can (Padmamukuṭa), Eleven-faced Avalokiteśvara (Ekadaśamukha) and Avalokiteśvara with one-thousand arms and one-thousand eyes (Sahasrikabhujalocana), rJe btsun thugs rje chen po (Bhattarākamahākāruṇika), Pema gar dbang (padmanarteśvara), snying rje thros pa (Hālahāla) and so on. There may be many teachings related to Avalokiteśvara without his names in the titles and this may need more study and research.

The most extensive Mahāyāna sūtra texts that details about Avalokiteśvara are Saddharmapūḍarikanamamahāyānasūtra, Āryakaruṇapūḍarikanamamahāyānasūtra and Āryamahākaruṇapūḍarikanamamahāyānasūtra from which the first one is one of the most popular and influential Mahāyāna sūtras, and the basis on which the TiantaiTendaiCheontae, and Nichiren schools of Buddhism were established.

  1. b)Tangyur, bsTan ’gyur (Śāstras/Commentaries)

As much as one hundred and two texts related with the names of the different forms of Avalokiteśvara can be found in the Tangyur, the translated commentaries by Indian Buddhist masters. Majority of these are sādhana (Accomplishment Practices) and stotra(Prayers of Praise) with a few of them being poṣadha vidhi (Purification Ritual) and baliṅ vidhi (Food offering Ritual) related to Avalokiteśvara. Interestingly, there are a couple of sadhanas on the Six-syllable mantra of Avalokiteśvara, Oṁ maṇipadme hūṁ.

  1. c) rNying rGyud (Collection of Nyingma Tantras)

In the Nyingma rGyud ’bum, there is only one tantra that is found related to Avalokitesvara.

 

  1. d)Nyingma Kama, bKa’ ma (Transmitted teachings of the Nyingma Tradition)

There are at least more than twenty references to Avalokiteśvara in the collection of Kama teachings and one of them speaks about the specialty of meditating upon Avalokiteśvara and reciting his six-syllable mantra. Sogdogpa (1552–1624) clarifies that Avalokiteśvara is a Buddha in ultimate sense but on the relative level, he appears to be a Bodhisattva. Mipham Rinpoche (1846–1912) quotes from the sutras about the qualities of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara and his vidya mantra, Oṃ maṇipadme hūṃ.

  1. e) Nyingma Terma, gTer ma (Rediscovered teachings of the Nyingma Tradition)

In the huge collection of gTer ma/Treasure teachings called Rinchen Terzod (Rin chen gter mdzod), out of over six-hundred and sixty different empowerments/initiations (abhiṣekha), at least forty-five are related to Avalokiteśvara and the six-syllable mantra based on what Kyabje Pema Norbu Rinpoche bestowed in 2001. The list can be found in gTer mdzod thob yig from Sl. No. 240–285 and Page No. 164–170. There are also many Avalokiteśvara initiations that were not included in the above collection. As such one can understand the richness and diversity of teachings based on Avalokiteśvara found in the Nyingma Terma teachings.

  1. Oṃ maṇipadme hūṃ
  2. a)Connection between the Oṃ maṇipadme hūṃ and Avalokiteśvara

Oṃ maṇipadme hūṃ is the Rig sngags (vidyā mantra), gZungs sngags (dhāraṇī mantra) and mTshan sngags (nāma mantra) of Avalokiteśvara. Maṇipadme means ‘Jewel Lotus’ which forms the name of Avalokiteśvara as he holds the Maṇi (Jewel-Crystal Rosary) and Padma (Lotus) in his hands. Therefore, this mantra is the supreme essence of Avalokiteśvara.

 

  1. b) Meaning of the Oṃ maṇipadme hūṃ (literal and symbolic)

Literal Meaning of the Six-syllable mantra

OṂ is generally the beginning of all mantras. It is a combination of three letters – AH, U and MA.

These three letters of AH, U and MA signifies the body, speech and mind of the practitioner from the ground aspect and from the path it signifies the body, speech and mind of those with illusory bodies of the pure and impure stages of the path and on the fruition aspect, it signifies the body, speech and mind of the buddhas.

While remembering these, if one recites OṂ once, the power of meditative concentration and aspirations of the Buddhas immersed in this syllable enables one to gather immense merit. Hence, OṂ is called the mantra that holds the gem.

MAṆI PADME means Nor bu pad ma or Pad ma nor bu that means Gem lotus or Lotus Gem which is an epithet of Ārya Avalokiteśvara. The reason why he is named so is because just as a lotus is not stained by mud where it is born, in the same way, Avalokiteśvara being free from all the obscurations, both gross and subtle, due to the attainment of great wisdom, he does not remain in or fall to the extreme of samsara. To signify this, he holds a white lotus. Even though he has attained the unsurpassable peace or the supreme enlightenment, due to the power of his great compassion, he avoids the extreme of falling into the peace of nirvana and appears in the six realms of samsara through various emanations and manifestations and benefits all beings. To signify this, he folds his hand in the mudra of holding a gem. Thus, he is known with the names: Holder of White Lotus, Holder of Gem, Gem Lotus and Lotus Gem etc.

HŪṂ is the seed syllable for the vajra or the indestructible enlightened mind. The five aspects of this syllable signify the five wisdoms with their objects. While remembering these, if one recites HŪṂ once, it will sever suffering along with its causes.

  1. c) Benefits of reciting Oṃ maṇipadme hūṃ

The Kāraṇḍavyūhasūtra mentions in detail the benefits of reciting the six-syllable mantra as follows.

“Then Tathāgata Padmottama praised the qualities of this six-syllable mahāvidyā:

 

“ Noble son, it is like this. As a comparison, I can know the number of atoms, but, noble son, I cannot calculate the accumulation of merit from repeating the six-syllable mahāvidyā once.

 

“ Noble son, it is like this. As a comparison, I can count the grains of sand in the ocean, but, noble son, I cannot calculate the accumulation of merit from repeating the six-syllable mahāvidyā once.

 

“ Noble son, it is like this. As a comparison, a person builds a building that is a hundred yojanas high and five hundred yojanas wide, and completely fills it with sesame seeds. There isn’t even a needle-sized hole in this building. At its door there is an immortal man who never ages. If every hundred eons that man takes out one sesame seed, I can calculate the time when such a building would be emptied down to the floor, but, noble son, I cannot calculate the accumulation of merit that comes from

repeating the six-syllable mahāvidyā once.

 

“ Noble son, it is like this. As a comparison, if the people in the four continents were all to work at various kinds of agriculture, such as barley, wheat, rice, green or black mung beans, and so on; and jujubes, horse gram, and so on; and the nāga kings sent rain at the appropriate times; and those grains grew, ripened, and were harvested; if Jambudvīpa were made into one threshing floor, and the grain was brought in carts, in animal loads, in bundles and baskets, and put on that threshing floor, trodden by oxen and donkeys, and made into one big heap; then, noble son, I could count every

single grain, but, noble son, I cannot calculate the accumulation of merit that comes

from repeating the six-syllable mahāvidyā once.

 

“ Noble son, it is like this. As a comparison, in Jambudvīpa there are great rivers that flow day and night. They are the Sītā, the Ganges, the Yamuna, the Indus, the Pakṣu, the Sutlej, the Chenab, the Ravi, the Sumāgandha, the Himavatī, and the Godavari. Each of these rivers has five hundred tributaries. Day and night they flow into the ocean. Noble son, this is how the accumulation of merit increases as the result of a single repetition of the six-syllable mahāvidyā: I can count each drop in

those great rivers, but, noble son, I cannot calculate the accumulation of merit that comes from repeating the six-syllable mahāvidyā once.

 

“ Noble son, it is like this. As a comparison, I can count each hair on all four-legged beings such as herds of oxen, donkeys, buffaloes, horses, and elephants; dogs, jackals, goats, and similarly lions, tigers, wolves, deer, monkeys, hares, pigs, and so on; and rats and cats, and so on; but, noble son, I cannot calculate the accumulation of merit from repeating the six-syllable mahāvidyā once.

 

“ Noble son, it is like this. As a comparison, the king of mountains, named Vajrāṅkuśa, is 99,000 yojanas high and extends downward into the sea for 84,000 yojanas. Vajrāṅkuśa, the king of mountains, is 84,000 yojanas wide on each side. On the side of that king of mountains there is an ageless, immortal man, who once every eon wipes the mountain one time with a Kaśika cloth. Even this alone will eventually cause the mountain to be worn down and vanish. I can count the number of years, months, days, hours, and minutes of time that would take, but, noble son, I cannot calculate

the accumulation of merit that comes from repeating the six-syllable mahāvidyā once.

 “Noble son, it is like this. As a comparison, the ocean is 84,000 yojanas deep, and it has an immeasurable expanse, extending as far as Vaḍavāmukha. I can count all its drops of water, which are the size of the tip of a hair, but, noble son, I cannot calculate the accumulation of merit that comes from repeating the six-syllable mahāvidyā once.

 

“ Noble son, it is like this. As a comparison, I can count the number of leaves in a forest of agarwood trees, but, noble son, I cannot calculate the accumulation of merit that comes from repeating the six-syllable mahāvidyā once.

 

“ Noble son, it is like this. As a comparison, even if all the men, women, boys, and girls who live in the four continents were to be on the seventh bodhisattva bhūmi, the accumulation of merit that comes from repeating the six-syllable mahāvidyā once would be far greater than the accumulation of merit of those bodhisattvas.

 

“ Noble son, it is like this. As a comparison, if for a year of twelve months, or with a leap-month to make a year of thirteen months, it were to rain day and night, noble son, I could count each drop of rain, but, noble son, I cannot calculate the accumulation of merit that comes from repeating the six-syllable mahāvidyā once.

 

“ Noble son, it is like this: There is no need to say much, but if, for example, a million tathāgatas like me were to be in one place for an eon, provided with all requirements, with robes, food, bowls, bedding, seats, necessary medicine, and utensils, still those tathāgatas would not be able to calculate the accumulation of merit from the sixsyllable mahāvidyā, so it is needless to say that I cannot do so all by myself in this world.

 

“ Noble son, I have entered the yoga of meditation through an inconceivable dhyāna. This is a subtle Dharma, an imperceptible Dharma, an unknown Dharma; it is the attainment of the ultimate essence. It has been established through the qualities of Bodhisattva Mahāsattva Avalokiteśvara’s skillfulness in methods. In that way, noble son, I too obtained skillfulness in methods through the six-syllable mahāvidyā.”

 

  1. d) Influence of Oṃ maṇipadme hūṃ and Avalokiteśvara practices in the Himalayan region where Vajrayāna widely spread

 

 

Since the establishment of Vajrayana Buddhism in Tibet and the Himalayan region, the impact and influence of Avalokiteśvara and his teachings, especially the six-syllable mantra in the minds of the Himalayan people has been profound, widespread and everlasting. There is a popular saying in Tibetan related to the six-syllable mantra, “Initially, there is no difficulty in learning it. In the middle, there is no pride in having learnt it and finally, there is no fear in forgetting it.” This shows how Tibetans consider Mani mantra to be simple and profound. It is a well-known and commonly accepted belief that every child who is born in Tibet has Mani mantra on his or her lips. Such is the popularity of this mantra.

 

The value of compassion which forms the heart essence of the teachings of Avalokiteśvara is deeply ingrained in the minds of Tibetans. They always have the word sNying rje (compassion/empathy) on their lips whenever they see the suffering of others which shows how much respect they have for the lives and well-being of others. This is because of the profound connection between Avalokiteśvara and the Tibetans, the abundant teachings on Avalokiteśvara in all the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism and the ever present reflection of compassionate values in their societies.

 

The aspects of view, meditation, conduct and fruition related to the general teachings of Avalokitesvara and specifically of the Mani Mantra is so vast and profound that presenting them all here in a few pages is a gigantic and impossible task. However, I have tried my best to cover a few aspects to the best of my ability. This is my first time experience in writing a research based paper and I am sure that there are many areas where improvement is needed. The effort that I have put for the sake of my own practice that has really helped me greatly and if there is anything worthy to be noted in this task, it is all due to the assistance that I got from my colleagues at Ngagyur Nyingma Research research centre. 

 May this small effort help all to develop the value of compassion, the heart of Avalokitesvara’s teachings!

 

Back To Top