The Song of Great Compassion
This song to Chenrezig, the Tibetan Buddha of Infinite Compassion (Avalokiteshvara, in Sanrskit) is a hymn to the jewel in the lotus. In this context, the jewel is compassion and the lotus is the heart.
Auṃ maṇi padme hūṃ (Sanskrit: ॐ मणिपद्मे हूँ, IPA: [õːː mɐɳɪpɐdmeː ɦũː]) is the six-syllabled Sanskrit mantra particularly associated with the four-armed Shadakshari form of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion.
It first appeared in the Mahayana Kāraṇḍavyūhasūtra where it is also referred to as the sadaksara (six syllabled) and the paramahrdaya, or “innermost heart” of Avalokiteshvara. In this text the mantra is seen as condensed form of all the Buddhist teachings.
The first word Aum/Om is a sacred syllable in various Indian religions.
The word Mani means “jewel” or “bead”, Padme is the “lotus flower” (the Buddhist sacred flower), and Hum represents the spirit of enlightenment.
In Tibetan Buddhism, this is the most ubiquitous mantra and the most popular form of religious practice, performed by laypersons and monastics alike. It is also an ever present feature of the landscape, commonly carved onto rocks, known as mani stones, painted into the sides of hills or else it is written on prayer flags and prayer wheels.
Tthe mantra also entered Chinese Buddhism and has also been adapted into Chinese Taoism.
The Lotus is a symbol present throughout Indian religion, signifying purity (due to its ability to emerge unstained from the mud) and spiritual fruition (and thus, awakening). Maṇipadme is preceded by the oṃ syllable and followed by the hūṃ syllable, both interjections without linguistic meaning, but widely known as divine sounds.
However, according to Donald Lopez (citing Tibetan grammatical sources) it is much more likely that maṇipadme is in fact a vocative, addressing a bodhisattva called maṇipadma, “Jewel-Lotus”- an alternative epithet of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara.
Damien Keown also notes that another theory about the meaning of this mantra is that it actually invokes a female deity named Manipadmi. This is due to evidence from texts like the Kāraṇḍavyūhasūtra which depict the mantra as a female deity. Also, as noted by Studholme, if the word is read as a vocative, it would be a highly irregular form of the masculine grammatical gender and therefore its most likely in the feminine. Thus as Lopez notes, the original meaning of the mantra could in fact be an invocation of “she of the lotus jewel”, who is the vidya (wisdom) and consort of Avalokiteshvara and is equivalent to Shakti’s role vis a vis Shiva.
A Tibetan Sand Mandala of Avalokitesvara, a key element of the tantric initiation ritual required to practice the mantra according to the Kāraṇḍavyūha.
The first known description of the mantra appears in the Kāraṇḍavyūhasūtra (“The Basket’s Display”, c. 4-5th centuries), which is part of certain Mahayana canons such as the Tibetan. In this sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha states, “This is the most beneficial mantra. Even I made this aspiration to all the million Buddhas and subsequently received this teaching from Buddha Amitabha.”
The sutra promotes the recitation of this mantra as a means to liberation. It states that whoever knows (janati) the mantra will know liberation as a fully enlightened Buddha. It also states that initiation into the mantra by a qualified preceptor (which is said to be a lay dharmabhanaka, vidyadhara or mahasiddha) is an important requirement for practicing this mantra. In the sutra, Avalokitesvara says that the mantra should not be given to one who has not seen the mandala.
The Kāraṇḍavyūhasūtra also sees the mantra as the pith or condensed expression of all “eighty four thousand Dharmas.” Because of this it is called “the grain of rice of the Mahayana”, and reciting it is equivalent to reciting numerous sutras.
Thus, according to Studholme, the significance of the mantra in the Kāraṇḍavyūha is mainly that it is the “innermost heart” of Avalokitesvara, and therefore is “a means both of entering into the presence of Avalokitesvara and of appropriating some of the bodhisattva’s power.” Its practice is said to lead numerous positive qualities including:
• The seeing (darsana) the bodhisattva’s “thousand-fold” form,
• Rebirth in into the myriad worlds contained in the pores of the bodhisattva’s body
• Innumerable samadhis (meditative absorptions), including the samadhi of “rejoicing in loving kindness and compassion” (maitri-karuna-mudito).
• The development of “great compassion” (maha karuna)
• Accumulation of immeasurable merit
• Accomplishment of the six perfections
• Awakening (bodhi)
In this sutra, the sadaksari mahavidya (six syllabled great vidya) also appears as a goddess, “autumn yellow” in color, with four arms, with two arms holding a lotus and prayer beads, and the other two in anjali mudra. According to Studholme, these features are similar to the way the mantra Om nama shivaya is depicted in Shaiva texts, since “both are concise vidyas, the hrdayas [heart] of their respective isvaras, sui generis means of attaining liberation, universally available, though of rare value and somewhat secret. Both are also, it has been argued, conceived of as forms of pranava [divine sound].”
“om mani padme hūṃ hrīḥ”
The largest mantra inscription in the world is located on Dogee Mountain in Kyzyl, Russia
Donald Lopez writes that according to a 17th century work by the prime minister of the fifth Dalai Lama, the meaning of the mantra is said to be “O, you who have the jewel and the lotus.” That manipadme is in the vocative case is also supported by a 9th century Tibetan grammatical treatise. Lopez also notes that the majority of Tibetan Buddhist texts have regarded the translation of the mantra as secondary, focusing instead on the correspondence of the six syllables of the mantra to various other groupings of six in the Buddhist tradition. For example, in the Chenrezig Sadhana, Tsangsar Tulku Rinpoche expands upon the mantra’s meaning, taking its six syllables to represent the purification of the six realms of existence:
Syllable Six Pāramitās Purifies Samsaric realm Colors Symbol of the Deity (Wish them) To be born in
Om Generosity Pride / Ego Devas White Wisdom Perfect Realm of Potala
Ma Ethics Jealousy / Lust for entertainment Asuras Green Compassion Perfect Realm of Potala
Ni Patience Passion / desire Humans Yellow Body, speech, mind
quality and activity Dewachen
Pad Diligence Ignorance / prejudice Animals Blue Equanimity the presence of Protector (Chenrezig)
Me Renunciation Greed / possessiveness Pretas (hungry ghosts) Red Bliss Perfect Realm of Potala
Hum Wisdom Aggression / hatred Naraka Black Quality of Compassion the presence of the Lotus Throne (of Chenrezig)
Avalokiteśvara or Padmapani (English: /ˌʌvəloʊkɪˈteɪʃvərə/ UV-əl-oh-kih-TAY-shvər-ə; Sanskrit: अवलोकितेश्वर) is a bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. This bodhisattva is variably depicted, described and portrayed in different cultures as either male or female. In Chinese Buddhism, Avalokiteśvara has evolved into the somewhat different female figure Guanyin, also known in Japan as Kanzeon .
The name Avalokiteśvara combines the verbal prefix ava “down”, lokita, a past participle of the verb lok “to notice, behold, observe”, here used in an active sense; and finally īśvara, “lord”, “ruler”, “sovereign” or “master”. In accordance with sandhi (Sanskrit rules of sound combination), a+īśvara becomes eśvara. Combined, the parts mean “lord who gazes down (at the world)”. The word loka (“world”) is absent from the name, but the phrase is implied.
The original Sanskrit form was Avalokitasvara, “who looks down upon sound” (i.e., the cries of sentient beings who need help). It is now understood that was the original form, and is also the origin of Guanyin “Perceiving sound, cries”. This translation was favored by the tendency of some Chinese translators, notably Kumārajīva, to use the variant 觀世音 Guānshìyīn “who perceives the world’s lamentations”—wherein lok was read as simultaneously meaning both “to look” and “world”.
This earlier Sanskrit name was supplanted by the form containing the ending -īśvara “lord”; but Avalokiteśvara does not occur in Sanskrit before the seventh century.
The original meaning of the name fits the Buddhist understanding of the role of a bodhisattva. The reinterpretation presenting him as an īśvara shows a strong influence of Hinduism, as the term īśvara was usually connected to the Hindu notion of Vishnu (in Vaishnavism) or Śiva (in Shaivism) as the Supreme Lord, Creator and Ruler of the world. Some attributes of such a god were transmitted to the bodhisattva, but the mainstream of those who venerated Avalokiteśvara upheld the Buddhist rejection of the doctrine of any creator god.
In Tibetan, Avalokiteśvara is Chenrézig, (Tibetan: སྤྱན་རས་གཟིགས་) and is said to emanate as the Dalai Lama, the Karmapa and other high lamas. An etymology of the Tibetan name Chenrézik is spyan “eye”, ras “continuity” and gzig “to look”. This gives the meaning of one who always looks upon all beings (with the eye of compassion).
According to the Kāraṇḍavyūha Sūtra, the sun and moon are said to be born from Avalokiteśvara’s eyes, Shiva from his brow, Brahma from his shoulders, Narayana from his heart, Sarasvati from his teeth, the winds from his mouth, the earth from his feet, and the sky from his stomach. In this text and others, such as the Longer Sukhavativyuha Sutra, Avalokiteśvara is an attendant of Amitabha.