When we were living in Mcleodganj, I had a favourite ‘go-to’ spot there. It was a bench on a walking path right next to the Dalai Lama’s temple. After a visit to the temple I would usually walk down to this spot to just sit, look at the valley of Dharamsala and contemplate on life.
One morning, as I sat there staring into space (my kind of meditation) and absorbing the beauty around me, a young monk came and sat next to me. After tolerating my incessant inactivity, she poked me with her finger and said, recite ‘om mani padme hum’ and I did. I believe in everything that connects people to God and so along with her, I, for an infinite number of times recited the said mantra and then I thought why not know more about it, so I started finding the meaning of the words that I was reciting. While I come to the meaning in sometime, let me add that a lot of people, the enlightened ones and the not so enlightened ones believe that mantras are universal sounds that are already present within us and whether we understand their meaning or not, just saying the words earns us the benefits of the mantras.
Coming back to the meaning, mani means jewel or bead and padme means the lotus flower, the Buddhist sacred flower. However, according to a distinguished professor of Buddhist & Tibetan studies at the University of Michigan, Donald Lopez, manipadme more likely addresses a bodhisattva (a sanskrit term for being with bodhi- enlightenment). It is preceded by the om syllable and followed by the hum syllable, both interjections without linguistic meaning.
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 the six realms of existence in the Buddhist tradition. Buddhists believe in 6 realms of existence and depending upon our karma, we can be born in any one of those realms. Om purifies bliss and pride (realm of the gods); Ma purifies jealousy and need for entertainment (realm of the jealous gods); Ni purifies passion and desire (human realm); Pad purifies ignorance and prejudice (animal realm); Me purifies greed and possessiveness (realm of the hungry ghosts); Hum purifies aggression and hatred (hell realm).
As I sat there understanding the meaning of the words, I heard bells all around me from the nearby stupas and temples and the spinning of the prayer wheels. I saw the holy men and women and the not so holy, go about their morning ritual of purification as they chanted the same words as me, probably seeking the same things as me. It reminded me how we are all connected with each other, looking for the same happiness and that reminder was a very grounding experience.
May we all find what we seek!