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The Meaning of OM MANI PADME HUM
I would like to talk a little about the meaning of the OM MANI PADME HUM mantra.
Mani represents method and padme, wisdom. In other words, these two words contain the whole path revealed by Guru Shakyamuni Buddha; the entire graduated path to enlightenment. These two words contain the whole path to nirvana—liberation from suffering and the true cause of suffering. All the lesser vehicle paths are included in method and wisdom; therefore, they are covered by mani and padme. The entire Paramitayana path, the bodhicitta path to enlightenment, is also encompassed by method and wisdom; therefore, it, too, is completely contained in mani and padme. Finally, the entire Vajrayana path—the path of the inseparable vehicle, tantra, or secret mantra—is also covered by these terms.
Tantra has four divisions, or levels. The first is kriya tantra, which in turn is divided into that with sign and that without sign. That with sign is the path of method; that without is the path of wisdom; the whole kriya tantra path is included in mani and padme. It’s the same for the other tantras. Through the practice of the fourth class of tantra, Highest Yoga Tantra (maha-anuttara yoga tantra) we can attain enlightenment—omniscient mind; the transcendent state that is complete in all realizations and purified of every stain—in one brief lifetime of this degenerate age. There are two stages in Highest Yoga Tantra: generation [sometimes also called creation, development or evolution] and accomplishment [or completion]. These are included in mani and padme, method and wisdom. The accomplishment stage has four levels: seclusion of mind; illusory body; clear light and unification. Illusory body, the path of method, is contained in mani; clear light, the path of wisdom, is contained in padme. Also, there are two types of clear light: the clear light of meaning and clear light of example.
In order to turn the mind into the path we must first lay the foundation, the three principal aspects of the path: renunciation, bodhicitta and the wisdom realizing emptiness.
Renunciation of samsara is the thought that has strong aversion to samsara through realizing that it is only in the nature of suffering; that being under the control of the disturbing negative minds and karma, our aggregates of body and mind are suffering in nature. Normally, we are not aware of this. We hallucinate that that which is impermanent by nature is permanent; that which is dirty by nature is clean; that which is suffering by nature is pleasant; and that which has no existence at all from its own side, which is merely labeled, exists from its own side. This is our normal, hallucinated view of reality. Renunciation is realization of the fact that all conditioned existence is suffering in nature.
We are like moths, which see a burning flame as a beautiful place in which to be, not realizing what will happen when they touch it. We completely hallucinate. Even if the flame is covered they still try as hard as they can to get into it. Even though they feel it to be hot, they still try to get in. They think that incredible bliss lies within the white part. So what happens when they actually get in there? It’s not at all what they expected. It’s the complete opposite. As long as we are in samsara, our life is constantly confused like this.
We have no idea that our life is completely suffering in nature; we follow our hallucinating mind as if it’s one hundred percent right, as if our wrong conceptions are perfect. We have complete trust in our projections, our hallucinations. We believe that our wrong conceptions are completely true. It’s like seeing a burning environment as a beautiful park and trying to get into it, not realizing that we’ll get burnt. We see this suffering realm as a beautiful park.
Renunciation is the realization that our own samsara is only in the nature of suffering; that living in samsara is like being engulfed by flames and feeling unable to bear remaining in it for a second longer without achieving liberation. When we feel our own suffering as unbearable and the thought seeking liberation spontaneously and continuously arises, we have realized renunciation of samsara.
When we change the object and think of others instead of ourselves, the feeling becomes compassion. Having the strong thought of renunciation of our own samsara, when we reflect on others’ being caught in samsara and suffering, we begin to feel incredible, unbearably strong compassion; we feel it intolerable that others are in samsara under the control of their disturbing thoughts and karma. When we see others caught in samsara it feels extremely unendurable, like a spear in the heart, like a mother feels when her beloved only child falls into a fire. It’s as unbearable as that.
In that way, there arises incredibly strong compassion wishing other sentient beings to be free from suffering. We cannot relax without doing something to help them. There is no way to think of ourselves, our own happiness; no way for the thought of self-concern to arise. We can’t remain still, doing nothing to free other sentient beings. We can’t bear their being in samsara even for an hour or a minute. Just as, with the realization of renunciation, we couldn’t stand not achieving our own liberation, couldn’t wait even a minute, now our focus is on others. When this wish arises, we have the realization of great compassion—the wish that all sentient beings might be free of all suffering and the resolve to bring this about ourselves.
Bodhicitta arises from this attitude. We ask ourselves, “What’s the solution now? What should I do? What’s the best method for me to free all sentient beings from suffering?” The conclusion we come to is that the only way we can guide sentient beings from suffering perfectly is by achieving the omniscient mind.
Hence, the wish to develop an omniscient mind comes from the root of compassion. From great compassion, the altruistic mind of enlightenment, bodhicitta, is generated. The compassion here is that which arises spontaneously for all sentient beings without discriminating between friends, enemies and strangers—those who help, those who treat us badly and criticize us, and those who neither help nor harm us. Its object is all suffering sentient beings and compassion wishes all beings to be free of all obscurations. Great compassion wishes all those who are devoid of the peerless happiness of enlightenment to achieve the state of omniscient mind and takes personal responsibility for seeing them do so.
With spontaneously arising bodhicitta we feel like the mother whose beloved only child has fallen into a fire. We can’t stand it. Day and night, all the time, the altruistic mind of enlightenment arises without effort. At that time, we have realized bodhicitta. The person who has realized bodhicitta is called “fortunate.” Such a person is wise, skillful and compassionate. Those who have the ultimate good heart, bodhicitta, in their mind are truly competent.
In worldly terms, those who can earn a lot of money, who can kill their enemies, who have many apartments everywhere, are considered clever, skillful and wise. Those who can cheat others to enhance their reputation or happiness are thought of as wise, clever and self-supporting. These ideas are completely wrong. Even if you can liberate yourself from samsara you still haven’t finished your work for self or others. Thus, bodhisattvas are not necessarily skillful or compassionate, even if they can liberate themselves from samsara. Therefore, the wisdom of realizing emptiness is practiced after the realization of bodhicitta.
Then, after your mind is well trained in the general path, you take initiation from a qualified vajra guru, one who can give Highest Yoga Tantra initiations. Once your mind has been ripened by receiving the four types of Highest Yoga Tantra initiation, you train your mind by meditating on its two paths: the gradual paths of generation and accomplishment. When your mind reaches the level of the clear light of example, you are free from the danger of death—there’s no uncontrolled death, no dying without choice.
As I mentioned before, the clear light is signified by padme, wisdom, and the illusory body by mani, method. If you can reach this stage, you can attain enlightenment before death, but if you don’t, then you can do so right after death, in the intermediate stage, as did many high lamas and great yogis, such as Milarepa, who became enlightened in one lifetime.
[Tape not clear; maybe a bit missed here.]
The merit that takes three countless eons to accumulate by following the Paramitayana path can be completely accumulated in one brief lifetime by meditating on the illusory body. The clear light is the remedy to the dualistic view; disturbing thoughts and even the subtle dualistic view can be completely ceased by meditating on the clear light with the support of the extensive merit that you accumulate by meditating on the illusory body. In this way you achieve the unification of the completely pure holy body and holy mind of the buddha or the deity you have been practicing and become a buddha.
When the moon rises it doesn’t need to exert effort for its reflection to appear in bodies of water: “Now I’m going to reflect in all the waters on Earth.” Wherever there’s water, its reflection automatically appears. Similarly, after you have become a buddha, after you have achieved the deity you have been practicing, you work effortlessly and spontaneously for the benefit of all sentient beings. You work continually with your holy body, speech and mind to lead sentient beings equaling infinite space to the peerless happiness of the omniscient mind.
This is just a brief explanation of the meaning of the mantra OM MANI PADME HUM, but I hope you can see from it how mani and padme—method and wisdom—encompass the entire graduated path to enlightenment.
Now, if your mind is like a rock it’s like unfertilized earth; it’s not well prepared. Even if you plant seeds, they won’t grow. If your mind is selfish, solid, full of anger and dissatisfaction, like iron, like a rocky mountain, hard, vicious, then even though you want to attain liberation or complete enlightenment, the path that mani and padme contain will not develop in it. Earth needs to be watered and to contain minerals and fertilizer—then it’s possible for things to grow in it. Similarly, your present mind needs to change from its concrete, vicious, ugly state. It needs to be transformed, softened—it needs the blessings of the Guru Buddha.
OM MANI PADME HUM contains the name of Chenrezig, the Great Compassionate One. Reciting this mantra is like calling your mother. You call mother to get her attention and then you ask her for what you want: ice cream, chocolate, whatever! When you recite OM MANI PADME HUM, you’re calling Chenrezig’s holy name and the hum influences his holy mind. What you are asking him for is to bless your mind—not only your own but also the minds of other sentient beings—to plant the root of the path to enlightenment, the method and wisdom contained in mani and padme.
Finally, what remains to be explained is the om. Practicing and completing the path of method and wisdom in your mind is signified by mani and padme—purification of all the obscurations, negative karma and impure conception, or view, of body, speech and mind. When your body, speech and mind are thus purified they become Guru Chenrezig’s vajra holy body, speech and mind.
The [Sanskrit or Tibetan] letter om has three parts. The body of the letter is ah—the mother syllable. Above it is a wavy line called (in Tibetan) a naro, the vowel that converts an “ah” sound into an “o.” Above that is a small zero, which adds the “m” sound. These three components add up to “om” and signify the three kayas, or vajra body, speech and mind. Your impure conceptions of body, speech and mind transform into the completely pure vajra holy body, speech and mind of Chenrezig, the Great Compassionate One. Therefore, om means enlightenment.
This, then, is the meaning of OM MANI PADME HUM: the beginning, or cause, of the path, the path itself, and the result. It’s like a tree: root, trunk and fruit.
OM MANI PADME HUM also encompasses all existence—dependent arising and emptiness: mani and padme. All existence is contained in the two truths; all this is contained in mani and padme: absolute truth in padme, and conventional truth, the truth of the all-obscuring mind, in mani.
All 84,000 teachings of the Buddha—the Prajnaparamita teachings, all the hundreds of volumes of Tengyur and Kangyur—are included in OM MANI PADME HUM as well. It contains all the five great treatises on the sutras that the monks study in the monasteries, which explain the logic that proves that the Buddha is a valid, or true, holy being—non-deceptive, not misguiding and logical. Buddha’s teaching is true because when sentient beings practice it, it works; it contains the experience, so the result comes. When you practice, even the simplest of everyday life problems get solved. So this is just a small proof that you can be liberated from the true cause of suffering; that you can become enlightened. This proves that the teachings are valid and true and will not betray you.
The monks in the great monasteries study the teachings on logic for many years. They usually study and debate the Madhyamaka teachings, which explain the two truths, for three years. Then they study the wisdom-gone-beyond, the Prajnaparamita teachings, for five years or so. They also study the Vinaya teachings on moral conduct—how to subdue the body, speech, and mind—for a year or more. Then they study the Abhidharmakosha for many years. They study these sutra teachings and the five great treatises for thirty or forty years, memorizing, debating and taking examinations. Then they study the tantric teachings for many years and practice all those extensive, complete paths. OM MANI PADME HUM contains an entire lifetime of study.
Somehow there’s a difference when you recite the mantra of this particular buddha, the embodiment of the compassion of all buddhas—the great compassion that is unable to bear sentient beings’ suffering and guides them from it. This compassion is a hundred thousand times greater than the compassion we have for ourselves. There is no comparison. And this infinite compassion of all the buddhas manifests in this particular aspect we call Chenrezig, the Buddha Seeing With Compassionate Eyes.
Because of his compassion, the Buddha himself achieved the great nirvana, the sphere of great peace, without choice, bound by compassion. We’re the opposite: without choice, bound by selfish thoughts, we give harm to other sentient beings and even ourselves. Bound by compassion, buddhas manifest in the sambhogakaya aspect for higher bodhisattvas and in the nirmanakaya aspect for ordinary bodhisattvas. For ordinary beings, they manifest in the form of a monk, like His Holiness the Dalai Lama, or as a king; in various forms, whatever is necessary. If there’s a manifestation that will subdue sentient beings, that’s how they’ll manifest—as a judge, a general or even as a butcher or a crazy person; as a blind person or a beggar to cause others to accumulate merit by practicing charity and thus create the cause of happiness. If some sentient being needs to be guided in that way, they’ll manifest as a wealthy person; if another needs to be guided in such a special aspect, if it’s the only way to subdue that person’s mind, because of his strong attachment, they’ll manifest as a prostitute.
In his teachings, Shakyamuni Buddha declared, “I will manifest as all these things.” He said, “I have no attachment but I manifest as having attachment; I’m not blind but I manifest as being blind; I’m not crippled, but I manifest as crippled; I’m not crazy, but I manifest as crazy; I have not the slightest anger but I manifest as having anger. If I manifest in such ways in the future, not all beings will recognize this.”
However, to guide us he manifested as the Thousand-arm, Thousand-eyed One and the Compassionate Buddha’s mantra is somehow different from other mantras. Other mantras are very powerful but this one has some particular personality, or effect—the mind becomes naturally more calm and compassionate while it’s being recited; the thought of benefiting others naturally arises and the practitioner is less self-centered.
Normally, ordinary people who recite OM MANI PADME HUM have a very good heart even if they don’t know the teachings or meditate on the graduated path to enlightenment. This happens just through having faith in the Compassionate Buddha, the Great Compassionate One and reciting his mantra. You need to have a good heart even for the happiness of this life, for peace of mind in everyday life. A good heart is of the utmost need; it’s the only way. It is very helpful to recite this mantra. It is very effective for the mind.
When you recite OM MANI PADME HUM you should feel not so much Chenrezig’s form but his essence, or nature. If it’s uncomfortable to visualize him above the crown of your head, visualize him in front of you. Visualize great compassion for all sentient beings manifesting in the thousand-arm-thousand-eyed aspect. The nature of his holy body is light. He is smiling and has compassionate, loving eyes that look directly at you—a suffering, confused sentient being—and all other sentient beings as well. If you can manage, visualize a syllable HRIH on a moon disc on an eight-petaled lotus in his heart. From here, nectar beams emanate and enter you, purifying all your obscurations, particularly your selfish attitude, which is the main obstacle to your generating bodhicitta.
Visualizing in this way, recite OM MANI PADME HUM as many times as you can.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave this teaching at the Sixteenth Kopan Meditation Course, Kathmandu, Nepal, 1983. Edited by Nicholas Ribush. The entire course transcript may be found in the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive members' area. For more teachings on Avalokiteshvara and OM MANI PADME HUM, see Lama Zopa's Teachings from the Mani Retreat.