As one traverses across the scenic lands of Sikkim — a beautiful land nestled in the foothills of Himalayas — there’s a definitive hum that envelopes self. Emanating from the numerous monasteries that are perched on different top of hills, it is aided by the scores and scores of colorful flags that gracefully flutter in the winds that glide along. If that was not enough, there are the cylindrical drum-wheels that in the clockwise rotation, add to this subdued hum. These wheels could be as small as a little-finger, and could be as bigger as any human around. Frankly, the hum is actually a hymn, a six-syllable Sanskrit one that pervades the whole land, cleansing and purifying the minds and possibly the souls of the populace.
“Om Mani Padme Hum”(ॐ मणिपद्मे हूं) is how the hymn goes, generating a relentless flow of energy that inter-mixes in the air. There is no escaping this vibrant energy, actually there is no need to so. It is like a force of magnetism that exists but can scarcely be defined.
The hymn is an integral part of Mahayana Buddhism, and is
especially found in the places where this branch of Buddhism exists and flourishes, namely Tibet, northern parts of India, Sikkim, Bhutan and so on.
According to Wikipedia, the first known description of the mantra (Om Mani Padme Hum) appears in the Karandavyuha Sutra. Accordingly, inside the sutra Sakyamuni Buddha (Or the Siddhartha Gautama-Buddha) said, “This is the most beneficial mantra; even I made this aspiration to all the million Buddhas and subsequently received this teaching from the Buddha Amitabha.” This text is dated to around the late 4th-5th Century CE.
The fact that the hymn is in Sanskrit, links it deeply to the Indian sub-continent. The starting syllable Om, is a powerful mantra itself in Hinduism, and is found in almost all the major mantras that exist, be it Gayatri mantra or Mahamrintunjay. The syllable Om is often referred to as “beej-mantra” that implies that it is a seed for all else.
While the mantra is pretty simple and straight, the interpretations are manifold and complex. From celestial message of liberation to a way of transcendence of human soul, many souls have defined the concept differently. One of the greatest Buddhist contemporary teachers, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche had this to say about the mantra;
“There is not a single aspect of the eighty-four thousand sections of the Buddha’s teachings which is not contained in Avalokiteshvara’s six syllable mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum”, and as such the qualities of the “mani” are praised again and again in the Sutras and Tantras…. Whether happy or sad, if we take the “mani” as our refuge, Chenrezig (Buddha) will never forsake us, spontaneous devotion will arise in our minds and the Great Vehicle will effortlessly be realized.”
His student the very enlightened Dalai Lama concurs with him, and has shared his own interpretation on the true essence of the mantra.
“Thus the six syllables, OM MANI PADME HUM, mean that in dependence on the practice which is in indivisible union of method and wisdom, you can transform your impure body, speech and mind into the pure body, speech, and mind of a Buddha. It is said that you should not seek for Buddhahood outside of yourself; the substances for the achievement of Buddhahood are within. As Maitreya says in his SUBLIME CONTINUUM OF GREAT VEHICLE (UTTARA TANTRA) all beings naturally have the Buddha nature in their own continuum. We have within us the seed of purity, the essence of a One Gone Thus (TATHAGATAGARBHA) that is to be transformed and full developed into Buddhahood.”
Another interpretation by Gen Rinpoche states that the six syllables perfect the Six Paramitas of the Bodhisattvas.
“The mantra Om Mani Pädme Hum is easy to say yet quite powerful, because it contains the essence of the entire teaching. When you say the first syllable :
- “Om” it is blessed to help you achieve perfection in the practice of generosity
- “Ma” helps perfect the practice of pure ethics
- “Ni” helps achieve perfection in the practice of tolerance and patience
- “Päd”, the fourth syllable, helps to achieve perfection of perseverance
- “Me” helps achieve perfection in the practice of concentration
- “Hum” helps achieve perfection in the practice of wisdom
So in this way recitation of the mantra helps achieve perfection in the six practices from generosity to wisdom. The path of these six perfections is the path walked by all the Buddhas of the three times. What could then be more meaningful than to say the mantra and accomplish the six perfections.”
But even beyond the real spiritual meaning of the hymn, the fact remains that the six syllables encapsulate within them not only a spiritual realm but also a cultural heritage that is unique to the place and land. These are like a Bhutanese heirloom, except that it is ubiquitous and pervasive.
So next time, you are travelling through the lands of the Six Syllables, make sure that you let the vibrations pass through your body. Who knows it might set off a melody that just might change your life. As they say, Om Mani Padme Hum, to you..