One of the lynchpins of the Tibetan Buddhist system, Oṃ Maṇipadme Hūṃ makes its first recorded appearance in the Kāraṇḍavyūha Sūtra, an Indian text dating from about 400 CE, which describes the qualities and activity of the great bodhisattva of compassion Avalokiteśvara, including a long section about the search for and discovery of the famous six-syllable mantra.
Traditionally one of the first three Buddhist books to arrive in Tibet, the Kāraṇḍavyūha reflects the early stages of Buddhist tantric culture in India, when there appears to have been significant overlaps between Buddhist and Hindu religious groups. The text develops the spiritual vision of earlier Mahāyāna sūtras by mixing familiar Buddhist themes with elements derived from Hindu culture.
Oṃ Maṇipadme Hūṃ itself reflects both aspects of this process of creative religious synthesis. It may be regarded as the Buddhist counterpart of the famous five-syllable Hindu mantra Namaḥ Śivāya. And its true meaning, “in the jewel-lotus” (not, as popularly understood, “the jewel in the lotus”) expresses one of the central symbols of Mahāyāna Buddhism: rebirth in the Pure Land of the Buddha Amitābha is achieved by being born in a “jewel-lotus”, or a lotus made of jewels.
Dr Alex Studholme
Dr Alex Studholme has taught at the universities of Cambridge, Bangor and Bristol. He is the author of The Origins of Oṃ Maṇipadme Hūṃ: A Study of the Kāraṇḍavyūha Sūtra (SUNY Press, 2002).
Calligraphy Image by Tashi Mannox
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