Chanting Maṇi

Mani is a popular ngag or mantra. Mani or oṃ maṇi padme huṃ, which is also known as the six syllable mantra, is the mantra of Avalokiteśvara or Chenrezig, the Buddha of compassion. Om maṇi padme hum roughly translates as “O May I actualize the Jewel in the Lotus”. Each syllable symbolizes a host of things such as the six perfections and six wisdoms of the Buddha.

Just as the one-face four-armed Chenrezig or 11-headed and 1,000-armed Chugchizhal is representation of the enlightenment nature of Avalokiteshvara in physical form, the maṇi mantra is the representation of Avalokiteśvara in sound or verbal form. Just as the sight of physical appearance of Chenrezig helps bless the sentient beings, eliminate their suffering and bring them happiness, hearing the sound of om mani padme also has the same effect.

Chenrezig is said to have invested so much power in the sound or word of oṃ maṇi padme huṃ, through his aspirations and prayers. Whoever hears the six letters is believed to become blessed by him and forge a karmic connection with Chenrezig. Someday they will come across Chenrezig, follow the path of compassion and ultimately reach enlightenment. By chanting the mantra, one will be reminded of Chenrezig and compassion.

The ultimate nature Oṃ maṇi padme huṃ is spirit of enlightenment but symbolically it appears in the form of sound, letter, text, carving, prayer wheels and other tangible forms.

What to do when chanting maṇi?

One has to visualise the Buddha associated with the mantra; so visualize Chenrezig while chanting maṇi. As Chenrezig is the embodiment of compassion, one must be mindful of compassion while chanting oṃ maṇi padme huṃ. Just as the physical form of Chenrezig reminds one of compassion, the verbal form of Chenrezig should also remind one of compassion.

To practice compassion in a more elaborate way, one can visualise oneself as Chenrezig and at one’s heart, one can visualize oṃ maṇi padme huṃ on a lotus and moon seat encircling the seed syllable hriḥ in clockwise direction. One can maintain one’s concentration on the mantra and chant it loud.

In an elaborate meditation, the practitioner further visualises the ‘oṃ’ syllable, from which a white ray shine forth to the celestial world. Imagine that it cleanses the god of all the negativities and problems, free them from suffering and help them obtain the enlightened qualities of the Buddha.

The practitioner visualises the ‘ma’ syllable, from which a green light radiates to the demi-god realm to help them get rid of their problems such as jealousy and warfare.

He or she visualizes the ‘ṇi’ syllable, from which a yellow light radiates to the human world to help them get rid of human problems such as birth, sickness, old age and death.

Then, the practitioner visualises a blue light radiating from ‘pad’ to the animal world and help them get rid of all their problems such as stupidity and being eaten by one another.

He or she visualises a red light shining forth from ‘me’ to the realm of hungry ghosts to help them overcome the suffering of hunger and thirst.

Lastly, the practitioner imagines a dark light emitting from the ‘huṃ’ syllable to the hell realm to help the hell beings overcome the hot and cold sufferings of hell. One can visualise these lights going out of the six syllables in six directions and cleansing sufferings of the world.

At the core of all these, since Chenrezig is an embodiment of compassion, a practitioner is encouraged to keep compassion in mind. Compassion is an attitude, wish, wholesome emotion to free all sentient beings from suffering and the causes of suffering. It is of paramount importance to wish all sentient beings to be free from suffering while chanting om mani padme hum.

Karma Phuntsho is the Director of Shejun Agency for Bhutan’s Cultural Documentation and Research, founder of the Loden Foundation and the author of The History of Bhutan. The piece was initially published in Bhutan’s national newspaper Kuensel in a series called Why we do what we do.