Avalokitesvara mantra

Oṁ Mani Padme Hūṁ / Om Mani Padme Hum

Mani stone, carved with Om Mani Padme Hum. Click here for more details.

Avalokiteshvara (or Avalokitesvara) is a Bodhisattva who represents compassion, and his mantra also symbolizes that quality. Avalokiteshvara means “The Lord Who Looks Down (in compassion)”.

There are various forms of Avalokitesvara (Chenrezig in Tibetan). The four-armed form is shown here. There is also a 1000-armed form — the many arms symbolizing compassion in action. And in the far east, Avalokiteshvara turned into the female Bodhisattva, Kuan Yin.

Om, as I’ve explained before, has only a mystical meaning — suggesting primordial reality. Mani means jewel, while Padme means lotus. Hum, like Om, has no conceptual meaning. Overall, the mantra is suggestive of the bringing together of the qualities of wisdom (the lotus) and compassion (the jewel).

Just as the lotus can exist in muddy water without being soiled, so wisdom can exist in an impure world without becoming contaminated.

The mantra is often “translated” as “Hail to the jewel in the lotus” but the Sanskrit simply can’t mean that. The central element, manipadme, seems properly to be a name, Manipadma (“The Jewel Lotus One”) with the -e ending signifying the vocative case, meaning that Manipadma — is being invoked (“O Jewel Lotus One”). If this is the case, assuming that the mantra is in classical Sanskrit, then Manipadma would have to be a feminine figure, but it’s unknown which figure that would be! Some have suggested that it might be an invisible consort of Avalokiteshvara. If the mantra was originally in a non-Sanskrit language with different grammatical rules, however, and the vocative -e ending was applicable in that language to a masculine figure, then Manipadma could be Avalokiteshvara himself. The mantra would them mean “Om, O Jewel Lotus One, Hum” — the “Jewel Lotus One” being Avalokiteshvara.

om mani padme hum bracelet
Om Mani Padme Hum bracelet

And the Dalai Lama points out that just as a jewel can relieve poverty, so the compassionate mind takes away the poverty of unhappiness that exists in the world and replaces it with the wealth of wellbeing.

This is probably the best known Buddhist mantra. I swear I remember hearing it chanted on an episode of the BBC Sci-fi series, Dr Who, when I was a young kid back in the 1960s, and even before that, in the 1940’s it featured on an American radio show called the Green Lama.

This mantra is very widely chanted in Tibet, and not only chanted but carved onto stones, printed onto flags, and embossed onto prayer wheels. The illustration above shows the mantra’s six syllables, which from left to right are: Om Ma Ni Pa Dme Hum.

Tibetans find Sanskrit hard to pronounce (so do westerners, actually, but in different ways) and so Tibetans pronounce “Padme” as “peh-may”.

We’ve created a YouTube video of images of Avalokitesvara, accompanied by the mantra:

Click below to listen to an MP3 version:

Pronunciation notes:

o is pronounced like o in ore
a is pronounced as u in cut
e is pronounced as a in made
ū is like oo in cool
m in hum is pronounced ng

The Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (Avalokiteshvara)

Avalokiteshvara’s name means “The Lord Who Looks Down (in compassion).”

Avalokiteshvara forms a protective trinity along with Manjushri and Vajrapani. He is the protector of the Lotus family of deities, which also includes Amitabha and Tara.

In Tibet, Avalokitesvara is known as Chenrezig, and the Dalai Lama is said to be an emanation of this Bodhisattva. In the far east, Avalokiteshvara turned into the female Bodhisattva, Kuan Yin (Chinese) or Kannon (Japanese).

Avalokitesvara is also popularly known as Padmapani, or “Holder of the Lotus.”

Avalokiteshvara

To western eyes, the depiction of Avalokiteshvara as having four arms can seem bizarre or alien. The first time that I saw a picture of this Bodhisattva I was mildly repelled, and couldn’t help wondering about how all those arms joined to the body!

Later I came to realize that this is simply an iconographic convention, and one that we also have in an important Western art form, the comic strip. How does a comic strip artist show that a character is running? Often this is done by having motion lines behind a figure to show movement, or by showing multiple versions of the same image, like a stroboscopic photograph.

Similarly, Eastern artists, trying to depict the multifarious compassionate activities of Avalokiteshvara, chose to depict him as having four arms. Avalokiteshvara’s compassion and wisdom have too many dimensions to be represented by a conventional human figure, and so each arm represents a different aspect of his compassionate nature.

The central pair of hands clasps the mani, or jewel, to Avalokiteshvara’s heart in a prayer-like attitude. The jewel represents compassion, which is his principle attribute. The jewel is held to his heart because compassion is central to Avalokiteshvara’s being. Compassion is Avalokiteshvara’s essence.

Om mani padme hum protection pendant.

The outer arms hold a mala (rosary) and a lotus flower, as if as gifts. These are Avalokiteshvara’s offerings to the world — his compassionate activity extending into the world. The lotus symbolizes wisdom, while the mala represents the gift of meditation, and also comments on the necessity for the constant repetition of skillful activities in order to attain enlightenment.

This multi-limbed approach was taken to another level in the thousand-armed and eleven-headed form of Avalokiteshvara. According to legend, Avalokiteshvara made a vow, in the presence of the Buddha Amitabha, to manifest in all the realms of existence in order to save all sentient beings. He also vowed that if he were to lose his compassion for even a moment, that he would shatter into a thousand pieces.

At one time, having worked tirelessly for the welfare of beings, Avalokiteshvara, at Amitabha’s prompting, looked back and saw that there were still uncountable beings suffering in samsara. At that point he became discourage, fainted, and shattered into a thousand pieces. Amitabha gathered up the pieces and reassembled them into a form with thousand arms and eleven heads.

The eleven heads symbolize the eleven directions of space, suggesting that Avalokiteshvara’s compassionate gaze is infinite in scope. Each of the thousand hands, which are arrayed like an aura around the standing figure of Avalokiteshvara, has an eye in the center of the palm, suggesting that his beneficial activities are informed by transcendental wisdom. Many of the hands bear implements, suggesting the skilful means that Avalokiteshvara employs in saving sentient beings from the sufferings of samsara.

Although he is associated with compassion, Avalokiteshvara is, like all Bodhisattvas, symbolic of wisdom as well. He is connected with the Heart Sutra in particular, and that text is in fact a teaching he gave on the topic of emptiness (shunyata) to Shariputra. He is also associated with the Lotus Sutra.

Avalokiteshvara is the spiritual father of Tara, who is said to have been born from a lotus that grew in a lake formed by the tears he shed as he gazed in compassion at the infinite sufferings of the world.

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96 Comments. Leave new

Hi, Nishka.

You’ll find the same mantra further up this page. I’ve posted (also on this page, in one of the comments) a version in corrected Sanskrit (to the best of my ability). Sanskrit pronunciation is very phonetic, so any guide to Sanskrit pronunciation will tell you how it’s pronounced. If it’s a Tibetan chanter you’re comparing the written form to, be aware that Tibetans utterly mangle Sanskrit pronunciation.

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Thanks:) i am listening to the tibetian version so i guess i should hear the sanskrit version to decipher!!

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Helllo again Mr Bodhipaksa, hope you well and happy

@Nishka:

here is the video, contained the dharani you had searched.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oazI_zsrlko

that is the short version of Maha Karuna Dharani, this short version is popular in Vajrayana

enjoy!

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hello bodhipaksha,
im buddhist by religion but i dont follow it very seriously. but todays i coincidently found ur site and im really thankful 2 u. i feel reconnected with the religion again……….from now on ill try to chant these mantra regularly………….thanks again………..OM MANI PADME HUM….

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Hello,

Nice to see this site. i am Buddhist (therawada) but last few years i am also following Mahayana. Specially Bhodhisatwa ‘s way…… i am didnt know some engish world to expane that thing pls i am sorry.

i ll tell special one thing. i belive and trust Avalokitheshwara Bhodhisathwa Mahasathwa….

in ur life at any time or any point if ur helpless please be remebr and talk to Avalokitheshwara to help me….. if some body try to hit u r fightng with u. rember his name and call him to give a help to me…. then u can sold ur problem harmoney and peace

rember Avalokitheshwara Bhodhisathwa is more powerful when u call his name to “help me Aalokitheshwara” sure u can sold ur problem. he have 1000 arms (but the meaning is he is very powerful)

Aalokitheshwara is the most kindest Mahasathwa then he will help every onea and he is very powerful. his power is expanded all univers….. trust me. i am following his way!!!!!!!!!

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Sangay linkins
July 29, 2011 2:17 am

Is there a Tibetan pronunciation of the great compassion mantra, sutra of the past vows of earth, the surangama sutra, the mantra of rebirth, the diamond sutra and the mahastamaprapta sutra to amitabha yhuangtongzhaung? I am Tibetan and find that the Tibetan sutras are easer to pronounce than the Chinese and sanskrit ones. Please help!

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I’m afraid I don’t know, but perhaps someone else here can help you.

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Sangay linkins
July 29, 2011 11:07 am

Can someone please help me with the translation of the short palden lhamo and set rap Chen mantra.

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Thank you very much. I have just discovered this site. I am only just beginning with buddhism but feeling at home so much. My deepest love and peace to all sentient beings

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Hi there! I’d just like to ask if anyone knows the Mantra of Buddha Maitreya? Thanks!

Clint

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It’s oṃ maitri mahāmaitri maitriye svāhā.

Jayarava has a page on the mantra here: http://www.visiblemantra.org/maitreya.html

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Heart Sutra short version — Udumbara Garden
September 14, 2011 6:53 pm

[…] Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva,when pursuing the deep prajñaparamita,recognized the five skandhas as completely emptyand passed beyond all vexations and distress. […]

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Whats the difference between Chenrizig and Bhaisajyaguru? Ca one chant both mantras during the day or should you just stick to one for focus purpose?

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Hi, Kevin.

You can chant both mantras, no problem.

I’m not sure what you’re asking in the first part of the question. They’re different figures, and I’d suggest reading the descriptions if you want to see what the differences are.

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Thanks Bodhipaksa. I was curious about the qualitative difference between Bhaisajyaguru and Chenrizig. It seems that one is a Buddha and one a Bodhisattva. The question now is where can one find a qualified teacher? I live in Cleveland and unless you got 500$+ to spend in a nearby state its no dice for beginning a practice. What do you think?

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I’m glad you managed to find the answer to your question.

There are some good Buddhist groups in Cleveland. You’d probably be in good hands with either the Shambhala folks (http://cleveland.shambhala.org) or the Insight Meditation people (http://insightmeditationofcleveland.org/). These aren’t in my own tradition, but they’re organizations I respect a lot.

All the best,
Bodhipaksa

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i dont have much knowledge about bhuddism but im curious to know if there was 1 buddha then why are there so many sects paractising and chanting different mantras….what is d difference between om mani padme hum and nam mayoho renge kyo.is the latter one part of orignal buddhism?

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Well, every religion and philosophy evolves, and Buddhism is no exception. This evolution takes place in response to the developments in individual people’s practice, to developments in the surrounding culture, and to encountering entirely new cultures. So you get new mantras emerging, and mantras changing over time. Neither Om Mani Padme Hum not Nam Myoho Renge Kyo were part of original Buddhism, which no longer exists and can’t even be fully reconstructed. The first is an Indian mantra connected with Avalokiteshvara (aka Manipadma) and the second is the Japanese mantra of the While Lotus Sutra (Saddharma Puṇḍarīka).

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@ Confused, also there are an infinite number of buddhas through out the Universe, not just one.

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thank you for the answer.

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If the mantra is so powerful then why do some of the tibetan monks who recite this mantra day in and day out immolate themselves.

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I don’t really understand your question. It’s not as if they’re killing themselves because they’re depressed. They’re sacrificing themselves as a way of protesting, in order to save their culture, and their people, from annihilation. I don’t approve of such actions, but I can understand why they’re driven to such extremes. If someone were to burn to death running into a building in order to save people, we don’t question their actions. From the point of view of these self-immolating monks and nuns, they are in effect running into a burning building in order to save an entire culture. There’s certainly courage involved. Whether or not these actions are wise, I can’t say. It may be that these extreme protests simply lead to more repression by the Chinese.

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hey just cuz some guy sets himself on fire in protest that shouldnt reflect on the teachings or the methods of buddhist practice. come on sriram, that question is unfair. countless beings derive benefit from those mantras. clearly those guys are in need of attention….i dont agree with those acts and the exiled tibetan authorities do not agree with it either.

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Richard Alcott
August 6, 2012 10:17 am

How can I replay the mantras?

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Are you having problems, Richard? If so, can you be more specific about what the problem is?

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Thanks for compiling the site, it was a great read :) and I also enjoyed reading everyone’s different experiences in their different methods of meditating. I think it’s this understanding, flexibility and open minded approach that is the reason why I relate so much more to Buddhism than any other religion – Kim

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Michael Phillips
March 11, 2013 9:55 pm

Thanks for this article. I have been increasingly drawn towards Buddhist thought recently. I have recently also read “The Lotus Sutra”. I have been chanting Nam-Myoho-Rengo-Kyo. My understanding of Nichiren Buddhism is that it is more of a lay Buddhist path designed to build faith in the Buddha and the path to Enlightenment. Most people are not ready to become a monk, but may be willing to set up their karma in such a way that full on pursuit of Enlightenment might be possible later on.
Having felt a need for compassion during some difficult times recently, I’ve been thinking about Avalokitesvara a lot recently. Just thinking about him gives me a warm feeling in my heart. So I will now be chanting Om Mani Padme Hum as well. Is it proper to hold a specific need in mind while doing this?

Also, the prior posts on the Doctor Who episode are correct, both stories mentioned featured “Om Mani Padme Hum” being chanted. In the “Planet of the Spiders” it was used for nefarious purposes by the villains (like that’s possible! but it was a fantasy). The producer of the show during that time, Barry Letts, was a devout Buddhist. He later admitted he knew nothing about Tibetan Buddhism at the time and had used the mantra incorrectly in the story.

The one you’re probably thinking of is “The Abominable Snowmen” though, which is set in Tibet in a Buddhist monastery. An alien intelligence has possessed the Lama. The Doctor implores his companion Victoria to chant the Jewel of the Lotus mantra during the finale. You’re lucky to have seen it! The BBC has since thrown all but one episode of the story away.
–Michael

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Hi,

I prayed to Avalokiteshvara in temple. However, it is only in recent months that I started to read and understand the teachings of Buddha. I also read the Universal Door Chapter and chant the Great Compassion Mantra daily when possible.

But I am not sure if there is a proper procedure to start/end a chanting session which may include the Three Refuge, Transfer of Merit etc. How often it should be done? When is an appropriate time and place? Can somebody advise on this?

Also, how should I start/end my prayer if I would want to pray for something? e.g. good health to somebody, safety etc.

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ANdrew Weeks
July 25, 2013 9:53 pm

I was raised Christian but over the last 17 years have been exposed to Buddhism, Sufism, Hinduism, Native American Sweatlodge, Judaism. Have learned different spiritual practices within those faiths,but still cannot decide which path suits me. Can you offer any advice on where to start? I love Jack Kornfield and Sharon Salzberg and Pema CHodron. I am at intermediate level in meditation but need a community of friends badly!! What should i do?

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Bodhipaksa, I have a question and I apologize if it has been answered and I’ve missed it. I had a wonderful opportunity to see Thich Nhat Hanh in Toronto recently and was so moved by the monks and nuns chanting of Namo Valokiteshvara. Throughout the chant, Thay repeated several mudras, beginning with his hand over his heart, followed by his hand held in front of him with the thumb touching the tip of the third finger and the other fingers extended, and then I think the same finger positions with the arm extended. I’m guessing that the mudras represent feeling our own suffering, seeing it clearly and with compassion, and then extending that compassion to the suffering in the world. Do you happen to know if that is correct? Thanks in advance!

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Hi, Janet.

You’d really have to ask someone from Thich Nhat Hanh’s tradition what the precise meaning is. It sounds like a gesture of blessing, but I can’t be sure. Sorry!

All the best,
Bodhipaksa

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Stable Mountain Pine of the Heart
September 21, 2013 11:47 am

To Andrew Weeks-
Maybe you want to google search
for sanghas in or near your location. Or search Thich Nhat Hanh sanghas in your are.
Peace

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Buddham saranam gachhami
Sangham saranam gachhami
Dharmam saranam gachhami

I read these during my teens with the translation. But I forgot totally bout it now. Can u give me the translation. Is it part of a mantra. When shd I chant it. I mean under what circumstances.

Thank you

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I’ve written something about the refuge formula here, LingXi: http://www.wildmind.org/mantras/figures/refuges-precepts

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What an excellent article on the angel avalokitesvara. he has an important role in esoteric traditions, and is a wonderful personal exemplar. we are learning more and more in these times about the beings that support us as we journey upwards…thanks for sharing your experience, this blog is a keeper! blessings to you

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The mantra om mani padme him is truly wonderful. I started chanting the mantra 1000 times a day when HH Dalai Lama appeared in my dreams and kept his hand over my head. I experienced pure bliss at that moment and vowed to chant the mantra everyday till my last breath. I noticed that my fiery temper is reducing in its intensity day by day and I feel more tolerant and compassionate towards other beings..which is a wonderful feeling. I had a serious chronic ailment and took refuge in Tibetan medicine. What 15 allopathic doctors couldn’t heal, Tibetan medicine worked wonders within a month and now I am completely free from the disease. Hail the Buddha and his greatness!!

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Bodhipaksa highly appreciated for your translation here.
I did not realize until now that many words are very familiar in Thai. I would like to compare these words to the words in Thai (to help the Thai to recognize it). Thanks.

Namo Ratna Trayāya, นะโม รัตนตรัย (homage to the triple gem)

Namah Aryā นามะ อารยะ Jñāna Sāgara สาคร, (homage to the ocean of noble wisdom)

Vairocana ไวโรจน์, (the illuminator)
Vyuharajāya พยุหราชาย์(to the king of the host [also the name of a bodhisattva])

Tathagatāya ตถาคต, (to the tathagata)

Arhate อารหัต , (to the arhat)

Samyak sambuddhāya, (to the perfectly awakened one)

Nama Sarva สรรพ TathagatebhyaH (homage to all tathagatas)

ArhatebhyaH, (to the arhats)

Samyak SambuddhebhyaH, (to the fully and perfectly awakened ones)

Nama Aryā อารยะ Avalokiteshvarāya อวโลกิเตศวร (homage to noble Avalokitesvara)

Bodhisattvāya, (to the bodhisattva)

Maha Sattvāya, (to the great being)

Maha Karunikāya, (to the greatly compassionate one)

Tadyatha (thus):
Om Dhāra Dhāra, (bearing)

Dhīri Dhīri, (firm)

Dhuru Dhuru ธุระ (bearing a burden)

Itte Vatte, (??)

Cale จล Cale, (moving, trembling, shaking)

Pracale ประจล Pracale, (moving, trembling, shaking)

Kusume กุสุเม(in flower)

Kusume 
Vare, (in the circumference)

Hili Mili (??)

Citi จิตติ Jvālam ชวาลา , (blazing understanding)

Apanaye อาปนะ Svāhā สวาหะ (leading away) hail

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Amazing informative website.

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Karma Thrinley Tshering
December 8, 2014 2:21 am

http://web.singnet.com.sg/~alankhoo/Avalokitesvara.htm The second half of this page presents each of the six syllables as empowering (and of course empowered by) particular aspects of dharmic life.

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