Avalokitesvara mantra

Oṃ Mani Padme Hūṃ / Om Mani Padme Hum

Avalokiteshvara (or Avalokiteśvara) 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 Avalokiteśvara (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.

Avalokiteśvara Mantra Meaning

  • Oṃ, as I’ve explained elsewhere, has only a mystical meaning — suggesting primordial reality, or the potential for enlightenment that pervades the universe.
  • Mani means jewel.
  • Padma means lotus (why the form in the mantra is “padme” is explained below).
  • Huṃ, like Oṃ, has no conceptual meaning.

Both jewels and lotuses are important symbolic elements in Buddhism.

Jewels represent what is most precious, so that Buddhists worship not just the Buddha, but the three jewels (Buddha, Dharma, or the teachings, and Sangha, or spiritual community). and jewels were considered indestructible, which made them an excellent symbol for eternal truths.

The lotus represents purity, in terms of how the enlightened mind is untouched by the negativity of the world. Just as the lotus can exist in muddy water without being soiled, so an enlightened being can exist in an impure world without becoming contaminated by its greed, hatred, or delusion.

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 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”).

But if this is the case, then according to the rules of classical Sanskrit, then Manipadma would have to be a feminine figure. And Avalokiteśvara is male.

However, if the mantra was originally in a non-Sanskrit language with different grammatical rules, and the vocative -e ending was applicable in that language to a masculine figure, then Manipadma would simply be another name for Avalokiteshvara.

The mantra of Avalokitesvara would then mean “Oṃ, O Jewel Lotus One, Hūṃ” — the “Jewel Lotus One” being an alternative name for Avalokitesvara himself.

How the Mantra Works

Mantras often start with Oṃ, have a central element that’s related to the figure the mantra belongs to (sometimes that’s simply their name), and then end with another syllable, which is commonly Hūṃ, although it can also be “Svāhā” or something else.

The way I understand mantras is that the central part connect us (Hūṃ) with Oṃ, which is the potential for awakening that lies within the universe, and within us. So effectively we’re saying:

  1. Oṃ: This is the potential for enlightenment, which Manipadme (aka Avalokiteshvara) makes available for me.
  2. Manipadme: O, Avalokiteshvara, you are my path to enlightenment.
  3. Hūṃ: Here’s me, asking for, and hopefully embodying enlightenment.

I never studied Sanskrit, but I did study Pali, which is a related language, at university. And one of the things you discover is that often you have to read a Pali sentence backward in order to make sense of it. So I suggest reading the three points in the numbered list in reverse order so that you’ll have a better sense of how an ancient Indian Buddhist would have understood the mantra.

The Significance of the Mantra

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”.

Recordings of the Mantra

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

Or click below to listen to an audio-only recording of the Avalokitesvara mantra:

Pronunciation notes for the Avalokitesvara mantra

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
ṃ in hūṃ is pronounced like the NG in English “lung”

The Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara (or 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.”

Avalokiteśvara’s Four Arms


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 in motion? Often this is done by having motion lines behind a figure to show movement, or by showing multiple versions of body parts, like a stroboscopic photograph. Here’s an example:

Stone Soup comic, showing multiple faces.

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.

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.

The Thousand-Armed Avalokiteśvara

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.

103 Comments. Leave new

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

  • 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….

  • 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!!!!!!!!!

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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

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


  • 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?

    • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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?

    • 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).

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

  • thank you for the answer.

  • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • Richard Alcott
    August 6, 2012 10:17 am

    How can I replay the mantras?

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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!

    • 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,

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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!!

  • Amazing informative website.

  • Doesn’t Avolokitesvara mean, “One who hears the cries of the world”?

    • Thanks for asking, Doug. Avalokiteshvara is composed of roots that mean “The lord who looks down.” Avalokitasvara, on the other hand, means “one who regards sound.” The latter was probably the original name, but it was changed over time, influenced by the Hindu term Ishvara (“Lord” or God). In Chinese translation the “sound” meaning is the one that became established, as Guanyin, which was a translation of Avalokitasvara.

  • Very useful information, pranaam (bow down) to your endeavour.. Very illuminating indeed.
    Namo Ratna Trayaya
    N a mo sarve Tathahataya…

  • Habib Piri Niri
    April 1, 2020 12:52 pm

    OM are two persian words o m sounds oyam or uyam=I am He=God=Allah
    Om are the english words “I am” which God=Allah has told to Moses His prophet in sinai mountain… Buddha was an Iranian from the tribe shakia=sistani in persian shakiamooni means the moon of the shakia tribe or the eternal shakia.. biddha=bidar [persian]= =awaken;Guardian=Pidar[persian]=father.. buddha=father.. buddha=budha[persian]=being… buddha=biza [persian]=birthless

    • Hi, Habib.

      There is a hypothesis, which very much has minority support in the academic community, that the Sakya tribe, to which the Buddha belonged, had Persian origins. It’s an interesting hypothesis, and a friend of mine wrote a paper on it, which is free to download. Whether there’s any truth in it, I don’t know.

      Correspondences based on similarities between words can be misleading, though. Both Persian and Sanskrit/Pali are part of the same Indo-European language group, and within that language group they are cousins (part of the Indo-Iranian subdivision). Similarities between words like pitar (Sanskrit) and pater (Greek and Latin) don’t support the Buddha being of either Roman or Greek descent.

  • Mingmar Tamang
    October 5, 2020 8:04 am

    Incredible article on Avalokiteshvara. Thank you for sharing such an amazing blog. As an artist and a spiritual seeker, can you please tell me about why his holiness Dalai Lama is said to be the emanation of Avalokiteshvara?


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