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About Meditation

The Meaning of the Mantra

Om Mani Padme Hum
(pronounced Om Mani BeiMei Hung)

People who learn about the mantra naturally want to know what it means, and often ask for a translation into English or some other Western language. However, Om Mani Padme Hum can not really be translated into a simple phrase or even a few sentences.

All of the Dharma is based on Buddha's discovery that suffering is unnecessary: Like a disease, once we really face the fact that suffering exists, we can look more deeply and discover it's cause; and when we discover that the cause is dependent on certain conditions, we can explore the possibility of removing those conditions.

Buddha taught many very different methods for removing the cause of suffering, methods appropriate for the very different types and conditions and aptitudes of suffering beings. For those who had the capacity to understand it, he taught the most powerful method of all, a method based on the practice of compassion. It is known as the Mahayana, or Great Vehicle, because practicing it benefits all beings, without partiality. It is likened to a vast boat that carries all the beings in the universe across the sea of suffering.

Within the Mahayana the Buddha revealed the possibility of very quickly benefiting all beings, including oneself, by entering directly into the awakened state of mind, or Buddhahood, without delay. Again, there are different ways of accomplishing this, but the most powerful, and at the same time the most accessible, is to link ones own mind with the mind of a Buddha.

In visualization practice we imagine ourselves to be a Buddha, in this case the Buddha of Compassion, Chenrezig. By replacing the thought of yourself as you with the thought of yourself as Chenrezig, you gradually reduce and eventually remove the fixation on your personal self, which expands your loving kindness and compassion, toward yourself and toward others, and your intelligence and wisdom becomes enhanced, allowing you to see clearly what someone really needs and to communicate with them clearly and accurately.

In most religious traditions one prays to the deities of the tradition in the hopes of receiving their blessing, which will benefit one in some way. In the vajrayana Buddhist tradition, however, the blessing and the power and the superlative qualities of the enlightened beings are not considered as coming from an outside source, but are believed to be innate, to be aspects of our own true nature. Chenrezig and his love and compassion are within us.

The True Sound of Truth

An old story speaks about a similar problem. A devoted meditator, after years concentrating on a particular mantra, had attained enough insight to begin teaching. The student's humility was far from perfect, but the teachers at the monastery were not worried.

A few years of successful teaching left the meditator with no thoughts about learning from anyone; but upon hearing about a famous hermit living nearby, the opportunity was too exciting to be passed up.

The hermit lived alone on an island at the middle of a lake, so the meditator hired a man with a boat to row across to the island. The meditator was very respectful of the old hermit. As they shared some tea made with herbs the meditator asked him about his spiritual practice. The old man said he had no spiritual practice, except for a mantra which he repeated all the time to himself. The meditator was pleased: the hermit was using the same mantra he used himself -- but when the hermit spoke the mantra aloud, the meditator was horrified!

"What's wrong?" asked the hermit.

"I don't know what to say. I'm afraid you've wasted your whole life! You are pronouncing the mantra incorrectly!"

"Oh, Dear! That is terrible. How should I say it?"

The meditator gave the correct pronunciation, and the old hermit was very grateful, asking to be left alone so he could get started right away. On the way back across the lake the meditator, now confirmed as an accomplished teacher, was pondering the sad fate of the hermit.

"It's so fortunate that I came along. At least he will have a little time to practice correctly before he dies." Just then, the meditator noticed that the boatman was looking quite shocked, and turned to see the hermit standing respectfully on the water, next to the boat.

"Excuse me, please. I hate to bother you, but I've forgotten the correct pronunciation again. Would you please repeat it for me?"

"You obviously don't need it," stammered the meditator; but the old man persisted in his polite request until the meditator relented and told him again the way he thought the mantra should be pronounced.

The old hermit was saying the mantra very carefully, slowly, over and over, as he walked across the surface of the water back to the island.


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