The origin of Kāraṇḍavyūhasūtra is shrouded in myths. According to Tibetan traditions, the Kāraṇḍavyūhasūtra first appeared in a casket. A casket that did not originate among humans. It dropped from the sky. Along with many other sutras written within the structural framework of Mahayana Buddhism, Kāraṇḍavyūhasūtra was also found inside the casket. This mythical origin makes the mantra enigmatic, to begin with.
The story of Kāraṇḍavyūhasūtra narrates the qualities and verses of the Avalokiteshvara. The Avalokiteshvara is the Buddha of compassion. He is also called “Shadakshari”. Shadakshara means six syllables. And, by reciting this six-syllable Avalokiteshvara earns the name Shadakshari.
Apart from its immediate association with the divine, the Kāraṇḍavyūhasūtra is also significant historically. It is the first text to be ever translated from Sanskrit to Tibetan.
Each word used in the mantra has its meaning. At the same time, the line has its meaning too. The whole is greater than the parts.
Let’s examine each of these meanings separately first.
It is pronounced as AUM. These three letters, A U &M, symbolize two different states simultaneously. On one hand, they signify a practitioner’s impure body, mind, and speech, and at the same time, it denotes the pure and exalted body, mind, and speech of a Buddha.
What this duality signifies is the transition to the pure from the impure. In Buddhism, no one is born pure. No one is free of faults from the very first day. One has to make efforts to reach a state of purity. One has to slowly get rid of the impurities of body, mind, and speech.
But, how to transform into the pure. That is what the next syllables tell us.
The literal meaning of the word Mani is Jewel. The same way a jewel shines, an individual can become enlightened. To become enlightened is to become free of the poverty of mind. In other words, to become enlightened, one has to be full of compassion and love. At the same time, one needs to get rid of the worries of our cyclical existence and find solitary peace within one’s own.
Padme means lotus and lotus is the metaphor for wisdom. Despite being rooted in the mud, the lotus blooms to become a perfect flower. In the same way, wisdom makes one mind bloom. The mind overcomes its faults as the lotus grows unsullied by the mud beneath it.
But what is wisdom? According to the Mahayana traditions, wisdom is realizing the impermanence of existence. The realization of this impermanence helps one grow. It teaches one to become self-sufficient. Once one attains wisdom, the mind stops seeking validation from transient beings.
Hum signifies indivisibility - The Indivisibility of method and wisdom. As conceived by the Mahayana sutras, one can not separate the method from wisdom. To explain it more vividly, the method to gain wisdom has its effects on wisdom. Similarly, wisdom dictates the method.
All the Syllables Together
Now that we have a better understanding of what each syllable indicates, let’s put the pieces together and try to decipher the meaning of the line.
To successfully travel the path leading from impurities to a pure and exalted state of mind, body, and speech one needs to achieve enlightenment like a jewel. To achieve enlightenment, one needs to rise above the faults of the mind that try to pull oneself to the ground, like the mud. While rising above these inherent flaws, one has to gain wisdom. And, gaining wisdom is all about the method.
It is believed that reciting Om Mani Padme Hum has 15 benefits. One who recites the mantra rigorously and regularly gets to meet virtuous kings and spiritual leaders in their life. These kings or leaders lead the practitioner to the world of Dharma. One gets the chance to be born again and again in a righteous place. One gets the opportunity to meet virtuous friends, have a perfect and capable body, and enjoy fortune good enough to practice meditation and teachings.
Reciting the mantra attunes the mind to the path of virtue. It instilled a sense of morality. The mantra makes one harmonious with the people living around. It ensures financial well-being, protection, and good service from one’s neighbors. The chanting makes one able enough to succeed in whatever path one chooses to follow.
Most of all, reciting the mantra religiously takes one to a position where one can see Buddha and hear the Dharma. With so many benefits promised, it’s no wonder that Om Mani Padme Hum is considered the most powerful six-syllable in the world.
Since the chant does not discriminate between the pure and the impure, its appeal is universal. A layperson adopts the chant with the same vigor and devotion as a monk. The mantra gives common people hope. Hope to rise above one’s inherent flaws, the woes of existence. It shows the way to attain enlightenment through love, compassion, and wisdom. Virtues that anyone can gain over some time.
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