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Oṃ maṇi padme hum

Oṃ maṇi padme hum (Tib. pron.: Om maṇi pehme hung). The mantra of Avalokiteśvara (Tib., Chenrezig). In spite of being the most well-known and commonly recited mantra of Tibet, where it is to be found inscribed everywhere, from homes to mountain passes and roadside rocks, it has been greatly misunderstood. Usual translations, such as ‘Oh, the jewel is in the lotus’ or ‘hail to the jewel in the lotus’, are misconceived. Oṃ and hum are invocation syllables which require no translation; maṇi (‘jewel’) is not a word but a stem, and therefore joins padme (‘lotus’) to make a single word, maṇipadme (‘jewel-lotus’) which is feminine and locative. This suggests a female deity being invoked, called Maṇipadmā, the problem being that no such deity is recorded anywhere. The usual translations may have no linguistic accuracy but they do closely express through the separation of the words jewel (male, form) and lotus (female, emptiness) a sense of the symbolism of opposites at the heart of manifestation in Mahāyāna Buddhism. The possibility of the present form of the mantra being a corruption of its original Sanskrit cannot be dismissed.

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