Om Mani Padme Hum Inscribed on a Trail Side Boulder
About a year and a half ago, I appeared on a radio show hosted by writer and yogini, Sarah Vogel, of Laguna Beach, California. Sarah's show "Out On A Limb," explored the eightfold path of yoga known as Ashtanga, a path that incorporates sensible guidelines for living a purposeful life. I jumped at Sarah's invitation to be interviewed, for I was eager to discuss my newly released memoir Footsteps of Gopal from the perspective of how my yoga practice contributed to and enhanced the experience of my 2013 trek in Nepal.
One of Sarah's questions involved my interpretation of the Buddhist prayer, Om Mani Padme Hum, which literally translates as The Jewel in the Heart of the Lotus. To my understanding, Om Mani Padme (pronounced Pay-May in Tibetan) Hum is a declaration of being, a testimony of existence, which equates to the concept of I Am. The compassionate prayer set my pace on many an uphill climb as I focused on placing one foot and then the next firmly upon solid earth.
The truth is, some things are nearly impossible to verbally express in words. Om Mani Padme Hum is one such phenomenon, better perceived than described. When Sarah mentioned the chant, I anticipated her next question and began mulling through my brain with the speed of a computer hard drive to formulate my layperson's explanation.
Om I described as the "infinite," a component essential to all meditation. I have been told Om encompasses the space between heartbeats or the pause between breaths. "Om is all sound and silence throughout time." So says Peter Matthiessen in his book, The Snow Leopard. He goes on to explain that Om is, ". . . the roar of eternity and also the great stillness of pure being."
The Sanskrit "OM" is prevalent on rocks throughout Buddhist Himalaya
Mani is the jewel, which I described as the "infinite void." Mani represents an indestructible essence that exceeds the bounds of time.
Padme, I related to the material world: I could have further quantified my explanation to include rocks, plants, trees, rivers, clouds; in short, the essence of all things that can be touched or experienced by the senses. Padme translates as "lotus" in Tibetan, a beautiful metaphor for blossoming, unfolding, self-discovery, and change.
Hum I failed to explain altogether, in part because I recalled Peter Matthiessen's words: "Hum has no literal meaning, and is variously interpreted (as is all of this great mantra about which whole volumes have been written)."
Throughout Buddhist Himalaya, Om Mani Padme Hum is inscribed on rocks, prayer wheels, and prayer flags fluttering salutations to the Universe. It invokes the compassion of Avalokiteshvara, a Bodhisattva representing The Divine Within. A repetition of this mantra imparts health, prosperity, and benevolence to the land and all of its inhabitants.
Om Mani Padme Hum is a "place" where I can go. When I focus on the mantra, the six-syllables transport me directly to Nepal where I can visualize the great stupa at Boudhnath as it sits resplendent in the sun. Or I can situate myself once again upon the broad mountainside of Gokyo Ri, high above the Ngozumpa Glacier, where space and time converge above this great arena we call Earth.
Om Mani Padme Hum takes me to the Jewel in the Heart of the Lotus, even when I'm seated on my bedroom floor. It's a place where I can close my eyes, still my breath, and simply be.