The Reverend Dr. Katie Snipes Lancaster
My Neighbor’s Prayer: The Vocabulary of Blessing as Common Bond
In his book No Mud, No Lotus, Thich Nhat Hanh says, “in each of our Plum Village practice centers around the world, we have a lotus pond. Everyone knows we need to have mud for lotuses to grow. The mud doesn’t smell so good, but the lotus flower smells very good. If you don’t have mud, the lotus won’t manifest. You can’t grow lotus flowers on marble. Without mud there can be no lotus.”
We need this knowledge of the lotus flower in order to understand the meaning of the Sanskrit mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum,” which is typically translated into English as “The Jewel is in the Lotus.” It is used as a chant, repeated in meditation as a way toward compassion, calm, contentment, and satisfaction. It comes from Sanskrit and is typically used by Tibetan Buddhist monks, but because of the patterns of migration and religious practices proliferating across human communities, it can also be found in use across many Buddhist traditions.
In his book Kindness, Clarity and Insight the Dalai Lama unfolds what this mantra might mean. In the west, we may be most familiar with the word “om” as a chant. He explains that “om” puts us in touch with our embodied selves, our impurities as well as our dignified, uplifted, potential self in relation to the “exalted body, speech, and mind of Buddha.” “Mani” means jewel. The word “padme” means lotus, and he goes on to say that “the two syllables, padme, meaning lotus, symbolize wisdom, just as a lotus grows forth from mud but is not sullied by the faults of mud, so wisdom is capable of putting you in a situation of non-contradiction whereas there would be contradiction if you did not have wisdom.” In other words, wisdom can arise even within the imperfections of this life, just as the lotus can arise from the imperfections of the mud. The final word “hum” represents indivisibility, a unity throughout.
It all seems so esoteric and far removed until you hear it chanted. Listen here and read the accompanying article about the joy with which the Dalai Lama recorded his chant. May its rhythm be a way toward compassion for you and the world.
My Neighbor’s Prayer
Om Mani Padme Hum
Ninth Century Sanskrit Mantra