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What does “Om Mani Padme Hum” in Tibetan prayer flags mean?3 Unique things about these prayer flags.

Updated: Jun 25, 2021

Ever wondered what are those flags, that you see over the roads in Ladakh, in the mountains of Bhutan, near the Buddhist monasteries in Arunachal Pradesh, and even in Himachal Pradesh? Those Tibetan prayer flags are much more than just some religious flags mounted over the roads. “Om Mani Padme Hum” is the sentence you mostly see on those Tibetan prayer flags. But have you ever thought about what does this six-syllable sentence means?  

Tibetan Prayer Flags
Credit: tibettravel.org

Buddhism is the fourth-largest religion in the world with over 7% of the total global population known as Buddhists following it. Budhist traditions focus on the goal of overcoming the cycle of birth and death and the sufferings of human life by attaining Nirvana or through Buddhahood. 

“Om Mani Padme Hum” is a six syllabled Sanskrit word that is associated with the bodhisattva of compassion, the Avalokitesvara. 

Tibetans have a belief that the Avalokitesvara, who they call Chenrezig, have a special connection with the Tibetans as their protectors. Tibetans believe that by practicing the mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum”, they can purify their impure souls with the help of wisdom.

Tibetan prayer flags: Tibetan prayer flags are made of cloth in rectangular shapes and mostly found strung along the peaks in the Himalayas. The most common misconception about these flags is that these flags carry mantras to God. The mantras written on the flags are believed to be carried with the wind and to spread positive energy and goodwill with them. 

Legends believe that the original creator of these prayer flags to be the “Gautama Buddha” whose prayers were used by the ‘Devas’ by writing on their flags in their battle against the ‘Asuras’. 

The actual prayer flags were introduced by 1040 CE in Tibet. The Indian monk Atisha started the practice of printing Tibetan prayer flags in India to Tibet and Nepal.

Om Mani Padme Hum: The texts on Tibetan prayer flag meaning: 

Buddhists believe that we must not seek Buddhahood outside of ourselves, the elements of Buddhahood are already within ourselves. 

Om Mani Padme Hum means:

OM: This comprises three letters A, U, and M which denotes a person's impure body, mind, and speech. These also symbolize the noble body, speech, and mind of a Buddha. 

All buddhas are believed to be common human beings who became enlightened. Buddhism does not believe that a person is free from faults and has all the good qualities with no negativity inside. The attainment of a pure body, mind, and speech is achieved by leaving all the impurities of mind, speech, and body behind. 

The remaining syllables of 'Om Mani Padme Hum' explain the journey from an impure state to the pure one.

Mani: Mani means Jewel. It defines the selfless intention to become a Buddha. An enlightened mind is capable of removing difficulties of death and rebirth just like a jewel has the capabilities of removing poverty and difficulty of mortal life.

Padme: Padme means ‘Lotus’ which symbolizes wisdom. Just like a lotus blooms by growing through muds, a wise mind will save you from contradictions whereas, without wisdom, you likely will fall into contradictions.

Wisdom is like understanding the difference between the subject and the object and realizing the emptiness of duality. Many forms of wisdom are there but the greatest one is the realization of emptiness.

Hum: The last syllable ‘Hum’ symbolizes indivisibility. The indivisible amalgamation of wisdom and method is required to attain purity. As per the Buddhist Sutra systems, the Indivisibility of method and wisdom signifies method affected by wisdom and vice versa.

Om Mani Padme Hum signifies that by following the practice of indivisible wisdom and method, one can transform his impure body, speech, and mind to a pure body, noble speech, and the mind of a Buddha. 

3 very unique things you must know about the Tibetan prayer flags:

1. The origin: Gautam Buddha is believed to be the first one to use these flags. His prayers were used by the Devas by writing on their flags in their war against the Asuras. The first actual prayer flag was introduced by 1040 CE. Atisha, an Indian Buddhist monk started the practice of printing Tibetan prayer flags in India to Tibet and Nepal.

2. Misconception: They are messages to god: The most common misconception about these flags is that these flags carry our message to God. Instead, it is believed in Buddhism that the mantras written on these flags are carried by the wind and spread positivity.

3. Way of using them: A good motive is important while hanging these flags. One does not need to be a Buddhist to hang these flags. Anyone can hang them. But you should keep in mind where you are hanging them as these flags carry goodwill and positivity as per Tibetan beliefs. 

Conclusion: Buddha means ‘the enlightened one’. Buddhism is all about transforming the impure body, mind, and speech of a person into a pure and enlightened one. Tibetan prayer flags we see over the roads of Ladakh, in the monasteries of Bhutan, Nepal, and in Himachal Pradesh are symbols of goodwill and positive energy.

References:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prayer_flag

  2. https://www.gadventures.com/blog/tibetan-prayer-flags-saga-dawa/

  3. https://www.shambhala.com/snowlion_articles/om-mani-padme-hum-dalai-lama/