One of the most popular Buddhist mantras is known as The Jewel in the Lotus, consisting of a six-syllable phrase that Jesus would have loved. There is some debate about the exact origin of the mantra, but it appeared in Buddhist teachings as early as the 11th or 12th century. A  mantra is like a short prayer, which tends to be a word or phrase that, when repeated continuously in meditation and worship, has a positive spiritual effect on the worshiper. Christianity has its share of verses, songs, and early prayers that have become mantras. Consider, for example, the Jesus Prayer (“Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, have mercy on me, a sinner”), which is used widely in Christian meditation, especially in the Eastern  Orthodox Church. Or phrases from the Gloria (“Lord God, Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us”) or the Phos Hilaron (“O gracious Light, pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven, O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed!”) or the Te Deum (“Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts”). Or hundreds of verses from both testaments of the Bible.

Buddhist Mantras are frequently not literally translatable into English, or only loosely so. The Flower in the Lotus is translated in different ways, but the translation I love is from the Dalai Lama. It is the translation I think Jesus would affirm. In the original language, the six syllables are “Om Ma-ni Pad-me Hum.” The syllable “Om” is the essential sound in the Buddhist tradition and has a wide array of applications. It’s the sound you always see/hear a group of monks chanting in any documentary on Buddhism. It is frequently translated for Westerners as the vibration of the Universe/God, which has no literal translation but has great spiritual power. The Dalai Lama translates it in a simple but profound way as purity of mind, body, and speech. I apply this translation in my own meditations as follows: Think only those thoughts that promote the good, the beautiful, the well-being of others; Do only those acts that are healthy for the body and make physical life good; Speak only those words that comfort, build up, and give dignity to other people/creatures. So the Dalai Lama’s translation of this simple syllable, Om, offers not just a definition of a word, but a way of life. Every time I sound that Om, to myself or with others, I am asking for purity of mind, body, and speech.

The next four syllables–mani padme–are generally translated as “jewel” (mani) and “lotus” (padme), hence the name of the mantra. The Dalai Lama considers the  jewel to be a symbol of altruism, compassion, and love. The lotus symbolizes wisdom. If we want to become like a Buddha, or like Jesus, these four syllables represent the path, the way. Compassion combined with Wisdom. Every time I sound the syllables Mani, to myself or with others, I open myself to compassion–from the Latin, com + pati (with + suffer) to suffer with. To suffer with those who suffer, to experience the deep sympathy that leads to action to relieve suffering. Consider Paul’s beautiful hymn to selfless love in I Cor 13.

Well, since I try to keep these postings to about 500 words maximum, I’m going to deal with the last three syllables of the mantra (pad-me hum), and why Jesus would love the whole thing, in another post, in a few days.