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Friday, October 30, 2015

The Sacred Mani Stones of Buddhists

There is a particular six-syllable Sanskrit mantra or hymn that’s very sacred among Buddhist. It’s recited as om mani padme hum, which loosely translates to "Behold! The jewel in the lotus", an invocation to the four-armed bodhisattva (an enlightened being ) Avalokiteshvara, who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. But its true meaning goes far beyond that. The mantra cannot be translated into a simple phrase or even a few sentences because it contains the essence of the entire teaching of Buddha. Recitation of this mantra along with prayer beads is therefore, and quite reasonably, the most popular religious practice in Tibetan Buddhism as it is believed that doing so can lead to liberation and eventual Buddhahood.


Stones painted or carved with the sacred Buddhist mantra is littered everywhere in Tibet and Nepal. Photo credit

In Tibet, this mantra is found everywhere — on prayer flags and prayer wheels, printed on paper scrolls and carved on architectural panels. They are also found engraved or painted onto rocks and stones in the elegant Tibetan script, and sometimes in bright colors. Mani stones, or Jewel stones, as they are called, dot the entire Tibetan landscape. They are placed near monasteries, beside villages, along roadsides, along rivers and along long walls. Sometimes Mani stones are placed together to form mounds or cairns, especially at the summits of mountain passes or at the entrances to settlements as an offering. Huge groups of them may be found together, all with the same mantra repeated over and over again.

Carving Mani stones is considered a form of meditation. Monks make them and so do local villagers, and add them to mounds which grow bigger and bigger as time passes by. The Jiana Mani Stone Mound in Xinzhai Village, of Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in China grew just like that. The mound is 300 meters long, 80 meters wide and 4 meters high and is estimated to contain over 2 billion Mani stones, piled up by pious believers over a period of 200 years. It is the world’s largest Mani stone mound.

Mani stones can be seen in neighboring countries of Nepal and Bhutan as well, where Buddhism is also widely practiced. Large examples of Mani stones resembling tablets carved out of the sides of rock formations are in locations throughout the Nepali areas of the Himalayas. Mani stones are also found around monasteries in India, the true place of origin of the mantra where it was orally transmitted through many generations. It is not known when the mantra came into use, but the earliest recorded mentions of it occurred in the late 10th and early 11th centuries in the Karandavyuha Sutra, which itself was compiled at the end of the 4th century from an even earlier source.












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