The Power of Mantra

1. Shakyamuni Buddha

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AS A YOUNG PRINCE, Siddhartha’s life was as perfect as a life in samsara could be. His father, the king, received a prophecy that his son would either be a great king or a great sage, and because he was determined that Siddhartha would become king, he hid all suffering from him and totally immersed him in sense pleasures.

Despite his father trying to shield him from all suffering, there came a time as a young man when he saw four things in quick succession, one at each of the gates of the palace. First he saw an old person and he realized that we all have to age. Next he saw a sick person, something he had never seen before. Then he saw a dead body, and he understood that death comes to us all. This was a terrible revelation for a young man who had never seen the slightest suffering. At the fourth gate he saw a poor monk, a person who had none of the luxuries that Siddhartha had but nonetheless seemed incredibly happy. This was a like a light going on in a dark place for the prince. He saw all his palace life for the empty thing it was, and he knew that samsaric happiness was meaningless, something that only ever led to old age, sickness, and death. But he also knew there was a way out of this trap, if it could be found, and that it had something to do with the monk. This was the start of his spiritual quest.

Siddhartha chose the life of the ascetic, practicing with hardly any food in the most trying circumstances. He practiced concentration without moving, his whole body becoming like a tree, as if carved from wood, so much so that ants and insects made nests in his ears. After doing this for six years, he realized that austerity was as harmful as indulgence. When he was given milk and rice by a young girl, Sujata, his energy returned, and he went to the bodhi tree nearby to meditate. This led to that amazing night when he attained full enlightenment. Then he sought the companions from his ascetic days, finding them in Sarnath, 14near Varanasi in north India, where he gave his first teaching, the first turning of the Dharma wheel, on the four noble truths.17 Then, for over forty years he gave over 84,000 teachings and formed a great sangha around him, before passing away at Kushinagar.

The death of the Buddha was his last teaching to us, a lesson on impermanence. When it was time to die, he took off his robes, lay down, and said,

All causative phenomena are impermanent.

Work out your salvation with diligence.

This is the last teaching of the tathagata.18

Everything is transient, subject to change, not just on a gross level but moment by moment. And every impermanent phenomenon is unsatisfactory; it is suffering by nature. Therefore why should we be attached to something that by its very nature will only bring us dissatisfaction and suffering? This is the most important lesson the Buddha could leave us. Then he passed away, entering parinirvana.

After that, all the arhats assembled and wrote down what they had learned by heart of his teachings and this became the core of the Buddhadharma we have today. From India, Buddhism spread to the other Asian countries and to Tibet, where it brought light to a dark country, and great teachers such as Padmasambhava, Lama Atisha, and Lama Tsongkhapa19 helped make Buddhism an essential part of the Tibetan people’s lives. In the West, before the middle of the last century, the teachings of the Buddha were almost unheard of, and so the causes of happiness and suffering were virtually unknown. Now the Buddha’s teachings are widely available, from the basic lamrim teachings to the most advanced tantric practices with which we can attain enlightenment in one brief lifetime. None of this would have been possible without the achievements of the founder, Guru Shakyamuni Buddha.20

For followers of the individual liberation vehicle,21 such as those in the Theravada countries like Sri Lanka and Thailand, 15the Buddha was like us and, by enacting the twelve deeds,22 he attained enlightenment. From the Mahayana perspective, he had already become enlightened eons ago and the life he led as Siddhartha was an enactment in order to perfectly teach us what we must do if we want to likewise attain enlightenment. Furthermore, in this form, in the nirmanakaya, or emanation body, he was able to form the sangha around him and teach the holy Dharma to his followers for more than forty years.

We owe everything to the Dharma and the holy beings who came after the Buddha, who kept the teachings completely pure, and that means we owe everything to the holy being called Shakyamuni Buddha. The enlightened being he became arose from the bodhisattva who practiced for three countless great eons in myriad bodies, and that bodhisattva came from bodhichitta, which in turn grew from the compassion he felt for sentient beings. If, since we have met the Buddhadharma, our wisdom has grown enough to discriminate what is right and to be practiced from what is wrong and to be abandoned, all this comes from Buddha’s compassion.


It is very good to visualize Guru Shakyamuni Buddha as clearly as possible, whether you are reciting the Shakyamuni mantra, doing a short meditation practice, or even an extended Shakyamuni puja.23 Even though you might find the visualization too complex at first, don’t worry. With time and practice it will come. Gradually, as the mind becomes more purified, the visualization becomes clearer. Even if you just have some sense that Guru Shakyamuni Buddha is there in front of you, that is an excellent start.

Straight in front of you, at about the height of the forehead and about a body’s length away, visualize Guru Shakyamuni Buddha sitting on a throne. Everything is in the nature of light.

First visualize the beautiful throne, very large and square and adorned with many jewels. The throne is raised up by eight white snow lions, two at each corner. The snow lions look a little like Chinese lions, but with white fur and a green mane and tail. These are not statues but living, breathing animals. They are in reality manifestations of bodhisattvas, the holy beings who have attained bodhichitta. They also signify the wisdom of the Buddha, because of all animals, snow lions are the only ones that have absolutely no fear at all. This is shown by the droopy ears. All other animals must keep their ears pricked for danger, but the snow lion has no such need.


Image 17

On the throne is a large, beautiful, open lotus, upon which is a sun and moon seat. These are very radiant, very bright, with the colors of the sun and moon respectively, but flat, like disks or cushions. These three objects, the lotus, sun, and moon, represent the attainment of the three principal aspects of the path, renunciation (the lotus), emptiness (the sun), and bodhichitta (the moon).

Seated on this is the omniscient mind of all the buddhas, manifested as Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, who has attained these realizations. You can see the Buddha as the absolute guru. The Buddha is in the aspect of a monk. You should not see his body as something solid, like a bronze or plaster statue, but made of radiant golden light, representing his holy mind. Light rays radiate out from it. He wears the saffron robes of a monk. The robes don’t actually touch his body. Our clothes cling to our body and always feel sort of uncomfortable, even if just a little, whereas the Buddha’s robes float just free from his holy body. This is the power of his wisdom.

He is seated in a vajra or full-lotus position with the feet resting on the opposite thighs, soles upward. The palm of his right hand rests on his right knee, the fingers extended down and touching the moon cushion. This is called the earth-controlling mudra,24 signifying that he has great control and that he is in touch with reality.

His left hand is in his lap in the meditation mudra, holding a bowl filled with nectar. The nectar is medicine capable of curing all the disturbing emotions, traditionally called the maras. It has the power to control death as well as purify the mind and body aggregates, caused by karma and delusion, from which all suffering arises. This bowl of nectar is not there to purify Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s delusions—he 18is already entirely free from them—but to purify ours. It is medicine for us.

His face is very beautiful, with smiling, compassionate, elongated eyes and a gentle look, just like a loving father, gazing at you and at the same time at all sentient beings. It is a face you can never tire of looking at, no matter how much you look, you can always look more, it is just so beautiful and so magnificent. Just seeing it brings incredible bliss. His look seems to tell you, “My child, if you want to be free from suffering, I will guide you.”

He has long ears and reddish lips, and his hair is blue-black, with each hair individually curled to the right. At his forehead, between his eyebrows, there is a curl. It is unique in that it can be stretched out and it naturally curls again, like rubber. Every feature has significance, each part of the thirty-two major signs and eighty minor exemplifications of an enlightened being.25

Rays of light emanate out from every pore of the Buddha’s holy body, touching every part of the universe. These rays are actually countless tiny emanations of the Buddha, going out to help all sentient beings and then dissolving back into his body.


The Meaning of the Mantra

Shakyamuni Buddha’s mantra is this:



The first word of the mantra is TADYATHA (pronounced tie-yata). This is the introduction to many mantras; it means “this contains,” and thus it tells us that what comes after contains the infinite knowledge of the Buddha’s holy body, holy speech, and holy mind.

The second word, OM, contains the essence of all the Buddha’s knowledge. 19By actualizing the paths of method and wisdom, all gross and subtle defilements cease, and our body, speech, and mind are purified, becoming the vajra holy body, vajra holy speech, and vajra holy mind of a buddha. This is signified by a, o, and ma respectively, the three syllables integrated into the one sound OM.

Next comes MUNE. Shakyamuni Buddha’s name means “the subduer” (muni) of the Shakya clan and the word muni forms an important part of the Buddha’s mantra. It used to be written in the mantra as “muni” but Kyabje Khunu Lama Rinpoche Tenzin Gyaltsen, the great bodhisattva His Holiness received many teachings from, clearly corrected this in a public teaching, saying it should be written and pronounced “mune.” He also said that the last MUNE, MUNEYE, should be pronounced “mun-i-ye.”26

MUNE is repeated three times, which relates to the graduated paths of the three capable beings—those of lower, middle, and higher capacity, who have the respective aims of a higher rebirth, nirvana, and enlightenment. This shows the route that the Buddha took over the three countless great eons until he became enlightened. It is the route we all must take.

The first MUNE, relating to the path of the lower capable being, signifies that the Buddha completely subdued attachment to this life’s happiness. Through understanding subjects such as impermanence and karma, he was able to avoid rebirth in the lower realms and continue his spiritual journey.

The second MUNE relates to the path of the middle capable being; this is when the Buddha saw the shortcomings of the whole of samsara, even the highest attainment of the god realms, and having completely destroyed the false conception of the I, the principal ignorance that traps us in samsara, he attained liberation.

An arhat is free from samsara but not free from the dualistic mind and the subtle self-cherishing thought. MAHA MUNEYE, great control, the third MUNE, signifies the Buddha completely destroyed these and so overcame all duality between self and others and was able to fully see every single phenomenon. Like all the other bodhisattvas, 20when Guru Shakyamuni Buddha entered the Mahayana path by attaining bodhichitta, he worked ceaselessly for the happiness of others, overcoming even the most subtle of obscurations and becoming enlightened. This is the graduated path of the higher capable being.

Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s mantra contains the whole path, both the path of the individual liberation practitioner, which encompasses the paths of the lower and middle capable being, and the path of the bodhisattva (the Mahayana), which encompasses the path of the higher capable being. It also contains the result of the path, the two kayas or bodies of a buddha: the dharmakaya, or truth body—the result of the wisdom side of the path—and the rupakaya, or form body27—the result of the method side of the path.

Finally, SVAHA (pronounced soha) means “so it is,” the standard way to complete a mantra. It means basically, “May the blessings of Shakyamuni Buddha be rooted in my mind.” I’m not sure what the connotation of the word “blessing” is in the West, but be careful not to think of it as something bestowed on us from outside. It’s a beautiful word, but to receive blessings means to attain the wisdom and compassion of the Buddha, something we must do for ourselves. SVAHA means establishing the root. That can be guru devotion or faith in refuge and in karma. From that root, everything else flows.

This mantra contains the entire Dharma, from guru devotion, the first teaching of the lamrim, to the most subtle explanations on emptiness. It is just a few syllables, but the meaning is as vast as space. Reciting this mantra has the power to purify thousands of eons of negative karma. It is that powerful. Therefore it is extremely good to recite it as much as possible, not only during a meditation session, but whenever possible. It can be done standing up, lying down, while walking, while waiting at a bus stop—anywhere, any time.

To be able to attain enlightenment quickly for the sake of all sentient beings, to free them from suffering as quickly as possible, depends on how quickly we can develop on the path, and that depends on the strength of our bodhichitta. To attain not just wishing bodhichitta but actual engaging bodhichitta—the mind that spontaneously, 21completely, and continuously works for the maximum benefit of all sentient beings—we need the most powerful and skillful means possible, and this mantra is a vital tool to obtaining this.

Don’t think that reciting a mantra is something to do when there is nothing better to do. Even small actions can bring huge profit. Shopkeepers have thousands of things in their shop, big and small, expensive and cheap, but they value them all. They know that they might sell a big item occasionally, but they are always selling small things like candy. The tiny profit made from a bit of candy wouldn’t even get a cup of tea, but by slow and constant accumulation they can make great profit from those small things. Similarly, we can make a big profit from reciting mantras every day, whereas we might only be able to go on a long retreat once every few years. And if we can recite the mantras with a bodhichitta motivation, we can make a huge profit out of even a few mantras.

The Benefits of the Mantra

Reciting the Buddha’s mantra has great benefits. Even if we have experienced many problems in this life, that does not mean that all of the nonvirtuous karma we have collected in all previous lifetimes has been used up and we no longer have to experience the suffering that is their result. Reciting this mantra, however, has the power to purify all that negative karma. Reciting it once has the power to purify the nonvirtuous karma produced by disturbing negative thoughts that we have collected in forty thousand previous lifetimes. If, by reciting it, we could stop even one negative karma ripening, making it impossible to bring a result, that would be wonderful, but here we are saying it purifies all negative karmas accumulated for forty thousand lifetimes!

What prevents us from attaining the ultimate happiness of nirvana and full enlightenment? We are blocked by our obscurations, triggered by our karma and delusions, so what we most need to do is eliminate those obscurations. When we can do that, it becomes easy to attain all the realizations on the path. Because this was revealed by the Buddha, when we make a connection with him through reciting his mantra or his holy name (which we will look at with the Thirty-Five Buddhas), 22we establish within our mindstream the potential to destroy all our delusions.

Each time we recite the Buddha’s mantra, it plants a seed, an imprint, which is left on the mental continuum, and which results, sooner or later, in being able to fully understand the teachings of the path. Understanding the full meaning of the mantra, we understand all the teachings of the Buddha. In that way, we are able to have the realizations of the path, and that gradually leads to enlightenment.

Even if we don’t yet have realizations, with compassion we can use the Buddha’s mantra to benefit ourselves or others. The fundamental thing is to have strong faith in whatever meditations or mantras we are using. Lama Tsongkhapa explained the essential importance of three factors: strong faith in the guru’s instructions, some experience of emptiness, and the good heart, bodhichitta. To the extent that we have these qualities, we will be able to do whatever activities are needed to help and serve others.

Patients have recovered from heart attacks and other diseases by reciting Shakyamuni Buddha’s mantra many thousands of times. A geshe28 at one of our centers in Spain advised a student with serious heart problems to do this. The doctors thought she would die soon, but she recited the Buddha’s mantra one or two hundred thousand times and visualized nectar coming and purifying her, and her heart returned to its normal size and she was cured.

Many problems can come from self-cherishing, attachment, and the other disturbing thoughts, which make actions become negative. For instance, when we harm other beings; they then become the conditions for harming us. The main cause of receiving harm, however, is our own ignorance, anger, and attachment, and the harmful actions we do to others because of these delusions. When we recite Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s mantra, we counteract all this.



After sitting down and calming yourself with some breathing meditation, visualize Guru Shakyamuni Buddha in front of you (as described above).

Then, do some preliminary practices, such as saying the refuge prayer, the four immeasurable thoughts, and the seven-limb prayer.30 You can also offer a mandala.31

Expand the visualization of the Buddha to include all sentient beings surrounding you.

Then think, “I have received this perfect human rebirth and have met both the infallible teachings and the infallible teachers who can lead me on the path to enlightenment, releasing me from all suffering and allowing me to attain ultimate happiness. This is not so with all these other kind mother sentient beings, who have been my mother countless times and have been so kind to me. In order to help them be free from their terrible suffering, I will do this meditation and attain the state of buddhahood myself.”

Purifying Delusions

Request from your heart, “Please purify me and all sentient beings from the delusions, obscurations, sicknesses, and afflictions caused by external harmful spirits.”

Visualize a stream of rays of white nectar coming from Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s heart, flowing into you, entering through the crown of your head. As it flows into you, repeat this prayer three times.

To the guru, founder, bhagavan, tathagata, arhat, perfectly completed buddha, glorious conqueror,32 24Shakyamuni Buddha, I prostrate, make offerings and go for refuge. Please grant me your blessings.

Now recite Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s mantra, for one or more malas, or at least seven times.


As you recite the mantra, feel the radiant rays of white nectar slowly fill your body, completely purifying all your delusions. Feel they are pouring strongly into you, like when you stand under a strong shower. As soon as the rays touch and flow into your body, a sensation of infinite mental and physical bliss fills you.

Feel your body is completely full of radiant white light. Think, “All my delusions and sickness as well as all the afflictions caused by the external spirits are completely purified.”

Accumulating Merit

Visualize a stream of rays of golden nectar coming from Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s heart, flowing into you, entering through the crown of your head. This light is the essence of the Buddha’s holy body, holy speech, and holy mind. As your body fills with this light, feel infinitely blissful, mentally and physically. Again, say the mantra.


At the end of the mantra recitation, feel you are completely filled with the Buddha’s radiant golden light and you have attained the qualities of the Buddha’s holy body, holy speech, and holy mind.

Then, the snow lions dissolve into the throne, the throne dissolves into the lotus, and the lotus dissolves into the sun and moon. They dissolve into Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, who comes to the crown of your head, 25melts into light, and dissolves into your body. Feel that all wrong conceptions are completely destroyed, and everything becomes completely empty. Your mind becomes the blissful omniscient mind of the Buddha. Feel that you are the Buddha.

Light beams radiate from your holy body. At the tip of each light beam is a tiny Shakyamuni Buddha. All these Shakyamuni Buddhas enter and absorb into each and every sentient being, purifying all their sufferings and its causes, delusion and negative karma. Then the light beams with Shakyamuni Buddhas at their tips return and absorb into you.

Rejoice by thinking, “How wonderful it is that I have enlightened all sentient beings.”

Finish by making this dedication.

By the merits of having done this meditation practice, may I attain the enlightened state of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha and lead all other sentient beings to that enlightened state.

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