graphic image of the mantra Om Mane Padme Hung

Mantras are sound manifestation coming from emptiness. They are the authentic sound of emptiness.

From the point of view of the absolute truth and of emptiness itself, the mantra does not have any existence. There is neither sound nor mantra. Sound and mantras, as well as other forms of manifestation, are located in the relative realm that arises from emptiness. In the relative realm, sounds, although devoid of their own entity, have the power to designate name, and act on the mind. When, for instance, someone tells us "You are a fine person" or "You are very disagreeable," the words "fine" or "disagreeable" are not "things." They are only sounds that are not either "fine" or "disagreeable" in themselves, but simply evoke the thoughts of "fine" and "disagreeable" and produce an effect on our mind. Similarly, in the relative domain mantras are endowed with an infallible power of action.

Mantras are very often the names of buddhas, bodhisattvas [those who have developed bodhicitta, the aspiration to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings] or deities. For instance, OM MANE PADME HUNG is a way of naming Chenrezig. From an absolute point of view, Chenrezig does not have a name, but he is designated by names in the domain of the relative or literal meaning. These names are the vector of his compassion, grace and the strength of the wishes he makes for the benefit of beings. In this way the recitation of his name transmits these qualities of his mind. Herein lies the explanation for the beneficial power of his mantra, which is also his name.

As we assimilate ourselves to our own name and are at one with it, in the same way, on the relative level, the mantra is identical with the deity. They form a single reality. When one recites the mantra, this is not other than the deity himself. By reciting the mantra, one receives the grace of the deity; by visualizing the deity, one receives the same grace without any difference….

The deity and the mantra being one in essence means that one may recite the mantra without necessarily doing the visualization. The recitation still retains its effectiveness.

This explanation is excerpted with the kind permission of Clear Point Press, from the book entitled:

Chenrezig, Lord of Love by Bokar Rinpoche
published by Clear Point Press, P.O. Box 170658, San Francisco, CA 94117 ($9.95, softcover)

This book is an excellent source of information about the meditation of Chenrezig. It outlines the principles and methods of deity meditation and is an invaluable study guide. The author, Bokar Rinpoche, left Tibet for India at the age of 20 and competed two three-year retreats under the guidance of the great Tibetan master, Kalu Rinpoche. Because of his remarkable qualities and deep realization, he succeeded Kalu Rinpoche as head of the Shangpa Kagyu Lineage. He teaches advanced Vajrayana practices at monasteries in Northern India and Buddhist centers throughout the world.

graphic image of a line in rainbow colors

Excerpted from the book "Secret Buddhism, Vajrayana Practices" by Kalu Rinpoche:


The problem of mantras is particularly interesting to discuss because Europeans (or Americans) and Tibetans differ in their approach. In Tibet, the Buddhist tradition is ancient, the result being that everyone acknowledges reciting mantras has beneficial effects. As for Westerners, they often see the mantras only as words, just an activity of speech, and do not understand their effect. They do not clearly see how these words can act on the mind.


It is true, in a certain way, that words are only sounds getting lost in space. Nevertheless, they are vectors of great power. This power is obvious even in daily situations. …

The importance words play in our studies is known; they are an indispensable vehicle. A Tibetan saying well emphasizes the power of speech:

"Words are neither sharp nor cutting,
but they can cut the heart of a human being


Some Westerners, as previously stated, think that mantras are nothing but sounds without meaning, that reciting them is only wasting time, and that it is much better to meditate.…In a way, meditation should arouse even more doubts than mantras. One does nothing while meditating!

Reticence concerning the recitation of mantras comes from two factors.

Even if one has some knowledge of the Dharma [Buddhist teachings], but is lazy, reciting a mantra seems a difficult exercise.

Kalu Rinpoche, at Samye Ling, March 1983

This explanation is excerpted with the kind permission of Clear Point Press, from the book entitled:

Secret Buddhism, Vajrayana Practices by Kalu Rinpoche
published by Clear Point Press, P.O. Box 170658, San Francisco, CA 94117 ($15.95, softcover)

Kalu Rinpoche, a lama of the Shangpa Kagyu lineage, was born in Eastern Tibet in 1904. He studied and practiced with many great beings of all traditions before living in solitary retreat for 12 years. One of the first Tibetan masters to teach in the West, he passed away in 1989.

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