Dictionary

Buddhist Deities

Buddhist symbols

Mantras


Buddhist deities

Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara)

Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara) is the Bodhisattva of Compassion. A bodhisattva is an enlightened being who has decided to delay becoming a fully enlightened Buddha and who lives in a compassionate spirit life for the sake of all beings He has taken vows to save all beings. With a mantra, Om mani padme hum! (Hail the jewel in the lotus), he tirelessly attempts to deliver all beings from suffering. He appears in many different forms to assist suffering beings.

Tibetans believe that Chenrezig, as a disciple of the Buddha, made a vow of compassion to free the Tibetan peoples from their violent ways: “May I be able to establish in emancipation all living beings in the barbaric Land of Snow; where the beings are so hard to discipline and none of the buddhas of the three times has stepped…May I be able to mature and emancipate them, each according to his/her own way. May that gloomy barbaric country become bright, like an island of precious jewels.” (Geshe Wangyal , Door of Liberation, New York, Lotsawa, 1978, pp. 54-55). He is the patron of Tibet. The Tibetan people claim descent from Chenrezig, who in the form of a monkey sired the original inhabitants of Tibet. Chenrezig, according to Tibetan legends, has appeared in numerous forms to defend Buddhist teachings. He has been identified with the Tibetan emperor Songtsen Gampo (617-698 C.E.) and the successive lineage of Dalai Lamas. The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the current incarnation of Chenrezig.

Tibetans believe that every person whose heart is moved by love and compassion, who deeply and sincerely act for the benefit of others without concern for fame, profit, social position, or recognition expresses the activity of Chenrezig. Love and compassion are the true signs revealing the presence of Chenrezig.

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Dzambhala

 Dzambhala is an emanation of Ratnasambhava, one of the five buddha families, whose enlightened activity is increasing and whose essence is generosity. Some people practice Dzambhala to achieve spiritual prosperity, although this deity is also associated with wealth and prosperity in the material world. Dzambhala practice is said to bring wealth, prosperity, success, good fortune and luck,long life and wisdom. He is depicted holding a mongoose spouting jewels.
There are five different wealth Dzambhala, each has their own practice and mantra to help eliminate poverty and create financial stability.
Through the power of compassionate intention, visualization, and mantra recitation, as well as a wealth-stimulating ritual, this practice ripens and enhances our karma for an abundance of resources. When done with single-pointed concentration and faith, this ritual increases one’s financial prosperity.

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Green Tara

Green Tara (Sanskrit: Syamatara; Tibetan: Sgrol-ljang), filled with youthful vigor, is a goddess of activity. She is the fiercer form of Tara, but is still a savior-goddess of compassion. She is the consort of Avalokiteshvara and considered by some to be the original Tara. Like Avalokiteshvara, the Green Tara is believed to be an emanation of the “self-born” Buddha Amitabha, and an image of Amitabha is sometimes depicted in Tara’s headdress.

Green Tara is believed to have been incarnated as the Nepali wife of the Tibetan king Srong-brtsan-sgam-po. In Buddhism, the color green signifies activity and accomplishment. Thus Amoghasiddhi, the Lord of Action, is also associted with the color green.

Green Tara is iconographically depicted in a posture of ease and readiness for action. While her left leg is folded in the contemplative position, her right leg is outstretched, ready to spring into action. Green Tara’s left hand is in the refuge-granting mudra (gesture); her right hand makes the boon-granting gesture. In her hands she also holds closed blue lotuses (utpalas), which symbolize purity and power. She is adorned with the rich jewels of a bodhisattva.

In Buddhist religious practice, Green Tara’s primary role is savioress. She is believed to help her followers overcome dangers, fears and anxieties, and she is especially worshipped for her ability to overcome the most difficult of situations. Green Tara is intensely compassionate and acts quickly to help those who call upon her.

The iconography and role of Green Tara is illustrated in this medieval devotional hymn:

On a lotus seat, standing for realization of voidness, (You are) the emerald-colored, one-faced, two-armed Lady In youth’s full bloom, right leg out, left drawn in, Showing the union of wisdom and art – homage to you! Like the outstretched branch of the heavenly turquoise tree, Your supple right hand makes the boon- granting gesture, Inviting the wise to a feast of supreme accomplishments, As if to an entertainment-homage to you! Your left hand gives us refuge, showing the Three Jewels; It says, “You people who see a hundred dangers, Don’t be frightened-I shall swiftly save you!” Homage to you! Both hands signal with blue utpala flowers, “Samsaric beings! Cling not to worldly pleasures. Enter the great city of liberation!” Flower-goads prodding us to effort-homage to you! — First Dalai Lama (1391-1474)

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Manjushri

Manjushri (or Manjusri) is the embodiement of all the Buddha’s wisdom. The word manju means charming, beautiful, pleasing and Shri means glory, brilliance. The Bodhisattva is regarded as the crown prince of Buddhist teachings, or the one who can best explain the Buddhist wisdom, that is able to extinguish afflictions and bring about enlightenment. Manjushri has this title because eons ago, he was the instructor for seven different buddhas, the last being Sakyamuni Buddha. Manjushri is often depicted with his right hand holding a double-edged flaming sword and his left hand holding a lotus flower on which rests the Prajnaparamita (Great Wisdom) Sutra. He is often seen riding a lion. The Prajnaparamita Sutra on the lotus flower symbolizes wisdom as pure as lotus. The sword represents the sharpness of wisdom that to cut through illusion. The lion is called the king of a hundred animals, and this symbolizes the stern majesty of wisdom. In China he is also portrayed as a child with five topknots. This represents the profound fact of wisdom is as truth, non-dual, purity and innocence as a child mind. When ones mind is in such a state, one can reflect the truth of everything. The five topknots are the five divisions of the buddha’s wisdom: the wisdom of pure consciousness, the wisdom to reflect all things, the wisdom to regard all things equally and universally, the wisdom of profound insight, and the wisdom to seek the greatest good for oneself and others.

It is said that Manjushri came from the land of Ratnaketu Buddha in the east. His strength is on the Buddhist doctrines of non-distinction and non-retraction to attain nirvana. Manjushri was known for his unconventionally straightforward style of teaching. Unlike other Buddha and Bodhisattvas gradual method progressing from elementary to more complex doctrines, he would jump directly to the top, the meaning of the supreme truth, ultimate nirvana.

The sacred site of Manjushri is Wu-Tai Mountain in the province of Shan-Xhi in eastern China. As described in a sutra, Sakyamuni predicted that after he enter nirvana, Manjushri would reside on a mountain named Wu-Tai in a east country named “Great China,” where he would teach the Buddhist dharma. Chinese, Tibetan, Korean, and Japanese Buddhist people hence regard Wu-Tai Mountain as a sacred place for worshipping Manjushri. Many temples dedicated to this bodhisattva have been built there. In China, Manjushri is known as Wen-Shu-Shi-Li.

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Medicine Buddha, Healer of Outer and Inner Sickness

Medicine Buddha is a fully enlightened being. To understand who he is, what his nature is, what his function is, and so on, we first need to understand what an enlightened being is. Generally, ‘being’ means any being who experiences feelings – pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. Thus we are beings, and animals are beings; but houses and plants are not beings because they do not experience any feelings. There are two types of being: sentient beings and enlightened beings. A sentient being, or living being, is a being whose mind is afflicted by the darkness of ignorance. An enlightened being is a being who is completely free from the darkness of ignorance. Just as sentient beings have many different aspects, so do enlightened beings. Enlightened beings emanate countless different forms for the benefit of living beings. Sometimes they appear as Deities, sometimes as humans, sometimes as non-humans. Sometimes they appear as Buddhist Teachers, sometimes non-Buddhist Teachers, sometimes as crazy people or evil people, and sometimes even as inanimate objects. Emanations of enlightened beings pervade the whole world, but because our mind is covered by ignorance we do not recognize them. We cannot say who or what is an emanation of a Buddha.

Medicine Buddha is an enlightened being who has unbiased compassion for all living beings. He protects living beings from physical and mental sickness and other dangers and obstacles, and helps them to eradicate the three poisons – attachment, hatred, and ignorance – which are the source of all sickness and danger. He is a Buddha Doctor.

At one time Buddha Shakyamuni was staying at a place called Vaishali with thirty-six thousand Bodhisattva disciples. At that time, Manjushri was appearing as a Bodhisattva disciple. Through his compassion, Manjushri realized that in the future the Buddhadharma would degenerate, and the beings of this world would find it very difficult to practise pure Dharma and gain pure realizations. He understood that it would be very difficult for those beings to control their minds, and so they would naturally engage in negative actions such as killing, stealing, and holding wrong views. As a result they would experience horrific illnesses and unbearable mental pain. The world would be full of problems, dangers, and adversity. Finding the thought of all this suffering impossible to bear, Manjushri asked Buddha:

In the future when your Dharma and general spiritual practice are in decline, when the human beings in this world are spiritually impoverished, when their attachment, anger, and ignorance are so strong and difficult to control that they experience continual physical suffering, mental pain, fears, and dangers, and especially many incurable diseases, who will release them from this suffering and protect them from danger? Who will help them to overcome the three mental poisons?

In response to Bodhisattva Manjushri’s question, Buddha expounded the Sutra of Eight Thousand Verses Principally Revealing the Instructions on Medicine Buddha. Many beings heard this teaching. In addition to the thirty-six thousand human Bodhisattva disciples, millions of other Bodhisattva disciples came from many Pure Lands, together with beings from other realms such as nagas and givers-of-harm, or yakshas. To this vast assembly of disciples Buddha explained all about Medicine Buddha – his special qualities, his Pure Land, and how in the future by relying upon this Buddha and just hearing his name, living beings could be cured of heavy mental and physical sickness, especially the sickness of delusions. He also explained how to make a connection with this Buddha, the benefits of relying upon him, and how to practise the Medicine Buddha instructions.

While Buddha was giving this teaching, Manjushri realized with his clairvoyance of knowing others’ minds that some of the humans and gods in the audience were developing doubts, finding it difficult to believe the Buddha’s explanation about the existence of Medicine Buddha. Therefore, again he rose from his seat, respectfully circumambulated Buddha three times, made three prostrations, and then with his left knee on the ground according to tradition, requested Buddha:

To remove doubts from the minds of disciples, please show clearly how this Buddha exists, where he exists, and what his good qualities are.

Buddha immediately entered into an absorption of concentration, and from his heart emanated light rays inviting the seven Medicine Buddhas to Vaishali so that everyone could see them. Medicine Buddha came with his two main disciples, Radiance of the Sun and Radiance of the Moon, as well as a vast retinue of thousands of other disciples. The other six Medicine Buddhas also came with their retinues. Everyone could see the seven Medicine Buddhas with their retinues directly, and their doubts were immediately dispelled. Buddha introduced each of the Buddhas, saying for example “This Buddha is Medicine Buddha. He comes from the eastern Pure Land called Lapis Jewel Land. This Buddha Land is the nature of wisdom with the aspect of lapis lazuli. The entire ground of that Pure Land is illuminated by this Buddha’s light,” and so on.

Buddha then gave instructions on how to recite the mantra for oneself and for others, for sick and dying people, and so forth, and how to perform many different healing rituals. Everyone rejoiced and developed deep, unchangeable faith. It is said that through hearing these instructions seven million non-human givers of harm gained a direct realization of ultimate truth and promised to help future followers who sincerely relied upon the practice of Medicine Buddha. Twelve chief givers-of-harm who were present later attained enlightenment, and are included within the fifty-one Deities of Medicine Buddha’s mandala.

The practice of Medicine Buddha is a very powerful method for healing ourself and others, and for overcoming the inner sickness of attachment, hatred, and ignorance. If we rely upon Medicine Buddha with pure faith we shall definitely receive the blessings of these attainments.

Geshe Kelsang gave the initiation of Medicine Buddha in Santa Barbara on Sunday, February 4th 1996.

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Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche)

 

Padmasambhava means ‘Lotus-born’, which refers to Guru Rinpoche’s birth from a lotus in the land of Oddiyana. Guru Rinpoche, the ‘Precious Master’, is the founder of Tibetan Buddhism and the Buddha of our time. Whereas Buddha is known primarily for having taught the teachings of the sutra vehicle, Padmasambhava came into this world, and to Tibet in particular, in order to teach the tantras. While Buddha Shakyamuni exemplifies the buddha principle, the most important element in the sutrayana path, Padmasambhava personifies the guru principle, the heart of Vajrayana Buddhism, and he is therefore known as the ‘second Buddha’.

In the north-western part of the land of Oddiyana, on an island in the lake of Dhanakosha, the blessings of all the buddhas took shape in the form of a multi-coloured lotus flower. Moved by compassion at the suffering of sentient beings, the Buddha Amitabha sent out from his heart a golden vajra, marked with the syllable HRIH, which descended onto the lotus blossom. It transformed into an exquisitely beautiful eight year old child, endowed with all the major and minor marks of perfection, and holding a vajra and a lotus. At that moment all the buddhas of the ten directions, together with hundreds of thousands of dakinis from different celestial realms, invoked the blessings and the incarnation of all the buddhas for the benefit of beings and the flourishing of the secret mantra teachings. Their invocation is known as ‘The Seven Verses of the Vajra’, or ‘The Seven Line Prayer’.

It is said that his birth took place in either an Earth Monkey or a Wood Monkey year, on the tenth day of the waxing moon in the monkey month. As Guru Rinpoche was born within the lotus flower upon the waters of the lake, the dakinis called out to him from their hearts, and their call spontaneously became the Vajra Guru mantra. So this mantra is his heart mantra, his life-core, his heart essence, and to recite it is to invoke his very being. It happened that at that time, the King of Oddiyana, Indrabhuti, as a result of his immense generosity to the poor and needy of his country, had finally emptied his treasury. In addition, he had no heir to succeed him as ruler, and his sight had failed him. So he had set out on a voyage on the lake of Dhanakosha to find a wishfulfilling jewel. As he returned with the jewel, he encountered the amazing child, and questioned him about his parents, his family line, his name and country, his sustenance and what he was doing there. The boy sang his reply in an enchanting voice:

My father is the pure awareness of rigpa, Samantabhadra, My mother, the space of all things, Samantabhadri, My line, the indivisibility of awareness and space, My name, the glorious Lotus-born, My homeland, the unborn dharmadhatu, My sustenance, consuming dualistic thoughts, My destiny, to accomplish the actions of the buddhas of past, present and future.

Indrabhuti took him back to the kingdom and installed him as the crown prince. At different points in his life, Guru Rinpoche is known by different names. Now he was known as Pemajungné, Padmakara or Padmasambhava, ‘The Lotus-born’, as well as Tsokyé Dorjé, ‘Lake Born Vajra’.

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Shakyamuni Buddha

 

In 563 or 566 B.C.E., a prince was born to a noble family of the Shakya clan, in a very beautiful park called Lumbini Grove, which lay in the foothills of the Himalayas (in present-day southern Nepal). This beautiful park was not far from the capital city of the Shakya kingdom, Kapilavastu. The prince’s father, King Shuddhodana, named his son Siddhartha. He was a member of the Kshatriya, or royal warrior caste, and his clan lineage, the Gautamas, was ancient and pure. His mother was Mahamaya or Mayadevi, daughter of a powerful Shakya noble, Suprabuddha. Before the conception of Siddhartha, Queen Mahamaya dreamed that a white elephant, extraordinary and utterly beautiful, entered her body. Soon after the birth, soothsayers predicted that the young prince would become either a Chakravartin, a universal monarch, or an “awakened one,” a buddha. So from the very beginning of his birth, he showed signs of perfection.

Seven days after the birth, Queen Mahamaya died; her sister, Siddhartha’s aunt, Mahaprajapati Gautami, who was also married to King Suddhodana, thereafter raised and brought up Siddhartha like her own child, with great care and love, in the wealthy circumstances of a noble family.

His father naturally wanted his son to be his successor and provided him the very best possible education and pleasurable occupations. He tried to prevent Siddhartha from coming into contact with any religious or spiritual path in order to steer him toward becoming the next king of the Shakyas.

As a young prince, Siddhartha was fully educated and mastered the arts and sciences of his day, including even the art of war and other trainings, displaying a sharp intellect and the strength and power of a great physique. When the young prince reached the age of sixteen, he married Yashodhara and engaged in the pleasures of the world. He continued to relish the comforts of the palaces, gardens, and varieties of wealth of the royal lifestyle.

In his late twenties, Prince Siddhartha encountered the “four signs” during excursions from the palace. They made an extremely strong impression on him. These signs were: an old man, a sick person, a corpse, and a monk or a yogin. Through them he realized that the vanity of youth, as well as one’s health, and even life, may end at any time; furthermore, he realized that the only way out of this suffering world of samsara was through finding and following the right spiritual path.

At twenty-nine, after the birth of his son, Rahula, Siddhartha left the palace and kingdom behind and engaged in an ascetic path. He became a homeless, wandering yogi, seeking the truth for the sake of all sentient beings. He began to practice, mainly under the guidance of two ascetic teachers, Arada Kalama and Rudraka Ramaputra.

When Siddhartha realized that he was not reaching his goal, liberation, he gave up the ascetic way of life and turned to meditation, deciding to seek enlightenment on his own. After six years of hardship and practicing near Nairanjana River, he began to travel and gradually came to the region of Gaya. Siddhartha went to Bodhgaya, where he sat under what was later to be known as the Bodhi-tree, vowing to exert himself in his meditation until he reached his goal of enlightenment.

After forty-nine days, at the age of thirty-five, Prince Siddhartha attained complete enlightenment, or buddhahood, overcoming all the obscurations and temptations of Mara. At this point, Siddhartha was a buddha, a fully awakened or enlightened one, and he knew that for him, there would be no further rebirth in samsaric realms.

Seeing that what he had achieved was not possible to communicate directly, he remained silent for seven weeks. Buddha gave his first discourse in Deer Park in Benares, which is known as “the first turning of the wheel of dharma.” In this discourse, he taught the four noble truths, the interdependent nature, and the law of karma, at the request of Indra and Brahma. His earlier five ascetic companions became his first disciples and began to form the bhikshu (monastic) sangha. At Vulture Peak Mountain near Rajagriha, Buddha turned the second wheel of dharma, in which he taught the nature of all phenomena as being shunyata or emptiness and anatma or selflessness. There followed a period of many years of teaching at a variety of places, such as Vaishali. The teachings of this period are known as the third turning of the wheel of dharma, in which Buddha taught a variety of subjects, including the notion that all sentient beings possess tathagata-garbha – the basic heart of buddha.

Through these teachings, Buddha showed the way that leads all beings to the experience of awakening and liberation from samsara. This demonstrates clearly his limitless compassion and loving-kindness towards all beings who are looking for liberation and freedom from the realms of samsaric existences.

King Bimbisara of Magadha became a follower of Buddha and offered a monastery near Rajagriha, the capital of Magadha, which became very important historically for the development of the sangha. Buddha spent a great deal of time mainly in the region of Rajagriha and Vaishali, moving from place to place and living on alms. The number of his followers grew very fast. Buddha’s most important students were Kashyapa, Shariputra, Maudgalyayana, and Ananda. Buddha later founded orders of nuns, or bhikshuni, and had many followers and establishments in these regions.

Since he was born as the prince of the Shakyas, after his enlightenment he was known as “the Shakyamuni” or “the Sage of The Shakyas,” and from his clan name, he was later called Gautama Buddha.

During his life, his cousin, Devadatta, who had always been jealous of what Siddhartha had achieved, sought to become the head of the Buddha’s sangha or community. Devadatta planned to destroy the Buddha. Though he did not succeed, he brought about a schism among the monastic communities in Vaisali that caused great harm to the sangha’s spiritual development.

At the age of eighty, Shakyamuni Buddha empowered his close disciple, Kashyapa, as his regent to continue the sangha’s activities. Lying on his right side and facing west, Buddha entered into parinirvana. (Other accounts and some sutras state that Buddha partook of spoiled food, which caused him to pass away.) His relics are distributed and enshrined in seven stupas and elsewhere.

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White Tara

 

White Tara (Sanskrit: Sitatara; Tibetan: Sgrol-dkar) is sometimes called the Mother of all Buddhas and she represents the motherly aspect of compassion. Her white color signifies purity, wisdom and truth.
In iconography, White Tara often has seven eyes – in addition to the usual two, she has a third eye on her forehead and one on each of her hands and feet. This symbolizes her vigilance and ability to see all the suffering in the world. The “Tara of Seven Eyes” is the form of the goddess especially popular in Mongolia.
White Tara wears silk robes and scarves that leave her slender torso and rounded breasts uncovered in the manner of ancient India. Like Green Tara, she is richly adorned with jewels.
White Tara is seated in the diamond lotus position, with the soles of her feet pointed upward. Her posture is one of grace and calm. Her right hand makes the boon-granting gesture and her left hand is in the protective mudra. In her left hand, White Tara holds an elaborate lotus flower that contains three blooms. The first is in seed and represents the past Buddha Kashyapa; the second is in full bloom and symbolizes the present Buddha Shakyamuni; the third is ready to bloom and signifies the future Buddha Maitreya. These three blooms symbolize that Tara is the essence of the three Buddhas.
In religious practice, White Tara is believed to help her followers overcome obstacles, espeically those that inhibit the practice of religion. She is also associated with longevity.

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Buddhist symbols

Wisdom Eyes of Buddha

 

Often found painted on the Stupas of Tibetan Buddhism, this symbol represents the all seeing eyes of the Buddha, a symbol of the omnipresent compassion of the Bodhisattvas. The small dot depicted between the eyes represents the third eye, a symbol of spiritual awakening. The curious squiggle between the eyes is the Sanskrit numeral one, symbolizing the unity of all things.

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Kalachakra (Wheel of Time, Tenfold Powerful One, Ten-fold Seed Syllable)

 

The kalachakra seed syllable is a complex Buddhist emblem symbolizing the Kalachakra, or wheel of time. the seven intertwined letters (rendered in Lantsa, a Buddhist version of Sanskrit used for mantras and sacred texts) represent the seven words of the kalachakra mantra- “Ham Ksha Ma La Va Ra Ya.” The seven letters, combined with the crescent and full moons and the nada (wisp), make up the ten elements that give the emblem its name.

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Vajra (Dorje)

 

Dorje in Tibetan means ‘indestructible.’ The Dorje is the Tibetan Buddhist equivalent of the double terminated Hindu ritual tool known as the Vajra, or thunderbolt. The Vajra represents masculine force, sudden inspiration, the ‘cutting’ of ignorance and illusion. In Buddhist rituals it is always paired with the singing bell, or Ghanta, its feminine counterpart. The spoked ends represent the closing of the spokes of the wheel of Samsara; the attainment of enlightenment. A ritual gesture is performed crossing the tools over the chest, representing union of the male and female principals. A “double Dorje” is two dorjes crossed and it represents stability and impenetrability, and is often used on the doorways of temples, or placed under meditation cushions.

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Endless Knot

 

The endless knot is one of the “eight auspicious signs,” symbolizing the eight-fold paths of Buddhism. The knot, also known as the “mystic dragon,” is a symbol of eternity and unity. From ancient times, such knots were commonly found in decorations on fabric and on the exterior of buildings, under the common belief that the endless looping of the designs confused evil spirits and prevented them from entering homes. The knot is called the dragon knot because it is believed to have evolved over time from images of protective nagas or dragons.

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Mantras

Om Mani Padme Hum

The mantra Om Mani Padme Hum (literally: “Aum, to the Jewel in the Lotus, hum”) is recited by Tibetan Buddhists to invoke Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara), the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Repeating this mantra accumulates merit and eases negative karma; meditating upon it is believed to purify the mind and body. Spinning prayer wheels, physical or digital, are believed to confer the same benefit as speaking the mantra. It is often recited with the aid of a mala (string of prayer beads).

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Some of the materials on this page derive from the next sources: www.symboldictionary.net, gomang.org, religionfacts.com, dharma-haven.org, manjushri.com, www.rinpoche.com, kagyuoffice.org.
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