Published by Blavatsky Study Center. Online Edition copyright 2004.

H.P.B. Wrote Tibetan and Mongolian

by Henry S. Olcott

[Reprinted from The Theosophist (Adyar, Madras, India),
December, 1899, pp. 178-179.]

While we were living in Bombay, H. P. B. bought of Wimbridge the first article made in the furniture-shop he established with capital loaned him for the purpose. It was a hanging cabinet, with double doors fitted with bolts and a lock. It came with us to Madras and now hangs in her old bedroom, which I occupy. One day at Bombay I saw her decorate the inner faces of the doors with some writing in queer characters at the top and two sides; a central small circle marked off in nine compartments, each having one character written in it; and a lot of flourishes and leaf-sprays at the bottom. The designs on the two doors are alike. She dashed off the whole affair swiftly and without following any model, using a camel-hair pencil and bronze ink, of which we had a small bottle. Until quite recently I had not the curiosity to try to discover if the writing had any meaning, but having now put the cabinet to use for the storing of papers, I have had the design before my eyes quite often, and at last I bethought me of sending a copy of it to Rai Bahadur Sarat Chandra Das, C.I.E., the erudite Tibetan Interpreter to the Government of Bengal, and all H. P. B.’s friends will be glad to see what she wrote and to read his answer to my letter. He says:

Click on image to see larger reproduction."Accept my respectful thanks for sending me the expression for translation and explanation. I have not been able to fully understand the nine symbolic figures in the circle. They look like the old Yug characters which you generally find in the seals brought by Tibetan pedlars and sold here (Darjiling). None can explain me these, so I have waited and waited for them and at last write you my own views. I have divided the characters in three groups, marked Nos. 1, 2 and 3. Number one is Tibetan; number 2 Mongolian; number 3, the first six are Uggur symbols and the last three not clear to me. They may be the mystical a, a, o. Number 1 reads "Om mani padme hum. Number 2 is Number 1 written in Mongolian characters, read from top to bottom. Number 3 is described above."

Sarat Babu appends an interesting note upon the true meaning of the oft-quoted Tibetan aspiration, Om mani padme hum, which he says is of Phallic significance - the junction of the phallus and the yoni as typical of the mystery of creation. It is an invocation originally of the Deity, i.e., the Supreme Being who is in the Universe as its life. Mani a gem = God. Padme = in the lotus, i.e., in the Universe.

The Deity addressed is Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, who is identified with Vishnu of the Hindus. The Ninth Avatara of Vishnu, according to the Hindus, was Buddha, but, according to the Buddhists, the Buddha was never an Avatara of Vishnu. But at the same time they put all the attributes of Vishnu in their living God or Bodhisattva, Avalokiteshvara, whom they call Khasarpana, which is an epithet of Vishnu. In the Mahayana school of Buddhism, particularly in its Tantric section, Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva manifests himself as Sambara (Tib. le de-mchog) the Chief Happiness, and is represented as clasping the goddess Tara in firm embrace.

III. The expression Mani Padme, the Gem in the Lotus, has more than one signification. (a) San–tric: Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva was born of the lotus. Therefore in invoking him the expression 'O thou the Gem (Ratna or Mani) who was born of the lotus' is used; (b) Tantric: The invocation is jointly to the divine couple, Avalokiteshvara and his wife, the goddess Tara, represented standing and conjoined, thus symbolising the law of the transmission of life. Both divine personages are immortal and their union typifies the eternal transmission of life and the keeping of the world in working order."

Sarat Chandra Das.

Of course, the Buddhism spoken of by our learned friend is that of Tibet, China and Mongolia, that of the Mahayana School.

H. S.O.