Om Mani Padme Hum is one of my favorite mantras. Translated directly, it means something like: the jewel is in the lotus flower. One of my teachers explained this metaphor to me: if we peel away the layers of our identity (much as one might peel away the many petals of a lotus flower), we reveal our true nature (the jewel inside). If we let go of the transient labels we by which define ourselves (and they’re all transient), we uncover our inner light. We can find moksha, freedom.
We can begin to peel away these layers in meditation by questioning the pieces of our identity: Who would I be if I lost my job title? Who would I be if I lost a leg? Who would I be on mood-altering drugs? Who would I be if went through gender reassignment surgery? You may find that even after you’ve whittled down to the bare bones of your identity, there’s still a conscious observer who can ask the question, Who am I now? Once you can’t think of any more pieces to dismiss from your identity, ask yourself, How is who I am different from who anyone else is? Underneath all of the layers that separate us, you will find that which connects us all.
Om Mani Padme Hum came to my mind today while I was reading fellow students’ tributes to one of my most influential and beloved teachers, Jacques-Andre Larrivée, who recently passed away. One person’s tribute quoted something that he always used to say:
Qui es-tu pour penser que tu peux changer le monde?
Qui es-tu pour penser que tu peux changer?
Qui es-tu pour penser?
Who are you to think you can change the world?
Who are you to think you can change?
Who are you to think?
Who are you?
This same peeling away of ayers as we can do in meditation, as described above. But in this case we deconstruct a dharma, a purpose: changing the world. The amazing thing about this deconstruction is that if we get to the point that we can answer, “Who?” (independent even of identity) we unearth our enormous power:
Who? The continuity of the universe,…
Who are you? —a significant and dynamic scope of it—
Who are you to think? …expressed as an intelligent system…
Who are you to think you can change? …whose identity is more a matter of perspective than one of reality…
Who are you to think you can change the world? …and who simultaneously takes part in the world, contains the world, and is the world.
That’s who you are to think you can change the world.
Om mani padme hum.