The Three Heart Mantras

All Bön practitioners, regardless of age or place of birth, recite the three great mantras. Though nearly everyone recites these mantras, not everyone may understand the meaning of these mantras, so we will give a brief explanation here. The three mantras relate to the three kayas or bodies of the Buddha: Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya.

The explanations below are drawn from a joint teaching by Lopon Tinley Nyima, the head teacher of Menri monastary, and Tenzin Wangylal Rinpoche, founder of Chamma Ling and Ligmincha Institute. You will also be able to listen to Lopon Tinley Nyima and Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche sing each of the mantras.

Use of the Three Heart Mantras

There are 32 explanations of the methods and benefits of practicing with these mantras, but we will only mention some of the most commonly used methods here. Carving mantras on stones, wearing the mantra, or putting a mantra above a door can all be causes of liberation. Carving it in stone and putting it under water can help the beings that live under the water achieve liberation. Printing prayer flags and exposing them to the wind will help liberate those beings living within the air element. By singing the mantra, others may gain liberation simply through hearing the mantra. It is also beneficial if one can write mantras with gold or silver ink and offer them upon a shrine. In Tibet, even though some people were illiterate, they would purchase copies of texts and put them on shrines and offer them respect. Many times mantras will be carved into the horn or bones of animals that are eaten for meat, such as yaks or sheep, in the hopes of helping them toward liberation. Prayer wheels are always filled with mantras, and these prayer wheels may be spun by hand, wind, or by water to spread the benefits of the sacred seed syllables. Using one's body, speech, and mind simultaneously with the mantra has the greatest benefit, such as circumambulating a stupa while reciting a mantra and contemplating its purification. One should be careful not to step on mantras, or disrespect them in any way, or one can accumulate negative karma.

If you see some sort of accident it is useful to recite any of the three mantras, but A KAR A ME would probably be the most useful. But reciting any of these mantras is beneficial to all other beings, as well as yourself. The mantras will have the most benefit if, as you recite the mantra, with strong intention you consciously work to dissolve your afflictions.

It is best to make a commitment to recite a mantra a specific number of times, or for a specific time, for the commitment gives more strength to the mantra and to the practitioner. You should recite it quietly, so that another person sitting by you cannot understand what you are saying, but you should recite the syllables clearly, not slurring them together.

According to our tradition, the mala originated with Tonpa Shenrab, the founder of Bön. Once, while he was practicing as an ascetic, he planted a tree with branches of the five colors. The five fruits of those branches became the five malas—the four doors and one treasure.

Malas are used for counting the number of repetitions of a mantra, and should have 108 beads, though each round is counted as 100 repetitions in case one accidentally moves two beads with one recitation. With most Bonpo mantras, the mala should be held in the left hand, and the beads counted in a counterclockwise direction over the index finger. Crystal malas are recommended for monks; for tantric practitioners, malas of rudraksha seeds, sandalwood, or bone are good. When acquiring a new mala it should be empowered by a lama before beginning to use it. Malas should not be made with too many colors or decorations, just the natural colors of the materials is best. The head, or counter bead of the mala symbolizes the three kayas, or bodies of the Buddha; the 108 beads are a symbol of the 108 Bodhisattvas. As you use a mala for a long time, reciting many mantras, you empower it, so it should not be given to others lightly. It should be kept in a clean, respected place in your home. In Tibet it was common when a great master gave away a mala that individual beads from that mala would be given to people as a form of protection.

At the beginning of each mantra are the seed syllables of emptiness and clarity, the essence of our being. So really, each of these mantras arises from the same source—the source of our own being. By reciting these mantras, contemplating their meanings, and connecting with the Buddhas they invoke, one purifies oneself and all sentient beings.