OM or AUM is used in "OM MANI PADME HUM" and some other mantras.

To my knowledge, OM is found only in Mahayana and Vajrayana schools. It's not found in Theravada. The 14th Dalai Lama explained the meaning of OM here: On the meaning of OM MANI PADME HUM.

It's an extremely important and venerated word in Hinduism -- see "What is the significance of ॐ (Om/Aum)?" on Hinduism.SE.

Is OM in Buddhism an imported religious term from Hinduism?

Or like "namo" which means "salutations" or "adoration", does OM have an ordinary meaning and therefore not considered an imported religious term?

  • It doesn't mean what else it means elsewhere and not it's not imported it does mean Om (Pride / Ego) by Buddhism. Or may my just question would answer your question
    – Swapnil
    Jan 16, 2019 at 10:04

4 Answers 4


does OM have an ordinary meaning

Although it's hard to prove a negative, people don't explain its "ordinary meaning" when they explain it, so I assume the answer is "no".

I guess it has two actual meanings.

The first "actual meaning" IMO is that people explain that it has three syllables (or four if you count the silence afterwards); and, that each of the three syllables refers to different things ... but, there are diverse explanations of what those three things are.

  • The Hinduism.SE topic says they refer to:

    • "Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva"
    • and/or to "creation, preservation, and annihilation"
    • and/or to "satva (goodness), rajas (passion), and tamas (ignorance)"
  • H. H. The Dalai Lama's explanation says that they refer to:

    • the practitioner's impure body, speech, and mind
    • the pure exalted body, speech and mind of a Buddha

So the symbolic meaning seems to be "three syllables representing three things" -- but (importantly) what those three things are, what the symbol represents, differs.

So (perhaps like other words, karma for example) it's a word repurposed by Buddhism. If it has a different meaning in Buddhism, I don't know whether you'd want to think of it as the same word.

The second "actual meaning" of it is (or comes from) where and how it's used, its positional or contextual meaning -- i.e. it's used to begin mantras. I think that, in the real world, people tend to learn words from hearing them in place, in context, in practice (and not from dictionary definitions). So the basic meaning of "om" is "here starts a mantra" and/or "prepare to be conscious of a mantra".

It's hard to think of an equivalent in English ... possibly "Amen" which has an overtly religious origin but may possibly be used in other contexts to mean "I solemnly agree with what was just said."

Perhaps this could be called a "formulaic" meaning -- possibly for example like:

  • "Evaṃ me sutaṃ" -- prepare yourself to hear a sutta
  • "Once upon a time" -- prepare yourself to hear a children's story
  • "Dear sir" -- prepare yourself to read a business letter
  • Ringing a little bell at the beginning of a period of silence

Namo Buddhaya. Aum stands for states of consciousness. A , U , M stands for wakened consciousness , dreaming consciousness , sleeping consciousness. Hinduism and Buddhism share a common heritage of the great sages who discovered OM and many other Truths. It would be inappropriate to say those sages were Hindu or Buddhist. Therefore Aum is not an imported religious term from Hinduism. Aum is not a religious term. Aum predates religion.

  • The Buddha actually rejected Brahman, Atman, Vedas and other ideas from Hinduism. The way he used the words "dharma" and "karma" is also different from Hinduism. I think the word AUM or OM cannot be found in the Buddha's discourses (the suttas).
    – ruben2020
    Mar 22, 2018 at 14:54
  • I am not sure about the existence of OM Mantra in Suttas. But AUM is a great idea. And it is as great as Self. However we know that ultimately Sabbe Dhamma Anatta. Ultimately AUM is not me, AUM is not myself AUM is not mine but that is true even for Earth ,Fire and Niravana !! Overall Buddha rejects every Dhamma as me, myself or mine. But AUM is wholesome. Different people interpret it differently. Some people call it Brahman but that doesn't make it Brahman. Mar 22, 2018 at 15:08

OM is basically associated with Shaivya tradition of Hinduism i.e. those hindus who worship Shiva. And according to hindu mythology Shiva's abode is Kailash mountain which is in tibet. So inhabitants of that part of Tibet were using the word AUM or OM either for purpose of meditation or as ordinary word to mean Consciousness. Hinduism was mostly rooted in Afaganistan, Pakistan and the Gangaitic plains of India during ancient time.

With this line of reasoning there is a heavy possibility that Hindus themselves adopted OM from Tibeteans.

OM is not used by Theravadins only by Vajrayana Buddhists and Mahayana Buddhist whose roots are in Tibet. So basically Tibetians are using it and it belongs to them.

So I wont say it is imported.


The lotus is a symbol in Hinduism.

One who performs his duty without attachment, surrendering the results unto the Supreme Lord, is unaffected by sinful action, as the lotus is untouched by water.

— Bhagavad Gita 5.10

It is used as a defining feature of Gudwaras in Sikhism. So it's use 'imported'?

The mantra is found at it's earliest in 4th CE Mahayana Karandavyuha Sutra.

Mani jewels are mentioned in the Pali Mahasudhassana as one of the attributes of a Wheel Turning King. As a spiritual symbol they also go back to pre-Buddhist Hinduism.

Buddha practiced in the Hindu tradition. Yes he had specific critiques, and in the Pali Brahmanjali Sutra gave a teaching to Maha Brahma where he explains to the being that it was not the Creator but only the first being reborn into these realms. But Hindu thought has always been diverse and varied. Buddhism, like Jainism and Sikhism, is different to Hinduism, but from it.

The mani jewel has a special deeper significance in Mahayana thought. But the symbols belong to all of sanatana dharma, perennial wisdom traditions.

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