Art and Meaning

The Mnemonics* Of Meaning
(*a word or string which is intended to be easier to remember than the thing it stands for)

Buddhists remind themselves of the pattern of events with their oft-repeated chant “Om mani padme hum”; pronounced “Aum ma-ni pay-may hung” by Tibetans and Nepalese, and meaning:

Om: the jewel in the lotus : hum

As Peter Matthiessen explains it (The Snow Leopard, Picador, 1980):
Aum (signing on) is the awakening or beginning harmonic, the sound of all stillness and the sounds of all time; it is the fundamental harmonic that recalls to us the universe itself.
Ma-ni: The unchanging essence or diamantine core of all phenomena; the truth, represented as a diamond, jewel, or thunderbolt. It is sometimes represented in paintings as a blue orb or a radiant jewel, and sometimes as a source of lighting or fire.
Pay-may: “Enfolded in the heart of the lotus” (mani enfolded). The visible and everyday unfolding of events, petals or patterns thus revealing the essential core (mani) to our understanding. The core itself, or the realization of it, is nirvana (the ideal state of Buddhism). The lotus represents the implicate order of tessellated and annidated events, and the process of unfolding the passage of time to successive revelations.
At the core is the unchanging understanding.
Hung (signing off): “It is here, now.” A declamation of belief of the enchanter in the words. It also prefaces the “Om” or beginning of the new chant cycle, although in a long sequence of such short chants, all words follow their predecessors. This is the reminder mnemonic of implicate time; all events are present now, and forever repeated in their form.

We can choose from tribal chants, arts, and folk decoration many such mnemonic patterns, which in their evolution over the ages express very much the same world concept as does modern physics and biology. Such thoughtful and vivid beliefs come close to realizing the actual nature of the observed events around us, and are derived from a contemplation of such events, indicating a way of life and a philosophy rather than a dogma or set of measures.
Beliefs so evolved precede, and transcend, the emphasis on the individual, or the division of life into disciplines and categories. When we search for the roots of belief, or more specifically meaning, we come again and again to the one-ness underlying science, word, song, art, and pattern: “The jewel in the heart of the lotus”.
Thus we see that many world beliefs share an essential core, but we also see the drift from such nature-based and essentially universal systems towards personalized or humanoid gods, dogma, and fanaticism, and to symbols without meaning or use in our lives, or to our understanding of life. Many other world-concepts based on the analogies of rainbows, serpents, and songs cycles relate to aspects of the integrated world view, and are found in Amerindian and Australian tribal cultures.

Excerpt from ‘Permaculture, A Designer’s Manual’ by Bill Mollison, Tagari Publications, 1988