The essence of all beings is earth,
The essence of earth is water,
The essence of water are plants,
The essence of plants is man,
The essence of man is speech,
The essence of speech is sacred knowledge,
The essence of sacred knowledge is word and sound,
The essence of word and sound is OM
From the Upanishads
Indian philosophy emphasises that material existence originates in sound vibration. Imbued with meaning but simultaneously meaningless, the classic Buddhist mantra Om Mani Padme Hum encapsulates the sound of the universe.
The Buddha once said that his knowledge of nature was too vast to reveal and that most of this knowledge would not in any case contribute to the betterment of mankind; however, one grain of wisdom that did pass his lips on the subject of natural philosophy was:
One grain of rice is composed of seven louse heads.
One louse head is composed of seven fine drawing lines.
One fine drawing line is composed of thirty-six pollen particles.
One pollen particle is composed of thirty-six sunlight rays.
One sunlight ray is composed of thirty-six molecules.
One molecule is composed of thirty-six atoms.
If, in the above schema, we calculate a rice grain at 5 mm, the Buddhist atom has a diameter of 6 x 10-11 metres. In the twentieth century Niels Bohr calculated the nucleus of the Hydrogen atom as 5.3 x 10-11 metres. A coincidence perhaps, or another remarkable example of the deep Buddhist insight into nature, that increasingly commands the attention of contemporary scientists.
Whilst the Sanskrit Om Mani Padme Hum has no English equivalent beyond ‘Behold! The jewel in the lotus!’ chanting the mantra in a cyclic flow of breath physically embraces the core Buddhist concepts of purification and compassion. As an ensemble the work Chant quietly anoints the exhibition space with these fundamental values.
Photography: Craig Weiss