This book researches the development area of the popular Buddhist mantra "Om Mani Padma Hum". It is a study into a Buddhist Sutra called the Karandavyuha Sutra; this means the casket containg the magnificent array of the manifestation and works of Avalokitesvara.
The book starts with an introduction into the little known world of Hindu Puranas and its relationship to Mahayana Buddhism. We have to remember that there are no writings in existence today from India two thousand years ago,so historic research can only develop through interpretation of the myths for an insight into the social/religious world at that time. Starting by reading Puranas of the Hindu God Shiva, Studholme embarks on a journey of fascinating investigation through an area of comparative study. He leads us on an endeavour that proves well worth reading.
He then concentrates on comparisons between the famous ancient Hindu mantra of Shiva "Namah Shiva" and "Om Mani Padme Hum" which is without doubt the most famous Buddhist mantra. Still following the theme of Buddhist/Hindu comparison he then investigates the development of Mahayana Buddhism in relation ship to the "Mani" mantra.
In speaking about the meaning of the Mantra "Om Mani Pamde Hum" Studholme starts by engaging us with the motion of the difficulty of understanding the meaning of a mantra. He says on page 105:-
"Thus the srotum, or "ear", is the instrument of hearing and jnatram, or intellect, is the instrument of knowing Mantra, similarly, is an instrument (tra) of the mind (Man-), being derived from the same root as manas-, denoting "mind" in the very broadest sense, encompassing the activity, not only of thought, but also of the emotions, the imagination, and the spiritual faculty of a human being. What is really importent, therefore, about phenomena such as "Om Mani Padme Hum" is not their meaning but their function".
Studholme then concludes his book with a chapter which is a an overview of the themes in the Karandavyuha Sutra.
All in all this book is a fascinating study into the origins and the meaning of Avalokitesvara the Bodhisattva of compasion. It is also a book that is quite lucid for a lay reader to read. Its a door into the intricate world of Mahayana Buddhism that though reading like a mystery plot is easy to follow.