Do mantras have meaning? Or are they empty of meaning?
For instance, the Chenrezig mantra seems to have attached to it certain perfections, purifications, colors, symbols, etc. There appears to be a number of interpretations surrounding what a person should be thinking when chanting the mantra. The interpretations are so varied and so open that it leads me to believe that all are completely arbitrary and the mantra is, at base, meaningless.
By meaningless, I'm not trying to imply that the mantras don't have value. That would be highly incorrect to state. It is apparent that the mantras have great spiritual value, but there seems to be a certain transmission of meaning which gives them greater meaning to some than others. For instance, from my ignorant point-of-view, I chant a mantra and it sounds like a series of syllabic gibberish with a profound calming effect - not so different from reciting a 'Hail Mary' 50 times in a row. To others of you, this mantra may symbolize something greater and feel insulted when I call it "meaningless" and "gibberish" - not that I intend a person insult towards anybody or anything.
It all seems rather relative. And it all seems rather subjective.
Yes. Mantra has meaning, but symbolycally.
For example Om Mani Padme Hum.
Om is symbol of Avalokiteshvara mind, speech, and body
Mani symbolize diamond, which is the boddhicitta side.
Padme symbolize Lotus, which is the Wisdom side.
Hum symbolize the union of all of them.http://www.sacred-texts.com/bud/tib/omph.htm
Padmashambava mentioned in his book (if I am not wrong Juniper Ridge), that Om Mani Padme Hum represent the quality of Avalokiteshvara, his mind, his wisdom, etc. So, we cannot know.
Like I cannot know your mind, unless I have clairvoyand. But to know Avalokiteshvara mind, we will need Buddha mind I guess. So, we know the symbol, but the real essence is unknown for us, normal human.
Need to experience it.