At one time in the past, the Lord of Great Compassion, the Noble Avalokiteshvara, raised the Idea of Enlightenment, bodhicitta, and then for countless kalpas (eons) accumulated merit. After passing through the ten Bodhisattva levels, he received the special Great Light empowerment. Then, as he entered the ranks of the Noble Sons of the Buddha, he made this vow:
"Throughout the samsaric world realms in the limitless space of the ten directions, I will benefit beings. I must liberate all beings from samsara. Not until all beings are established on the level of Buddhahood, not even one left behind in samsara, will I myself enter Buddhahood. Only when all beings without exception have been guided to Buddhahood, will it be well for me to achieve it. Until then I will remain in samsara for the benefit of all beings. And to ensure it, may my body be shattered into a thousand pieces if I break this vow."
From then on, Avalokiteshvara resided on Potala Mountain. Through his limitless emanations, at every moment he accomplished the ripening and liberating of innumerable sentient beings -- to an extent beyond our means to express. And in this manner he passed uncountable years -- many, many kalpas.
The Sanskrit epithet Avalokiteshvara literally means Worldward-looking Lord.
It is transliterated into our alphabet from Tibetan: phags-mchog
spyan-ras-gzigs and, as Tibetan spelling is a bit like English in that
letters have become silent or are pronounced in a surprising fashion, the
phrase comes out P'hagpo Chenrezi. (Often in respect
of the Tibetan spelling, there is a final letter -g or
-k but it is not generally pronounced.)
Geshe Palden Dakpa explains that Chenrezi is the very embodiment of all compassionate motivation. His activity takes many different physical forms including deities and other spiritual beings, teachers and helpers of all kinds including animals and even objects.
In the traditional manner, the Geshe breaks down the designation of this deity into its components: phags-mchog is Tibetan for noble, a lord (Skt: arya used in the way that Buddha Shakyamuni is said to have used the word - as meaning a person who is superior by virtue of rank plus: intelligent, skilled, aware, cultured and sophisticated, in comprehension of the human condition) but in addition, possessing the merit and compassion to en-noble others. In other words, a bodhisattva. Spyan-ras-gzigs - Chenrezig - "one who looks down with an unwavering eye" (an observer, scrutinizer, supervisor.)
A p'hagpa or noble is so by virtue of:
1. his or her basic state as compared to that of ordinary beings: free of even the first link of the chain leading to becoming or the accumulation of karma
2. the causes of the superiority: realizing the true Empty nature of existence
3. the unfolding of that superiority through the realization that there is no Self
(These are the 3 wisdoms: of hearing or study, of contemplation and of meditation.)
4. the intrinsic nature of a person who becomes superior: As a
consequence of the above realizations, this 'noble being' - a bodhisattva
permanently free from rebirth in the 3 lower conditions - has the ability
and desire to liberate others.
Avalokiteshvara is considered a ' Buddha Jewel'; superior not only to ordinary beings, but to other superior beings.
In the phrase spyan-ras-gzigs, Chenrezig, Looker- with- Unwavering-Eye, the verb to look is used in the sense of 'look after' like a mother who always and continuously tries to provide care, benefit and protection for her children.
Besides, 'looking after' all beings in this way, Chenrezi possesses "the five eyes and six super knowledges." In other words, the 'looking' is done in 5 ways:
His physical eye can see clearly over great distances, his divine eye
refers to his ability to see past and future - birth, life and death of
all - as well as the events in the present, his wisdom eye is the
knowledge that all phenomena are empty of inherent existence, his Dharma
eye is his ability to gauge the nature of the disciple's intelligence, and
his Buddha Eye is his " supreme and ultimate knowledge which
directly knows all phenomena simultaneously".
" Avalokiteshvara's teaching goes on perpetually till the end of cyclic existence" and since he has the supreme attributes of Buddha activity, he can appear in whatever forms best suit his disciples. Some well-known forms are The Thousand- Armed and Thousand-Eyed, Eleven- Faced, Sinhanada and so forth. Geshe Palden Dakpo says that the forms conform to the aspirations of specific disciples.
The most usual is the four-armed form in which the white male human form is seated holding up a mala in his upper right hand, a lotus in the upper left and a jewel in his cupped hands.
" His holding a white lotus flower in his second left hand symbolizes his stainless wisdom that has realized the nature of emptiness. Just as the lotus blossom, although rooted in mud is not soiled by it, his pure wisdom is undefiled by the faults of the world."
" His holding a crystal rosary in his second right hand symbolizes his liberating sentient beings from cyclic existence with ideal means and aspirations. "
"The jewel symbolizes Bodhichitta, the mind of enlightenment which is the treasure of supreme merits. His hands folded at the heart symbolize supplicating the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the ten directions, out of their great compassion, to look after poor bewildered beings. "
The deer skin draped over his left breast symbolizes his especially great attitude of compassion towards all the suffering sentient beings.
Avalokiteshvara's mantra is the famous one of six-syllables:
"The syllables are: Om-ma-ni-pad-me-hum.
The first syllable OM represents the Form Body of a Buddha, and the last syllable HUM represents his Truth Body.
MANI means wish-fulfilling gem symbolizing the pure Wisdom that has realized emptiness.
Some people think that the vowel E ending the word PADME is a [vocative suffix which indicates the] form used to call to someone.
[The mantra] is essentially a short symbolic supplication to [Chenrezi] saying:
'O, Supreme Avalokiteshvara, you have attained the two Bodies of a Buddha through the dual path of wisdom and method indicated by the jewel and lotus you hold, please lead all sentient beings to attain the two Bodies of Buddha as you have done!' "
~ edited from Geshe Palden Dakpa as translated by Karma Gelek Yuthok, at Quiet Mountain .
The case-ending -E can also indicate that the MANI belongs to the PADME or lotus which is the manifestation of Buddha-Nature in our realm. ie. Not "the jewel in the lotus" at all, but "the lotus' jewel." This jewel is the blue beryl, the Wish-fulfilling Chintamani.
Ages passed, and Chenrezi thought that perhaps now he had delivered all beings from samsara. With his omniscient vision he looked down from Mount Meru, and saw that the numbers of sentient beings trapped in the realms of suffering had not diminished. Not only had they not decreased, but now those sentient beings nearest him were experiencing an Age of Darkness, [Skt.: kali yuga] and so their imperfections were even more difficult to eradicate.
He irradiated the six realms three more times but still,
each time he checked, he was disappointed. In his frustration and
despair, he thought, "Truly, as the Tathagatha has said, space is infinite
and so is the number of sentient beings. So many have I liberated,
yet there is not a dent in their number. Therefore, as samsara has
no end, I will liberate myself."
Self-concern. His bodhisattva vow was broken ! His head shattered into hundreds of pieces. Instantly a great feeling of regret welled up and he cried out to Buddha Amitabha and to all the buddhas for help, "I have failed at my purpose and failed those beings who relied on me; please help me."
Then the Root Lama who by his own vow always holds us in his compassion, the Noble World Protector who has conquered and transcended, who due to his immeasurable warm light is called Buddha Amitabha, vividly appeared, collected the fragments of cracked skull, and transformed them into a stack of eleven heads and replaced them on the body of Chenresi. He blessed ten of the heads with peaceful appearances, but only one with a wrathful appearance -- for those who cannot be trained by peaceful means.
"Son of my family, it is not well that you have thus broken your vow. Now you must replenish your broken vow, and make an even greater resolution to benefit beings."
The shattered body of a thousand pieces, by Amitabha's blessing, was now united, but Avalokiteshvara then thought that his previous great vow could never be exceeded. And yet by it he had been unable to benefit even a few beings, so for seven days he was unable to decide what to do.
Then he thought that by means of a wrathful form he would be able to subdue the degenerate beings of this Age of Darkness. And, seeing many beings who practiced Dharma and yet were unable to escape from the Bardo realms, he thought that by a wrathful form he could also protect them from the Bardo. And lastly, he thought that the beings in this Dark Age were poor and needy, experiencing only suffering, and that by a wrathful form he could provide them with an antidote to their suffering, so that their needs could be met by their simply making the wish.
Avalokiteshvara, Lord of this Realm of Desire, therefore also assumes the form of Mahakala.
Buddha Amitabha told Avalokiteshvara about the attributes of
Six-Syllable Mantra and how it ought to be propagated so that the
causes and conditions for rebirth in each of the six realms could be
eradicated and eventually all samsaric realms would empty.
The six syllables were then manifested in Jambudvipa, this world of ours, in the form of light focused on Potala. Amitabha told his bodhisattva to go there, and the world announced Avalokiteshvara’s arrival with all kinds of auspicious and wondrous signs.
This was at the time that Buddha Shakyamuni was teaching at Mount Malaya, and one of the bodhisattvas noticed some brilliant lights. He knelt and asked the Buddha for an explanation of the phenomenon.
"Beyond the countless universes from here to the West, there is a place called Padmawati. There resides the Buddha known as Amitabha, and he has a Bodhisattva called Avalokiteshvara who has just gone over to Mount Potala for the benefit of countless sentient beings. He is the most perfect of bodhisattvas, manifesting a thousand buddhas throughout the whole universe in order to liberate every sentient being."
Buddha Amitabha then again instructed Avalokiteshvara saying, "There is no beginning to samsara. There is also no end to samsara. But you must benefit sentient beings until samsara ends." [Gampopa in his Jewel Ornament of Liberation explains the apparent contradiction by saying, "no end" only means "endless" in the ordinary sense of "a very long time."]
"If I need to help all beings until samsara ends, may I have
one thousand arms, and one thousand eyes? The thousand arms will manifest
as a thousand universal monarchs, and the thousand eyes, as a thousand
buddhas." So Amitabha granted his wish adding also, an eye in the
palm of each hand.
Gelongma Palmo (the nun, Skt.: bhikshuni Lakshmi) was one of the greatest masters of the 1,000 -armed Chenresig.
She was born into an Indian royal family but chose Buddhist
ordination in her youth. She studied with many of the masters of her time
and practiced diligently. Sadly however, due to the ripening of
karma, she contracted leprosy and was subsequently abandoned in the
forest. She had a vision of King Indrabodhi who advised her to do
Avalokiteshvara practices. (He was the foster father of Guru
Rinpoche. There is a tradition that he was the first person to
receive tantric teachings from the Buddha and he is also considered one of
the 84 mahasiddhas.)
Palmo recited the mantras of Avalokiteshvara and devised and practiced the purification ritual or nyungne retreat continuously before a mysterious image of 1,000-armed Avalokiteshvara that appeared to her in a forest clearing.
It is said that she recovered from leprosy and having developed great dedication and compassion for all beings, she became an enlightened guide to many disciples to whom she passed down the practice of Nyungne.
See the red Avalokiteshvara, Jinasagara (Tib. Gyalwa Gyamtso.)
Tibetan legends about Chenresi come mainly from the Mani Kabum (mani is the usual abbreviation for his mantra; kabum is 100,000 or a myriad) which itself has a legendary origin:
When Tibetan King, Lha Thothori Nyentsen resided at the palace called Yumbu Lakang, a jewelled casket fell out of the sky onto the flat roof. It sprang open to reveal two texts: The Rites of Renunciation and Fulfillment, and A , two seals -- one for printing the dharani of the Wish-fulfilling Gem, the other for the Six-Syllable Mantra and finally, a golden stupa. Together, representations of the body, speech and mind of two forms of the Great Bodhisattva.
Not knowing what the five objects were, the king had a dream that revealed only that the significance of the auspicious objects would be made clear but only after five generations.
The fifth monarch was King Songtsen Gampo who desired to bring Buddhism to Tibet as a result of the influence of his two wives, one Nepali the other Chinese. He sent Thonmi Sambhota to India to study there, and when Sambhota returned he designed a system of writing and grammar for Tibetans based on Devnagri, the script used for Sanskrit and for Bengali. He saw to it that the first Buddhist texts translated into Tibetan were the sutras and tantras concerning Chenresi (Avalokiteshvara.)
These scriptures were collected, hidden in times of opposition to Buddhism. and later recovered as separate termas or treasures. Accomplished masters, Ngodrup, Lord Nyang and Shakya-O later recovered them, and they are known collectively as the Mani Ka-bum.
It is likely that among Tibetans, teachings and practices related to Chenresi are the most popular of all. Besides ancient scriptures concerning this bodhisattva, there are a number of sadhanas composed by masters who feel they received personal transmissions of teachings from this deity. Thousands of people know no other prayers or practices, and they rely completely on methods relating to Chenrezi to accomplish the state of Avalokiteshvara and to liberate themselves from the sufferings of samsara.
The sadhana used by many Tibetan centres for Buddhist
practice called For the Benefit of All Beings Pervading Space was
composed by Thangton Gyalpo (1385-1509) of Upper Tsang province,
Tibet. It is recorded that one day, while he was saying the Mani
mantra, Chenresi appeared before him to empower and act as his
guide. He was able to recall a previous existence as a monk who also
was devoted to that bodhisattva. Through his diligent practice including
years of doing nyungnye, he succeeded in achieving high realization.
He wrote For the Benefit as a guide for others' successful
After his enlightenment, he became very creative producing images, books and stupas representing the various aspects of buddhas and bodhisattvas. He contributed to the construction of ferries and suspension bridges to ease the material lives of people, and he produced folk operas on a variety of historical and religious themes to inspire as well as entertain them.
benefits of Avalokiteshvara at Souled Out: images
Enseignement sur sadhana de Tchenrezi par Kh. Karthar de KTD.
As the great Horse-lord, Hayagriva. See the Horse.
*This article is derived partly from a Gelugpa teaching on the sadhanas of Tara and Mahakala available in its entirety at http://www.lamrimbristol.demon.co.uk/download/tara_puja.htm and which was produced in that form in January 1994 by Dharma Therapy Trust under the guidance of Venerable Geshé Damchö Yönten.
a gallery of Chinese Guan Yin
KK Tham's Chenresi image in various sizes
A traditional English nursery rhyme (children's verse) goes:
Humpty Dumpty sat
on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again!
Illustrations usually depicted the character as a giant egg with arms and legs (shades of Pan Gu of the Chinese cosmogony.) However, the East Anglia Tourist Board in England explains that Humpty Dumpty was a powerful cannon used during the English Civil War (1642-49). In the summer of 1648, it was badly damaged when it was knocked off the wall at the Church of St Mary's in Colchester. It had played an important role in defending the city, first against the Royalists and, for barely 3 months, against siege by Parliamentarians (Cromwell's side) trying to regain it from the King's Men ( Royalists) who, of course, were eventually restored to power.
"May any lineage shattered as a consequence of self-cherishing be re-assembled to form a glorious whole; though there be a thousand arms, let there be one will -- to benefit beings ! "
Sister Palmo, Karma Tsultrim Khechog Palmo (Freda Houlston Bedi,
1911-1977) was ordained by the 16th Karmapa at age 55. This highly
accomplished woman, former Congress Party member and mother of Indian film
star, Kabir Bedi, was also a sponsor and patron of Tibetan refugees
including Trungpa Rinpoche. She is remembered by her daughter
(Sheila Fugard. Lady of Realization. Cape Town: Maitri
Publications, 1984) to have translated into English the original Gelongma
Palmo life story. This biography of the 8th century Gelongma Palmo (Bhikshuni Srimati) who
lived in India, still exists:
"One should imagine the form of a woman with the yellow robe who lived in a hermitage, following the path of the yogi, dwelling in a forest, living a life of seclusion and meditation. We should not forget the powerful energies of Buddhism of that period. This was the time of the great Nalanda University, and the writings of the sublime poetry of Shantideva.
The biography tells us in its spare fashion that the Gelongma Palmo showed herself in her outer form as the Bhikshuni, wearing the yellow dharma robe, with an uhsnisha mound upon her head, like the Buddha.
In her inner form, she manifested as Tara in green colour, removing all obstacles and hindrances. Thinking of Gelongma Palmo, in this form, we should recollect the very beautiful initiation of the Green Mother, which we experienced this morning.
In her secret form, the Gelongma Palmo appeared as a siddha, one who possesses miraculous powers. The story tells us that she appeared in the form of a siddha, cutting off her head, and put it on the trident of Guru Padmasambhava.
It is enough to see the Gelongma Palmo as one who had embodied a triple identity -- the outer form of the woman in the yellow robe, the nun who had taken the renunciation, the inner form as an emanation of Green Tara, and the secret form of the siddha, the one of magical attainment.
The Gelongma Palmo reached the Tenth stage of the Bodhisattvas when the natural, "the simultaneously arising of the mind" occurred, in its nature very pure, the understanding of the Dharmakaya is clear. The nature of thoughts are utterly pure, clear and transparent. The Gelongma Palmo possessed the Sambhogakaya body of celestial bliss.
All this happened in the heart centre of Bodh Gaya centuries ago, ... where pilgrims still flock to the holy places of the Buddha."
ratna trayaya/nama arya jnana sagara berotsana byuha radza
ya/tathagataya/arhate samyak sam buddhaya/nama sarwa tatagatebhye /arhatebhye/samyak sam
avalokiteshoraya/bodhi satoya/maha satoya/maha karunikaya//teyata/om
dhara dhara/dhiri dhiri/dhuru dhuru/itte witte/tsale tsale/tratsale
tratsale/kusume kusumware/ihli mihli tsi te dzo la ma pa naye
om haya driwa hung pe/om sobhawa shuddha sarwa dharma sobhawa shuddho hung//om ma ni pad me hung//