By Brooke Webb

The basis for the attainment of enlightenment is the bodhisattva promise. This is the commitment a yogi makes to work tirelessly to free all beings from suffering and bring them to the absolute realization and happiness of Buddhahood. This massive undertaking represents the pinnacle of the Mahayana teachings through which skillful compassion and wisdom are put into action. The Diamond Way (Vajrayana) vehicle works directly and quickly through contact with the realized mind of one's Lama and by identification with Buddhahood itself. However, the Vajrayana is supported entirely and never separated from the Mahayana view and its noble bodhisattva aspiration. Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, is the embodiment of Sangha, the practicing friends who pull, prod, and inspire us to hold the complete happiness of others without exception as the eventual fruit of our successful practice. Being the third of the "Three Jewels," the Sangha is always portrayed by Chenrezig, who represents all Bodhisattvas and points to the joy-bringing and unselfish motivation that is the foundation of the Mahayana family of practicing friends.

Following his full and complete enlightenment under the Bodhi tree at Bodhgaya in India 2580 years ago, the Buddha gave his first teachings to this world. Lord Buddha's first discourse was on the surprising topic of suffering and its pervasive effect over conditioned existence. Buddha clarified that the nature of reality as it is experienced by unenlightened beings is continually beset by temporary happiness and pain, which are inextricably connected to causality. How beings experience their lives, their personal joys, sorrows and inevitable losses, have as their basis, prior and continued deluded thought, speech, and action from this and all previous lives.

Buddha Shakyamuni pointed out that all beings are motivated by a single common goal; above all else we seek to find happiness and avoid suffering. Having attained complete insight into karma, the causes behind both the good times and bad which all experience, Buddha went on to teach the means by which one may be obtained and the other avoided. Shakyamuni Buddha gave both the causal [Sutra] and fruitional, [Mantrayana] teachings on the practice of Loving Eyes or Chenrezig. Through discourse he taught the slower Mahayana means to accomplish this great bodhisattva's practice. To his yogi friends he directly transmitted the fast acting tantric method to actualize the powerfield of Chenrezig. In this way Buddha gave these and countless other methods to accomplish the complete welfare of both others and ourselves and to transform everything into joy bringing insight.

The Bodhisattva known as Loving Eyes, Chenrezig (Tib.) or Avalokitesvara (Skt.) is the meditational deity of Tibet. His mantra, OM MA NI PE ME HUNG has been incorporated into every aspect of human activity throughout the country. Today the practice of the Buddha of Compassion is fast taking root in the West. There are innumerable different aspects of Chenrezig with 108 recognized forms of the deity. How this bodhisattva originally manifested is the subject of differing historical perspectives.

According to Buddha Shakamunyi himself, as taught in the White Lotus Sutra, Chenrezig was at one point just an ordinary person such as you or I. Eons ago it was said that there was a king named Gyalpo Sergi Mijon who ruled a strong Buddhist country. One of the king's minister's sons at that time attained the state of full enlightenment and was known as Tathagata Rinchen Nyingpo. This Buddha predicted that the king himself would become the Buddha Amitabha. He foretold that the king's elder son would become the Bodhisattva of Compassion, Chenrezig. As forecast, these events did occur and the son, having attained awakened compassion, was reborn in the pure land of the Potala, where he works continuously to liberate beings from the web of samsaric pain and suffering. As a bodhisattava on the highest level, Chenrezig exists within the Dharmakaya, the all-pervading wisdom of space itself. He manifests on the clarity level to those whose realization has awakened.

Another version of the deity's origin, outlined in the text known as the Mani Khabum, describes the advent of Chenrezig in the relative world of phenomena. From his pure land Dewachen, the Buddha Amitabha saw the need to increase his activity toward benefitting others. From his right eye he emitted a beam of white light and from his left a ray of green. From these sprang forth respectively the manifestations of the deities Chenrezig and Tara. Chenrezig took form within the kingdom of a ruler known as Zangpochock, "Sublime Kindness." He was discovered seated on a lotus and lamenting the unbearable suffering of beings. Taking the young boy for his son, the king made inquiries of Amitabha regarding the appearance of the beautiful young man. "The child is an emanation of the activity of all the Buddhas," answered Amitabha. "He is the one who accomplishes the benefit of all beings, the one who makes joyful the heart of all Buddhas, his name is Chenrezig, the noble sovereign."

In the presence of Amitabha himself, Chenrezig took a vow to free beings from suffering, regardless of the realm they were in and bring them to awakening. Should he break this promise he wished that his body be split into a thousand pieces. In deep meditation Chenrezig emitted beams of different colored light to the six realms of suffering, sending emanations of himself to benefit others. Legend has it that three times Loving Eyes was able to empty the three lower realms of their occupants. After kalpas of meditation the great bodhisattva opened his eyes and saw that once again the lower realms were chock full of suffering, and decided the task was beyond even his ability. In accordance with his vow, Chenrezig split into a thousand pieces. Amitabha now set to work reconstructing the broken bodhisattva and aimed to bolster his noble resolve. This time Amitabha endowed him with nine peaceful and one wrathful face crowned with his own head. In addition a thousand arms with a wisdom eye on every palm was bestowed in order to empower the benevolent emissary's activity to the full. Along with the added appendages, Amitabha gave Loving Eyes the mantra, OM MA NI PE ME HUNG, as the means to transmit his transforming power.

Loving Eyes may actually be seen from three points of view. First as a yidam, a light and energy manifestation inseparable from one's Lama's fully awakened mind. In this form Chenrezig appears as a meditation deity conferring fully realized Buddha wisdom directly to the mind of the meditator. Second, Loving Eyes may be seen as a symbol depicting kindness and compassion itself. In this regard all acts of kindness, generosity, etc, as well as those people who embody such qualities may also be seen symbolically or actually as the activity of Loving Eyes.

In the third case, the meaning of Chenrezig points to the very nature of mind itself. Through insight it can be understood that all manifestation is the magical and dreamlike play of uncreated mind, that self and other are delusional and fixated constructs of relative mind and its unconscious and habitual clinging to the appearance of both an ego and an external existent reality. When we recognize that "self" and "other" are part of an enlightened and inseparable whole, it becomes obvious that like Chenrezig, we cannot separate the good we wish for ourselves from that we wish for others. In this way mind itself becomes motivated by the wish to see all beings receive the highest joy we once wanted only for our "selves." From the view of understanding our mind to be uncreated, continuous and aware space, and that "other" appears as the vivid clarity within that space, the field of our compassion becomes limitless as all beings as well as ourselves actually appear as buddhas from this perspective of mind's highest view.

Chenrezig or his manifestations have appeared in the world through emanations, recognized among whom was Songtsen Gampo, Tibet's first Buddhist king, (617-698) as well as Padmasambhava, (8th Century) who established the Dharma there. Among others to be recognized as Chenrezig is the Dalai Lama. He is someone who embodies the qualities of the pacifying four armed aspect of Avalokitesvara. The Gyalwa Karmapas through their seventeen incarnations are also considered to be the emanations of Loving Eyes. It is said that the practice of the great yogi prior to his recognition as the First Karmapa, the first consciously reincarnated teacher, was that of "Gyalwa Gyatso," a profoundly mystical red form of Chenrezig in union with consort. This Buddha aspect was one of five special Tantras, which Naropa had foretold would be brought from India to Tibet by a student of Lama Marpa's lineage. These teachings were given by the yogini Khandro Karpa Sangpo to Tipupa, who passed them to Milarepa's student Rechungpa. In this way Karmapa received and practiced this highest Maha Anutara Tantra and in essence became Chenrezig himself.

During the life of Buddha Shakyamuni, it is said that Avalokitesvara manifested as one of his main disciples. He plays an important role in many discourses including the Heart Sutra. In this teaching, at Lord Buddha's request, Avalokitesvara gave the well known discourse on ultimate reality to his dear friend Shariputra and many others, "...Form is empty; emptiness is form. Emptiness is not other than form; form also is not other than emptiness. Likewise, feeling, discrimination, compositional factors and consciousness are empty. Shariputra, all phenomena are merely empty, having no characteristics. They are not produced and do not cease. They have no defilement and no separation from defilement." Avalokitesvara continued as a spokesman for the sangha and those aspiring only to benefit others. "Bodhisatvas rely on and abide in the perfection of wisdom; their minds have no obstructions and no fear. Passing utterly beyond perversity they attain final nirvana. Also, all the buddhas who reside perfectly in the three times having relied upon the perfection of wisdom become manifest and complete buddhas in the state of unsurpassed, perfect, and complete enlightenment."

In another sutra it is recorded that Buddha Shakyamuni prophesied that this beloved heart son of his, Avalokitesvara, would in the future subdue the barbaric inhabitants of Tibet and lead them along the path to enlightenment.

In general, the mandala or power-field of a buddha or aspect of buddhist wisdom springs forth from its very seed syllable and mantra. In this way the sound vibration embodying a particular buddha and that aspect's energy and wisdom qualities as well as activity are inseparable. Such is the case with the mantra of Chenrezig, OM MA NI PE ME HUNG, which is commonly referred to as the "six syllables." By saying the mantra of Chenrezig one activates his compassionate activity for the benefit of both others and oneself. The positive results of doing so may be more than one could realisticaly imagine. It was the "Second Buddha," Guru Rinpoche or (Skt: Padmasambhava) who, at the behest of King Trisong Deutsen firmly established the Buddhadharma in Tibet. He advised the King and his subjects in no uncertain terms on the benefits of invoking the activity of the Great Compassionate One. It was he who designated Chenrezig as the main deity of the Tibetans.

Before leaving the land of snows Guru Rinpoche gave a lengthy discourse to then King Mutig and his assembly. He began, "Listen, King of Tibet, nobility and subjects!

OM MA NI PE ME HUNG is the quintessence of the Great Compassionate one, so the merit of uttering it just once is incalculable.

A single sesame seed can multiply into many, but the merit of uttering the six syllables just once is even greater.
All needs and wishes are granted when you supplicate the precious wish fulfilling jewel, but the merit of uttering the six syllables just once is even greater.
It is possible to count all the grains sown on the four continents, but the merit of uttering the six syllables just once cannot be counted.
It is possible to count the drops of water in the great ocean, one by one, but the merit of uttering the six syllables just once cannot be counted.
It is possible to count each hair on the bodies of all animals in existence, but the merit of uttering the six syllables just once cannot be counted.

OM MA NI PE ME HUNG. The Six syllables are the quintessence of the Great Compassionate One. It is possible to wear down a mountain of meteoric iron that is eighty thousand miles high by rubbing it once every aeon with the softest cotton from Kashika, but the merit of uttering the six syllables just once cannot be exhausted.
OM MA NI PE ME HUNG. It is possible to calculate the merit of creating a stupa made of the seven precious substances filled with relics of the buddhas of all world systems and making constant offerings to it, but the merit of uttering the six syllables just once cannot be calculated."

Guru Rinpoche elaborated further on the benefits of Chenrezig practice:

OM MA NI PE ME HUNG "The six syllables are the quintessence of the mind of noble Avalokiteshvara. If you recite this mantra 108 times a day, you will not take rebirth in the three lower realms. In the following life you will attain a human body and in actuality you will have a vision of noble Avalokiteshvara. If you recite daily the mantra correctly twenty one times, you will be intelligent and able to retain whatever you learn. You will have a melodious voice and become adept in the meaning of all the Buddhadharma..."

The great Siddha Guru advised his followers to invoke Loving Eyes in all situations:
"...Compared to any medical treatment or cure, the Six Syllables are the strongest remedy against sickness and evil."
He continued:
"The virtues of the six syllables are immeasurable and cannot be fully described even by the buddhas of the three times. Why is that? It is because this mantra is the quintessence of the noble bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, who continuously looks upon the six classes of beings with compassion. Thus recitation of this mantra liberates all beings from samsara."

It is said that the mantra of Chenrezig encompasses all of Buddha's teachings and embodies his enlightened essence. In this way the mantra is endowed with the capacity to purify our mind from the veils which obscure it. These veils are comprised of two primary obscurations, our disturbing personalized emotional reactions and our stiff and fixated way of seeing "reality." Together these factors comprise what is known as ignorance and this is the reason we continue to think, do, and say the things which through cause and effect eventually ripen as pain. Chenrezig in essence is compassion itself wedded to the ultimate nature of mind. These can be seen as corresponding to the forms of awakened altruism. In Tibetan this is known as bodhicitta. First is absolute bodhicitta, which corresponds to emptiness, in which reality is directly experienced as being essenceless, unsubstantial, and unreal. Second is relative bodhicitta, which is the heartfelt wish to benefit others without limit. Relative bodhicitta may spring forth from absolute boddhicitta when it is recognized that all beings are inseparable from our own awareness and beingness. Together these comprise emptiness and compassion. These relative and absolute aspects can also be seen as the union of wisdom, compassion, and the means to attain them. On the highest level they are the meeting of bliss and space, the jewel and the lotus, male activity and female wisdom and the dissolution of all delusion.

The body of Chenrezig is white and stainless like snow reflecting direct sunlight. He is depicted as having four arms which symbolize the four immeasurables: love, compassion, joy, and equanimity, as well as the four buddha activities of healing, increasing, fascinating and protecting. Two hands hold a wish-fulfilling jewel to his heart, which fulfills the hopes of all. His outer right hand holds a crystal mala drawing all beings to liberation. The lotus flower he bears in his left hand symbolizes the opening to all the buddha realms. The moon at his back symbolizes the radiance of his enlightened state. His five colored silks represent the five wisdoms. The deer skin over his left shoulder is symbolic of this animal's kindness, strength, and gentleness. At the level of Chenrezig's heart rests an open lotus flower at the center of which is the seed syllable HRIH, meaning kindness. This is also the seed syllable to invoke the activity of Buddha Amitabha. Surrounding this syllable are the six syllables shining lights to the realms of samsaric existence. OM is brilliant white, MA is green, NI is yellow, PE is blue, ME is red while the letter HUNG is black or a deep blue. Above Avalokitesvara, seated on a lotus throne sits the red Buddha of Limitless Light, Amitabha, appearing as dazzling as a mountain of rubies in the light of a thousand suns. He holds the bowl of liberation in his lap. OM MA NI PE ME HUNG.

Following OM, which represents the body of all Buddhas, the six syllables mean literally, "The jewel is in the lotus." It is the end of all duality, in which meditator, the object of meditation and the act of meditating become an inseperable whole. Experiencing others as inseparable from oneself and observing the conditioned suffering of their mind is what engenders Buddhist compassion rather than the bleeding heart variety.

In our present dimension of experience beings are reborn according to their ripening karma. The practice of the six syllables closes the door of painful rebirth in the six realms of cyclic existence, known as samsara. OM closes the door on the world of gods whose realm springs from extreme pride. MA closes the door on jealousy and the demigod realm. NI closes the door on attachment and the predominant desire state gripping the human realm. PE transforms the dullness and stupidity of animal rebirth. ME empties the realm of the pretas or hungry ghosts and transforms their overpowering greed. Lastly, HUNG empties out the hot and cold realms of paranoia stemming from anger and rage where suffering is beyond imagination and seems to last and last. These states may be looked at figuratively or literally and they can all be seen within the human condition itself.

The syllables also have their specific purifying effect. OM purifies the veils of the body. MA purifies the veils of speech. NI purifies the veils of mind, while PE purifies the veils of conflicting emotions. ME clears the veil of habitual latent conditioning while HUNG removes the veil obscuring knowledge. The six syllables are an invocation of the body, speech, mind, qualities, activity, and totality of all buddhas respectively.

The syllables also correspond to the six perfections or "paramitas.” These are generosity, skillful conduct, patience, effort, meditation, and wisdom or realization.

OM invokes the activity of Ratnasambhava, MA that of Amoghasiddhi, NI invokes Vajradhara. PE calls forth Vairochana, ME, Amitabha, while HUNG invokes Akshobya.

Finally the six syllables are linked to six wisdoms. They are in fact the fully transformed aspect of our disturbing emotions all of which spring primarily from ignorance and secondarily from attachment and aversion. OM is the wisdom of equanimity, MA the wisdom of activity, NI the wisdom born of itself, PE, the wisdom of Dharmadatu, ME, discriminating wisdom, while HUNG is the mirror like wisdom. The six syllables utterly transform the appearance of phenomena such as physicality, movement, heat, liquid, and relative dimension into empty, aware space and the experience of co-emergent wisdom, pure intuitive insight and understanding.

The great poet and yogi Patrul Rinpoche advised his followers:
One deity, Chenrezig, embodies all Buddhas;
One mantra, the six syllables, embodies all mantras;
One dharma, bodhicitta, embodies all practices of the development and completion stages.
Knowing the one which liberates all, recite the six syllable mantra.

As your life runs out like the setting sun sinking away,
Death closes in like the lengthening shadows of evening.
Now what's left of your life will vanish as fast as the last fading shadows;
There's no time to waste - recite the six syllable mantra.

If you check your mind over and over again,
Whatever you do becomes the perfect path.
Of all the hundreds of vital instructions this is the very quintessence;
Fuse everything into this one single point, and recite the six syllable mantra.

The practice of Chenrezig's mantra is available for one and all. However, to be truly effective it is necessary to receive refuge, empowerment and oral instruction from a qualified Lama or teacher. In this way all conditions are optimized to invoke and realize the full potential of the deity's benevolent power. One may continue to practice even while expecting such transmission. OM MA NI PE ME HUNG.

The Sangha comprises the active practitioners who are pursuing the path of the Bodhisattvas. Chenrezig represents the consummate altruist who works for others without limit. Since beginningless time beings have appeared to continuously reincarnate within the various realms and dimensions of existence. From this understanding comes the knowledge that all beings without exception have been our kind and protective mothers at one time or another. Opening our eyes we see that these same beings are still caught in the net of conditioned suffering. What choice does the intelligent person have but to work diligently to repay the previous kindness that was given? Some skillful detachment and patience may be in order when those same mothers can appear today as our detested enemy or oppressor. Ever more the reason for gratitude towards them.

All of us, from the great down to those with microbe like bodies or intelligence have the Buddha nature. The human condition, although temporary, is considered in Buddhism to be the optimal vehicle to recognize and activate all of mind's qualities. It is only karmic dust, which obscures the clarity of our Buddha nature. It is said that the karmic debris of countless eons of lifetimes can be eradicated by the practice of the six syllables and by invoking one’s enlightened lama as being inseparable from the form and activity of Loving Eyes. Forgoing the great opportunity to practice, the great wheel of samsaric appearances continues to turn and we may lose that most rare and valued quality of being human, which is freedom itself.

©2000 Diamond Way Buddhist Centers USA