"Chenrezig, hold me fast in your compassion. From time without beginning, living beings have wandered in cyclic existence, undergoing unendurable suffering. They have no other protector than you. Please bless them that they mayachieve the omniscient state of Buddhahood."
In the Mahayana Buddhist tradition Bodhisattvas are those who dedicate themselves to helping all beings reach enlightenment. They choose to remain in the world, taking whatever form is needed, until all beings, from the smallest insects, have gained freedom from the cycle of involuntary birth, death and rebirth. Chenrezig, known as Avalokiteshvara in Sanskrit, is the Bodhisattva of compassion. Amitabha, the Buddha of Infinite Light, sent Chenrezig to help liberate all beings from suffering.
Chenrezig looked on all beings with compassion and saw that they were weighed down by disturbing emotions, such as desire, greed, jealousy, pride, aversion and the blindness of ignorance.
When he saw their immeasurable suffering, he vowed before Amitabha that he would work for the benefit of all beings until every single one of them was liberated. Amitabha promised to help him accomplish this vow. Chenrezig worked for eons until one day he looked to see how many beings he had liberated. To his despair he saw that countless millions of beings were still suffering under their karma and the agony of this made his body split into many small pieces. Seeing this, Amitabha kept his promise and re-assembled the body of Chenrezig, giving him one thousand arms and one thousand eyes so that he could reach out to and watch over all beings.
Earthly embodiments of Chenrezig have appeared throughout history, including Tibet's first king, Srongsten Gampo, and Padmasambhava, who propagated Buddhism in Tibet during the eighth century. Padmasambhava declared Chenrezig to be the patron Bodhisattva of Tibet and widely taught the mantra of Chenrezig: Om Mani Padme Hum, which is now an inextricable part of Tibetan culture. Chenrezig also appears as His Holinesses' the Dalai Lama and the Gyalwa Karmapa, who will continue to reincarnate until all suffering on earth is overcome.
The syllables Om Mani Padme Hum can be interpreted as an invocation to Chenrezig.
OM is the opening syllable of many mantras and signifies enlightened body, speech and mind. It is a syllable of invocation and is used here to attract Chenrezig's attention.
MANI means "jewel", symbolised by the crystal prayer beads that Chenrezig holds. These signify skilful means.
Padme means "lotus" and signifies wisdom.
Hum is the seed syllable of enlightened mind.
Chenrezig combines perfected skilful means and wisdom. Thus the mantra can be interpreted as a request:
"You who hold the jewel and the lotus, please look on me
with compassion and bless me to become like you."
OM MANI PADME HUM
Skilful means principally consist of love, compassion, the altruistic intention to become enlightened for all living beings and the practice of the first five perfections: giving, ethical discipline, patience, enthusiastic effort and concentration. In fact all practices apart from the cultivation of wisdom fall into this category. There are many kinds of wisdom, symbolised here by the lotus. Foremost is the understanding of the connection that exists between actions and their effects, called the correct worldly view, and the correct supramundane view, the understanding of reality or the fundamental way in which things exist. The lotus, which emerges from the mud and is not tainted by it, also frequently signifies the wish to be free from cyclic existence and the Bodhisattva's ability to remain untainted in cyclic existence while working for living beings. Practitioners of Mahayana Buddhism aspire to become Bodhisattvas who embody skilful means and wisdom at all times. The Bodhisattva vow, like the vow made by Chenrezig, is taken and held through as many lifetimes as are needed to become enlightened.
Chenrezig is most often depicted in the four-armed or thousand-armed forms. Both forms wear an antelope skin which symbolises non-violence. The four-armed form holds a wish-fulfilling jewel between the palms of the first two hands, a string of crystal prayer beads in the second right hand and a lotus in the second left hand. The thousand-armed form has eleven heads: the top head is the red face of Amitabha Buddha. Below this is a fierce black face with fangs, glaring eyes and flaming tresses. Below this are three heads; the central one is red, that to its left is white and that to its right is green. Below these are three more heads that are, in the same order, green, red and white respectively. Below these are three more: white, green and red respectively. These nine heads all have peaceful eyes. The first two hands touch at the heart with a hollow between them symbolising the form and wisdom of bodies of enlightened beings.
The second right hand holds crystal prayer beads, representing skilful means. The third right hand is in the gesture of supreme giving. From it flows nectar alleviating the hunger and thirst of hungry spirits. This gesture denotes the promise to bestow everything that is needed, including common as well as supreme powerful attainments. The fourth right hand holds a wheel, which denotes the uninterrupted turning of the wheel of teachings for living beings. The second left hand holds an unsullied lotus to show that Chenrezig is untainted by any trace of selfishness. It also represents wisdom. The third left hand holds a water pot to symbolise the washing away of all-disturbing attitudes and emotions. The fourth holds a bow and arrow to show that by teaching living beings he will lead them to the path that combines skilful means and wisdom. The other nine hundred and ninety-two arms and hands symbolise his ability to emanate universal monarchs. The eyes in the palms of the hands represent the ability to emanate the thousand Buddhas of the fortunate era.
All this is for the benefit of living beings.
Examine your motivation for sitting down to do this practice. Think about the preciousness of your human life and think that you have the capacity to do what is really valuable. Remember how fragile our human life is and how we must do something worthwhile now, at once, because we do not know how long we will live. Think that you want to do something of lasting benefit to free yourself from this present condition in which there is always something unsatisfactory, even when we are not suffering overtly. How good it would be to be enlightened and able to help others in the most effective and perfect ways! This is the real purpose of doing the Chenrezig meditation. Arouse a strong feeling of kindness towards all living beings.
First imagine that everything has vanished and there is just empty space. Then you hear the OM MANI PADME HUM mantra resounding and reverberating in the distance. To begin with it is very faint and barely distinguishable, but grows clearer and clearer until finally it takes the form of the syllables of the mantra. The syllables instantaneously turn into a white Chenrezig with four arms seated on a moon-cushion resting on an open lotus. This is your spiritual teacher in the form of Chenrezig, the embodiment of enlightened compassion. Imagine him either in front of you at brow level or just above the crown of your head.
The central two hands are together in a gesture of supplication at the heart, begging all enlightened and noble ones to care for living beings. In the second right hand he holds crystal prayer beads. In the second left hand he holds the stem of a white lotus. Thus Chenrezig is the one who holds the jewel, MANI, the crystal prayer beads, signifying skilful means such as compassion and love. The jewel represents the male element. The lotus, PADME, signifies wisdom. Though it grows from the mud at the bottom of the pool, it is untainted by it. The lotus symbolises the female element. The inseparable combination of skilful means and wisdom is essential in all we undertake, if we want to be successful.
At Chenrezig's heart is a moon disk, in the centre of which is the syllable HRI. Around the edge, standing clockwise, are the syllables of the mantra OM MANI PADME HUM. When you say the mantra, imagine you are calling to Chenrezig, who holds the jewel and the lotus, asking him to bless you to become as compassionate as he is. As you recite and concentrate on this imagine that the mantra and seed syllable, Chenrezig's body and his jewel ornaments, all give off rays of radiant white light which go out and purify the whole environment.
Again light rays radiate out, each with a tiny Chenrezig at its tip. These land on the heads of living beings filling them with light and nectar, which remove their sickness, obstacles and obscurations, and transform them into Chenrezigs. Then imagine the next flow of light rays entering your heart and visualise that you yourself are filled with light and nectar, which pacify and remove all pain and unhappiness, give you peace and well-being, and increase your life-span and positive qualities. Dedicate the positive energy you created through this practice for peace in the world and for the lasting happiness and enlightenment of all living beings.
To have the opportunity and wish to do this practice is something rare and special. Chenrezig is the embodiment of the compassion of Buddhas' and Bodhisattvas'. Since compassion itself is the definitive deity we must develop our own kindness and altruism to become truly compassionate. This will not happen of its own accord but demands prolonged effort. In order to develop great compassion we must not only recognise the suffering of others but feel affection for all living beings and come to see them as lovable. If we find another person or creature's suffering unbearable, it is a sign of closeness and affection. If we remain unmoved, the sense of closeness is lacking. If we feel glad when someone else is happy and prospers, empathy and affection are present. If instead we feel jealous, they are absent.
Though we should try to encompass all living beings in the love and compassion we cultivate during meditation, in practice we must implement these feelings towards those with whom we have daily contact and share our life. If we succeed in doing so with them, it will be easy to extend these feelings to more and more living beings. But it is unrealistic to hope to develop love and compassion towards all living beings if we fail to show these feelings towards those closest to us. The practice of Chenrezig will help to strengthen our compassion.