Chenrezig - our compassionate friend!
The mantra of Chenrezig is probably the most popular Buddhist mantra in the world.
It has been repeated by every Mahayana Buddhist in the world disregarding all other possible differences. In third century BC the Indian king Ashoka was sending his messengers across the all Indian subcontinent from the present day Afghanistan in the north to the Greece in the south to engrave it in the stones and rocks. Today it is the first mantra people learn when they are just introduced with Buddhism.
We are talking about the mantra OM MANI PADME HUNG. And it is the mantra of the Great Bodhisattva of Compassion, Chenrezig. It is his Tibetan name. But many may be familiar with him under his Sanskrit name Avalokiteshvara. As practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism we probably know that Chenrezig is not a real person, but a part or an aspect of our enlightened Buddha Mind. But as limited people we can imagine more easily him in a bright white and perfect body with all signs of Bodhisattva of Compassion, with 4 arms, with two palms joined in a praying gesture, in third hand holding a lotus flower near his ear, symbolizing the purity of his mind, in his right hand holding mala (prayer beans) and the six syllables of om mani padme hung joyfully dancing in his heart. He is sitting on a large Lotus flower, joyfully smiling and with a great compassion looking to the sentient beings and listening when someone will recite his mantra and ask for his help. Chenrezig is always ready to come and help. In the Huayen Sutra it is said he can manifest himself in countless forms to come and provide the best solution to those in need. He can take the form of White Zambala, the god of wealth or the Tara, the goddess of good fortune who was born from the teardrop of Chenrezig. He is known in China as Guan Yin, the white princess of love and compassion and as Loving Eyes in the west.
The name Chenrezig consists of Tibetan syllables jän (eye), rä (continuity) and sig (to look). It means someone who is always looking upon all beings with the eye of compassion.
Avalokiteshvara is a Sanskrit derivative of Avalokitasvara, created with the verbal prefix ava, which means "down"; lokita, a past participle of the verb lok ("to notice, behold, observe"), used in an active sense (an occasional irregularity of Sanskrit grammar); and ending a-svara ("sound, noise"), which means "sound perceiver", literally "he who looks down upon sound" (i.e., the cries of sentient beings who need his help; a-svara can be glossed as ahr-svara, "sound of lamentation"). Historians say the original name appearing in the old manuscripts was Avalokitasvara, which was literary translated to Chinese as Guānyīn. The form ending –eshvara which would reference īśvara, "lord", "ruler", "sovereign" or "master" started to appear around 7th century, probably under the influence of Hinduism.
As mentioned earlier, Chenrezig can appear in many different forms symbolizing compassion. The most popular are with four arms, associated with the six syllable mantra OM MANI PADME HUNG, but he can also take a form with 1000 hands, 11 heads or with 18 hands, when he is called Cundī as mentioned in Cundī Dhāraṇī Sūtra. He is a male as Chenrezig and Avalokiteshvara. But he is considered female as Guānyīn and Cundī. The eleven heads symbolize the eleven directions of space, suggesting that Chenrezig’s compassionate gaze sees in all directions.
Regarding the 6 syllable mantra OM MANI PADME HUNG it is said in the sutras that reciting this mantra just once completely purifies the four defeats of breaking the four root vows of self-liberation and the five uninterrupted negative karmas. By reciting this mantra you achieve the four qualities of being born in the Pure Land of Amitabha or as a happy reincarnated being. Up to seven generations of that person’s descendants won’t be reborn in the lower realms.
"These are the six syllables which prevent rebirth into the six realms of cyclic existence. It translates literally as 'OM the jewel in the lotus HUM'. OM prevents rebirth in the god realm, MA prevents rebirth in the Asura (Titan) Realm, NI prevents rebirth in the Human realm, PA prevents rebirth in the Animal realm, ME prevents rebirth in the Hungry ghost realm, and HUM prevents rebirth in the Hell realm." Karma Thubten Trinley
Why do we need a compassion?! To this has responded very well a great Buddhist teacher in Nyngma tradition Tarthang Tulku:
"Compassion accepts others as they are. One who thoroughly realizes compassion no longer sees any separation between self and others. Compassion is the wholesome and spontaneous response to all situations."