Chenrezig - our compassionate friend!

Avalokiteshvara (Sansk),
Chenrezig (Tibetan),
Loving Eyes
Mahāyāna Buddhism,
Vajrayāna Buddhism,
Tibetan Buddhism
Meditation Deity
Buddha Aspect

The mantra of Chenrezig is probably the most popular Buddhist mantra in the world.

It has been repeated by every Mahāyāna Buddhist in the world disregarding all other possible differences.

In 3rd century BC the Indian king Aśoka 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 Avalokiteśvara

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 2 palms joined in a praying gesture, in 3rd 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 Huayan Sūtra 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 Tārā, 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.

Bodhisattva Chenrezig

Bodhisattva Chenrezig
Tibetan statue

The name Chenrezig consists of Tibetan syllables jän (eye), (continuity) and sig (to look). It means someone who is always looking upon all beings with the eye of compassion.

Avalokiteśvara 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 Guanyin

The form ending –eśvara 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 4 arms, associated with the 6 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 Avalokiteśvara.

But he is considered female as Guanyin and Cundī.

The 11 heads symbolize the 11 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 sūtras that reciting this mantra just once completely purifies the 4 defeats of breaking the 4 root vows of self-liberation and the 5 uninterrupted negative karmas.

By reciting this mantra you achieve the four qualities of being born in the Pure Land of Amitābha or as a happy reincarnated being. Up to 7 generations of that person’s descendants won’t be reborn in the lower realms.

These are the 6 syllables which prevent rebirth into the 6 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 compassion?!  To this has responded very well a great Buddhist teacher in Nyingma 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.