Bringing Love and Compassion to the Path: Avalokiteshvara Chenrezig, the Buddha of the Three Worlds

The face of Loving Kindness?

No image, no face, no Buddha could be more inspiring than the image of the Lord of the Three Worlds, Avalokiteshvara (Chenrezig, Guan Yin, Kuan Shi Yin, Kanon). His “lotus” face conveys the ideal of love and compassion, Metta and Karuna. He is both the Buddha of Metta and Karuna, and its ideal exemplar. Simply seeing his loving, compassionate face, or chanting his mantra, known as the “compassion mantra” or Lotus Mantra — Om Mani Padme Hum — is a complete practice.

 

Buddha Weekly Cour Armed Chenrezig Statue stands in Kathmandu Nepal with sunset dreamstime xxl 87955847 Buddhism

Four-armed Avalokiteshvara. The kindness of his face and his four arms — ready to reach out with compassion and love to protect and nurture — are the ultimate “Bodhisattva” hero ideal.

 

Of the countless sutras in the Mahayana canon, none is more important or moving than the Heart Sutra — the words of the Compassionate One Avalokiteshvara — and the core of the Prajna Paramita Sutras, the “Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom.” His words can be reduced to “Form is Emptiness, Emptiness is Form” — a profound soundbite that can take a lifetime of study to comprehend. [For the full Heart Sutra, see video chanting and text below.]

Mantra of Chenrezig, chanted by Yoko Dharma (no permission or lung required):

 

 

These are words and wisdom taught by the Compassionate One, Avalokiteshvara, endorsed by Shakyamuni Buddha. Aside from Shakyamuni Himself, Avalokiteshvara appears in more sutras than any other Bodhisattva or Buddha, including an entire chapter of the massive Lotus Sutra, The Prajnaparamita Sutras, Maha Karuna Dharani Sutra and many others:

 

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What did Chenrezig mean when he spoke these sizzling, concise and profound words? In essence, the doctrine of Two Truths, that ultimately all phenomena are Sunyata (Emptiness), empty of unchanging essence. What does Emptiness have to do with Compassion? They are co-equal, as explained by Venerable Khenpo Rinpoche:

“These two natures, the absolute and the relative, are not opposites; they always arise together. They have the same nature; they are inseparable like a fire and its heat or the sun and its light. Compassion and emptiness are not like two sides of a coin. Emptiness and compassion are not two separate elements joined together; they are always coexistent.”

 

Buddha Weekly Spinnign the Mani Wheel with Chenrezigs mantra buddhist prayer Wheels dreamstime xxl 38567885 Buddhism

Spinning the “Mani Wheel” is a popular practice. The “Mani” mantra is the mantra of compassion. By spinning it, we send out our compassion and loving-kindness aspirations to all sentient beings.

 

All Yidams Chenrezig?

In Tibetan Buddhism, there is a saying, “all male Yidams are Chenrezig.” In the context of the Heart Sutra, or of ultimate reality or Shunyata (Emptiness), this is certainly a core truth. The compassion of Avalokiteshvara manifests in many forms, as a skillful means. Yet, whether the manifestation is “angry” compassion — such as Hayagriva, or a motherly compassion — such as Guanyin — all are faces of compassion; all are Chenrezig. When we prostrate to any of these manifestations, we are bowing, ultimately, to compassion and loving-kindness.

In all Buddhist traditions — from the Elder Path (Theravada) to Mahayana and Vajrayana — we typically prostrate to a statue or image of a Buddha on our altar. This is not superstition or blind devotion. We are practicing the remedy for Pride, one of the great obstacles in our path. We bow to what that image represents. We don’t literally believe the statue is alive. We are inspired by the serenity, compassion, love and peace of that image. We connect with the symbolism of the image, engaging the visual power of our minds.

 

Buddha Weekly four armed Chenrezig statue with background starry sky dreamstime xxl 164705808 Buddhism

Chenrezig is the Bodhisattva of Compassion and Loving Kindess. The mind of Chenrezig is the mind of Compassion, just as our own mind is also aspires to the mind of compassion.

 

Connecting Mind with Symbol

In Theravada, the statue is likely to be Shakyamuni Buddha seated in meditation. Teacher Bhante Heepola Gunarantan explains,

“When we treat our shrine area as a sanctuary where the Triple Gem — the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha — reside, we are reminded of our reverence for them… Remember that the Buddha image is not alive, but only represents the Buddha’s perfected qualities of serenity, composure, peacefulness, and purity.” [1]

 

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Stunning golden statue of Chenrezig Avalokiteshvara in Kathmandu, Nepal. To his left are Shakyamuni Buddha and Padmasambhava.

 

In Mahayana — the big bus vehicle of Buddhism that embraces the Bodhisattva ideal — the image on the altar plays a similar role, although perhaps with many faces, depending on the student’s practice. Mahayana might be represented by the Eight Great Bodhisattvas who symbolize the Eight Great Qualities of a Buddha:

If our focus was Compassion (Karuna) and Loving Kindness (Metta) our altar would likely feature the kind face and image of Avalokiteshvara — also known as Guanyin (Kuan shi yin) or Chenrezig in Tibetan Buddhism.

 

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Four armed Chenrezig.

 

Gate Gate Paragate Paramsamghate Bodhi Soha

The Prajnaparamita Mantra taught by Avalokiteshvara and endorsed by Shakyamuni Buddha in the Heart Sutra, here chanted by Yoko Dharma:

 

Om Gate Gate Paragate Para Samgate Bodhi Soha

Chanted daily, this mantra is an essence mantra in both Mahayana and Vajrayana — stills the mind, helps one focus on Wisdom and Emptiness, and generates good merit.

From Heart Sutra: “Therefore, the mantra of the perfection of wisdom, the mantra of great knowledge, the unsurpassed mantra, the mantra equal to the unequaled, the mantra that thoroughly pacifies all suffering, should be known as truth since it is not false.

The mantra of the perfection of wisdom is declared:

TADYATHA [OM] GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE BODHI SVAHA

“Shariputra, the bodhisattva mahasattva should train in the profound perfection of wisdom like that.” Then the Bhagavan arose from that concentration and commended the bodhisattva mahasattva arya Avalokiteshvara saying: “Well said, well said, son of the lineage, it is like that. It is like that; one should practice the profound perfection of wisdom just as you have indicated; even the tathagatas rejoice.”

 

Full Heart Sutra taught by Avalokiteshvara

In this wonderful video Dzongsar Khentse Rinpoche directs his students in a choral arrangement of the Heart Sutra (chanting text below, please chant along!) recorded beautifully and originally streamed on Zoom, YouTube and Facebook live for 24 hours:

 

THE SUTRA OF THE HEART OF TRANSCENDENT KNOWLEDGE

Thus have I heard. Once the Blessed One was dwelling in Råjagriha at Vulture Peak mountain, together with a great gathering of the sangha of monks and a great gathering of the sangha of bodhisattvas. At that time the Blessed One entered the samådhi that expresses the dharma called “profound illumination,” and at the same time noble Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva mahåsattva, while practicing the profound prajñåpåramitå, saw in this way: he saw the five skandhas to be empty of nature.

Then, through the power of the Buddha, venerable Shåriputra said to noble Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva mahåsattva, “How should a son or daughter of noble family train, who wishes to practice the profound prajñåpåramitå?”

Addressed in this way, noble Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva mahåsattva, said to venerable Shåriputra, “O Shåriputra, a son or daughter of noble family who wishes to practice the profound prajñåpåramitå should see in this way: seeing the five skandhas to be empty of nature. Form is emptiness; emptiness also is form. Emptiness is no other than form; form is no other than emptiness. In the same way, feeling, perception, formation, and consciousness are emptiness. Thus, Shåriputra, all dharmas are emptiness. There are no characteristics.

There is no birth and no cessation. There is no impurity and no purity. There is no decrease and no increase. Therefore, Shåriputra, in emptiness, there is no form, no feeling, no perception, no formation, no consciousness; no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind; no appearance, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no dharmas; noeye dhåtu up to no mind dhåtu, no dhåtu of dharmas, no mind consciousness dhåtu; no ignorance, no end of ignorance up to no old age and death, no end of old age and death; no suffering, no origin of suffering, no cessation of suffering, no path, no wisdom, no attainment, and no nonattainment.

Therefore, Shåriputra, since the bodhisattvas have no attainment, they abide by means of prajñåpåramitå. Since there is no obscuration of mind, there is no fear. They transcend falsity and attain complete nirvåna. All the buddhas of the three times, by means of prajñåpåramitå, fully awaken to unsurpassable, true, complete enlightenment.

Therefore, the great mantra of prajñåpåramitå, the mantra of great insight, the unsurpassed mantra, the unequaled mantra, the mantra that calms all suffering, should be known as truth, since there is no deception. The prajñåpåramitå mantra is said in this way:

OM GATE GATE PÅRAGATE PÅRASAMGATE BODHI SVÅHÅ

Thus, Shåriputra, the bodhisattva mahåsattva should train in the profound prajñå-påramitå.”

Then the Blessed One arose from that samådhi and praised noble Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva mahåsattva, saying, “Good, good, O son of noble family; thus it is, O son of noble family, thus it is. One should practice the profound prajñåpåramitå just as you have taught and all the tathågatas will rejoice.”

When the Blessed One had said this, venerable Shåriputra and noble Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva mahåsattva, that whole assembly and the world with its gods, humans, asuras, and gandharvas rejoiced and praised the words of the Blessed One.

 

 


NOTES

 

[1] Buddhist Suttas for Recitation: A Companion for Walking the Buddha’s Path, Bhante Heepola Gunarantan, Wisdom books.

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Lee Kane

Author | Buddha Weekly

Lee Kane is the editor of Buddha Weekly, since 2007. His main focuses as a writer are mindfulness techniques, meditation, Dharma and Sutra commentaries, Buddhist practices, international perspectives and traditions, Vajrayana, Mahayana, Zen. He also covers various events.
Lee also contributes as a writer to various other online magazines and blogs.

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