All-Seeing Chenrezig

An Explanation Of The Name Avalokiteshvara

Geshe Palden Dakpa

I prostrate to the great Avalokiteshvara
I intend here to explain briefly the meaning of the name
'phags-mchog-spyan-ras-gzigs' (Skt : Avalokiteshvara)

As Maitreyanath has said in his work Ornament of Clear Realization.
If the causes are fully ripened,
Buddhas will appear there and then
(Performing) wholesome activities.
In accordance with the disciples, the place and the time.

In like manner Avalokiteshvara is ultimately the great compassionate nature of all the Buddhas of the ten directions. This very nature, when manifested in physical emanations according to the merit of the disciples, assumes the forms of spiritual teachers, deities, Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, yogis, dakinis, Religious Protectors and so forth. It assumes the various forms of peaceful and wrathful deities of mundane and transcendental classes. In human form, it is manifest as ordained novices and bhikshus; and as laymen such as householders, kings and ministers and so forth; besides these it assumes even the forms of birds, animals, boats, bridges and so forth, to help sentient beings in the most appropriate way.

This ultimate compassionate nature is known by many names: Phagchok Chenreszig (lit : 'phags-mchog-spyan-ras-gzigs) Avalokiteshvara (Noble Emperor of the World, Master of the World, Master of the Druzin Heaven, Great Compassionate One, Treasurer of Compassion, Holder of the Lotus and so forth. I will explain the meaning of the first name - 'phags-mchog-spyan ras-gzigs - in two parts:

1. The meaning of 'phags-mchog (Supreme Noble Being)
2. The meaning of spyan-ras-gzigs - Chenrezig (One who looks with an unwavering eye)

I. The Meaning of Phags-Mchog

The general meaning of 'phagpa or superior being may be interpreted in four ways:
1. The basis according to which it is superior.
2. The cause by which it becomes superior.
3. How a person becomes superior.
4. The person who becomes superior.

1. The basis according to which it is superior: It is superior to the state of ordinary beings, the basic level at which there is continual accumulation of the contaminated action motivated by the ignorant conception of self, the first of the twelve links of dependent arising.

2. The cause according to which it becomes superior: The ultimate cause which raises one to the level of a superior being is the path of transcendental wisdom which directly realizes the emptiness of inherent existence and which is the factor directly opposed to the ignorance that conceives of a truly existent self.

3. How a person becomes superior: Having developed a natural feeling of distaste towards the realms of worldly existence and a desire to gain liberation from cyclic existence, one should actually generate the thought of renunciation. The real path that liberates beings from worldy existence is the wisdom that realizes the lack of inherent existence of the self. One should first hear or study, then contemplate, and finally meditate upon the meaning of the lack of inherent existence, so that one can first form a concrete idea of the meaning of the words 'lack of inherent existence', then gain a realization of that meaning, and finally enjoy the taste of absorption. These three levels of understanding are referred to as the wisdom of hearing or study, the wisdom of contemplation and the wisdom of meditation. In this way one becomes a superior being.

4. The person who has become superior: A person who has generated a real Dharma Jewel within his continuum, a direct realization of the emptiness of inherent existence; a person who has permanently liberated himself from the conditions of rebirth in the three lower realms; a person who is capable of liberating other beings from the lower realms, having gained the status of a true Sangha Jewel-a person with such qualities is a superior being.

There are two types of superior beings: superior beings of the Lower Vehicle, who mainly emphasize the accomplishment of their own welfare, and superior beings of the Great Vehicle, who mainly emphasize the accomplishment of the welfare of others. Amongst the former there are also two types: Hearer Superiors and Solitary Realizer Superior Beings. In the Greater Vehicle these are also two types : Bodhisattva Superiors and Buddha Superiors. Of the four, these last two are pre-eminent. Of all, the Buddha Superior is the supreme and ultimate object of refuge, having completely abandoned all that needs to be abandoned and achieved all the qualities that need to be achieved. It is this that is called the Buddha Jewel. It is superior not only to ordinary beings, but also to all other superior beings. Thus, it is the Supreme Superior.

II. The Meaning of Spyan-ras-gzigs, Chenrezig (One Who Looks with an Unwavering Eye)

Just as a mother always looks after her only child with an unwavering care and tries her best to provide all possible benefit and assistance and protection from all faults and harm, so the great Avalokiteshvara looks after all mother sentient beings, at all times and in all situations, with his unwavering eye of compassion, trying to liberate them from all faults and sufferings and place them in the state of virtue and happiness. This is one reason why Avalokiteshvara is called Chenrezig (spyan-ras-gzigs).

Besides, this supreme superior being possesses many qualities the five eyes, six super knowledges and so forth, which he acquires as means to accomplish the welfare of other beings. Since he always looks upon wandering sentient beings with his five eyes, this may also be a reason for calling him Chenrezig. The five eyes are:
1. Physical eye
2. Divine eye
3. Wisdom eye
4. Dharma eye
5. Buddha eye

Explanation of the Five Eyes
1. The physical eye is the means by which one can directly see all concrete and subtle forms such as houses, the landscape and so forth over a great distance.

2. The divine eye is a clairvoyance by which one can directly see all sentient beings passing away and taking birth, from and in specific places, within a great range.

3. The wisdom eye is a knowledge which has realized the supreme understanding, knowledge of all phenomena being empty of inherent existence.

4. The Dharma eye is a knowledge which directly knows the sharp or dull nature of the disciple's intelligence.

5. The Buddha Eye is the supreme and ultimate knowledge which directly knows all phenomena simultaneously.

How does Avalokiteshvara look after the welfare of all sentient beings with these five eyes?

With his physical eye he directly knows the whereabouts of his proper disciples. With his divine eye, he directly knows how his potential disciples are continuously oppressed by the sufferings of birth, old age, sickness, death and so forth and constantly wishes to liberate them.

The real or main means to liberate beings from sufferings is, as the great master of logical reasoning Dharmakirti has said in his Treatise on Valid Cognition, (Pramanavarttika):

The view of emptiness liberates,
And the remaining meditations are means to achieve it.

thus indicating that the wisdom realizing the emptiness of inherent existence is the only real means of liberation and the remaining meditations, that is the meditations on the nature of impermanence, suffering and so forth are auxiliary means of achieving and developing the understanding of emptiness.

Similarly, the great Bodhisattva Shantideva, in his Guide to the Bodhisattava’s Way of Life, Bodhicharyavatara, says:

Buddha has taught all those branches
For the attainment of wisdom,

indicating that all the teachings given by Buddha were intended directly or indirectly to lead to the achievement of the wisdom realizing emptiness.

Similarly, Acarya Dharmatraya (slob-dpon-chos-skyob) in his Path of Purification, Udanavarga, says:

Buddhas do not wash away sins with water,
Nor do they remove the sufferings of beings with their hands,
Neither do they transplant their own realization into others.
Teaching the truth of suchness they liberate (others).

This indicates that suffering is rooted in the ignorant conception of self and thus it is essential to teach disciples its antidote, the path of emptiness of inherent existence. Here, again Dharmakirti, in his Treatise on Valid Cognition, says:

If one is ignorant of the arisen effect and its cause,
It is difficult to teach them (to others).

This means that if one is ignorant of what is to be taught to others, he cannot teach it to them. Keeping this in mind, the Buddhas show the path to disciples after realizing suchness directly with their dharma eye.

Again, in teaching emptiness, there is a great danger that more harm than benefit will result. If one teaches emptiness in the very beginning, without investigating the disciples well, examining whether they are really qualified, the great Nagajuna, has said in his Root (Text on) Wisdom, Mulamadhyamaka,

If one misconceives emptiness,
Persons with little wisdom will be ruined.
Just as a person who mishandles a snake
Or is unskillful with mantras will suffer.

It is said, for example, when killing a poisonous snake, if one first arouses its anger, all its poison runs into its head and tail. If at that very instant, one is able to cut off the head and tail and get the middle piece, then it will serve as the best medicine against poison. But, on the contrary, if one touches either the head or tail at that moment, then there is great danger of getting poisoned oneself and dying. Similarly, when one practises the so-called Sword Mantra, the practitioner places a sword in front of himself and starts reciting mantras. Now, when the sword starts moving through the power of the mantras, if the practitioner is able to hold it properly by the handle when the movement is moderate, he can travel wherever he wishes, but if instead he fails to hold it, there is a great danger of the sword swinging towards him and cutting off his head. Similarly, if one teaches emptiness to disciples who are not properly qualified with the essential merits and wisdom, they would misunderstand emptiness as a completion negation and start to believe that everything we study, hear. think and realize are really non-existent and their appearance to us is a mere delusion. This could lead to the further danger of negating the truth of the Three Jewels, the Law of Cause and Effect and so forth. Thus, with his dharma eye, Avalokiteshvara properly sees the potentiality of his disciples and teaches according to their capacity.

With help of his Buddha eye, Avalokiteshvara knows directly, as they are, the individual nature, aspiration, subtle potentiality and so forth of his disciples. He also knows directly the objects of achievement and abandonment, which he teaches them. Thus, with the supreme Buddha activity of appearing in whatever forms best suit his disciples, Avalokiteshvara's teaching goes on perpetually till the end of cyclic existence.

The Symbolism of his Hand Implements
In general, there are many physical emanations of Avalokiteshvara. Some common ones are:The Thousand Armed and Thousand Eyed, the Eleven Faced, Sinhanada, and so forth. All these various forms conform to the aspirations of specific disciples. But here, taking the most common form, the Four Armed, as an example, I will explain the symbolism of his holding a lotus in his hand and so forth.

He holds a jewel in his folded hands. The jewel symbolises Bodhichitta the mind of enfightenment which is the treasure of supreme merits. His hands folded at the heart symbolize supplicating the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the ten directions out of their great compassion to look after poor bewildered beings. His holding a crystal rosary in his second right hand symbolizes liberating sentient beings from cyclic existence with ideal means and aspirations. His holding a white lotus flower in his second left hand symbolizes his stainless wisdom that has realized the nature of emptiness. Just as the lotus blossom, although rooted in mud is not soiled by it, his pure wisdom is undefiled by the faults of the world.

The skin of the Sil-snyen deer draped over his left breast symbolizes his especially great compassionate heart towards all sentient beings. This particular deer is said to live upon mountains in the margins between the snow and rock. It has incomparable physical strength, but is extremely compassionate by nature. One of the hunters' tactics, is to enter its territory and pretend to fight among themselves with swords. Seeing this, the deer becomes impatient with compassion and emerges to mediate between them, which provides the hunters the opportunity to kill it. Merely touching its skirt with one's feet calms the mind and endows it with bliss. Some scholars assert that for this reason Dipamkara Atisha and other saints always used such a skin as mat. Some scholars have also suggested that the reason skin is draped over the left breast is that the heart, the abode of the mind, is located there.

The Meaning of the Six Syllable Mantra
To understand the meaning of Avalokiteshvara's six-syllable Mantra a thorough and detailed interpretation should be sought from commentaries and the oral explanations of noble scholars, who have extensive understanding of the meaning of tantra. Here, I will just give the gist of it.

The syllables of the Mantra are, Om-ma-ni-pad-me-hum. The first syllable OM represents the Form Body of a Buddha, and the last syllable HUM represents his Truth Body. MANI means wishfulilling gem. symbolizing the pure Wisdom that has realized emptiness. The vowel E ending the word PADME has been described as a call to someone. It is essentially a short symbolic supplication to Avalokiteshvara saying,

'O, Supreme Avalokiteshvara, you have attained the two Bodies of a Buddha through the dual path of wisdom and method, indicated by the jewel and lotus you hold, please lead all sentient beings to attain the two Bodies of Buddha as you have done!'

We are advised to Pray in this way while reciting the mantra. Here I have followed the interpretations found in the works of renowned scholars.

Translated by Karma Gelek Yuthok


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