Monthly Archives: February 2016

Liberation of the Heart through Loving Kindness: An Introduction to Chenrezig Metta Practice

chenrezig_thankaRecently I was introduced to Tibetan Chenrezig Practice. This practice is traditionally available to all, so I became interested in this practice and began to research it. This talk will summarize the results of my research and conclude with a recitation of one version of the practice itself, in English.

First, Chenrezig is the Tibetan name of the bodhisattva more commonly known as Avalokitesvara (pronounced ah-vah-loh-kiht-EYSH-vah-rah). Literally meaning “the Lord who looks down,” Avalokitesvara embodies the compassion of all of the Buddhas, that is to say, the intrinsic compassion of universal Buddhahood itself, not associated with any particular individual. Thus, he is an essential aspect of Universal Buddha Mind or Buddha Nature itself. Avalokitesvara is represented as male or female in different traditions, including as the Chinese figure of Guanyin and the Cambodian and Thai figure of Lokesvara (lit. “Lord of the World”). In Theravadin Sri Lanka he is venerated as Natha, so he is truly a universal figure who transcends Hinayana and Mahayana. In the Tibetan tradition, the Dalai Lama is regarded as an “emanation” of Chenrezig/Avalokitesvara. It is important not to get bogged down in names or culturally contingent symbols. All these traditions are variations of the same underlying universal constant, expressed in terms of different cultural biases and mindsets. To say that one is better or worse than another is the error of sectarianism, which is clearly prohibited by the Buddha in the Pali Canon.

Avalokitesvara is mentioned in the Lotus Sutra, Karanda-vyuha-sutra, Heart Sutra, Nilakantha Dharani Sutra, Eleven-Faced Avalokitesvara Heart Dharani Sutra, and Cunda Dharani Sutra. The earliest historical reference to him seems to be chapter 25 of the Lotus Sutra, where Avalokitesvara is described as a compassionate bodhisattva who hears the cries of sentient beings and works tirelessly to help those who call on his name.  Thirty-three distinct forms of Avalokitesvara are described. However, it is important to realize that all of these are secondary associations to the primary or essential meaning of Avalokitesvara, which is simply the name that was given to the compassion aspect of Universal or Primordial Buddhahood that is nothing other than the essential Buddha Mind itself, present in all beings, which is emanated or manifested by all of the Buddhas and is one of the primary aspects of reality itself. This essential identity of Avalokiteshvara and Buddha Mind is the highest teaching of Chenrezig Practice, traditionally associated with formal transmission from a qualified teacher. Thus, the historicity of any particular story or tradition concerning Avalokitesvara is a secondary consideration. Some may be historical, others may be symbolic. Similarly, in the Pali tradition certain devas do not appear to be individuals but rather offices or roles in which a succession of devas are reborn over time, or even natural phenomena such as the stars, sun, and moon. This is the real significance of cult of Avalokitesvara. From this perspective Avalokitesvara appears rather as the archetypal potential of ultimate spiritual compassion that may be accessed or ”activated” in oneself by these methods, which the naïve and the uninitiated imagine to be a human historical individual.

e0e9868b4de15c43aae92aef51278647Numerous symbols are associated with the cult of Avalokitesvara, including male and female figures, the eye, the lotus, an 18-armed form called Cundi, a thousand armed form, and the famous six syllable auditory formula or mantra, OM MANI PADME HUM (O.M.P.H.). Through the synthetic practices of devotion, offering, visualization, and chanting, the mind of the devotee is entrained upon the archetype of Avalokitesvara and access gained to the egregore, a vast reservoir of psychic energy that is in turn an emanation or manifestation of the compassion aspect of Buddhahood. An egregore is a reservoir of psychic energy or power built up over centuries and millennia of continuous devotion. Although a term of Western origin, possibly originating in the Book of Enoch, we find something approximating the meaning of egregore in the Pali Canon where the stars, sun, and moon are all referred to as devas, luminous beings that concentrate enormous quantities of spiritual or psychic force. Egregore has also been associated with the concept of the meme, which also relates to the Tantric concept of transmission, which in the Pali Canon takes the form of references to “drumming the deathless.” Dr. Peter Masefield in particular has emphasized the importance of auditory transmission in the Pali Canon in his book, Divine Revelation in the Pali Canon.

Shingon Buddhism employs the mantra, ON ARURI KYA SOWA KA for the same purpose. The Nilakantha Dharani is an 82-syllable mantra of Avalokitesvara.

Chenrezig Practice is clearly a Tantric development of metta meditation. Metta is the Pali word for “compassion.” Metta meditation is one of the most frequently referred to practices in the Pali Canon, the oldest surviving collection of Buddhist scriptures. The Pali Canon rarely describes actual practices. Rather, it summarizes practices that were presumably explained in detail in person. Clearly, therefore, the Pali Canon is not complete even within its own frame of reference. Metta is celebrated in the Metta Sutta, which one finds in the Sutta Nipata. The practice, however, is found all through the Pali Canon, where it is called the Divine Abiding (Brahmavihara), similar in fact to the Tathagata’s Dwelling, the name given by the Buddha to meditation on the breathing, thus indicating its singular importance. The following quotation is the first reference to the Brahmavihara in the Sutta Pitaka, from sutta 13 of the Digha Nikaya, where it is presented, like mindfulness of the breathing, as the practice of a Tathagata:

With his heart filled with loving kindness, he dwells suffusing one quarter, the second, the third, the fourth. Thus, he dwells suffusing the whole world, upwards, downwards, across, always with a heart filled with loving kindness, abundant, unbounded, without hate or ill will.

Just as a mighty trumpeter were with little difficulty to make a proclamation to the four quarters, so by this meditation, by this Liberation of the Heart through Loving Kindness he leaves nothing untouched, nothing unaffected in the sensuous sphere. This is the way to Union with Brahma.

Then with his heart filled with compassion, he dwells suffusing one quarter, the second, the third, the fourth. Thus, he dwells suffusing the whole world, upwards, downwards, across, always with a heart filled with sympathetic joy, with equanimity, abundant, unbounded, without hate or ill will.

Just as a mighty trumpeter were with little difficulty to make a proclamation to the four quarters, so by this meditation, by this Liberation of the Heart through Compassion he leaves nothing untouched, nothing unaffected in the sensuous sphere. This is the way to Union with Brahma.

Then with his heart filled with sympathetic joy, he dwells suffusing one quarter, the second, the third, the fourth. Thus, he dwells suffusing the whole world, upwards, downwards, across, always with a heart filled with sympathetic joy, with equanimity, abundant, unbounded, without hate or ill will.

Just as a mighty trumpeter were with little difficulty to make a proclamation to the four quarters, so by this meditation, by this Liberation of the Heart through Sympathetic Joy he leaves nothing untouched, nothing unaffected in the sensuous sphere. This is the way to Union with Brahma.

Then with his heart filled with equanimity, he dwells suffusing one quarter, the second, the third, the fourth. Thus, he dwells suffusing the whole world, upwards, downwards, across, always with a heart filled with sympathetic joy, with equanimity, abundant, unbounded, without hate or ill will.

Just as a mighty trumpeter were with little difficulty to make a proclamation to the four quarters, so by this meditation, by this Liberation of the Heart through Sympathetic Joy he leaves nothing untouched, nothing unaffected in the sensuous sphere. This is the way to Union with Brahma.

Clearly, loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy (empathy?), and equanimity all refer to the same essential concept, which we might simply designate as spiritual love (agape).

The translator, Maurice Walshe, notes that this practice is pre-Buddhist and is also called Infinitude (appamanna).  This is the only reference to metta meditation in the Digha Nikaya. However, this exercise or practice is referred to frequently throughout the Pali Canon. For example, metta is referred to in the Majjhima Nikaya in twenty suttas (7, 21, 31, 33, 40, 43, 48, 50, 52, 55, 62, 83, 93, 96, 97, 99, 104, 118, 127, and 128).

In the practice implied the practitioner focuses his or her attention on the heart, the anahata chakra, and imagines the qualities of loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity there, in the place where such feelings naturally arise, whence he imagines these qualities arising and radiating or extending outward in the six directions, until the whole sensuous world [sic] is saturated with feelings of benevolence and compassion. In addition to developing the qualities of loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity, one can see that this is also an exercise in the concentration and expansion of consciousness.

One finds the archetypal practice of the Four or Six Directions in many traditions besides Buddhism, including Judaism (esp. Cabala), shamanism, Yoga, Taoism and Chinese Feng shui, Celtic Wicca, and the Western esoteric tradition (esp. the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn), amongst others. It is indeed a universal practice.

Compare the Navajo Prayer to the Six Directions:

As I walk, as I walk
The universe is walking with me
In beauty it walks before me
In beauty it walks behind me
In beauty it walks below me
In beauty it walks above me
Beauty is on every side
As I walk, I walk with Beauty.

Those of you who attended my series of talks on the Digha Nikaya may recall the householder Sigalaka, who the Buddha encountered as he travelled to Rajagaha for alms round (DN 31). He was worshipping the six directions, following a ritual bath in a local river, in honour of his deceased father. This story is an important illustration of the Buddha’s attitude to ritual practices. Despite the Buddha’s frequent criticism of the Brahmanic dependence on formal ritual practice, and his repeated admonition that ritual in itself is ineffective, he does not reprimand the man nor tell him not to practise this ritual, but rather he reinterprets the ritual and gives it an equivalent ethical teaching, telling Sigalaka how to perform the ritual in such a way as to render it effective. Elsewhere he contends that it is not his attention to supplant anyone’s religious or ritual practices. This implies that the ritual itself is effective if it is understood and applied in the right way, i.e., as a “skillful means” (upaya). Similarly, there are many examples where the Buddha recommends visualization and chanting. Consequently, the rejection of ritual in and of itself is simplistic. Although the highest practitioners may abandon ritual altogether, e.g., practitioners of Dzogchen, for many people ritual is a psychologically effective method but it must be understood and practised in the right way.  Even Theravadins engage in ritual practices.

The Practice

Today we are going to practise Chenrezig Practice, which is a practice in the Tibetan Tradition. This practice is one of those Tantric practices that is traditionally available to anyone who wishes to practise it, and – for those who care about such things – in its basic form does not require transmission from an ordained or initiated teacher. There are several versions of this practice available online, including those associated with Thang Tong Gyalpo, Kalu Rinpoche, and Langri Tangpa Dorje Senghe. There may be others as well. Thangtong Gyalpo was a Buddhist adept, yogi, physician, blacksmith, architect and civil engineer of the 14th and 15th centuries. Kalu Rinpoche was of course a well-known lama who died in 1989. Langri Tangpa was an important Kadampa master of the 11th and 12th centuries. The Venerable Geshe Tsephel presented the version I have chosen to recite for today’s practice to the members of Osel Shen Phen Ling when he conferred the Four-Armed Chenresig Empowerment in Missoula, Montana in July of 1991. There is also a 1000-Armed version of the Chenrezig Practice. All are similar. I have chosen the four-armed version mainly because of its accessibility. Like other Tibetan practices, e.g., ngondro, about which I have spoken before, it consists of a collection of standard liturgical structures, some of which will be familiar to you, in various sequences.  These include Taking Refuge, Generating Bodhicitta, Visualizing Chenrezig, Devotion to Chenrezig, the Seven Limb Practice (which consists of prostration, offerings, confession, rejoicing, requesting the teachings (formally referred to as turning the wheel of dharma), beseeching the Buddhas to remain, and the dedication of merit), Reciting the Mantra OM MANI PADME HUM, Realizing One’s Identity with Chenrezig (which is technically supposed to be associated with transmission), and finally the Formless Meditation.

I do not intend to explain the practice in detail here beyond what I have already said. However, a few words about some of the terms used may be in order. Rather than interrupt myself constantly, I will summarize them here in the order in which they appear in the practice:

Yidam

In the preliminary refuge, we go for refuge to all of the yidams. A yidam is the Tibetan equivalent of ista-deva (lit. “cherished divinity”). You will recall from our discussion of the Pali Canon that the Buddha said that he taught and also received teachings from the devas, higher-dimensional energy beings. He also taught techniques for being reborn as a deva, and taught practices involving visualizing devas.  There are also Buddhist devas. This is all canonical.  This reference identifies this practice as a form of “deity yoga.” 

Dakini

goddess-offering-music-carmen-mensinkA dakini (lit. “sky goer”) is a female deva of the type described in the Pali Canon as inhabiting the realm of the Four Great Kings, next above our own earth plane. However, the word also refers to female energy in its enlightened form and has a variety of symbolic expressions. Dakinis may also appear in human form, e.g., Yeshe Tsogyal, the consort of Padmasambhava. A male dakini is a daka. 

HRI

Hrih is an Indian and Tibetan syllable that is identified with the sahasrara chakra, the highest chakra at the crown of the head. In the Pali Canon, this corresponds to the protuberance at the crown of the head of a Buddha. It is called a “seed syllable” because Chenrezig arises from this. It appears at the end of the Mani mantra (Om Mani Padme Hum) but is frequently vocalized internally or as a nasal hum rather than as an actual letter.

 Amitabha 

chenrezigIn the practice, Amitabha is visualized above the head of Chenrezig. He is another bodhisattva, literally “Infinite Light.” Characterized by the deep realization of the fundamental emptiness of phenomena, Amitabha symbolizes the essential nature of Chenrezig. Thus, the essence of compassion is rooted in the realization of emptiness. Like Chenrezig, he may be conceptualized as an egregore rather than as an historical or metaphysical ”person.” 

Vajra Asana

The Vajra asana is the yoga posture, or asana, in which Chenrezig typically sits.  Literally, “thunderbolt” or “diamond posture.”

Manjushri 

Referred to as one of the bodhisattvas who give offerings to the Buddhas, Manjushri is a bodhisattva and a yidam associated with the transcendent wisdom of Buddhahood. 

Ba 

bhutmaraThe practice refers to the mandala, which as we know symbolizes the whole world system, “built on a ba.” This appears to refer to the third letter of the labial class of the Sanskrit alphabet.

Idam guru ratna mandala kam nirya tayami 

This mantra concludes the mandala offering section of the Chenrezig practice. The meaning is “I send forth this jewelled mandala to you, Precious Gurus.”)

Om Mani Padme Hum 

The six-syllable mantra of Chenrezig is repeated six times during the Prayer to Chenrezig. Variations of the practice call for it to be recited as many times as possible. The literal meaning is “Om! Jewel lotus flower. Hum!”

Preta 

Sanskrit word for “ghost,” one of the six classes of sentient beings, between humans and hell beings. 

Potala 

potalaThe practice refers to the perfect realm of Chenrezig as the Potala. This refers to Mount Potalaka (lit. “Brilliance”), the mythical abode of Avalokitesvara. It is also the name of the palace of the Dalai Lamas. It is supposed to exist in the sea south of India,  possibly referring the real mountain Potikai or Potiyil situated in Ambasamudram in Tirunelveli district, Tamil Nadu, South India. 

Titans 

The titans refer to the asuras, a class of being intermediate between human beings and devas. I have discussed these in other talks, and will not talk more about them here. I usually prefer the translation “anti-gods” to “titans.” 

Dewachen

Dewachen (lit. “Blissful Land”) is the Tibetan translation of Sukhavati or the Western Paradise (or Pure Land) of Amitabha, q.v. 

Kaya

The three bodies (trikaya) describe the nature of reality/Buddhahood. The three bodies are both ontological and Buddhalogical. The two “supreme powers” are the Dharmakaya, identical with the inherent truth of things, equivalent to enlightenment, and is non-finite. The dharmakaya appears in the Pali Canon. The Sambhogakaya, referred to in the Pali Canon as the “mental body,” is a blissful energy form that resembles the nirmanakaya, the apparent spatio-temporal body of matter.

Ten Stages

The Ten Stages (bhumis) refer to stages of a bodhisattva’s path to awakening. According to Peter Harvey (Introduction to Buddhism, p. 156), these are generosity, virtue, endurance or patient acceptance, energy, meditation, wisdom, skilled means, determination, power, and gnosis.

Phases of Practice

  1. Preparation
  2. Taking Refuge
  3. Generating Bodhicitta
  4. Visualizing Chenrezig
  5. Devotion to Chenrezig
  6. Seven Limb Prayer (see below)
    1. (Prostration)
    2. (Offerings)
    3. (Confession)
    4. (Rejoicing)
    5. (Turning the Wheel of Dharma)
    6. (Beseeching)
    7. (Dedication)
  7. Reciting the Mantra
  8. Realizing One’s Identity with Chenrezig
  9. Formless Meditation

The Meditation and Recitation of the Great Compassionate One: Four-Armed Chenresig

The Venerable Geshe Tsephel presented this meditation to the members of Osel Shen Phen Ling when he conferred the Four-Armed Chenresig Empowerment in Missoula, Montana in July of 1991.

Preliminary Refuge

From this moment until the heart of enlightenment is reached,
I and all sentient beings as limitless as the sky,
Go for refuge to all the splendid accomplished supreme Gurus.
We go for refuge to all the yidams, the deities gathered in the mandala.
We go for refuge to all Buddhas, the transcendent accomplished conquerors.
We go for refuge to all the supreme Dharma.
We go for refuge to the noble Sangha.
We go for refuge to all the dakas, dakinis, protectors and defenders of the Dharma
Who each have the eye of transcending awareness.

First Refuge and Raising Bodhicitta (three times)

In the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha
I take refuge until I reach enlightenment.
By the merit of (this practice), generosity and so forth,
May I achieve Buddhahood
For the benefit of all sentient beings.

Visualization of the Deity

On the crown of the head of myself and all beings, on a moon, on a lotus, is a HRI. Chenresig arises from this. He radiates bright, clear light of five colors. He gazes with compassionate eyes and lovely smile. He has four arms. The first two are folded in prayer. The lower two hold a crystal rosary and white lotus.

He is arrayed in silks and jewels. He wears an upper robe of doeskin. His head ornament is Amitabha, Buddha of boundless light. His two feet are in the vajra asana. A stainless moon is his backrest. He is the essence of all those in whom we take refuge.

Make the following prayer, thinking that all beings are making it with you as if in a single voice:

Lord, not veiled by any fault, white in color
Whose head a perfect Buddha crowns in light,
Gazing compassionately at all beings,
To you, Chenresig, all-seeing one, I prostrate.

Taking Refuge (three times)

I take refuge in my Gurus.
I take refuge in Buddha.
I take refuge in the Dharma.
I take refuge in the Sangha.

Prostration

I prostrate before all the Buddhas who have come in the past, present and future; to the Dharma; and the highest Assembly, the Sangha, bowing down with bodies as numerous as all the atoms of the world.

Offering

Just as Manjushri and other Bodhisattvas have made offerings to the Buddhas, so do I make offerings to the Buddhas and their protecting sons.

Declaration

From beginningless samsara, in this and other lives, I have unwittingly committed many non-virtues or caused others to do the same. Bewildered by the confusion of my ignorance, I have rejoiced in my own and other’s non-virtue. Seeing these mistakes, I declare all this to you protectors from the depths of my heart.

Rejoicing

With happiness, I rejoice in the ocean of virtues of developing the mind of enlightenment wishing to bring joy to all sentient beings and working for everyone’s benefit.

Requesting the Teaching

With hands pressed together, I request the Buddhas of all directions to light the lamp of Dharma for those who are groping in the darkness of suffering.

Beseeching the Buddhas to Remain

These beings, blinded by ignorance, have no one to guide them.
O Buddhas, who might wish to pass beyond sorrow,
I beseech you with hands pressed together:
Please live for eons without number.

Dedication

By the merit I have gathered from all these acts of virtue done in this way,
May all the sufferings of every being disappear.

Offering to the Assembly of Buddhas

By the virtue of offering to the assembly of Buddhas,
Visualized before me, this Mandala, built on a ba,
Resplendent with flowers, saffron water and incense,
Adorned with Mount Meru and the Four Continents,
As well as with the Sun and Moon,
May all sentient beings share its effects.

idam guru ratna mandala kam nirya tayami

Prayer to Chenresig

I pray to you, my guru, Chenresig.
I pray to you, my yidam, Chenresig.
I pray to you, perfect noble one, Chenresig.
I pray to you, lord protector, Chenresig.
I pray to you, lord of love, Chenresig.

Buddha of great compassion, hold me fast in your compassion.
From time without beginning, beings have wandered in samsara,
Undergoing unendurable suffering.
They have no other protector than you.
Please bless them that they may achieve the omniscient state of buddhahood.

With the power of evil karma gathered from beginningless time,
Sentient beings, through the force of anger,
Are born as hell beings and experience the suffering of heat and cold.
May they all be born in your presence, perfect deity.

om mani padme hum

With the power of evil karma gathered from beginningless time,
Sentient beings, through the force of greed
Are born in the realms of pretas and experience the suffering of hunger and thirst.
May they all be reborn in your perfect realm, the Potala.

om mani padme hum

With the power of evil karma gathered from beginningless time,
Sentient beings, through the force of stupidity
Are born as animals and experience the suffering of dullness and stupidity.
May they all be born in your presence, protector.

om mani padme hum

With the power of evil karma gathered from beginningless time,
Sentient beings, through the force of jealousy
Are born in the realm of titans and experience the suffering of fighting and quarreling.
May they be born in your realm, the Potala.

om mani padme hum

With the power of evil karma gathered from beginningless time,
Sentient beings, through the force of pride
Are born in the realm of gods and experience the suffering of change and falling.
May they be born in your realm, the Potala.

om mani padme hum

May I, myself, through all my existences,
Act in the same manner as Chenresig.
By this means, may all beings be liberated
From the impure realms and
May the most perfect sound of the six-syllable mantra
Spread in the ten directions.

By the power of this prayer to you,
Most noble and perfect one,
May all beings be trained by me,
Take karma and its effects into account
And practice skillful means diligently.
May they take up the Dharma for the good of all.

By having prayed like this one pointedly, light shining from the holy form, removes all impure karma and bewilderment. The outer realm becomes the realm of bliss (dewachen). All knowledge, sound and appearances become inseparable from emptiness.

Meditate like this as you Recite the Mantra

om mani padme hum

Recite the mantra as many times as you can. Finally, let the mind remain absorbed in its own essence, without making distinctions between subject, object and act.

Dedication

Everyone’s body, including my own, appears in the form of the Noble One’s body; all sound is the sound of his mantra; all that arises in the mind is the great expanse of wisdom. Through virtue of this practice, may I now quickly achieve the all-seeing one’s great state. And to this same state may I come to lead every being, not one left behind.

With all the merit of these thoughts and words, may I and every being to whom I am joined, when these imperfect forms are left behind, be born miraculously in the realm of bliss (dewachen). Crossing the ten stages directly after birth, may emanations fill the ten directions in service for the benefit of all.

Through this virtue, may all beings gather the accumulations of merit and awareness; may they attain the two supreme kayas which arise from merit and awareness.

Bodhicitta is precious.
May those who have not engendered it, engender it.
May those who have engendered it, not destroy it.

References

Versions

Chenrezig Sadhana (Digital Tibetan Buddhist Altar) – http://tibetanaltar.blogspot.ca/2007/08/Chenrezigg-sadhana-by-thangtong-gyalpo.html

Chenrezig Sadhana (Kalu Rinpoche) – http://www.kdk.org/images/Chenrezigg_sadhana.pdf

Droden Kachabma – http://s151421314.onlinehome.us/nbp/docs/PDF/16.%20Chenrezigg%20for%20Website.pdf

The Ever Flowing Nectar of Bodhicitta – http://www.lamayeshe.com/sites/default/files/pdf/232_pdf_copy1.pdf

Meditation and Recitation of the Great Compassionate One – http://www.fpmt-osel.org/meditate/l4chnres.htm

Articles and Talks

Bodhisattva Chenrezig – http://www.dharmadownload.net/pages/english/Natsok/0010_Teaching_English/Teaching_English_0073.htm

The Practice of Guan Yin Bodhisattva – http://www.chancenter.org/chanctr/newscap/20091018.html