Filed in Vajrayana, Chanting

The Form of Compassion

An introductory Tantric visualization practice of the deity Chenrezi, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Translated from Tibetan and adapted by Pamela Gayle White.

Sherab Gyaltsen Rinpoche

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It is said that the Enlightened Ones possessed of the omniscient eye of wisdom can state with certainty exactly how many drops of water have fallen during an uninterrupted twelve-year rainfall but that they cannot calculate the benefit that comes from a single sincere, perfectly focused, and pure recitation of the six-syllable mantra of Chenrezi, the Bodhisattva of Compassion: Om mani padme hung.

Chenrezi, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. The goal of deity practice is to develop
qualities that mirror those represented by the deity.
Avalokiteshvara (detail) Dorje and Sunlal Talang, 2006 © Robert Beer

I believe that anyone who is inspired by the practice of Chenrezi (Avalokiteshvara in Sanskrit), the deity who embodies compassion, can begin to do his meditation. While the importance of compassion is common to all Buddhists, the Mahayana tradition accentuates actively benefiting others. Our ability to do this depends on the strength of our bodhicitta, the awakened mind that is fully focused on attaining enlightenment and helping others. To develop an awakened mind, we need to develop compassion. And to develop compassion, we need to develop basic kindheartedness. Kindheartedness is an essential human quality that should be cultivated by everyone, Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike. It should always be present, whether we are engaging in everyday activity or formal practice.

Every Mahayana practice exemplifies various aspects of bodhicitta—there are no exceptions—but I am convinced that there is no greater practice than Chenrezi for developing kindheartedness and compassion. Moreover, no deity meditation is superior to Chenrezi when it comes to ensuring temporary, relative happiness here and now, and for laying the groundwork for ultimate happiness in the future. This is why I think that it is very beneficial for all who are inspired by this practice to have access to it.

In principle, if we do deity practice according to Vajrayana, or Tantric Buddhism, we first need to have formally taken refuge in the Three Jewels—the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha—as a confirmation of our commitment to the Buddhist path. Then we can request the empowerment, reading transmission, and instructions connected with a given deity meditation. Once we have received them, their combined presence gives the practice its full potential, as the door to blessing is wide open. In the case of Chenrezi, however, if we are truly inspired by and have confidence in the deity and his mantra, Om mani padme hung, his meditation-recitation will undoubtedly be beneficial even without these prerequisites. Of course, those who find they are interested in pursuing and deepening their practice should seek instructions from a qualified teacher.

In Tantric Buddhism, deity meditation is a method that allows the mind’s inherent goodness to manifest, to increase constantly, and to never decline. The goal of all deity practices is to develop qualities in the practitioner that mirror those represented by the deity. Clearly, lovingkindness and compassion—the qualities associated with Chenrezi—are present in our own hearts, our own minds. All the same, when we are motivated to develop them further, it is helpful to have a method.

Although he is the basis for our practice, Chenrezi’s form is in fact emptiness; ultimately it has no more reality than anything else, including our own forms, our own bodies. Because a body, thing, or self is a composite that can always be broken down into smaller bits, none of them can be said to exist substantially in its own right. In fact, the “self ” or “thing” that is the basis for experience has no tangible reality whatsoever—it’s just a mass of infinitesimal particles, an amalgam of aggregates.

Until we have experienced this truth, until we have realized the absolute, empty nature of reality, we continue to perceive our universe in terms of ultimately fictitious dichotomies such as self/other, mine/yours, good/bad, worldly beings/enlightened buddhas, and so forth. Our perception is rooted in confusion, but we can make use of these illusory distinctions when we direct our aspirations and prayers to those who can convey blessing, the buddhas.

As ordinary human beings, we sit down with our ordinary bodies and mental patterns and begin to meditate on the extraordinary, ageless form of Chenrezi: dazzling white, one face, four arms, two hands holding a wish-fulfilling jewel at the level of his heart, the others holding a crystal rosary and a white lotus by the stem, and so on. By supplicating him, we develop qualities of devotion and trust. By doing his meditation-recitation, we develop both lovingkindness and compassion toward beings, along with nonreferential lovingkindness and compassion. By training in exchanging our ordinary vision of our environment and all who inhabit it for a vision based on enlightenment, we develop our ability to realize the truth.

On a relative level, of course, the practitioner visualizing Chenrezi is me; the specific objects of my lovingkindness and compassion are all beings; and my practice consists of imagining them being freed from suffering and established in happiness. On an absolute level, I, the practitioner, am not “real”; the beings that are the object of my compassion are not “real”; and my Vajrayana practice method is not “real.” It is when this realization arises and our practice becomes absolutely free of any focus or reference point that ultimate lovingkindness and compassion have truly dawned. Ultimately, there is no one to pray to, no prayer to express, no blessing to receive. Ultimately, there is absolutely no difference between Chenrezi and the enlightened quality of our own mind.

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