The Teaching on the Practice of Chenrezik

By Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche

THE PRACTICE OF CHENREZIG is presented here from the perspective of someone who is starting their practice of Dharma at the beginning stage and working toward the experience of complete enlightenment. This is a very strong approach: beginning the practice of Dharma as an ordinary being with the goal of full enlightenment. Here, as indicated in the text, you visualize Chenrezig above the crown of your head and above the crowns of the heads of all beings. There is a sense of a limitless number of sentient beings as boundless as space. Above the crowns of the heads of all beings, you develop the visualization of Chenrezig. You visualize Chenrezig above the crown of your head as an expression of acknowledgment that a fully enlightened being is superior to yourself as an ordinary being, in the sense that they have actualized the potential we all have. So Chenrezig is visualized higher than yourself.

Chenrezig appears brilliantly, spotlessly white, free of stains or defects of any kind. This is an expression of the quality of the enlightened mind of Chenrezig. From the beginning of generating the enlightened mind until it is fulfilled, there have never been the stains of selfishness and attachment, aversion toward and rejection of others, or indifference and lack of concern. This freedom from stains is signified by the brilliant white appearance.

From the body of Chenrezig emanates predominantly clear white light, along with light of the other five colors. This indicates that Chenrezig, when benefiting sentient beings, does so mainly through gentle and peaceful means. Among the different enlightened activities, this is how Chenrezig benefits beings. But Chenrezig also benefits beings in any and all necessary ways (such as enriching or magnetizing), which is signified by the colors. Therefore, it is possible that the Chenrezig practice by itself can completely accomplish whatever we need to realize.

In this way, you visualize Chenrezig above the crown of your head, facing the same direction you are. This Chenrezig has a most beautiful or handsome appearance. This is not just facial beauty but encompasses the entire body, in terms of right proportion, so when you look at Chenrezig, you see the beauty, elegance, dignity and majesty of that form. It is a form completely free of any defects whatsoever. Anyone with the good fortune to be able to look at Chenrezig face to face would be completely captivated by his most handsome and majestic appearance. If an individual is experiencing tremendous pain, grief, or suffering of any kind, the sight of Chenrezig's appearance would so fully captivate his or her mind that the pain and the suffering would, in that instant, be forgotten. The captivating quality of the form of Chenrezig cannot be measured, it is immeasurably wonderful. Again, this is the result of having indulged in nothing harmful or egocentric.

A form that has a soothing, healing effect is the result of a mind that is free from harmfulness and defects. The whole form of Chenrezig is like that, and Chenrezig's face is constantly smiling. His eyes are constantly gazing, not closing for a moment, gazing with a very gentle and soothing smile. In the context of our experience, probably the best example we could draw is how a loving mother looks at her infant child: the eyes, the face with the smile, and the concentrated look at the child. You can see on that face and in those eyes the care, affection, sincerity, and gentleness she has toward her child. Similarly, and unceasingly, Chenrezig has this feeling toward all beings without exception. This is indicated by his constant gaze and the smile on his face, which is an expression of limitless and constant loving-kindness and compassion toward beings.

The visualization of Chenrezig in this practice, unlike many other deities, has four arms and four hands. The four arms and hands signify the four immeasurables: immeasurable loving-kindness, immeasurable compassion, immeasurable joy, and immeasurable equanimity. Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Boundless Compassion, is the very embodiment and realization of the four immeasurables. The four immeasurables are the vehicles through which Chenrezig benefits beings; therefore, Chenrezig has four arms.

The first two, the inner arms, have palms joined at the heart, holding a sky-blue, wish fulfilling jewel. This symbolizes that in whatever way Chenrezig manifests to benefit beings, the quality of Chenrezig's mind is never separate from the all-pervasive, nonreferential state of dharmakaya (primordial wisdom). In the outer right hand, Chenrezig is holding crystal beads and moving them the way we use a mala to count mantras. This symbolizes that there is not one moment when Chenrezig does not benefit beings. Like the steady movement of counting the beads, Chenrezig is continuously benefiting sentient beings and turning the wheel of enlightened activity. In the outer left hand, Chenrezig holds a lotus flower. This symbolizes that, in benefiting sentient beings, Chenrezig manifests in whatever forms are necessary in accordance with the mental capacities, circumstances, and aptitudes of sentient beings. For instance, if Chenrezig appeared in the form of a human among certain kinds of sentient beings, (animals, for instance), these animals might run away. For this reason, Chenrezig may appear in the form of an animal. In a similar way, Chenrezig may appear in any of the different realms, such as the hell realm or the hungry ghost realm. However Chenrezig may appear, he remains free from any of the samsaric stains of the various realms, the way a lotus flower growing in a swamp appears free of the stain of the mud. The left hand of Chenrezig, holding the flower, symbolizes that stainlessness.

The being to whom we make a sincere request or petition must be worthy of such a request, which is to say the being must have the qualities to be able to grant the requests we make. If the being of whom we are requesting something lacks those qualities, it would not help, because there would not be anything that could be granted. So here we must also take into account the fact that we are relating to worthy objects in this very practical way. There is a saying in Tibetan about an incident where a huge hawk picks up a rabbit and takes it into the sky. When the poor rabbit is up in midair with this hawk, it screams and shouts for help, but there is no one to help it. This is not that kind of situation; we are involved with a workable, practical situation. That is why we make the earnest request here to not just anybody but to Lama Chenrezig, lama meaning one who has superior realization, superior knowledge, who has overcome all defilements, and who is thus capable of helping those with defilements become free of them. We also make supplication to Chenrezig as having the qualities of a yidam. The nature of a yidam is such that, when the practitioner's mind makes a connection with it, he or she can rely on that connection, and the yidam can provide the necessary benefit for which the connection is made. A yidam is a supreme connection that is made through the mind, and Chenrezig is capable of facilitating that connection. Therefore we petition Chenrezig as a yidam.

Since Chenrezig is the embodiment of so many noble qualities, the qualities of a lama, the qualities of a yidam, the qualities of the perfectly noble one among realized beings, then Chenrezig is the lord of protection, or KYAP GON CHENREZIG. KYAP means "to protect" and GON means "lord," the leader. So KYAP GON means "lord of protection," indicating that Chenrezig embodies all of these qualities, is worthy of leading beings toward liberation, and is capable of protecting beings from their confusion and suffering. On our relative level, even if certain individuals have the power or the authority or the ability to protect others in some simple mundane circumstances, they may not necessarily initiate the act of protecting others. By comparison, Chenrezig is the embodiment of the realization of spontaneous enlightened mind of loving-kindness and compassion. Such qualities of kindness are the spontaneous expression of Chenrezig, the quality of the nonreferential flow of Chenrezig's mind, so Chenrezig is also the lord of loving-kindness, of warm consideration toward the benefit of others. Not even for a moment does Chenrezig close his eyes. He is constantly gazing, never taking his attention from benefiting sentient beings. In this way, we make an earnest request to Chenrezig, the Lord of Loving-Kindness .

In this prayer we are earnestly and sincerely calling to Chenrezig, referring to who he is and by what we need from him. Since Chenrezig is the embodiment of spontaneous compassion, we ask Chenrezig, as the one of great compassion, to hold beings like ourselves, the practitioners, fast in his compassion. We are making a very sincere, straightforward point. To put it simply we are saying: "what is your compassion and realization, what is it all for?" We are saying it is for nothing other than benefiting beings, and here we are, we who need to be benefited, so extend the compassionate qualities of your mind. On a very relative and mundane level, this is like saying "Mother, you have wealth and I am your only child. I am in need of your wealth, and you should help me." It is almost as simple as that. What is a mother if she is not going to help her only child when she has the capacity to do so? What is this relationship for, what is the purpose of being the mother and having wealth, if the child is deprived? So we make this earnest request to Chenrezig on that basic level.

The reason we so earnestly want to be held fast in the compassion of Chenrezig is that sentient beings have been caught up in samsara from time without beginning. We are developing the wish that all sentient beings will be liberated from the suffering of samsara. Generally, the Dharma teaching is that there are six different realms where sentient beings experience tremendous, unbearable suffering. The experience of suffering of the majority of sentient beings in the different realms of existence is as if we were thrown naked into blazing fire. They have that kind of experience all the time, of pain and torment due to the intensity of their accumulation of defilements. This is the normal state of affairs of sentient beings, so we pray with the attitude that there is no other protection for sentient beings than that which Chenrezig can provide. Chenrezig is the protector, since he is the embodiment of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas who are capable of providing such protection. We take the attitude that "there is no one other than you that sentient beings like us can turn to." Although there are beings close to us (our parents, for instance), when it comes to guiding us toward the experience of complete enlightened mind and protection, because they themselves are sentient beings, caught up in the confusion of such realms, they are not in a position to protect us or lead us from confusion and suffering. There are people among us who play leadership roles, but they themselves are subject to the suffering and confusion of cyclic existence. Beyond that, there are devas, nagas, higher categories of devas such as Brahma or Shiva, and so on. Even they are not free from cyclic existence. Thus there is no one to turn to other than Chenrezig.

The key point is "May you, Chenrezig, hold all beings fast in your enlightened compassion until all sentient beings have established themselves in the state of Buddhahood." This is an earnest request, a very direct, sincere, and heartfelt request we are making on behalf of all sentient beings.

While we are doing the Chenrezig prayer we pray that all beings of the six realms may be established in the pure realm of Amitabha or of Chenrezig, whichever you are aiming for. There is ultimately no difference, since the basic point here is aiming toward their liberation from the six realms.

Then, having prayed first for the establishment of all beings in a pure realm, we pray that we ourselves may be able to benefit living beings with as much strength and power as Chenrezig, not only in this lifetime, but in all our future births, throughout our many existences. We pray that we may be able to develop the qualities that Chenrezig developed, and having developed enlightenment ourselves, we pray that we may be able to benefit beings through removing defilements, just as Chenrezig does, with the six-syllable mantra. It is really a prayer that we ourselves will have the capacity to benefit others.


Taken from a transcript of a teaching given by Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche at KTD in July, 1986. This transcript is available in its entirety from Namse Bangdzo Bookstore.

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