The Six Syllable Mantra

In Tibetan name for Avalokiteshvara is Chenrezig. Each syllable has a meaning. The syllable “chen” is the honorific term for eye. The syllable “re” means corner of the eye. And the syllable “zig” means watching. So Chenrezig means watching from the corner of they eye, like a mother who is always watching her child out of the corner of her eye.

Three deities represent different aspects of enlightenment. Chenrezig represents the Buddha’s compassion. Manjushri is the manifestation of Buddha’s wisdom. And Vajrapani is a wrathful deity representing the Buddha’s power. Tsongkapa, the founder of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, came from eastern Tibet. He had a Sakya teacher named Rendowa. Tsongkapa composed a prayer for his teacher, saying, “You are the Buddha’s compassion, Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha’s wisdom, Manjushri, and his power, Vajrapani.” Each year monks from the biggest three Gelugpa monasteries near Lhasa stand in line reciting this prayer while they receive donations.

But today we are talking about Avalokiteshvara. In Tibet parents teach the mantra of Avalokiteshvara to their children. It’s said that is an easy practice to learn in the beginning, it does not increase prid in the middle, and at the end there is no risk that it will be forgotten. You will see old men and women holding a prayer wheel and reciting the mantra “om mani padme hung.” In the Nyingma, or ancient tradition, the syllable “hrih” is added to the end of the mantra, making seven syllables.

“Om” is the combination of the Sanskrit letters “a,” “u,” and “m.” These three letters represent the enlightened body, speech, and mind of the Buddha. Our body, speech, and mind will be transformed into these when we are enlightened. The path to tranform our body, speech, and mind into their enlightened counterparts is the practice of great compassion. Ordinary compassion is limited, but great compassion is unlimited and unconditioned. A mother may have deep compassion to her children, but she probably does not have great wisdom. Compassion and wisdom must be combined to reach enlightenment. That is the Mahayana path to enlightenment.

“Mani” means jewel. According to legend, there is a wish fufilling jewel which will grant the wishes of its owner. It represents compassion. Compassion is like a wish fufilling jewel, because it grants peace of mind.

“Padma” means lotus flower. It represents wisdom, the antidote to confusion. When you don’t have wisdom, you talk and argue a lot. With wisdom this ceases. A lotus grows in the dirty water but remains unstained. The symbolizes how wisdom transcends confusion. A lotus has many petals and wisdom has many aspects.

“Hung” is the union of wisdom and compassion. We need to combine both to achieve enlightenment. The syllable “hrih” represents Avalokiteshvara’s mind. If you know the meaning of the mantra, it becomes more meaningful.

If you generate a small amount of compassion, that is establishing a small Chenrezig in you. If you generate a small amount of wisdom, that is establishing a small Manjushri. When positive qualities groow within you, that brings peace to yourself and others. When you know what the dharma means you have to generate it within you. If someone gets angry with you, at first it is difficult to bear, but you have to try. Anger is the worst negativity and never brings any peace. With this knowledge you will learn not to react to someone else’s anger. Finally you will develop the power to not become angry or other negative emotions. Instead you will manifest their opposite, positive qualities. If you can do this, there is no need to wear robes or shave your head.

Chokyi Goecha
Breathe Bookstore
October 20 2007