The Meaning of Avalokestishvara's Heart Mantra - OM MANI PADME HUNG HOME Mani Teachings

by His Eminence Nubpa Konchok Tenzin Rinpoche

Translated by Lama Nyandak

June 24, 2010

Stockholm, Sweden

From tomorrow onwards, for the next 3 days, we are going to have the Mani-recitation retreat. So, before we start the retreat, tonight, we will have the explanation of the benefits of the recitation of the six-syllable mantra OM MANI PADME HUNG. Before we even try to reflect on the benefits, it is important to understand the overall essence of Buddhism.

The whole essence of Buddhism can be summarized into the interdependent nature of all phenomena which is the Second Noble Truth – the truth of the origin of suffering. Nagarjuna, the great Indian master also said that everything that we conventionally perceive in this world exists on the basis of interdependent nature. The essence of interdependent nature is emptiness. So, all the conventional things and events that exist in the world exist dependently. Because of that, there is nothing that exists independently. So, we come to the understanding that the whole existence is devoid of inheriting existence.

Based on this idea of interdependent of things, it also indicates that there is law of cause and effect.  When we try to reflect on the law of cause and effect, it means that if we do something positive, virtuous, then the consequences of such deeds are good. If we do something negative, non-virtuous, the consequences of the negative will be negative or suffering. Since the negative deeds and thoughts bring miserable and suffering, Buddha said that we have to avoid anything that is negative. Since the source of all happiness is virtuous or positive deeds, in order for ourselves to be happy and peaceful, Buddha said that we have to cultivate the positive deeds and thoughts.

So how can we identify if something is a positive deed or something is a negative deed? This is something very easy because any action or any deed that we perform with the three poisons – jealousy, hatred and ignorance is something that we call negative deed. Since the source of our happiness is virtuous deeds, then any deed that we perform without any afflictive emotion or negative thought is called positive. Nagarjuna also said that any action that we do through attachment, ignorance and anger is negative. Any action that we perform which is free from ignorance, attachment and anger is positive.

Thirdly, Buddha said that we have to tame the mind because our experiences of happiness and suffering come down to our own mind. Therefore the mind has to be tamed or trained. So, in summary, what Buddhism is and what Buddhism teaches us is first that any negative deeds and thoughts have to be abandoned, and second, anything that is positive has to be cultivated. Thirdly, we have to tame our mind.  The entire Buddha’s teaching can be summarized into these three sentences.

Since the cause of our happiness is positive deeds whereas something undesirable that we do not want comes from negative thoughts, in order to practise this, the Four Noble Truths is also important. In the first of the Four Noble Truths, Buddha said, you should know that the nature of samsara or the world is suffering. Generally speaking, even though there are many different kinds of suffering. It can be summarized into three categories. First, suffering of suffering which is related to sensational suffering. The second is suffering of change and the third one is pervasive suffering.

The first suffering of suffering is like the experience of beings in the hell realm. These experiences are unpleasant the first moment when we encounter them. If you take the example of our own life, suffering of suffering is like problems with our physical body, old age, sickness and so on. And on the top of that, sometimes we have difficulties with parents that pass away or problems with our children and so on. So, this is like one suffering after another or suffering on top of each other.

The suffering of change is for example an individual in the morning when he or she has good food and try to eat as much as he/she can. In the later part of the day, he/she has pain in the stomach. In the morning when you eat the food, at that moment, you really feel happy and really enjoy it a lot. Somehow when you have pain in the stomach and you do not feel well eating the same food in the afternoon. So, happiness changes into suffering. That is called the suffering of change.

Third one is pervasive suffering. Right after our birth, our death has already started. The pervasive suffering relates to the suffering that we are bound to have in our life due to our physical aggregates and skandas as a result of the fact that they are compositional, that is, subject to causes and conditions. Suffering is bound to arise although we are unaware of them. From the Buddhist point of view, the whole samsaric existence is nothing but of a suffering nature. Once we have the understanding that samsaric nature is suffering, we will develop some sense of eagerness to free ourselves from suffering.  This is called sense of renunciation.

After having sense of renunciation in your heart, we take refuge in the three jewels (in the Buddhist context) – Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.  When the sense of renunciation arises in our mind, we need a person or a teacher who can guide or show us the path to liberation. This is something like if we are sick, we have to find a right physician who can help us to treat our sickness.  The same manner here, we need a teacher or a leader who has the quality to lead us or guide us on the Path of liberation. Buddha is like a physician and we are like patient who is sick.  The doctor prescribes the medicine, the diet and so on to the patient. Similarly, the Buddha is the teacher who has shown us the path and taught us the method to liberation, which is the teaching, the Dharma. If we are very sick, we cannot really go to the doctor by ourselves, we need someone to assist us to get there. Similarly, we ourselves do not really know how to apply the practices that will lead us to liberation. We need someone who can assist us.  This is the spiritual community or the Sangha. Sangha is like a nurse who helps us to the path of liberation.

When Buddha taught the teaching, he explained that the causes of our suffering are our own afflictive emotions and negative deeds. If you know that, with the explanation of how one can eradicate these afflictive emotions and negative deeds that we have created, this comes to the Third Noble Truth - the truth of the cessation of suffering. The Fourth Noble Truth is the truth of the path to the cessation of suffering. Once we apply the practice on the path and avoid all the causes of suffering. This is called the cessation of suffering, nirvana.

The method to eradicate the causes of suffering is the teaching or the Dharma.  Generally speaking in order to eradicate all the causes of suffering, Buddha taught 84 000 categories of teachings. All these are classified into three vehicles – the Hinayana (the Lesser Vehicle), the Mahayana (the Greater Vehicle) and the Vajrayana vehicles. Even though there are three classes, the purpose of any of them is to eradicate the suffering of all living beings. Even though the destination of all these three vehicles is the same, there are different methods for an individual who travel on the path to choose from each vehicle.

For example, when we need to go somewhere, some by walking, some take a car or plane. The difference is that some may arrive faster and some will take longer time. Similarly, some vehicle has methods that can attain Enlightenment faster and some will take longer time. When we talk about the differentiations between Mahayana and Hinayana, the difference depends on mind setting as to whether or not the individual possesses the mind of Enlightenment (bodhicitta). Individual who sets the mind for attainment of self-liberation because of the suffering of samsara, that individual is said to be Hinayana or the Lesser Vehicle. The person who practices the Dharma for the well-being of all living beings is said to be Mahayana or the Greater Vehicle.

When we talk about Mahayana, there are two categories – the Sutrayana and the Tantrayana. Lord Jigten Sumgon said that the distinction between Sutrayana and Tantrayana is whether or not the ceremony of Empowerment is needed. In the Sutrayana system, the Empowerment is not required but in the Tantrayana, the ripening initiation is very necessary in order to do the deity practice and so on. The definition of Empowerment is that upon receiving the Empowerment, we are authorized to practise the deity that we receive during the Empowerment.

It is also important to understand that in the context of Vajrayana, there are three things - one, the object that is supposed to be purified; second, the tool that we use for the purification; and third, the result after purification. Generally speaking, with our ordinary human body, through our body, speech and mind, we create body obscuration, speech obscuration and mind obscuration due to our negative deeds. Of course in order to purify all these obscurations, the methods are taught in the Sutrayana. But the methods and practices that are explained by the Vajrayana are quicker and faster.

For example, in the Vajrayana system, for those who are participating in the Mani-retreat, what we have to do during the retreat is that when we recite the matra OM MANI PADME HUNG, we should not think of our own ordinary body that we normally have. We have to imagine and visualize ourselves as Avalokiteshvara or the Buddha of Compassion. When we are able to visualize our body as Avalokiteshvara, this will help us to get rid of our normal clinging to our ordinary body. So our idea of grasping and clinging to our ordinary body will cease. Through the power of visualizing ourselves as deity, it will help us to purify many of our negative karma that we have accumulated through the body.

In our daily life, we have normal speech and we gossip and chat a lot. Through that, we accumulate many different negative deeds of speech. By reciting the mantra OM MANI PADME HUNG which is the speech of Avalokiteshvara, it will help us to purify lots of negative karma that we have accumulated through speech. Normally, our mind is occupied with different kinds of conceptual thoughts. When we are able to rest our mind in love and compassion during the recitation of mantra, we are able to purify lots of negative karma that we have accumulated through mind.

Through this kind of practice, we are able to purify the negative karma we have created through our body, speech and mind. Earlier we mentioned that if we are able to get rid of the causes of suffering, we will not experience the suffering result. The reason why we are able to get rid of our suffering is because we are trying to prevent or trying to get rid of the causes that bring suffering.

In the text, it has been mentioned that if we recite the mantra of the six-syllable OM MANI PADME HUNG, it will be able to help us to close the doors of the six realm of cyclic existence. Why it is so? If we are able to eradicate the causes that take birth into the six realms, there is no way that we will be reborn in the six realms. Generally speaking in the vajrayana tradition, it has been mentioned that the practice of vajrayana is very profound and very effective.  However, whether it is profound or effective or not depends entirely on whether or not the practitioner is willing to take on hardship and continuously do the practice.  No matter which tradition we follow, whether the result is effective or not depends entirely on whether the individual applies the method or not into the Path.

One of the great Tibetan masters Pachung Rinpoche said that even though the six-syllable mantra OM MANI PADME HUNG is very profound and effective, it is not going to be profound and effective if you recite it with a distractive mind and your eyes looking around on places and so on. Just by reciting the mantra with the mouth will not bring any effective result to you. Again, if you ask how we can practice it, Pachung Rinpoche said that the entire Buddha embodiment is Avalokiteshvara, the entire deity embodiment is Avalokiteshvara and the entire essence of the Dharma is the six-syllable mantra OM MANI PADME HUNG.  So the entire essence of the generation and completion stage is achieved through bodhicitta.

How can one understand that Avalokiteshvara is the embodiment of the entire deity or the entire Buddha? It is because of the fact that the entire Buddha attained Enlightenment through the union of emptiness and compassion, there is no other Buddha who attained Enlightenment without having this union of emptiness and compassion. Therefore, you can understand that the entire essence of all the Buddhas is the same, there is no difference. When we imagine Avalokiteshvara, we should not imagine that Avalokiteshvara is made of copper or made of mud or the picture of Avalokiteshvara or the painting of thanka and so on. We should not imagine in this way. Rather, we should understand that Avalokiteshvara is a bodhisattva of Buddha who can manifest into many forms in order to tame and help sentient beings.

The reason why I said this is that when you look at Avalokiteshvara, Avalokiteshvara has many forms – Avalokiteshvara with two arms, four arms or with thousand arms and eyes.  Avalokiteshvara manifests into the human form as well. For example, in Tibet, the King Songtsen Gampo was the manifestation of Avalokiteshvara, and at present, His Holiness Dalai Lama is also the manifestation of Avalokiteshvara in human form.  When you look at all these, you will come to the conclusion that, Avalokiteshvara is not of one entity, but rather he has many different forms and manifestations. Every sentient being possesses Buddha nature, or the seed of attaining Enlightenment. That very seed or the Buddha nature is the quality of strong or intensive compassion which is already there.

Right now, our great compassion has not been manifested; however once when our great compassion manifests, we ourselves are also not different from the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. We are visualizing ourselves as Avalokiteshvara because we also have a seed of attaining Avalokiteshvara ourselves. We have the full quality of Avalokiteshvara within our Buddha nature. Therefore, it is appropriate to visualize ourselves as Avalokiteshvara.

In one life story, it is clearly said that if you try to conceive or comprehend the qualities of Avalokiteshvara, it is unimaginable. You may count the number of sand grains in the Ganges River, but you may not be able to count all the good qualities of Avalokiteshvara. It is also said that if the animal hears just the sound of the six-syllable mantra, the animal will not be reborn into the lower realm but will be reborn into the higher realm. The animal which is about to die, when you recite the six-syllable mantra OM MANI PADME HUNG and blow that air into the animal, this animal will not take rebirth into the three lower realms, but rather this animal will be reborn into the Pureland.

Then one may ask who actually has stated all these qualities of Avalokiteshvara and the benefits of the six-syllable and so on. Of course, all these are clearly stated in the collective texts of Buddha himself. If we try to elaborate on the qualities of Buddha, it can be very extensive. But all these are summarized into one syllable – AH. The entire teaching of the Buddha can be summarized into and included into the AH-syllable. One way to understand the power and the meaning of this six-syllable mantra is that OM- symbolizes the entire body of the Buddha. MANI PADME symbolizes the speech of the entire Buddha because in it every syllable contains the syllable AH. HUNG symbolizes the mind of the entire Buddha. So, you can say that the entire body, speech and mind of the Buddha are included in this six-syllable mantra OM MANI PADME HUNG.

Another way to explain it is that MANI means the wish granting jewel. PADME is the lotus. So lotus and the wish fulfilling jewel are the ornaments that Avalokiteshvara possesses. Avalokiteshvara holds the wish-granting jewel which symbolizes that he is willing to fulfill the wishes of all sentient beings. Avalokiteshvara’s hand is holding a lotus flower. This symbolizes that he is free from any kind of defilement. His right hand is holding a rosary of crystal mala. This symbolizes that he liberates all living beings. When we recite the six-syllable mantra, it will help us not to generate our six poisons – attachment, anger, ignorance, jealousy, pride and misery.  This will help us to get rid of our six kinds of afflictive emotions.

The reason why it is said that by chanting the six-syllable mantra, it will help us to close the doors of the six realms of existence is that we are eradicating the causes of talking rebirth into the six realms of existence. While we recite the mantra, it is important to cultivate loving kindness and compassion – the relative bodhicitta. And on top of the relative bodhicitta, it is important to rest our mind in the nature state of our own mind which is free from elaboration.

[Due to some problem with our recording, we regret that we are not able to transcribe the entire public talk. If anyone happens to have the complete recording of this public talk, would you please contact Ratnashri Meditation Center at ratnashri@swipnet.se]

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Dedication
May all sentient beings gain the flavor of supreme knowledge,
that the unexcelled joy of truth fill their minds and bodies;
May all sentient beings obtain all the excellent flavors of nonattachment,
and not be addicted to mundane tastes, but always diligently cultivate and practice all aspects of Buddhahood;
May all sentient beings gain the flavor of one truth
and realize that all Buddha teachings are without difference;

Last updated on 2010-10-31.