Avalokiteśvara (Chenrezig)

Sanskrit: Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva (Mahāyāna form)
Also known as the Bodhisattva of Compassion
Tibetan: སྤྱན་རས་གཟིགས་ Chenrezik or Chenrezig also known as སྤྱན་རས་གཟིགས་དབང་ཕྱུག Chenrezig Wangchuk
Vietnamese: Quán Âm Bồ Tát
Chinese: 观音 Guanyin

Tibetan script and Sanskrit with (translated meaning):


।ॐ मणिपद्मे हूँ ॥

Oṁ Mani Padme Hūṁ
(O, you who have the jewel and the lotus)

Avalokiteśvara Mantra
  • ཀརྨ་རྡོ་རྗེ། Karma Dorje doing an audio recording recitation of the Sanskrit mantra above.

According to the 14th Dalai Lama

“It is very good to recite the mantra Om mani padme hum, but while you are doing it, you should be thinking on its meaning, for the meaning of the six syllables is great and vast… The first, Om […] symbolizes the practitioner’s impure body, speech, and mind; it also symbolizes the pure exalted body, speech, and mind of a Buddha[…]”
“The path of the middle way is indicated by the next four syllables. Mani, meaning jewel, symbolizes the factors of method: (the) altruistic intention to become enlightened, compassion, and love.[…]”
“The two syllables, padme, meaning lotus, symbolize wisdom[…]”
“Purity must be achieved by an indivisible unity of method and wisdom, symbolized by the final syllable hum, which indicates indivisibility[…]”
“Thus the six syllables, om mani padme hum, mean that in dependence on the practice of a path which is an indivisible union of method and wisdom, you can transform your impure body, speech, and mind into the pure exalted body, speech, and mind of a Buddha[…]”

Recitation of this mantra while using prayer beads is the most popular religious practice in Tibetan Buddhism. The connection between this famous mantra and Avalokiteśvara is documented for the first time in the Kāraṇḍavyūhasūtra (“The Basket’s Display). This text is dated to around the late 4th century CE to the early 5th century CE. In this sūtra, a bodhisattva is told by the Buddha that recitation of this mantra while focusing on the sound can lead to the attainment of eight hundred samādhis. Shakyamuni Buddha states, “This is the most beneficial mantra. Even I made this aspiration to all the million Buddhas and subsequently received this teaching from Buddha Amitābha.”

The sūtra promotes the recitation of this mantra as a means to liberation. It states that whoever knows (janati) the mantra will know liberation as a fully enlightened Buddha. It also states that initiation into the mantra by a qualified preceptor (which is said to be a lay dharmabhănaka, vidyādhara or mahāsiddha) is an important requirement for practicing this mantra. In the sutra, Avalokiteśvara says that the mantra should not be given to one who has not seen the mandala. This initiation is said to be open to all Buddhists regardless of class and gender, whether they be of the Mahāyāna or Hīnayāna, but not to tīrthikas.


Sand Mandala of Avalokiteśvara

Source of image: flickr

The Kāraṇḍavyūhasūtra also sees the mantra as the pith or condensed expression of all “eighty four thousand Dharmas.” Because of this it is called “the grain of rice of the Mahāyāna”, and reciting it is equivalent to reciting numerous sutras.

Thus, according to Alexander Studholme, the significance of the mantra in the Kāraṇḍavyūha is mainly that it is the “innermost heart” of Avalokiteśvara, and therefore is “a means both of entering into the presence of Avalokiteśvara and of appropriating some of the bodhisattva’s power.

The Kāraṇḍavyūha Sūtra also features the first appearance of the dhāraṇī of Cundī, which occurs at the end of the sūtra text. After the bodhisattva finally attains samādhi with the mantra “oṃ maṇipadme hūṃ”, he is able to observe 77 koṭīs of fully enlightened buddhas replying to him in one voice with the Cundī DhāraṇīNamaḥ Saptānāṃ Samyaksaṃbuddha Koṭīnāṃ Tadyathā, Oṃ Cale Cule Cunde Svāhā.

The Lotus Sutra is generally accepted to be the earliest literature teaching about the doctrines of Avalokiteśvara. These are found in the Lotus Sutra chapter 25 (Chinese: 觀世音菩薩普門品). This chapter is devoted to Avalokiteśvara, describing him as a compassionate bodhisattva who hears the cries of sentient beings, and who works tirelessly to help those who call upon his name.

Vietnamese mantra:

Nam Mô Quán Thế Âm Bồ Tát
Nam Mô Đại Từ Đại Bi Cứu Khổ Cứu Nạn Quán Dại Linh Cảm Bạch Y Quán Thế Âm Bồ Tát, Ma Ha Tát
(Personal notes: Experience and recommendation from my own mother is to recite whenever experiencing extreme painful suffering).

Chinese mantra:


Ná Mó Guān Shì Yīn Pú Sà

  • ཀརྨ་རྡོ་རྗེ། Karma Dorje compiled this page as a supplemental guide and motivational support for others, please forgive him for any errors.

Chenrezig (Vajrayāna form)
Chenrezig thangka photo courtesy of Anil Thapa owner of Lumbini Buddhist Art Gallery, Berkeley California. Check out their gallery and let Anil know we sent you.

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