Avalokiteshvara Practice: Gelongma Palmo and Happiness
In the past, the lord of great compassion, the noble Avalokiteshvara, raised the idea of enlightenment, Bodhichitta, and then for countless kalpas (eons) accumulated merit. After passing through the ten Bodhisattva levels, he received the special great light empowerment. Then, as he entered the ranks of the noble sons of the Buddha, he made this vow: “Throughout the samsaric world realms in the limitless space of the ten directions, I will benefit for beings. I must liberate all beings from samsara. Not until all beings are establish on the level of Buddhahood, not even one left behind in samsara, will I myself enter Buddhahood? Only when all beings without exception have guided to Buddhahood, will it be well for me to achieve it? Until then, I will be remaining in samsara for the benefit of all beings, and to ensure it. May my body be shattered into a thousand pieces, if I break this vow” from then on Avalokiteshvara resided on Potala mountain through his limitless emanations at every moment. He accomplished the ripening and liberating of innumerable sentient beings to an extent beyond our means to express. In this manner, he passed uncountable years many kalpas. About the name Avalokiteshvara, the Sanskrit epithet Avalokiteshvara literally means world ward looking lord. It is transliterated into our alphabet from Tibetan: phags-mchog spyan-ras-gzigs and, as Tibetan spelling is a bit like English in that letters have become silent or are pronounced in a surprising fashion, the phrase comes out Phawa Chenrezig.
Geshe Palden Dakpa (Sherpa (ST), 2011) explains that Chenrezig is the very embodiment of all compassionate motivation. His activity takes many different physical forms including deities and other spiritual beings, teachers and helpers of all kinds including animals and even objects. In the traditional manner, the Geshe breaks down the designation of this deity into its components. Phags-mchog is Tibetan for noble, a lord (Skt: arya used in the way that Buddha Shakyamuni is said to have used the word as meaning a person who is superior by virtue of rank plus: intelligent, skilled, aware, cultured and sophisticated, in comprehension of the human condition) but in addition, possessing the merit and compassion to ennoble others. In other words, a bodhisattva Spyan-ras-gzigs, Chenrizig “one who looks down with an unwavering eye” (an observer, scrutinizer, and supervisor). A Chenrezig or noble is by virtue of so:
1. His or her basic state as compared to that of ordinary beings: free of even the first link of the chain leading to becoming or the accumulation of karma
2. The causes of the superiority: realizing the true empty nature of existence
3. The unfolding of that superiority through the realization that there is no self (These are three wisdoms: of hearing or study, of contemplation and of meditation.)
4. The intrinsic nature of a person who becomes superior: Because of the above realizations, a ‘noble being’ a bodhisattva permanently free from rebirth in the three lower conditions has the ability and desire to liberate others.
Avalokiteshvara is considering a ‘Buddha Jewel’ superior not only ordinary beings, but also other superior beings. In the phrase, spyan-ras-gzigs, Chenrizig, Looker with unwavering eye, the verb ‘to look’ is used in the sense of ‘look after’ like a mother who always and continuously tries to provide care, benefit and protection for her children. Besides,’ looking after’ all beings in this way and Chenrezig possesses “the five eyes and six super knowledges.” In other words, the ‘looking’ is done in five ways. His physical eye can see clearly over distances and his divine eye refers to his ability to see past and future-birth, life and death of all as well as the events in the present. His wisdom eye is the knowledge that all phenomena are empty of inherent existence. His Dharma eye is his ability to measure the nature of the disciple’s intelligence, the Buddha’s eye is his “supreme and ultimate knowledge which directly knows all phenomena simultaneously”. “Avalokitesvara’s teaching goes on perpetually till the end of cyclic existence” and since he has the supreme attributes of Buddha activity, he can appear in whatever forms are thebest suit in his disciples. Some well known forms are ‘The thousand armed and thousand eyed, eleven-faced, Sinhanada and so forth.’ Geshe Palden Dakpo says that the forms conform to the aspirations of specific disciples.
The most usual is the four armed form in which the white male human form is seated holding up a mala in his upper right hand, a lotus in the upper left and a jewel in his cupped hands. “His holding a white lotus flower in his second left hand symbolizes his stainless wisdom that has realized the nature of emptiness. Just as the lotus blossom, although rooted in mud is not soiled by it, his pure wisdom is undefiled by the faults of the world.” “His holding a crystal rosary in his second right hand symbolizes his liberating sentient beings from cyclic existence with ideal means and aspirations.” “The jewel symbolizes Bodhichitta, the mind of enlightenment which is the treasure of supreme merits. His hands folded at the heart symbolize supplicating the Buddha and Bodhisattvas of the ten directions, out of their great compassion, to look after poor bewildered beings. “The deer skin draped over his left breast symbolizes his especially great attitude of compassion towards all the suffering sentient beings. Avalokitesvara’s mantra is the famous one of six syllables:” The syllables are “Om Ma Ni Pad Me Hum.” The first syllable “Om” represents the form body of a Buddha, and the second last syllable “Hum” represents his truth body. “Mani” means wish-fulfilling gem symbolizing the pure wisdom that has realized emptiness. Some people think that the vowel ‘E’ ending the word ‘Padme’ is a vocative suffix that indicates the form used to call to someone. The mantra is an essentially a short symbolic supplication to (Chenrezig) saying: ‘O! Supreme Avalokiteshvara, you have attained the two bodies of the Buddha through the dual path of wisdom and method indicated by the jewel and lotus you hold please, lead all sentient beings to attain the two bodies of Buddha as you have done.’ It is edit from Geshe Palden Dakpa as translated by Karma Gelek Yuthok, at Quiet Mountain. The case ending ‘E’ can also indicate that the “Mani” belongs to the “Padme” or lotus, which is the manifestation of Buddha nature in our realm. I.e. not “The jewel in the lotus” at all, but “The lotus jewel.” This jewel is the blue beryl the wish-fulfilling Chintamani Amoghapasha Lokeshvara ritual (John K. Locke, ca. 1970).
Nepalese Buddhist intricate ritual (uposadha) worship of Avalokiteshvara with eight precepts. Eleven heads and a thousand arms ages passed, and Chenrezig thought that perhaps now he had delivered all beings from samsara. With his omniscient vision he looked down from Mt. Meru, and saw that the numbers of sentient beings trapped in the realms of suffering had not diminished. Not only had they not decreased, but now those sentient beings nearest him were experiencing an age of darkness, (Skt.: kali Yuga) and so their imperfections were even more difficult to eradicate. He irradiated the six realms three more times but still, each time he checked and he was disappointed. In his frustration and despair, he thought, “Truly, as the Tathagatha has said, space is infinite and so is the number of sentient beings. So many have I liberated, yet there is not a dent in their number. Therefore, as samsara has no end, I will liberate myself.”
His bodhisattva vow was broken! His head shattered into hundreds of pieces. Instantly, a great feeling of regret welled up and he cried out to the Amitabha Buddha, and to all the Buddha for help, “I have failed at my purpose and failed those beings that relied on me; please help me.” Ekadashi Lokeshvara; Then the root Lama, who by his own vow always holds us in his compassion and the Noble world protector who has conquered and transcended. Who due to his immeasurable warm light is call Amitabha Buddha, vividly appeared. He collected the fragments of cracked skull, and transformed them into a stack of eleven heads and replaced them on the body of Chenrezig.
He blessed ten of the heads with peaceful appearances, but only one with a wrathful appearance for those who cannot be train by peaceful means. “Son of my family, it is not well that you have broken your vow. Now, you must replenish your broken vow, and make an even greater resolution to benefit beings.” Mahakala the shattered body of a thousand pieces, by Amitabha is blessing, was now unite, and then Avalokiteshvara thought that his previous great vow could never be exceeded. He had been unable to benefit even a few beings, so for seven days he was unable to decide what to do. Then he thought that by means of a wrathful form he would be able to subdue the degenerate beings of this age of darkness. In addition, seeing many beings that practiced Dharma and it were unable to escape from the Bardo realms. He thought that by a wrathful form he could also protect them from the Bardo. But lastly, he thought that the beings in this dark age were poor and needy, experiencing only suffering, and that by a wrathful form he could provide them with an antidote to their suffering, so that their needs could be met by their simply making the wish. Avalokiteshvara, Lord of this realm of desire, therefore also assumes the form of Mahakala. Amitabha Buddha told Avalokiteshvara about the attributes of the six-syllable mantra. How it ought to be propagating so that the causes and conditions for rebirth in each of the six realms could be eradicate. Eventually, all samsaric realms would empty.
The six syllables were then manifest in Jambudvipa, this world of ours, in the form of light focused on Potala. Amitabha told his bodhisattva to go there. The world announced Avalokitesvara’s arrival with all kinds of auspicious and wondrous signs. This was at the time that Buddha Sakyamuni was teaching at Mt. Malaya, and one of the bodhisattvas noticed some brilliant lights. He knelt and asked the Buddha for an explanation of the phenomenon. “Beyond the countless universes from here to the west, there is a place called Padmawati.
There resides Buddha known as Amitabha, and he has a Bodhisattva called Avalokiteshvara who has just gone over to Mt. Potala for the benefit of countless sentient beings. He is the most perfect of bodhisattvas, manifesting a thousand Buddha through out the whole universe in order to liberate every sentient being.” Amitabha Buddha again instructed Avalokiteshvara saying, “There is no beginning to samsara. There is also no end to samsara. But, you must benefit sentient beings until samsara ends.” Gampopa in his jewel ornament of liberation explains the apparent contradiction by saying, “no end” only means “endless” in the ordinary sense of “a very long time.” “If I need to help all beings until samsara ends, may I have one thousand arms, and one thousand eyes? The thousand arms will manifest as a thousand universal monarchs, and the thousand eyes, as a thousand Buddhas.” Therefore, Amitabha granted his wish adding, an eye in the palm of each hand. Gelongma Palmo the nun was one of the greatest masters of the one thousand armed Chenrezig. She was born into an Indian royal family but was chose Buddhist ordination in her youth. She studied with many of the masters of her time and practiced diligently. Sadly, however, due to the ripening of karma, she contracted leprosy and was subsequently abandonee in the forest. She had a vision of King Indrabodhi who advised her to do Avalokiteshvara practices. (He was the foster father of Guru Rinpoche. There is a tradition that he was the first person to receive tantric teachings from the Buddha and he is considering one of the 84 mahasiddhas.)
Palmo recited the mantras of Avalokiteshvara, devised, and practiced the purification ritual or Nyungne retreat continuously before a mysterious image of thousand armed Avalokiteshvara that appeared to her in a forest clearing. It is said that she recovered from leprosy and having developed great dedication and compassion for all beings, she became an enlightened guide to many disciples to whom she passed down the practice of Nyungne. For more about the one thousand armed forms, called Tsen Ti in Chinese. R. Beer’s red Chenrezig, The Mani-Kabum Tibetan legends about Chenrezig come mainly from the Mani Kabum (Mani is the usual abbreviation for his mantra. Kabum is one million or a myriad) which itself has a legendary origin: When Tibetan King, Lha Thothori Nyentsen resided at the palace called Yomba Lakang, a jeweled casket fell out of the sky onto the flat roof. It sprang open to reveal two texts: The rites of renunciation and fulfillment and two seals one for printing the Dhahran of the wish-fulfilling gem, the other for the six-syllable mantra and finally, a golden stupa. Together, representations of the body are speech and mind of two forms of the great Bodhisattva.
By not knowing what the five objects were, the king had a dream that revealed only that the significance of the auspicious objects would be made clear but after five generations only. The fifth monarch was King Songtsen Gampo who desired to bring Buddhism to Tibet because of the influence of his two wives, one Nepali and the other was a Chinese. He sent Thonmi Sambhota in India to study and when Sambhota returned, he designed a system of writing and grammar for Tibetans based on Devnagri. The script used for Sanskrit and Bengali. He saw it that the first Buddhist texts translated into Tibetan were the sutras and tantras concerning Chenrezig. These scriptures were collected, hidden in times of opposition to Buddhism. Moreover, later recovered as separate termas or treasures. Accomplished masters, Ngodrup, Lord Nyang and Shakya ‘O’ later recovered them, and they are known collectively as the mani Kabum. It is likely that among Tibetans, teachings and practices related to Chenrizig are the most popular of all. Besides, ancient scriptures concerning this bodhisattva, there are a number of sadhanas composed by masters who feel they received personal transmissions of teachings from this deity. Thousands of people know no other prayers or practices, completely they rely on methods relating to Chenrizig to accomplish the state of Avalokiteshvara and to liberate themselves from the sufferings of samsara.
Thangton Gyalpo (1385-1509) of upper Tsang province Tibet composed Chenrezig Sadhana used by many Tibetan centers for Buddhist practice called for the benefit of all beings pervading space. It is recorded that one day, while he was saying the mani mantra, Chenrezig appeared before him to empower and act as his guide. He was able to recall a previous existence as a monk who also was devoted to that Bodhisattva. Through his diligent practice including years of doing Nyungne, he succeeded in achieving high realization. He wrote for the benefit as a guide for others’ successful accomplishment. After his enlightenment, he became very creative producing images, books and stupas representing the various aspects of Buddha and Bodhisattvas. He contributed to the construction of ferries and suspension bridges to ease the material lives of people.
“Sister Palmo, Karma Tsultrim Khechog Palmo (Freda Houlston Bedi, 1911-1977) was ordained by the 16th Karmapa at age of 55. This highly accomplished woman, former congress party member, mother of Indian film star, Kabir Bedi, was a sponsor and patron of Tibetan refugees including Trungpa Rinpoche. Her daughter has translated into English the original Gelongma Palmo’s life story. This biography of the 8th century Gelongma Palmo, who lived in India, still exists: “One should imagine the form of a woman with the yellow robe who lived in a hermitage, following the path of the yogi, dwelling in a forest, living a life of seclusion and meditation. We should not forget the powerful energies of Buddhism of that period. This was the time of the greatest Nalanda University and the writings of the sublime poetry of Shantideva. The biography tells us in its spare fashion that the Gelongma Palmo, showed herself in outer form as the nun, wearing the yellow Dharma robe with an ushnisha mound upon her head, like Buddha. In her inner form, she manifested as a Tara in green color, removing all obstacles and hindrances. Thinking of Gelongma Palmo, in this form, we should recollect the very beautiful initiation of the green mother, which we experienced this morning. In her secret form, the Gelongma Palmo appeared as a siddha, one who possesses miraculous powers. The story tells us that she appeared in the form of a siddha, cutting off her head, and put it on the trident of Guru Padmasambhava. It is enough to see the Gelongma Palmo as one who had embodied a triple identity the outer form of the woman in the yellow robe, the nun who had taken the renunciation, the inner form as an emanation of Green Tara, and the secret form of the siddha, the one of magical attainment. The Gelongma Palmo reached the tenth stage of the Bodhisattvas when the natural, “the simultaneously arising of the mind” occurred, in its nature very pure and understanding the understanding of the Dharmakaya with clearly. The nature of thoughts is utterly pure, clear and transparent. The Gelongma Palmo possessed the Sambhogakaya body of celestial bliss. All this happened in the heart centre of Bodha Gaya centuries ago, where pilgrims still flock to the holy places of the Buddha.”
The biographies of great masters are always a continual source of inspiration. Their enlightened activities benefit countless beings. We introduced here one such great master who had practiced the Avalokitesvara’s teachings and attained enlightenment. One of the great masters is Gelongma Palmo (or Bhiksuni Lakshimi) who lived in the tenth or eleventh centuries. She was born in a royal family of an Indian Kingdom, and was ordained in her youth. She received many teachings from the great masters of her time and practiced diligently. Due to the ripening of her past karma, she contracted leprosy and was cast into the forest by the people. She had a vision of King Indrabodhi who advised her to practice Avalokiteshvara.
She recited the mantras of Avalokiteshvara and subsequently performed the continuous Nyungne retreat before the image of Avalokiteshvara. Through devotion and diligence in her practice, she was able to recover from leprosy. She also developed great love and compassion for all beings. She became an enlightened nun and guided many disciples in the practice of Avalokiteshvara. She was credited for passing down the practice of Nyungne retreat, a very effective practice for purification and developing loving-kindness and compassion for all beings.
As a regular practitioner, the laywoman Tshering Ongmu Lama Sherpa, Gole clan of Sherpa age of 54 years old has been married with, Lama clan Sherpa of Kathmandu participated eleven times in Nyungne practice. She is happy and prides herself being as a practitioner making good merit of life and world peace mission of Buddhism. She rejects about the Ortner’s work and conclusion on the Sherpa people and Nyungne culture. She has beautiful feeling and experience about the Nyungne of Sherpa people. According to her, this culture is opportunity of the purification practice, increases the positive energy and causes of happiness, harmony, accumulation of merit, wisdom and achievement of enlightenment. With the practice, people can purify all the faults and misunderstanding of others and achieving success in our practice and daily activities. The rules of Nyungne are hard at first time but much easier after the regular practice.