Abiding in the Retreat

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Abiding in the Retreat: A Nyung Nä Commentary combines several teachings given by Lama Zopa Rinpoche on nyung nä, a powerful two-day practice associated with Chenrezig, the Buddha of Compassion.

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Chenrezig (Skt: Avalokiteshvara), the buddha of compassion
Chapter 2: Chenrezig

The following stories of Chenrezig, Bhikshuni Lakshmi and some of the nyung nä lineage lamas, each of whom has an inspiring story, come from a handwritten text compiled by one of my gurus, Kyabje Gomo Rinpoche, who has now passed away. He was an incarnation of the great Indian yogi Phadampa Sangye, who lived during Milarepa’s time and gave the very effective teaching, The Hundred Verses of Advice, while he was living in Tingri, Tibet.

Gomo Rinpoche lived for many years in Mussoorie, which is close to Dharamsala, and led nyung näs and self-initiations there, leading many, many people in virtue. Along with some students, I received chöd initiation from Rinpoche, as well as part of a commentary on the Six-Session Guru Yoga and a short teaching on the Three Principles of the Path, many years ago at Tushita Retreat Centre1 in Dharamsala.

I thought to mention first the story of Chenrezig, Compassion Buddha, and then that of Bhikshuni Lakshmi, the fully ordained nun and great scholar from whom the lineage of this nyung nä practice came (see chapter 3), then some of the stories of the lineage lamas who achieved Compassion Buddha (see chapter 4). While this lineage came from Chenrezig to Bhikshuni Lakshmi, there’s also another nyung nä lineage that came through Nagarjuna.

The story of Chenrezig

Gomo Rinpoche’s text begins with a verse of prostration to Chenrezig:

Your thousand arms signify a thousand wheel-turning kings;
Your thousand eyes signify the thousand buddhas of the fortunate eon;
You manifest in whatever aspect is needed to subdue sentient beings:
To you, pure Compassionate-Eyed One, I prostrate.

The fully enlightened being, Amitabha Buddha, the Buddha of Infinite Light, had a thought to benefit transmigratory beings. From his right eye, he sent a beam of white light, which transformed into Chenrezig, and from his left eye, he sent a beam of blue light, which transformed into Tara.

In the blissful western realm called Having Lotus (Pema Chöling), there was a good-hearted wheel-turning king, King Supreme Goodness (Gyälpo Zangpo Chog), who didn’t have a son. All the activities that wheel-turning king did were for Dharma. Everything, including the wealth he had, was used for Dharma.

In that blissful realm there was also a lake called Having Lotus, where lotuses grew, and every day the king would offer a flower from the lake to the Three Rare Sublime Ones.2

One day the servant who went to pick the lotus flower from the lake saw that a lotus stem with huge leaves the size of an eagle’s wings had grown from the lake. In the center of that lotus was an unopened bud. When the servant reported what he had seen to the king, the king said, “Inside that lotus bud there will definitely be a holy nirmanakaya body that has taken spontaneous birth.”3

King Supreme Goodness, his ministers and the rest of his entourage then went to see the lotus bud. When they opened the flower to check what was inside, they saw a sixteen-year-old youth with a radiant, white holy body adorned with the holy signs and exemplifications. He had a white scarf wrapped around his waist and an antelope skin over his left shoulder. (Antelopes are compassionate animals. It’s said that when a hunter is hunting another animal, the antelope will stand in front of the animal, facing toward the hunter, to protect the threatened animal. It will actually offer itself in place of that other animal—it’s an animal of compassion.)

From his holy mouth, the youth was proclaiming over and over, “How pitiful4 sentient beings in the six realms are!” He kept on repeating this.

The king and all his entourage prostrated to the youth, who was actually Chenrezig, who had manifested in this form and taken birth in the lotus. The king then spread a special cloth on the ground, asked the boy to sit on it and invited him to the palace, where he abided as a devotional holy object for the king and all his family; they used him as an object of offering in order to collect merit.

Chenrezig, in the aspect of this sixteen-year-old boy, thinking to benefit sentient beings, generated bodhicitta. He then made a request to all the buddhas and bodhisattvas of the three times,5 saying, “I will lead each and every single sentient being to peerless full enlightenment.” He then added, “Until I have brought every sentient being to enlightenment, if any thought seeking my own happiness arises, may my head crack into ten pieces like an azarka.” (Perhaps this is some kind of fruit—the meaning is to crack into small pieces.)

When Chenrezig made this prayer, Amitabha Buddha said, “I will help you to accomplish your work for sentient beings.”

Chenrezig’s holy body then emitted six beams, with one beam going to each of the six realms, where it worked for sentient beings, liberating them.

Later Chenrezig went to the top of Mount Meru and looked around with his wisdom eye. Even though Chenrezig had liberated so many sentient beings from the six realms, when he looked, there still seemed to be the same number of sentient beings as before. So, he again sent beams to the six realms and liberated sentient beings. With his compassion and wisdom, Chenrezig liberated beings in this way three times, but still the sentient beings did not seem to become fewer in number.

Chenrezig then thought, “It seems that this samsara has no end. Therefore, I will abide in the blissful state of peace for myself.”

Because thinking this broke his bodhicitta commitment, Chenrezig’s head cracked into ten pieces. The pain was so unbearable that he screamed and wept. Amitabha then came and collected the pieces of Chenrezig’s shattered head from the ground, put the pieces together and blessed them as eleven faces. (As you know, Chenrezig has a thousand arms and eyes and eleven faces.) To end samsara, which is beginningless, Amitabha blessed ten of the faces in peaceful aspects to subdue sentient beings. For the sentient beings who can’t be subdued by peaceful means, Amitabha blessed one face in wrathful aspect. (This is the face near the top, the one below that of Amitabha Buddha.) The different colors of the faces signify the four actions of a buddha: pacifying, increasing, controlling and wrathful.

The face of Amitabha Buddha on the very top signifies that Chenrezig achieved enlightenment by depending on the kindness of his guru, Amitabha. One reason that Amitabha Buddha is on Chenrezig’s crown is to show that, even after enlightenment, Chenrezig still respects his guru. Another reason is to show that Chenrezig became enlightened in the essence of Amitabha Buddha.

To show in which essence a deity became enlightened, one of the five types of buddhas6 is on the deity’s crown. Here, for Chenrezig, it’s Amitabha; for Tara, it’s Amoghasiddhi or Amitabha. The crown buddha shows in which essence of the five types of buddhas you become enlightened. It also shows that you achieve enlightenment by the kindness of your guru, and even after you have achieved enlightenment, you still respect your guru.

After Amitabha Buddha had blessed him, Chenrezig thought, “I’m going to work for sentient beings until samsara ends.” He then made a prayer, “To do this, may I have a thousand arms, a thousand wheel-turning kings, and a thousand eyes, the thousand buddhas of the fortunate eon.” Right in the moment Chenrezig expressed this, the thousand arms and thousand eyes manifested.

This brief story is one version of how Chenrezig came to have a thousand arms and a thousand eyes.7

Manifestations of Chenrezig

We are always being guided by Chenrezig, who also manifests to us in human form—His Holiness the Dalai Lama, for example. While Chenrezig is a special deity karmically connected to the people of the Snow Land, Tibet, Chenrezig is now also a special deity for the whole world. His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the actual Chenrezig, is special for the world, not only for Tibet.

Guru Shakyamuni Buddha made predictions about the Dalai Lamas being Chenrezig and about how the Dalai Lamas would particularly guide sentient beings in Tibet, bringing them refuge and spreading Dharma. Chenrezig made four prayers for the people of Tibet, but those prayers are now for everybody in the whole world, including us. And what Chenrezig prayed for in the four prayers is exactly what has been happening.

There is one story that in the past a king called Golden Rim (Ser gyi mü kyü) had a son named Unblinking Eyes (Mig me dzum). Guru Shakyamuni Buddha predicted, “You, Unblinking Eyes, will liberate sentient beings from the lower realms and from samsara. You will pacify the delusions of sentient beings. Having generated the compassionate thought, you will be called Chenrezig. You will draw many sentient beings into Dharma and bring them to enlightenment. You will achieve enlightenment and you will enlighten all sentient beings. In particular, you will become the protector, the object of refuge, the savior, of the Snow Land.”

In White Lotus Sutra, Guru Shakyamuni Buddha tells Unblinking Eyes, “Bodhisattva Unblinking Eyes, you will spread Dharma like a shining sun in the Snow Land, this outlying land that no other buddha from the thousand buddhas of the fortunate eon has been able to benefit.”

Bodhisattva Unblinking Eyes was able to spread Dharma in Tibet because in the past, in the presence of a thousand buddhas, he made prayers to be able to do that. It was due to the power of those prayers. All the incarnations of the Dalai Lama, including the present one, who as Dharma kings have preserved and spread Dharma in Tibet, are manifestations of Bodhisattva Unblinking Eyes, who made so many prayers in the presence of a thousand buddhas.

Chenrezig looks at all transmigratory beings with compassion and never gives up on any sentient being, no matter how evil they are. He is constantly looking at us sentient beings—there’s not even a moment when he’s not looking at us. He sees us perfectly and is concerned about us. Because he is constantly looking at us and guiding us, he is given the particular name, Chenrezig, which means “the one who looks with compassionate eyes.”

Chenrezig also manifested to generate and spread human beings in Tibet. There may have been human beings in Tibet in the past, a long time ago, but this story happened in a particular place near Lhasa. Chenrezig manifested as a bodhisattva monkey and Tara as a female cannibal, then together they produced human beings, but the consciousnesses of their children came from the form realms. This is how human beings were first generated in Tibet.

Chenrezig then benefited those human beings by giving them food and so forth. Later, manifesting as the Dharma kings, the translators, the pandits and the ministers, Chenrezig gradually spread the Dharma in Tibet. King Songtsen Gampo and King Trisong Detsen were manifestations of Chenrezig, as were the translators, the great scholars who translated Dharma from Sanskrit into Tibetan. Showing unimaginable kindness, Chenrezig manifested in these various forms and then spread the Dharma in Tibet.

Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism, which is complete Buddhadharma, has now spread to the rest of the world, to the West and to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and other countries. You have to understand that we are completely in the care of and completely guided by Compassion Buddha.

That we have received a perfect human rebirth at this time is by the kindness of Chenrezig, His Holiness the Dalai Lama; and that we have met Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism, which came from India and was preserved and spread in Tibet by Chenrezig, and have the opportunity to practice and learn whatever we want about Buddhadharma is by the kindness of Chenrezig. All these incredible opportunities that we have come completely by the kindness of Guru Chenrezig, His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

The Avatamsaka Sutra8 comprises six volumes of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s teachings on bodhicitta. (It is very good to read this sutra to see how Buddha taught on bodhicitta.) It mentions,

When the moon rises, numberless reflections appear wherever there is water in this world. That is how Chenrezig manifests. Effortlessly, naturally, Chenrezig manifests in all kinds of forms, even as medicine, a bridge or water. Chenrezig, manifesting to sentient beings in whatever form benefits them, does inconceivable work for sentient beings.

There is only one moon, but when the moon rises in this world, any water that is uncovered, even the smallest drop of dew, has a reflection of the moon. The reflection of the one moon comes effortlessly everywhere there’s water in this world; it comes in every uncovered piece of water, whether ocean, lake, river or pond.

Since Chenrezig manifests as medicine, bridges, water and other things, there is no doubt that Chenrezig manifests as the virtuous friend to guide us, to give us the opportunity to learn Dharma.

Chenrezig manifests in the six syllables, OM MANI PADME HUM, to purify our negative karma and enable us to collect extensive merits, fulfilling all our wishes and bringing us to enlightenment in the quickest, easiest way. Chenrezig manifests even in Dharma protectors to protect us from obstacles. And Chenrezig manifests even in wealth deities to protect us from poverty.

For example, Ganapati, who protects sentient beings from poverty, is a manifestation of Chenrezig. Ganapati is a Buddhist deity,9 with three or four different aspects.

Chenrezig also manifests as Dzambhala, the wealth-granting deity, and again there are different aspects of Dzambhala. There are various Dzambhala practices, such as making torma or water offerings and making wealth vases, to protect from poverty and to increase outer and inner prosperity. Outer prosperity refers to material things that we need for our practice and for benefiting sentient beings and the teaching of Buddha; inner prosperity refers to the Dharma.

The story of how Chenrezig manifested as Dzambhala is as follows. In India, near Bodhgaya, Lama Atisha saw one man dying of starvation. Lama Atisha wanted to cut flesh from his holy body to give to him, but the starving man said, “I don’t want to eat it because it comes from a monk’s body.”

Lama Atisha then said, “You’re right, especially not flesh from someone who has actualized the arya path.” Lama Atisha, disappointed, then lay down on the ground. Suddenly white light appeared, and when Lama Atisha looked up he saw Chenrezig. He explained the situation to Chenrezig, who told him, “Don’t worry. I will manifest as Dzambhala. You can then use the various methods such as offering water on Dzambhala, as well as offering tormas and making wealth vases, to relieve this man from poverty.”

In these ways, Chenrezig brings happiness to us sentient beings. There’s no such thing as exhaustion, discouragement or laziness in Chenrezig’s working to bring happiness to us sentient beings. In every second, Chenrezig liberates numberless sentient beings.

The power of Chenrezig

Chenrezig is extremely quick to grant blessings and to guide sentient beings. Why? Because Chenrezig is the embodiment of the compassion of all the buddhas. That’s why, if you pray to Chenrezig, Chenrezig is extremely quick to guide you.

As I have already mentioned, there are many different aspects of Arya Chenrezig, the Compassionate-Eyed One. I think there are even a hundred different aspects of Kuan Yin.10 Tony Wong, whose story I will be telling soon, made a book about them. Also, many different aspects of Chenrezig are mentioned in the Chenrezig initiation text. However, among all the many aspects of Chenrezig, the Chenrezig with eleven faces, a thousand arms and a thousand eyes is said to have greater blessing, because of what the faces signify.

There are many stories about the power of Chenrezig. Tibetans have many stories, but it is the same in Singapore, Malaysia and Mainland China, where so many people pray to Compassion Buddha, often chanting the mantra for many hours. Every time I go to Singapore or Malaysia I hear stories of people recovering from sickness through Chenrezig practice. When I was in Singapore many years ago there was a student who had a needle inside her body. (I don’t know how the needle got there.) She made many prayers to Compassion Buddha and chanted the long dharani over and over. The needle then came out—not through her going to hospital but just through chanting the mantra.

Since people have much faith in Chenrezig and do much chanting, there are a lot of stories of practitioners helping other people, as well as themselves, with healing and bringing success. Tony Wong, in Kuala Lumpur, is one example of this. The first time I went to Singapore, Dharmawati [Brechbuhl] arranged the teachings in Singapore and Malaysia. Before I went to Singapore to give teachings that first time, I had a feeling that I must go and that there would be great benefit in establishing a center there. This thought came very naturally and strongly.

I wrote to Dharmawati, an old student of Lama Yeshe and mine, and she arranged the teachings. In those past times Tony Wong received many lamas—he hosted me at least twice and also received lamas from the other traditions. Tony arranged where the lamas stayed and everything else. He also organized the blessing and healing of people and visits to various places. He was very, very kind.

Tony has now bought a place for a temple, but in those early days he didn’t have anything. He just used his office also as a shrine room. When you came in the door, on one side of the office was his shrine, full of Buddha statues given to him by many lamas, and on the other side of the room was his wife’s shrine, with statues of Jesus Christ, as she’s a Christian.

Tony Wong has a very strong connection with Kuan Yin, the female aspect Chenrezig. His wife said that she would allow him to become Buddhist if he won the lottery. So, he won, but I don’t know how much money was involved. That’s how the decision was made between them.

People would come to Tony’s office on Friday nights, Saturdays and Sundays. The whole place would fill up with people, with some even sitting outside on the steps. Tony kept a bottle of water in front of a picture of Kuan Yin, but I don’t think there was any particular meditation of blessing the water. People would just chant the Chenrezig dharani for three or four hours. When I listened, I thought there was maybe one word in Sanskrit, but the rest I couldn’t understand. I don’t know what language they were using—maybe Mandarin.

Because the people had so much devotion, even though there was no particular meditation for blessing the water, I think the water was blessed. One man who had cancer was brought there one day by his wife and family; they had to help him walk as he couldn’t support himself. He was given some water from the altar. The next day that man walked in by himself, without the support of his wife or any other family member. It was amazing, a kind of miraculous cure. Things like that happened many times.

That first visit I also went to Malacca as there was a student there who had met Lama Yeshe in Singapore. He later became a monk. Anyway, Tony Wong came with me in the car and started telling me his experiences with Chenrezig. From Kuala Lumpur until we reached the house in Malacca, he continuously explained about the people he had healed. He has healed so many people—it’s just unimaginable.

I’m telling you this just to give you an idea of the power of Chenrezig. Not only Tony Wong but many other people have had the experience of receiving quick guidance after praying to Chenrezig with strong devotion.

There have also been many blind people who, after reciting a number of mantras, regained their eyesight without depending on doctors. The cataract or whatever the problem was with their eyes disappeared. This happened to many people in Tibet.

Chenrezig is the special deity of not only Tibetans but also Mongolians. In Mongolia everybody, young or old, recites OM MANI PADME HUM. Everybody having the opportunity to recite OM MANI PADME HUM, which helps you generate compassion for others, is Chenrezig’s holy action. If you recite OM MANI PADME HUM, Chenrezig will guide you. If you pray to Chenrezig, it is easy to purify negative karma and to have realizations. This is besides the temporary benefits in regard to the works of this life. Without need of much hardship in doing reflection and meditation, there is no doubt that with mere prayer you can be guided by Chenrezig whenever you have problems or fears. And at death time, you will easily be born in the Chenrezig pure land, Potala, or in the Amitabha pure land, Dewa Chen (Skt: Sukhavati). As I mentioned before, any heavy negative karma you have collected can be purified by reciting OM MANI PADME HUM and by doing nyung nä practice.


1 Now called Tushita Meditation Centre. [Return to text]

2 Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. [Return to text]

3 The Tibetan term is dzü kye, which means entered and born. While sometimes translated as “miraculous birth,” this term does not necessarily mean only a miraculous birth. [Return to text]

4 The Tibetan expression here is nying je, which means compassion. [Return to text]

5 The three times are past, present and future. [Return to text]

6 This was formerly translated as “five Dhyani buddhas.” [Return to text]

7 For other versions, see Buddhist Fasting Practice, pp. 8–9, and Chenrezig: Lord of Love, pp. 28–33. [Return to text]

8 Translated as the Flower Ornament Scripture. [Return to text]

9 Ganapati is distinct from Ganesh, the elephant-face Hindu deity. [Return to text]

10 The female aspect of Compassion Buddha worshipped by Chinese Buddhists. [Return to text]