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Thousand Armed Avalokiteshvara Empowerment in Dharamsala

Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, HP, India, 14 March 2017 - The weather was milder today as His Holiness the Dalai Lama walked from his residence to the Tsuglagkhang, greeting well-wishers as he went.

Having taken his seat on the throne he immediately began the preparatory procedures for the Avalokiteshvara empowerment he was going to give. While he did this people gathered in the temple and its surroundings followed the chant master’s steady recitation of Om mani padme hum. When he was ready, His Holiness explained what he was about to do.

“Today I’m going to give the empowerment of Avalokiteshvara with 1000 arms and 1000 eyes. Avalokiteshvara is praised by all the Buddhas. He is the embodiment of the compassion of all the Victorious Ones. As Chandrakirti wrote in his ‘Entering into the Middle Way’ - compassion is important in the beginning, middle and end of the path. Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have great qualities of body, speech and mind based on minds that are rooted in compassion. To begin with all the Buddhas generated the awakening mind of bodhichitta based on their having a courageous heart of compassion. By serving others they fulfil their own purposes—because they have compassion.

“We Tibetans call ourselves the people of Avalokiteshvara and likewise we regard the Chinese as blessed by Manjushri. However, until now we have tended to be selfish, driven by a self-cherishing attitude that has resulted in our not fulfilling our wishes. By switching that attitude to a concern for others and cultivating wisdom we can overcome the sufferings of others and ourselves. A commentary to the Perfection of Wisdom says that bodhisattvas focus on other beings and on enlightenment in order to help them.

“Avalokiteshvara takes care of Tibetans, but if we allow ourselves to be consumed by anger, for example, we contradict that care.

“This practice of Avalokiteshvara with 1000 arms and 1000 eyes comes from the lineage of Bhikshuni Lakshmi. I received it first as a boy from Tagtra Rinpoche. Later, when I was in Dromo, I received it again from Kyabje Ling Rinpoche because I had been asked to give it. I did the necessary preparations and duly gave it. Since then I’ve continued to do the practice and recite the mantras.

“So much suffering in the world is beyond the help of mere money and power. What we need is compassion and intelligence, although even that can be misused. To really be of help to others we need to be guided by compassion.”

There were brief and simple recitations of introductory prayers before His Holiness, as he promised yesterday, read Je Tsongkhapa’s ‘Three Principal Aspects of the Path’. He explained that it had been composed in reply to a letter from Je Rinpoche’s close disciple Tsako Ngawang Drakpa. He told him, ‘Practise well what I have taught. When I manifest Buddhahood in the world, you will be my first disciple.’

His Holiness remarked that the making good use of leisure and opportunity that the text describes, cultivating conduct that results in good rebirth, is something that can also be attributed to other religious traditions. First of the three principal aspects of the path is the determination to be free from the cycle of existence. Beings are bound in this state because they are ignorant of. They are subject to the misconception that things have independent existence. Consequently they are born again and again in boundless cyclic existence.

The second principal aspect of the path is the mind of enlightenment, the wish to attain Buddhahood to help ‘all beings, your mothers, who are ceaselessly tormented by the three miseries’. However, even if you have cultivated the determination to be free and the mind of enlightenment, that is insufficient to cut the root of cyclic existence. To do that takes wisdom. Therefore, His Holiness explained, you need correct and valid understanding of what liberation means. Grasping at independent existence is a distorted view, but it can be overcome and suffering can be brought to an end.

It is understanding dependent arising that puts an end to sentient beings misfortunes, because their source is ignorance. It is because they are dependent arisings that things have no independent existence. The text states that when realization of dependent arising and emptiness of independent existence are simultaneous and concurrent, analysis of the profound view is complete. His Holiness noted that the text was written by Lobsang Drakpa, a Bhikshu well-versed in the teachings of the Buddha.

His Holiness then began procedures for giving the Avalokiteshvara empowerment, starting with the dispelling of obstacles. In the course of the ritual he gave upasaka and upasaki vows to laypeople who wished to take them and led the assembly in first generating the aspiring mind of enlightenment—bodhichitta and then the Bodhisattva vows. Towards the end he observed that empowerment is like being given the authority to do the practice. He concluded the rite by also giving transmission of the mantras of the Buddha, Manjushri, Arya Tara and Hayagriva.

He encouraged his listeners to study, pointing out to them that the three reliable texts on the Middle Way or Madhyamaka view are: Nagarjuna’s ‘Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way’, Aryadeva’s ‘400 Verses of the Middle Way’ and Chandrakirti’s ‘Entering into the Middle Way’. The definitive text explaining how to cultivate the awakening mind of bodhichitta is Shantideva’s ‘Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life’. He observed that these works are all available in Tibetan and Chinese. They are available in English too.

Finally His Holiness introduced the images in the temple around him.

“This precious statue of Buddha Shakyamuni was made here in Dharamsala after we came into exile. After trouble had broken out in Tibet, one reputed Nyingma Lama, Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodro came from Kham to Lhasa to advise and request the government to install a statue of Guru Rinpoche known as ‘Guru Nangsi Silnon’ in the Jokhang. For various reasons the Tibetan authorities decided not to do that but to install a ‘Guru Gyakarma’ image instead. When Khyentse Rinpoche heard of this he is reported to have sighed and said, ‘At least His Holiness the Dalai Lama and some of his entourage may reach India’. Regretting this lapse I decided to install this ‘Guru Nangsi Silnon’ image here.”

In connection with the creation of the 1000 armed Avalokiteshvara statue, he mentioned that after a similar statue in the Jokhang in Lhasa was destroyed, fragments were brought to him here in India and were incorporated into the present image. 

His Holiness recounted having a dream early in his days in exile of a famous Chenresig statue in Tibet, which had historic associations with Songtsen Gampo. The statue beckoned to him and he recalled embracing it and being inspired not to give up by a verse from Arya Maitreya’s King of Prayers: Through perseverance that applies diligence, with stability, cheerfulness, and without laziness, with a body and mind suffused with power, may I consummate the far-reaching perfection of diligence.