TEACHING ON THE MEANING OF THE MANJUSHRI MANTRA
OM AH RA PA TSA NA DHI
Now I am going to give a short teaching combining both the sutra and the tantra approach. This is my heart teaching with pithy instructions for swift progress and success in your practice. This is the nature of my today’s teaching on the meaning of the Manjushri mantra Om Ah Ra Pa Tsa Na Dhi.
represents the enlightened form of body, speech and mind embodied in Manjushri’s three kayas. First, the Manjushri mind is equal to the wisdom mind of all Buddhas – the dharmakaya. You may ask how to practice the dharmakaya? If you experientially understand Buddha nature and rest in the Buddha nature in your meditation you are practicing dharmakaya. Second, the Manjushri mantra Om Ah Ra Pa Tsa Na Dhi represents the enlightened speech of all the Buddhas. If you recite this mantra more and more your usual worldly perceptions will transform into perceptions of Buddhas in Buddha fields. This is how enlightened speech of Manjushri manifests in the sambhokaya form. Finally, if you focus in your meditation on the body of Manjushri as depicted in thankas - in orange color and with all the ornaments - you are engaging in a nirmanakaya practice. This is a practice focusing solely on the visualization without reciting the mantra and without resting in Buddha nature.
Practitioners differ in terms of their dharmakaya, sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya meditation. Those of the highest capacity engage in the dharmakaya practice recognizing Buddha nature. Practitioners of medium capacity do the sambhogakaya practice through reciting mantras. Finally, practitioners of the lowest capacity engage in the nirmanakaya practice by visualizing the form of the deity.
You may think that if you are doing the dharmakaya practice you are not practicing the other kayas. Similarly, you may think that if you practice sambhogakaya meditation you are not practicing dharmakaya and nirmanakaya meditation. But the best practice combines all three kayas. In such practice you rest your mind in its Buddha nature first. Then you recite mantra to practice sambhogakaya while resting in the nature of your mind. And finally, while maintaining the dharmakaya and the sambhogakaya practice you also visualize yourself as the deity. The visualization adds the nirmanakaya aspect to the practice
stands for the direct understanding of the nature of phenomena. This realization develops as we examine everything. That means that we ask questions such as: What does my body and mind consist of? What do all the things around me consist of? As a result of repeated inquiry and contemplation, the realization of emptiness as the true nature of our mind as well as all external phenomena arises. Understanding of the emptiness of everything is the wisdom path.
The syllable RA represents understanding of emptiness from the Hinayana point of view. This approach emphasizes the emptiness of the self but believes that at the deepest level everything consists of very small subatomic particles. Similar views are held by scientists these days. These teachings of the ‘Hinayana’ emptiness are suitable for those practitioners that have difficulty in understanding emptiness in its ultimate nature.
stands for meditation. There are two basic types of meditation: the conceptual (thinking) and the non-conceptual (without thinking) meditation. In the conceptual meditation we rely on thinking about various concepts such as impermanence, suffering or karma. This is actually not considered a meditation in the strict sense. The ‘real’ meditation is non-conceptual and means that we see the nature of phenomena directly. In our practice we usually first combine the conceptual and the non-conceptual meditation until we are able to rest in the nature of mind completely without thinking. For example, if you have to ask yourself whether your meditation is conceptual or non-conceptual you are practicing conceptual (thinking) meditation. If you engage in a true non-conceptual meditation you don’t have to check whether your meditation is conceptual or non-conceptual – your feeling of resting in the nature of mind is so reassuring that there are no questions to be asked.
symbolizes the importance of samsara and nirvana. The exact nature of both nirvana and samsara is emptiness. But if we don’t understand the exact nature of samsara, it manifests to us in the form of three sufferings. The three sufferings are: the suffering of change, the suffering upon suffering and the suffering of everything composite. If we exactly experientially understand the real nature of samsara it will instead appear to us in the form of three kinds of peace: arhat peace, bodhisattva peace and Buddha peace.
It is crucial to understand the importance of both of samsara and nirvana. For example, we may think that samsara is not important and think only about nirvana. As a result we may think that we should do a life-long retreat and abandon all our worldly commitments to other people. This is not correct, we need to apply wisdom in our action and understand that both samsara and nirvana are important. We need to understand that the nature of retreat and real practice is in our mind and does not depend on where our body is. It is of no use if our body is in a great retreat place when our mind is wandering around. As a proof of this there are great practitioners that lead a very busy householder life, have a job and family commitments but help many sentient beings with compassion through their activity and at the same time achieve great accomplishments in their practice. They can practice mantras as they drive, engage in their work while resting in the Buddha nature and as a result the fruition of their practice can be greater than achievements of somebody in a long-term retreat. This does not mean that going to a retreat place is not useful, especially when we take it to be complementary to our practice while engaging in worldly activities. But the point is that we should always combine the highest wisdom of both samsara and nirvana in our decisions and actions in order to progress swiftly on the path.
stands for karma. In short, it means that all the suffering we experience is the result of our previous non-virtuous actions and all our happiness results from our previous virtuous deeds. There are two basic kinds of karma: the individual karma and the collective karma. As the name says our individual karma is related to our personal deeds and their results. The collective karma of beings can manifest as the karma of the country where we live, the world in which we exist etc.
We need to understand that with each action of our body, speech and mind we are sewing the seeds of our future experience. Based on their karma the perception of beings differs. For example, hell beings perceive water as a boiling melted iron. Hungry ghosts perceive water as pus and blood. Animals perceive water similarly as we do but do not distinguish between clean and dirty water – they just want to have enough water to feel full. Human beings perceive the water in the familiar way and are able to make distinctions between clean and dirty water. Gods have the perception of water as amrita nectar and beings in god realms at a very high level perceive water as space. Advanced yogis view water as the manifestation of the water element in its enlightened form - Mamaki. After listening to such descriptions it is sometimes difficult to believe that those other realms exist. But we should keep in mind that we often believe things that we never experience first hand. For example, many of us have never been to China but we believe China exists. We also can’t experience what is going to happen tomorrow but we believe that there will be tomorrow and we will engage in this or that activity. The testaments about existence of other realms come from descriptions provided by enlightened beings. They say that we are not able to see these other realms because our mode of perception varies based on our current form and only enlightened beings are able to perceive these other realms directly.
represents the wisdom path teachings. It is the fruition of all the practices represented by the previous syllables. We can imagine that our samsara mind is like a block of ice flowing in the water of nirvana wisdom. The syllable DHI represents the fruition of our practice that melts the ice of our samsaric mind into water - its real Buddha nature. This is the Dzogchen view.
As we practice more and more, we should notice that we are changing. If we had little patience before and were swamped by fleeting emotions, after couple of months or years of practice we should see that we have changed, that we are more patient and our mind is less erratic. We should always check our mind and remember that the success of our practice is not measured by the years we spend practicing but the actual results that can come sooner or later. Most importantly, we should remember that the real practice of the path is about changes in our feeling. After exposure to teachings it is easy to talk about the path and we may even understand the teachings intellectually but the fruition of practice is solely about actual changes in our experience, our mind, behavior and feelings. And this takes a long time. Even HH The Dalai Lama says how he has been practicing for seventy years and he feels that he needs to practice more and more. The actual fruition of practice leads to a view recognizing the true nature of phenomena that is clear and spacious like a cloudless sky combined with actions that are very humble guided by clear understanding of karma.
We can now look back at the whole mantra and think about it in terms of the view, meditation, activity and fruition. The syllables AH and RA explain the view. Whereas AH stands for the ultimate understanding of the nature of all phenomena, RA explains arhatship as an intermediate achievement on the way to full enlightenment. The syllables PA and TSA symbolize the meditation aspect of the path. PA explains both conceptual and non-conceptual meditation, whereas TSA symbolizes the ultimate meditation leading to the three kinds of peace. NA represents the activity which should be guided by clear understanding of karma. Finally, DHI stands for the result or fruition of our practice.
To summarize, the view helps us recognize the correct path. Meditation is the actual practice of the path through which we develop experiential understanding of the path and our feelings and mind change. Activity combined with wisdom gives us the ability to benefit sentient beings in an efficient way at the right time. Fruition is the happiness and courage resulting from accomplishing our virtuous intentions.