Faces of Enlightenment by Tsem Tulku Rinpoche – a Review
The images of the Buddhas in ‘Faces of Enlightenment’ and their iconographies changed my whole outlook on Buddhism. The images and iconographies of enlightened beings represent the Dharma in visual form. When we study, contemplate and meditate on them, we create the causes to attain the qualities of these beings, the qualities of enlightenment itself.
The Many Ways To Walk The Path To Enlightenment
In ‘Faces of Enlightenment’, His Eminence Tsem Rinpoche compassionately and skilfully presents a pantheon of Buddha deities, whose images and forms are, in actual fact, different manifestations of the enlightened mind of the Buddha. Buddha Shakyamuni taught 84,000 ways to reach enlightenment, tailored to the diverse dispositions of the mind. Various Buddha images and forms show us the numerous ways to travel this path. Even though they may be vastly different in form, every single Buddha bring us towards the same goal of lasting happiness and ultimately enlightenment. Therefore whichever Buddhas we have an affinity with, will lead us towards the same goal, as long as we practice consistently and with a pure motivation.
Enlightenment – The Goal Of Peace And Ultimate Happiness We All Seek
Enlightenment is a state of mind, it is inner peace, and permanent and ultimate happiness. It is a state achieved by traversing a path of profound mind transformation, that takes us from the egocentric mind clouded by the delusions of anger, hatred, pride, jealousy, desirous attachments and cravings, to a mind that is filled with clear-sighted wisdom, and an altruistic and heartfelt undiscriminating concern for all others, as though they were our only child.
Each Buddha deity or ‘face of enlightenment’ symbolises a road map for this inner journey. Each beautiful face of the enlightened beings in their peaceful forms represents the result of having walked the path of Dharma, and of having achieved that total peace we all want. There are also faces of enlightened wrath. For instance, Vajrapani is wrathful, as are other tantric deities and Dharma protectors. Their wrath (and often the flames around them) are transformative in function, changing us by helping to clear our inner obstacle of delusions (like desire, hatred and ignorance).
An Introduction To The Buddha Form And Iconography
In this book, Tsem Rinpoche introduces us to a rich range of Buddha forms, providing basic information to kindle our interest in the iconography of statues –their postures, gestures and mudras, the ornaments and the implements they hold. Each one of these is a symbolic teaching in itself. Indeed the entire iconography, colour and pose of each Buddha statue combined presents a path to ultimate enlightenment.
Each Buddha has a unique way or path to help us overcome our delusions and suffering, and achieve wisdom. By studying the significance of the Buddha forms in this book, we understand the qualities of an enlightened mind. These are qualities we need to achieve ourselves, if we wish to be free of all suffering and find lasting happiness. As we gaze upon these images and contemplate on them in peace and tranquillity, we are reminded of the Buddha nature within us that has the same essential qualities. Therefore, we develop a bond of kinship with the Buddha deities.
When we pray before a statue, we are not praying to an image, but we are praying to what the image represents and the qualities embodied by the Buddha form – compassion, wisdom, the ability to overcome and destroy anger, the altruistic mind, generosity, patience, perseverance and the like. Praying to them is, in effect, making a wish that we may attain the same qualities ourselves and thus become an enlightened being with the capacities to serve others fully and bring them to the state of lasting happiness and enlightenment. We see before us a profoundly transformed mind that cherishes others and spontaneously pours out love and care.
It is very important for us to make a daily connection to the Buddha or Buddhas, with whom we have an affinity, so that we can develop the qualities they represent. Therefore it is necessary for us to know and understand the Buddha forms and their iconography.
We Still Need A Spiritual Guide On Our Inner Journey To Enlightenment
Powerful as it is to have Buddha forms, complete with iconographies, for us to contemplate on to help us on the path to enlightenment, we still need a spiritual guide. It is only through the guru or spiritual guide that the full transformative power inspired by the enlightened mind can work its effect on our innermost being. It is the guru who can discern which enlightened quality needs cultivation and which accompanying deity to practice, through his complete understanding of his students’ strengths and weaknesses. A powerful analogy of the guru would be a magnifying glass that focuses the rays of the sun-like energy of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas to ignite our minds of bodhicittta, wisdom and skilful means.
What The Accumulation Of Virtues And Abandonment Of Non-Virtues Leads To
As I gaze upon each face of enlightenment, it fills me with great awe to realise that each represents the culmination of three aeons of lifetimes of accumulation of virtues. These virtues were accumulated through their consistent and continuous holding of their vows, their steadfast practice of the six Perfections and their total abandonment of all non-virtues. Each enlightened being has painstakingly perfected altruistic love, compassion or bodhicitta, wisdom and skilful means for the sake of all beings. They thus continue to inspire us to achieve the same state.
The path to Buddhahood is two-fold, and embraces method and wisdom. Method comprises the practice of compassion and bodhicitta, and the Perfections of giving, moral discipline, patience, perseverance and concentration. Wisdom is the Perfection of wisdom – the unmistaken view of reality, clear of all wrong perceptions and projections.
The Three Qualities Of Full Enlightenment
Compassion, wisdom, and power or skillful means are the three qualities of enlightenment. These are symbolised by the three meditational deities –Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri and Vajrapani. In ‘Faces of Enlightenment’, Tsem Rinpoche present these three deities vividly, and in a manner that is clear to understand, explaining their iconographies which trace the path of complete enlightenment.
The Compassion Of All Buddhas
Four-Armed Avalokiteshvara, The Buddha Of Infinite Compassion:
Just as a majestic lotus blooms beautifully above muddy waters, compassion brings us out of suffering. Avalokiteshvara is the embodiment of the compassion of all Buddhas. For the sake of all sentient beings, he has manifested in various realms of existence, and has remained unsullied by the muddy water of samsara. Indeed, just as a peacock thrives on poisonous plants in the jungle, so does a bodhisattva like Avalokiteshvara thrive in samsara (a bodhisattva like Avalokiteshvara is already fully enlightened; but out of great compassion, he chooses to stay in samsara to be close to sentient beings so that he can help them at all times).
He has a gentle smile and a serene look on his face. His body is a soothing white colour representing the colour of healing. He has four arms symbolising the Four Immeasurables: loving kindness, joy, equanimity, and compassion. He is one with these qualities, which he uses to benefit all sentient beings.
Two of his hands are folded in prayer while holding a brilliant sky-blue wish-fulfilling jewel at his heart. This symbolises the holding of bodhicitta close to one’s heart. Having attained full enlightenment, this bodhisattva shows us the priceless jewel of bodhicitta, the altruistic mind that seeks to attain full enlightenment in order to free all beings from suffering. In his other right hand, he holds a rosary of crystal beads. This is a symbol of his commitment to continuously benefit others in a multitude of ways. In his other left hand, he holds a pristine lotus.
He is adorned with six jewelled ornaments, to symbolise his attainment of the six Perfections of generosity, morality, patience, joyous effort, meditation and wisdom. Thus he inspires us to practice and attain the inner transformation of our negative qualities into the positive qualities of compassion, wisdom, equanimity, loving kindness, generosity, patience, perseverance and the selfless motivation of serving others.
As we gaze single-mindedly and with concentration upon the image of the most compassionate Avalokiteshvara, remembering all of the significant features of his iconography, we will be inspired to grow the inner qualities of peace, great compassion and selflessness. These slowly obliterate our dissatisfied self-centred thoughts of anger and resentment. The more we practice, the closer we get to attaining these qualities. For this process of transformation to have a profound impact, we need to focus on and internalise the image of Avalokiteshvara to the point where we become one with him.
The mantra of Avalokiteshvara – OM MANI PADME HUM
Buddhas of Infinite Compassion – Amitayus, Tara and Medicine Buddha
The selfless compassion of all Buddhas is evident in the ways they made vows and aspirations, when they were bodhisattvas, to relieve all beings of suffering and the causes of suffering. The Buddha Amitabha (the name is synonymous with Amitayus), for example, made twelve vows to benefit and help all sentient beings. Medicine Buddha, also made many vows and aspirations to relieve beings of diseases which destroy life and bring much suffering. He vowed to relieve beings of their inner, outer and secret diseases, to stop natural calamities and the disease of unhappiness. He prayed that he could be the cause of people being freed from suffering.
Tara, Amitayus, and Medicine Buddha – who are part of this book’s pantheon of Buddhas – are ever ready to help beings relieve their suffering and the causes of suffering. Tara has one leg outstretched in readiness to spring up swiftly at any time to aid any one of us. Her great compassion is seen in the manner in which she will be with us the instant we think of her and invoke her aid. In each hand, she holds a lotus, symbols of her compassion, and all her deeds are motivated by this. Tara’s emerald green body represents enlightened activity.
Amitayus, the Buddha of Infinite Life, holds the long-life vase in his hands, filled with the nectar of immortality. He functions as the Buddha of increase of all things beneficial to our lives and grants abundance of worldly necessities. Amitayus is propitiated for long life or for the extension of life for us to continue our practice and gain spiritual attainments.
Medicine Buddha holds an arura plant (a plant for healing) in his right hand, and in his left hand, he holds a begging bowl filled with medicinal substances. These are symbolic of his power of inner and outer healing. His body is a blue or lapis lazuli colour, representing his pervasive healing energy.
The enlightened nature of the Buddhas and their energies are invariably reflected in their adornments which represent the Four Immeasurables, as well as in the five points of their head ornaments, that represent the Five Dhyani Buddhas.
The Wisdom Of All Buddhas
Manjushri – The Embodiment Of Enlightened Wisdom
Manjushri holds a flaming sword of wisdom above his head, in his right hand. This sword cuts away our ignorance and our negative states of mind, from which all our suffering stems. He severs our tendencies to grasp at what we think are important – our projections, ideas and concepts.
His youthful body is symbolic of his everlasting purity which he has attained by discarding all negativity and delusions of the mind, and by practising the skilful compassion he embodies.
The Multiple Benefits Of Practising Manjushri
The practice of Manjushri aids the development of wisdom at different levels. On an outer level, he helps nurture wisdom for our daily practices. He also helps people in the fields of education and communications, to work and speak in ways that would be most beneficial to others. On an inner level, Manjushri helps us attain the wisdom to free ourselves from karma and from our delusions and our negative habituations.
In his left hand, Manjushri holds the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra text which rests on a blue lotus flower, which is in full bloom. This represents Manjushri’s promise to us that we can rise out of the muddy waters of samsara, if we follow the teachings of the Buddha. If we practise the Dharma sincerely and go all the way, we will achieve the wisdom of Manjushri and ultimately full enlightenment.
Hence, both the flaming sword of wisdom and the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra text that Manjushri holds show us that we need to cut our ignorance, and that we need to study and meditate on the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra in order to ultimately attain the perfection of wisdom.
Manjushri’s mantra for wisdom – OM AH RA PA TSA NA DHI
The Infinite Power Of All The Buddhas
Vajrapani – The Embodiment Of Infinite Power
In the triad of enlightened qualities that we need to develop in order to attain full enlightenment – compassion (Avalokiteshvara), wisdom (Manjushri) and unlimited power, Vajrapani represents the third – the aspect of pure power, the energy of the enlightened mind.
As befitting the Buddha of infinite power, he is wrathful in form. Vajrapani means the Holder of the Diamond Thunderbolt Sceptre, which symbolises the indestructibility of awareness that is free of delusions and concepts.
Transformation and the overcoming of obstacles are accomplished through the wrathful form and aspects of the iconography of Vajrapani. Vajrapani stands astride a sun disc and his hands are in threatening mudra. Using his diamond-like sceptre, he transforms hatred into wisdom. Within a blaze of transformative flames, he exorcises the ugly demons of our entanglements – desire, hatred, and ignorance, into wisdom.
The mantra of Vajrapani – OM BENZAPANI HUNG
The Buddha Of Our Time
Thus we see how meaningful and beneficial it is to make a connection with Lama Tsongkhapa who embodies the three Buddha deities – Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri and Vajrapani – and their qualities.
Lama Tsongkhapa – The Embodiment Of Three Buddhas
Je Tsongkhapa was born a genius and showed us all a perfect example of how to balance study and practice perfectly. He restored the Buddhadharma to its original purity and in fact brought about a renaissance in Buddhist practice that sent waves through Tibet, Mongolia, China and India.
At the age of five he was already practicing profound tantra, after receiving ordination vows from His Holiness the Fourth Karmapa. He studied at the feet of 45 teachers of the different traditions that existed in Tibet at the time. He went into an eight-year retreat with eight of his closest disciples, during which he completed 3.5 million prostrations and 1.5 million mandala offerings. After that, many Buddha deities appeared to him, including the 35 Confessional Buddhas. He was able to communicate directly with Manjushri, and remained in constant communication with Manjushri until he passed into parinirvana. His great deeds include writing the Lamrim Chenmo –the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment and the Ngarim Chenmo (on tantra), as well as the construction of the three great monasteries of Gaden, Sera and Drepung. He founded the Gelug Lineage, also known as the Yellow Hat lineage (as Vajrayogini had advised him to use the colour yellow for his teaching hat to signify the growth and spread of Dharma).
Here, in ‘Faces of Enlightenment’, Je Tsongkhapa is in his main peaceful form of a monk, showing us that he held his Vinaya vows purely. His hands are in a teaching mudra, signifying his primary role to teach and spread the Dharma in the ten directions. Like Manjushri, he holds a flaming wisdom sword in his right hand and a wisdom text in his left hand.
Among the most powerful of prayers is the Guru Yoga of Je Tsongkhapa, which contains the seven limbed prayer – essential for the purification of one’s negativities and for accumulating merits. The Migstema is Lama Tsongkhapa’s mantra, which bestows the blessings of the three Buddha deities to those who recite the mantra with faith and pure motivation. The benefits of the mantra include the healing of depression, restlessness and sickness; protection from negative energies; as well as enhanced intelligence, and clarity of mind. Ultimately, it brings deep joy and peace.
The Migtsema mantra:
MIGMEY TZEWEY TERCHEN CHENREZIG
DRIMEY KHYENPI WANGPO JAMPALYANG
DUPUNG MALU JOMDZEY SANGWEY DAG
GANGCHEN KEPEY SUGGYEN TSONGKHAPA
LOSANG TRAGPEY SHABLA SOLWA DEB
Buddha Deities Who Provide Wealth For Our Daily Needs
Dzambala – The Buddha of Inner and Outer Wealth
Dzambala brings us the blessings of material wealth and helps in overcoming financial problems. However, Lord Dzambala’s special power lies in his ability to help us overcome our inner emotional poverty: miserliness, greed and the inability to give and to share. It is through giving that we create the energy to receive and hence ‘giving’ is a necessary virtue to cultivate. Real spiritual wealth is the wealth of giving and having an open unbiased mind. It is our greed, miserliness and clinging tightly to what we have that will lead us to the Lower Realms of suffering when we die. Furthermore, even in this life, we will suffer abandonment and loneliness. We will not be able to enjoy the wealth we hoard as we have not created the causes to do so. Doing Dzambala’s practice will help us overcome miserliness and develop a more generous mind.
Dzambala holds a mongoose in his left hand. This mongoose spits out all the precious gems and wish-granting jewels that will lead to getting the wealth we seek. Once we have obtained this outer wealth, we will be drawn to do his practice for the higher goal of inner spiritual wealth. Another significant symbol is the fruit he holds in his right hand – the fruit of dharma practice, which is the attainment of enlightenment.
Dzambala’s mantra – OM DZAMBALA DZALENDRAYE SOHA
Dharma Protectors For Protection
Dharma Protector Setrap
Dharma protector Setrap is in wrathful form. He is actually the wrathful emanation of the Buddha Amitabha. His wrath is a compassionate manifestation of his anger at the things that prevent us from reaching out for and realising true happiness. Hence, with a bodhisattva’s love and compassion, he seeks to protect us against our obstacles and our enemies, the source of real suffering. Our real enemies are our inner obstacles of attachment, anger, ignorance, and our self-cherishing mind.
Thus Setrap helps us on two levels. He helps us to clear outer obstacles like financial problems, and more importantly, he helps us clear our inner obstacles. He does this with great compassion and equal love for all. His help comes vey swiftly especially when we pray sincerely and earnestly to him.
As a Dharma protector, he seeks to help us by creating conducive conditions and clearing our obstacles so that we can practice the Dharma. Ultimately, it is our sincere practice that will protect us and lift us out of suffering.
Buddha Deities Of Purification
Vajrasattva – The Buddha For Purification
Daily practices centred on meditational deities help us to generate merit. Merits create the causes for our temporary and ultimate happiness, without being used up like karma is. However, purification practices are important too. Our harmful actions multiply in negative impact daily, joining up with all those we have accumulated from beginningless time. Our negative habituations become stronger and stronger, if left alone. The negative habituations of anger, hatred, greed and confusion that arise from a self-grasping mind are like a deadly virus. If left alone, it will spread and infect everything until our instincts for hurting and harming overwhelm our instincts for doing good and benefiting others. This will cause us to spiral down.
The suffering and chaos in our lives comes from the negative karma that we have generated from our baser instincts that have been left to run riot over us. We need to purify our negative karma and negativities with practices centred on deities such as Vajrasattva. Vajrasattva, the Buddha deity of purification, is immaculately white in colour, signifying purity. He holds the vajra, (symbol of compassion and skilful means) in his right hand and the bell (symbol of wisdom) in his left hand. He normally sits in the diamond-like vajra pose.
The practice of Vajrasattva revolves around the recitation of the 100 syllable mantra. However, for this practice to be effective, the four opponent powers must be exercised.
- Regret over our negative actions
- Having refuge in the Three Jewels strongly in our minds
- Applying the antidotes such as a purification practice
- Promise or resolve not to repeat the action
The Vajrasattva practice, if done well, will purify even subtlest of negative imprints in our mind stream. We can thus purify to the point of breaking the chain of negativity that holds us down and binds us to samsara. Then we can start afresh with a mind that is crystal clear.
Tantric Buddha Deities
Transforming the mind from ‘base metal’ into ‘pure gold’ – an ‘alchemical transmutation’ of the mind.
Attaining full Buddhahood involves a very profound transformation. It involves the transformation of our ego-centric self-absorption into the powerful sun-like radiance of universal love and compassion for all. It is a monumental shift from darkness to light.
In ‘Faces of Enlightenment’, the tantric deities show us the way to effect this profound mind transformation, by involving the very delusions that cause us unending suffering and trap in samsara.
Vajrayogini – Use What Enslaves Us To Set Us Free
Vajrayogini first shatters our self-created, ‘safe’ and ‘tame’ concepts and ideas of spirituality. She destroys our clinging to the deeply habituated ideas that Buddha deities sit peacefully, with a smile, in dark rooms lit with small lamps, fully covered in thick robes.
She comes to us naked, red with desire and lust, and fiercely dances amidst a huge burst of flames that encircle her. Thus does she destroy cosy and conventional ideas: she seductively draws out our true luminous nature, while at the same time, tramples on our ego relentlessly and with compassion.
She pushes all our buttons and pokes the points in our minds that need to be transformed for ultimate peace and happiness. She makes us discard the conventional and the useless. For this she dismantles our ego and delusions, replacing them with universal love and a longing for happiness for all. All the delusions – extreme lust, greed, anger and hatred – are transformed into liberating energies!
Many highly attained masters have relied on her, including Tsem Rinpoche. If you let her, she will take you home to your true luminous nature!
‘Faces of Enlightenment’ gives us a glimpse of the pantheon of Buddha deities that guide us and help us on the path to enlightenment. This path is presented to us in the form of road maps and these road maps, in turn, are presented via the form and iconography of each Buddha. This is truly a book for all spiritual needs and for all the seasons of our lives. With the guidelines and clear explanations given by Tsem Rinpoche, we will be able to select, without difficulty, the Buddha deities that we have an affinity to. So, armed with the knowledge in this book, we can quickly set up our shrine to make our daily connection to the Buddhas, and find our path to inner peace and ultimate happiness.
How This Book Changed My Outlook On Buddhism
From my childhood, up until when I first joined Kechara House, the one and only Buddha statue that I had a very close affinity to was the statue of Guan Yin, the female emanation of Avalokiteshvara. Guan Yin is always fully clad in thick white garments, as a symbol of her purity. She is always very peaceful looking and beautiful, whether standing or sitting in lotus posture. We were ‘trained’ to just focus on visualising her peaceful face as we went into deep prayer and meditation before her image.
I was presented with a copy of ‘Faces of Enlightenment’ not long after I joined Kechara House. When I looked at the images within the book, I was immediately captivated by the smiles and serene faces of the peaceful Buddha deities. They were either golden in colour or painted in bright hues.
It took a longer period, though, for me to become familiar and at ease with the wrathful deities, like tantric Buddha, Vajrayogini, who is scantily clad. However, when her iconography was made clear to me, I began to see Vajrayogini as a very powerful and compassionate holy being, who will bring us to her paradise, Kechara Paradise, if we cultivate a genuine heart of compassion and selflessness.
I learnt to develop a meaningful practice centred on the daily sadhana of my meditational deity. A sadhana is actually a collection of prayers and mantras designed to attain the qualities of the respective Buddha. I thus learned how important it is to visualise the iconography of one’s meditational deity during prayer.
I have grown to love the Buddha deities in ‘Faces of Enlightenment’ with a passion, and a firm conviction that, with the guiding hand of my spiritual guide, they will lead me to ultimate peace and happiness, through a sustained daily practice of their sadhana. Together with this daily practice, we must be firmly committed to transforming our minds, and to benefiting all beings and relieving them of suffering.
About the Book
Author: H.E Tsem Rinpoche
Publisher: Kechara Media and Publications
Paperback: 94 pages
Product dimensions: 22.35cm (H) x 13.07cm (W) x 0.51cm (D)
Available on Amazon.
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