The Story of Chenrezig
Chenrezig, also known as Avalokitesvara, is the Buddha of Infinite Compassion. He listens to the prayers of all sentient beings in times of challenge and difficulty. Always depicted in white, his four arms symbolize the four virtues; love, compassion, joy and self-control. His two legs are always in the lotus position, this represents the key to becoming a Bodhisattva, a person who is able to reach nirvana but delays doing so through compassion for suffering beings.
Countless ages ago, a thousand young men vowed to become Buddhas, each offering up a different resolution. One resolved to become Gautama Buddha, in what was a far distant time in the future and which has now become our era. Another, Chenrezig, resolved not to become enlightened until all the others had succeeded, promising to assist them all in their task and to be the servant of any being wishing to attain enlightenment, anywhere in the universe. He would both teach them and put questions on their behalf to the Buddhas, as humans often find it difficult to formulate their enquiries clearly.
Feeling great compassion for all beings, he made many journeys into their various domains of existence, from the highest realms of the gods to the most pitiful hells. The more he saw of the confusion and suffering that predominated everywhere, the more he longed to be of help. He prayed to the Buddhas, May I help all beings. Should I ever tire of this great work, may my body be shattered into a thousand pieces. Subsequently he visited the worst hell (avici hell) and liberated as many beings as were receptive to his teachings. Progressively he worked his way up through the worlds until he reached the deva realms. Surveying the universe, he saw that although he had released thousands from the sufferings of the three lower realms, thousands more new entrants were pouring in to take their place. Distressed by this and despondent, his resolve waned and he flew into a thousand pieces, like the seeds of a pomegranate. He cried out to all the Buddhas who, like a fall of snowflakes, came to his rescue and made him whole again through their beneficent influence. Thereafter, he had a thousand arms and nine heads, to which Amitabha Buddha added a special head along with the blessing of his higher wisdom. Then Bodhisattva Vajrapaniadded a wrathful head symbolizing the special powers of all the Buddhas. This is why Chenrezig is sometimes depicted with a thousand arms and eleven heads.
In his new form, Chenrezig became even more powerful than before but he was still moved to tears by suffering. Again he took a solemn vow before all the Buddhas, May I not attain enlightenment until every last being has been liberated. At one time, his tears of compassion fell to the ground and caused two lotuses to spring up. From each of these emerged a form of the female Bodhisattva Tara, one white and the other green. The two Taras pledged to be Chenrezig' s sisters in dharma and to help him bring beings to enlightenment.
The mahayana scriptures also recount that Chenrezig offered his mantra Om mani padme hung to the Buddha, who advised him to use it as a very special means for liberating beings. The Enlightened One blessed the mantra, pronouncing that it embodied the compassion of all the Buddhas combined. At that time the gods rained flowers on the worlds, the earth quaked with soft rumblings and the air was filled with the sound of celestial beings chanting the mantra.
Source: Kagyu Samye Ling