What is dhih?

Part of a series of teachings and short talks given during the Manjushri and Yamantaka Winter Retreat in 2015.

  • Visualizing the DHIH and what it represents
  • The significance and meaning of seed syllables and mantra
  • Seeing the practice as a process and what it means to us personally

What is “dhih?” (download)

A question was sent in by one of the retreatants from afar who lives in Ireland, and he’s doing the Manjushri front-generation. So he asks some interesting questions. He said:

It says, “within the sphere of emptiness …,” [this is in the sadhana] ” … a lotus and moon seat appears in front of me. Upon it sits an orange syllable DHIH.” Obviously, DHIH is a sound. I’m curious as to how a sound can emit light rays. We also see how DHIH is written in Sanskrit and so it appears like an object. It’s a little easier to see how an object can emit rays of light. Is it both a piece of writing and a sound? The DHIH then turns into Manjushri. As soon as it does I find it easier to visualize because Manjushri appears in human form, albeit made of light.

Okay, what’s happening is you meditate on emptiness first. Then within the sphere of emptiness there’s the sound of the DHIH. And then the sound turns into the form of the seed syllable DHIH.

I see it in a couple of ways. First you have emptiness—the ultimate nature. Everything exists within emptiness. How does it exist? It exists dependently, especially dependent on term and label. So within emptiness what’s going to appear? The sound of a term. The sound of a label. The DHIH isn’t a label but … to me it indicates within emptiness you have things that are merely labeled. So you have the sound of the DHIH. Then the DHIH gets a little bit grosser and at that point it turns into the written syllable, which you can visualize in Sanskrit or in the Tibetan—it’s actually Tibetan letters how they write Sanskrit. Or you can just do it in Roman letters. And you can do it in capitals, you can do it in small letters. You can probably do it in Arabic or in Hebrew, or whatever language you like. But, the DHIH.

So you have the sequences from emptiness, and then the sound, and then grosser yet is the syllable. And then even grosser than that, then you have the form of Manjushri. So it’s kind of like this process of within emptiness things are just barely labeled and then you get this whole process of cause and condition happening and you have a sound, a syllable, to the full body of Manjushri. Okay?

It doesn’t have the sound emitting light, but it does have the seed syllable emitting light. But why not? The only reason why not is that we’re not familiar with it, which means basically that we didn’t watch Fantasia as many times as we needed to when we were little kids. Remember Fantasia? Things were appearing out of nowhere and transforming into everything. And we had no problem with that as little kids, did we? Things transforming and becoming this and that and appearing and disappearing, and no problem to kids. As adults, then we’re kind of, “Okay, if it transforms from here to here I need the tracking number.” [laughter]

Just kind of relax with it happening. And see what this process comes to mean to you. Within emptiness you get a sound, then you get a syllable, then you get a full body. What does that mean to you? How does it make you understand emptiness and dependent arising being complementary?

And Manjushri’s body is made of light, which is again emphasizing things are merely labeled. They aren’t solid and concrete. So visualizing a form made of light—and the seed syllable is also made of light—helps you see these things not so concrete, not so truly existent.

Then he said:

Again we have the idea of sounds made visible. The syllable OM marks the crown of his head, AH his throat, and HUM his heart. So I’m familiar with the idea of synesthesia—the idea that taste can have a feel and that colors can have a flavor and that sounds can have a taste—however, I struggle a bit at this stage of the sadhana because I’m not sure whether I’m supposed to visualize the Sanskrit writing or the sounds on Manjushri’s crown, throat, etc. I find it hard to understand why we should visualize Sanskrit writing on these parts of Manjushri. Then the HUM seems to show the same behavior as the DHIH in that it again also emits light rays.

The first part: doesn’t matter what language or what script you visualize the letters in.

Why do we visualize the letters? Because in our subtle nervous system we have three of the several chakras we have. One is at the crown which is inside the crown of our head. And then another is inside our throat in front of the spine. And the other is inside the center of our chest, again in front of the spine. So it’s crown and throat and then they say heart. So heart doesn’t mean over here [to the left] it means in the center of our chest. So there are three chakras there which have to do with the flow of our subtle energy. And so to purify these we visualize these three pure syllables there. So the white OM symbolizes the Buddha’s body and all the qualities of the Buddha’s body. The red AH the Buddha’s speech, you know, in the throat, kind of helping us to transform our speech so it’s more like the Buddha’s speech. And then the Buddha’s mind in our heart, because our heart is the seat of our mind, the seat of our emotions, as a way of transforming our mind and feelings and all of our cognitions. So it’s done because of the subtle nervous system, and also as a way of blessing our own body, speech, and mind by thinking that we want to transform them into the Buddha’s body, speech, and mind. So we’re dealing with the symbols there that the OM, AH, HUM represent.

Then the HUM, yes, it acts like the DHIH and it starts emitting light. But, why not? Why not? I don’t see any problem with it.

I also struggle a little bit when I think of sentient beings becoming Manjushri and dissolving into the DHIH. Some of those sentient beings are my children. It’s like I’m giving them away or something and I feel resistance to this.

Well, when they’re misbehaving maybe it’s easier to dissolve them into the DHIH. [laughter]

Actually, I think this resistance comes because of attachment and because of self-grasping, that we’re seeing the people as real, solid people, real solid identities with their own permanent personalities. And so we’re making everybody quite concrete. So the idea then of people dissolving into light and dissolving back into the DHIH is like, wait, you’re taking away my objects of attachment. But are these people whom we care about—or the people whom we hate—are any of them concrete, solid personalities? You know? None of them are. Even their basis of designation—their minds and their bodies—aren’t solid and concrete. And especially with kids you can see it. They’re changing every year. So there’s nothing solid and concrete about your child. Their body’s changing. Their mind’s changing. What they think is changing. What they’re feeling is changing. Their behavior is changing. There’s nothing permanent there to glom onto and say, “this is so-and-so,” and, “this is MY child.” Or, “MY boss,” or “MY enemy.” There’s nothing about any living being that is inherently ours.

There’s nothing about any object that is inherently ours. “Mine” is just a designation that we give to certain things that are conventionally agreed upon. And when we don’t happen to conventionally agree upon them then we quarrel and that’s what most court cases are about—trying to decide what label to put on something. That’s all it is. And then according to the label you experience certain results. So if people have a dispute about property, they’re disputing, “Do we put the label ‘mine’ or ‘yours’ on it?” That’s all it is. There’s nothing inside that object that is inherently mine or inherently yours. It’s just a social convention. That’s it. That’s why things can change ownership. And you don’t have to really do all the paperwork. The paperwork is making official that change in the label. But the change in the label is just our mind. “I give this to you, then it’s yours.” Then we make problems for ourselves because [we have] to sign fifteen papers and have them notarized and everything has to be spelled the right way or else it doesn’t count. But that’s human beings making up problems for ourselves so that we have something to do. [laughter]

And then you have a Social Security number in case your names and the spellings of your names are exactly the same. Because that’s one thing the Internet has revealed to us is how many people have exactly the same name, including the middle name. So then you need a Social Security number—and you need a passport—so that you can separate people. And that’s why some people are suggesting that they insert chips under our skin so that you can tell who somebody is. What is the correct label of this person? Scan the chip and then you’ll see. But it’s all just labels, isn’t it?

Essentially my questions relate to “What is a DHIH?”

[laughter] Dhih dhih dhih dhih dhih ….

Is it a holy sound? How did it become holy? Is it because so many beings have chanted DHIH with love and compassion that the sound has become embedded with love and compassion in the human psyche?

This person is really thinking about what he’s doing. He’s not just going, “Blah blah blah blah blah.” He’s really thinking about it. So it’s fantastic.

Yes, DHIH is a holy sound. How did it become holy? Probably in the same way mantras become holy. And what they say about mantras, or seed syllables …. Because you know a seed syllable represents the realizations of that buddha, so the DHIH is like a synthesis of the realizations of Manjushri, which is the same wisdom and compassion and all the other excellent qualities that all the other buddhas share, but it’s appearing in that form of Manjushri, so it’s synthesized in the syllable DHIH. And then also in the letters of the mantra om ah ra pa tsa na dhih. Okay? It’s like you have the realizations which are something intangible. They appear as a sound in order to communicate with us because we can’t tap into the Buddha’s mind directly. They appear as a seed syllable to communicate with us. They appear as a mantra to communicate with us. These realizations appear as the whole body of the deity, as full Manjushri, in order to communicate with us simply because as beings in the desire realm we relate to form, and color, and sound, and so on. So that’s the only way the Buddha has to communicate with us because we are so gross that we can’t tap into the Buddha’s mind. We don’t have clairvoyance. So that’s the way the Buddha communicates with us and so these are like coming out of the empty and compassionate nature of the Buddha’s mind. And then by reciting them or by visualizing them we’re trying to go the other way coming back into the realizations of a buddha. What is a buddha’s realization of emptiness like? What is the realization of equanimity, or love, compassion, joy, what’s that really like? So these sounds and these syllables and these forms help us contemplate what those qualities are, and by contemplating those qualities that helps us generate those same qualities within ourselves, which is what the path is all about.

And then he closes the email, it’s quite beautiful. He says:

I’m just genuinely trying to understand what I’m doing when I do the sadhana. May I say also that doing the sadhana gives me a good sense of peace afterwards even though I don’t know why I’m doing much of it.

But you see, this is how a sadhana works. It’s a very special psychological process that is dealing with symbols. So it’s dealing with another way of knowing things, you know? It’s not dealing so much with our intellectual, rational mind. Although that’s definitely there. But it’s expressing all that knowledge, all that wisdom, through symbols in the same way that an artist expresses what they’re feeling through symbols, or a musician expresses what they’re feeling through sounds. Okay? So it works on us in a different way. But when we use both ways—the symbolic way plus the rational way that we’re trying to gain through our study and our lamrim meditations—they approach us in a different way and they work together to help us understand and to transform our hearts and minds.

Also, this thing about transforming your children into Manjushris and then they dissolve into light and absorb back into the DHIH. It’s also symbolizing that your children have the buddha nature and that they can become buddhas, and that you can help them on the path because the DHIH is radiating out light, so you’re helping them by leading them on the path. They become Manjushris. And then they absorb back into the DHIH which is also symbolizing that how we see people completely comes from our own mind. We project who they are and then we can absorb back into ourselves what we’ve projected them as being.

It also indicates that you can transform your kids into Manjushri. So then they’ll be running around the house with a different kind of sword. [laughter] But isn’t that a nice thought? That your children can become Manjushri. That your kids can become fully awakened buddhas. That they don’t have to always have this body like this that gets old and sick and dies. But that they can transform their minds into wisdom and compassion and have a body of light. And aren’t they much better off being Manjushris than remaining as your kids with this body that gets old and sick and dies, and a mind that gets confused? So if we really wish well to other beings we’re going to wish them to become buddhas. So that’s kind of like wishing your kids—and wishing your enemies …. I mean, everybody in Al-Qaeda becomes Manjushri, dissolves into light. Isn’t that a nice way of thinking? That these sentient beings are not permanent people who all they do day after day is behead people. You know? Excuse me, Al-Qaeda doesn’t do that. That’s ISIS. I don’t want to confuse them. But I mean you get what I’m saying is that instead of just attaching a label and making things concrete we really see people’s potential and that they can change into something really beautiful and really wonderful and that we can, as we practice, effect that change and help them to go in that direction.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.