Whatever we aim to do in life—whether it be a mundane task or a Dharma activity—it is not enough just to think or speak about it, we need to combine our motivation with skillful means. Without skillful means, we won’t be able to achieve our goal. This prayer of Homage and Offerings to the Sixteen Elders is a very effective skillful means for ensuring that the great masters will live long and that the Dharma will continue to flourish.
Homage and Offerings to the Sixteen Elders
Homage and Offerings to the Sixteen Elders, composed by the great Kashmiri Pandita Shakyashri, serves as a prayer, praise, and practice of paying homage to the Sixteen Arhats, who have vowed to remain in the world to guard the Dharma for as long as it is able to benefit beings. In addition to safeguarding the teachings of the Buddha, the Sixteen Arhats also offer protection to those who truly uphold the Dharma so that they may remain long and continue to benefit beings. This prayer is very well-known and held in high regard by all the major Tibetan Buddhist schools.
Before Buddha Shakyamuni displayed his final act of parinirvana, many arhats such as Maudgalyayana passed into nirvana, one after another. Had all the arhats passed into nirvana in a similar way, the Dharma teachings would have soon come to an end in this world. Therefore, the Buddha entrusted the Dharma teachings to sixteen great arhats and their retinues, requesting them to remain in the world and not enter into nirvana, so that they could protect the Dharma for as long as time endures. The sixteen great arhats agreed to do this, vowing to remain in the world and to continually uphold the Dharma through their blessings and power.
For this reason, it’s important to invoke the Sixteen Arhats. By supplicating them, through the force of their compassion and commitment, the Dharma, which is the one true source of benefit and happiness, will flourish everywhere. It will even spread to places it has not yet reached. Additionally, the great and noble beings who uphold the teachings will remain secure, like banners of victory.
This is the primary reason that Khenpo Sodargye Rinpoche taught this prayer. As he said in the teaching, “I hope that, through this teaching, all Buddhists will join in praying to the Sixteen Arhats, with the aspiration that all the great masters of all schools will live long and always turn the Wheel of Dharma, and that the Dharma will flourish and spread throughout the world.” When the Dharma teachings increase and spread widely, beings will definitely experience harmony and happiness. The global community will be at peace and enjoy good circumstances, resulting in a better and more propitious world for all.
Sentient beings in this degenerate age are rarely able to perceive buddhas and bodhisattvas directly. However, they can see suitably qualified teachers and great masters who are the manifestations of these holy beings. The true essence of the Dharma can only be propagated when great masters who uphold the teachings, continue to remain among us. Thus, for the Dharma to flourish and spread, it is very important that we supplicate all great teachers to live long and remain in the world.
I hope that, through this teaching, all Buddhists will join in praying to the Sixteen Arhats, with the aspiration that all the great masters of all schools will live long and always turn the Wheel of Dharma, and that the Dharma will flourish and spread throughout the world.