Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
Guanshiyin (Avalokiteshvara) Bodhisattva has a great affinity with living beings in the Saha world. There is a saying in China, “Guanshiyin in every household, Amitabha in every place.” This shows that everyone knows Guanshiyin Bodhisattva and Amitabha (the name means “Limitless Light” and “Limitless Life”) Buddha, that their compassion has deeply entered people’s hearts. Guan means “Contemplate”; shi means “world”; yin means “sounds.” Thus the name means “Contemplating the World’s Sounds.”
Within Buddhism, Guanshiyin Bodhisattva holds a very important position. Some people say that Guanshiyin Bodhisattva is Chinese and some say he is a Westerner; some say the Bodhisattva is male and some say female. But now I am informing all of you that Guanshiyin Bodhisattva is neither Chinese nor Western, neither male nor female.
Well, then, where does he come from? He fills empty space and pervades the Dharma Realm; he is in every place and yet not in any place. He appears according to what kind of body is needed to save each particular category of beings. He manifests in whatever physical form is appropriate to speak Dharma for beings; thus his identity is flexible. Guanshiyin Bodhisattva appears in the form of a Buddha to save those who are ready to become Buddhas. He appears as a Bodhisattva to save those who should become Bodhisattvas. He appears as a heavenly king to speak Dharma for beings in the heavens.
Within Buddhism, Guanshiyin Bodhisattva is one who goes about everywhere teaching and transforming living beings, inspiring them to bring forth the Bodhi mind. He first sees what a particular being likes and then makes them happy with what they like. Once they are happy, they will like to listen to the Dharma he speaks and gradually he will be able to rescue them.
That’s why I say that Guanshiyin Bodhisattva is not necessarily male or female; he could be male or he could be female. In any case those are just transformations. As to Guanshiyin Bodhisattva’s own body, he is in a state of unmoving Suchness —he is just like the Buddhas. Anyway, Guanshiyin Bodhisattva already became a Buddha a long time ago, by the name of Right Dharma Brightness. He simply appears as a Bodhisattva in order to teach and transform living beings.
In Buddhism, he appears as a Bodhisattva; in other religions he often appears clad in white robes. In Christianity, he is the Holy Mother; he appears as the Holy Mother to teach and transform a certain category of beings. He appears in white robes and Christians call her Mother Mary, but actually she is Guanshiyin Bodhisattva manifesting in that form to inspire beings to bring forth a resolve that will lead them sooner or later to understand the Buddhadharma. Once they understand the Buddhadharma, they will bring forth the resolve for Bodhi. These are the endless miraculous functions and inconceivable states of Guanshiyin Bodhisattva.
Guanshiyin Bodhisattva uses kindness, compassion, joy, and giving to save all living beings. He saves beings from the seven difficulties, responds to two kinds of seeking, has fourteen kinds of fearlessness, speaks Dharma in nineteen ways, and has thirty-two response bodies. If childless people seek sons or daughters, their wishes will be granted. These are the two kinds of seeking.
Therefore, in a Guanyin recitation session, any vow can be fulfilled and any result can be obtained, because Guanyin Bodhisattva responds to all requests. You may seek to leave the home-life, to remain a layperson, or to become a Buddha. Guanshiyin Bodhisattva has great kindness and compassion, and will not disappoint you no matter what you ask for. He’ll definitely fulfill your wishes.
Therefore, during the Guanyin session, you may seek whatever you like. Whether you seek a son, a daughter, wealth, or long life, you will be able to obtain them. But these are forms of happiness subject to “outflows”; you ought to seek the nonoutflow happiness of Buddhahood. Worldly riches, honor, and glory all come to an end, but nonoutflow happiness is endless and infinite. Let’s recite Guanshiyin Bodhisattva’s name more in order to realize an everlasting fruition.
With Vigor and Courage, Recite with One Heart
Our recitation of Guanyin Bodhisattva’s name should continue nonstop, like an ever flowing stream, until everything becomes one. Walking, standing, sitting, and lying down, we recite the name of Guanyin. We must pay close attention and not forget Guanyin’s name in thought after thought. Each recitation must be clear and distinct; and we certainly shouldn’t fall asleep or have idle thoughts while reciting. We must recite single-mindedly, thinking of nothing but the words “Namo Bodhisattva Guanshiyin,” not leaving the name whether we are walking, standing, sitting, or lying down.
If you are mindful of Guanshiyin Bodhisattva, he will be mindful of you. You recite Guanshiyin Bodhisattva’s name hoping that he will compassionately save all beings; he recites your name hoping that you can leave suffering and attain bliss, be free from disasters and sickness, cancel offenses and create blessings. He hopes you will increase in Bodhi and perfect your mind for the Way.
We shouldn’t let Guanshiyin Bodhisattva down. He is so compassionate and mindful of us, we ought to set everything else aside and concentrate on reciting his name. If we can do that, he will definitely be with us whether we are moving or still, awake or asleep. He will aid us, destroy our karmic obstacles, and make our good roots grow. Having received Guanshiyin Bodhisattva’s aid, we should strengthen our resolve for Bodhi and advance vigorously without slacking off for a moment.
We shouldn’t chatter so much. If you decide not to talk, eat, or sleep, that’s fine; but don’t fail to cultivate. Everyone has to cultivate. We should regard every moment and every day as a Guanyin session. In fact, we should wish to cultivate the inconceivable Dharma door of reciting Guanyin Bodhisattva’s name every month, every year, and every great eon. Don’t think that you’re free once the session is over, because you are not truly free unless you become enlightened. So don’t entertain the thought of retreating. We should all be wishing for another Guanyin session so we can continue to develop our skill.
The function of reciting Guanyin’s name can be compared to using our hands in getting dressed and when eating. The name “Guanshiyin Bodhisattva” is equivalent to your hands, which you use to put on clothes. When you eat, you must use chopsticks or a fork to bring the food to your mouth; likewise, you must recite Guanyin Bodhisattva’s name in order to feed your Dharma body.
Reciting Guanshiyin Bodhisattva’s name is also analogous unlocking a door. We are locked up in the prison of our ignorance, and Guanyin’s name is the key to the prison’s door. Each time we recite it, the lock of ignorance opens up a little. The more we recite, the more the lock opens. We use Guanyin Bodhisattva’s key of wisdom to open our lock of ignorance. The moment it opens, we gain sudden enlightenment. Confucianism speaks of a state of sudden comprehension, but that is only a partial, not a total, enlightenment. With sudden enlightenment, one breaks through ignorance and cuts off the very source of births and deaths without beginning.
Guanyin Bodhisattva listens to the sounds of living beings and rescues them from suffering. He has particularly deep affinities with the living beings in our Saha world. There are many cases in which Guanyin Bodhisattva has protected people and shined his light upon them. Why haven’t we obtained such a response? Our minds are not sincere. We have too many scattered thoughts. On the one hand we recite his name, but on the other hand our mind chases after external states and strikes up all kinds of impure thoughts, so we waste all our time. We should realize that life is short. If we don’t cultivate seriously right now, we might not have another chance.
Cherish the time and don’t let it go by in vain. Don’t just mindlessly follow the crowd. You ought to take advantage of this opportunity to cultivate at a monastery by sincerely reciting Guanyin’s name. You will have completed your work only when you attain the Guanyin Recitation Samadhi, the state of proper concentration which cannot be disturbed by the gusty winds or the driving rain. Don’t overlook that point.
A Thousand Hands and A Thousand Eyes Bestow Great Compassion
Let us get to know Guanshiyin Bodhisattva, the most venerated of sages, as we pay homage to him. The Bodhisattva’s image shows a thousand hands and a thousand eyes, but actually, Guanshiyin Bodhisattva’s hands and eyes are infinite. With his infinite hands, he pulls living beings out of the sea of suffering and sets them on the blissful other shore. With his infinite eyes, he beholds all living beings and rescues those who are in difficulty or danger. He will not ignore any living being with whom he has an affinity.
Guanshiyin Bodhisattva is a most diligent Bodhisattva. He is extremely vigorous and doesn’t ever rest. He rescues living beings all day long. No matter how much trouble living beings get into, he doesn’t mind the work of saving them. He is a tremendously busy and energetic Bodhisattva, not a lazy one who likes to rest. One or two hands can’t save very many people, so he has a thousand hands to rescue living beings from disasters and a thousand eyes to take care of suffering living beings in the great thousand world system.
When living beings are in trouble, they think of their greatly compassionate father and mother, Guanshiyin Bodhisattva. Then they start reciting, “Namo Guanshiyin Bodhisattva, Namo Guanshiyin Bodhisattva.” When living beings who are in difficulty recite “Namo Guanshiyin Bodhisattva,” the Bodhisattva sees them with his thousand eyes. He beholds them with his wisdom eyes, hears them with his wisdom ears, and uses his wisdom hands to save them. Even if millions of living beings who are in difficulty call out to Guanshiyin Bodhisattva at the same time, the Bodhisattva can rescue them and make them all happy.
Today some refugees brought a photograph which they say was taken when they were on the refugee boat. In this shot of the sky, taken by the boat captain, a distinct image of Guanshiyin Bodhisattva appears at the fringe of the clouds. From this, we know that Guanshiyin Bodhisattva responds to prayers everywhere, sailing the sea of suffering and crossing people over. However, if we have not yet deeply recognized Guanshiyin Bodhisattva and produced a deep and sincere faith in him, Guanshiyin Bodhisattva may not be aware of us when we are in trouble. If we bring forth true faith, then Guanshiyin Bodhisattva certainly won’t ignore us when we are in trouble.
He Neutralizes the Three Poisons and Resolves All Difficulties
Why should we recite Guanshiyin Bodhisattva’s name? It’s because he made vows in the past that if people have much greed, much anger, or much stupidity, and if they constantly recite his name and worship him, their greed, anger, and stupidity will disappear even before they realize it. They will forget about these poisons and think instead of samadhi and precepts.
And so, if we constantly recite and venerate Guanshiyin Bodhisattva, not only will our greed, anger, and stupidity vanish, but we will be safe from all disasters. If we enter a blazing fire, we will not be burned. If we fall into deep waters, we won’t drown. That’s how incredibly powerful his name is! If we can recite Guanshiyin Bodhisattva’s name for a full seven days, we will gain inconceivable merit and escape all misfortunes.
Even though Guanshiyin Bodhisattva can protect you from being burned by fire or drowned by water, you must have total faith in him to obtain such a response. If you have doubts: “That’s what they say, but is it for real?” then even the true will become false. If you have no doubts, then the false can become true. The response occurs in your own mind, not on Guanshiyin Bodhisattva’s side.
If you encounter something troublesome, just recite “Namo Guanshiyin Bodhisattva” and the trouble will go away. Troubles fear Guanshiyin Bodhisattva, because he can contemplate them and find their cause; as soon as he discovers their cause, the troubles go away. This is a most wonderful method, the best way to solve problems. You say, “Okay, I’ll recite Guanyin’s name next time.” But when the time comes and you are faced with a problem, you fret and worry and forget all about this method.
The chapter on “Guanshiyin Bodhisattva’s Universal Door” in the Lotus Sutra says very clearly that “Those with much greed and desire,” people who have heavy sexual desire, should constantly and reverently recite the Bodhisattva’s name. Emotional people are easily flustered by problems. When you encounter trouble, don’t get nervous. Calm down and recite “Namo Guanshiyin Bodhisattva, Namo Guanshiyin Bodhisattva.” You don’t have to shout the name, just recite it in your mind. Guanshiyin Bodhisattva’s ear can pick up the voice in your mind. He’ll hear you and say, “This poor child can’t control his emotions and he’s asking me for help.” Then he helps you to calm your emotions.
The Sutra also says “Those with much anger and hatred,” people with big tempers, should recite. If you are about to lose your temper, hold on! Before you explode, first recite “Namo Guanshiyin Bodhisattva” in your mind a few times. When you have done so, you won’t be able to find your anger anymore. It’ll be gone. Now wouldn’t you say this is wonderful Dharma? Wonderful it may be, but you didn’t understand it before. Now that I’ve told you, you think, “These are great responses!” Actually, there are even greater ones. “Those with much stupidity” can get rid of it by constantly reciting Guanshiyin Bodhisattva’s name.
Shakyamuni Buddha spoke this chapter of the Lotus Sutra to praise Guanshiyin Bodhisattva. Now, would the Buddha praise him if he didn’t possess such awesome spiritual powers? No, the Buddha wouldn’t casually say, “Such and such a Bodhisattva has such merit and virtue, such practices, such powers,” unless it were true. Because Guanshiyin Bodhisattva really does have such powers and bestows such responses, the Buddha introduced him to us, giving us this method to handle the problems we cannot solve on our own.
Now I’ve explained this method to you so clearly and simply that you should be able to apply it. “But I’m pretty fond of my greed, anger, and stupidity,” you say, “so I don’t want to recite Guanshiyin Bodhisattva’s name.” Then you can recite your own name. Figure out who you are, and then you’ll recognize Guanshiyin Bodhisattva. We recite Guanshiyin Bodhisattva’s name simply because we don’t recognize ourselves. We are not troubled by our greed, anger, and stupidity, so we don’t want to recite. But our very unwillingness to recite is itself trouble.
Now, if you’re not afraid of trouble, then you don’t have to learn anything. If you fear trouble, then you should study the Buddhadharma and learn to recite Guanyin’s name. If you don’t want to recognize yourself and you say, “I’m a nobody, so I don’t need to be mindful of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha,” then you’ll soon turn into a ghost, since you don’t want to be a person.
At that time you can still recite Guanyin’s name. Guanyin Bodhisattva doesn’t abandon you when you become a ghost. Ghosts can recite Guanyin’s name, and so can animals. If you’re in the hells, you can recite his name as well. You can recite in any of the three evil paths, so don’t think you’ll be doomed. That’s why it’s called the Wonderful Dharma. Guanshiyin Bodhisattva’s state is inconceivable. If you recite his name in the three evil paths, you will leave suffering and attain bliss.
All of you should go home and cross over your own hell-beings, hungry ghosts, and animals. If you can cross over the suffering beings in your own home, you are practicing the Bodhisattva Way. “Do such beings exist in my home?” you ask. By your home, I mean your own mind. Your greedy thoughts, angry thoughts, and stupid thoughts are living beings in the three evil paths.