Promises of Kannon Bodhisattva
- Namu Amida Butsu Namu Amida Butsu Namu Amida Butsu -
Welcome again to Reno Buddhist Center - Happy to see you all this morning. We have been occupied with the work of the temple and many projects around here. Many thanks for the generous donation of the new refrigerator for Hiroma Kitchen. And thanks to the volunteers wrestled the 400lb beast through the 1947 doorways. Dana - or giving - at the temple takes many forms and serves as the most important Buddhist practice. Sustaining the Dharma is the highest compassionate action. Thank you.
We often to talk about Wisdom and Compassion. In the scrolls over the door Amida Buddha is flanked by Wisdom and Compassion in the form of Seishi and Kannon Bodhisattvas - to his left and right. Wisdom and Compassion- these two core principles are the basis of the spiritual freedom Amida Buddha offers. I should mention that - a Bodhisattva is a being who stays or manifests or returns to this saha world to help save others directly. In the case of Kannon, he returned to this world to save all beings out of Deep Compassion.
What do we mean by compassion - Karuna?
Compassion is the sense of shared suffering, combined with a desire to reduce or remove the suffering of another. Compassion arises through empathy, and only really exists in our action. Compassionate acts recognize the suffering of others and try to alleviate that suffering as if it is our own.
The Dalai lama noticed this about the effects of compassion….
“I have found that the greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion. The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well-being. Cultivating a close, warmhearted feeling for others automatically puts the mind at ease. It is the ultimate source of success in life.” ― Dalai Lama XIVCompassion is kindness - that is an important word. Kind - ness. Think about it. When I am kind to you, I am treating you as though we are of a kind you and I. We are one. You are not something other than me. We are of a kind. Kind-ness is essential element of compassion - empathy for the other.
Today we are talking about this Bodhisattva - Kannon - compassion in form. You see she is pictured with a weeping willow branch on her hand, suggesting her tears as she encounters suffering in the world. She uses the branch to sprinkle the nectar of life on all beings. He is also clearly a Bodhisattva of this world, often shown sitting on a rock in a more relaxed form.
Kannon was deeply determined when he first embarked on his mission of compassion she made a promise to listen to the sufferings of all sentient beings and that, if ever he failed, he would shatter into a thousand pieces.
The Characters for Kannon’s name are Kan-Ze-On
Kan has to do with seeing, sensing, observing, or perceiving; Ze means “world”; and On basically means “sound.” So a literal rendering of her name might be “perceiver of the world’s sounds.” But the kind of perception involved here is not detached observation, not perception alone; it involves compassion. And the sounds involved are not just any noises but the cries of the suffering of the world. So we translate her name as “Regarder of the Cries of the World.”
Kannon was born from a ray of light from the eye of Amida Buddha - Kannon’s Compassion arises from the Wisdom of realizing the interdependence of all beings and their essential oneness. It is non-dualistic, kindness. We say “Emptiness” - meaning to be empty of separateness. <Not empty like a vacuum of space or something like that> Emptiness is the truth that nothing has self-nature or absolute existence for itself.
I am reading Nagarjuna - the first Teacher in our lineage - and he explains at great length that Everything is empty of individuality [he says “self existence”], everything exists through a variety of interwoven, interdependent, interconnected causes and conditions. Emptiness is inconceivable reality without marks, form, color or definition. Kannon shows us that when we make this real in our own experience - Compassion arises. Just as when the Buddha, seeing the ill, the aged and the dead, he identified with their plight. Their pain was his pain. He knew that he also would experience those conditions, this inspired him to seek Enlightenment for the sake of all. We are most kind to others when realize that we together share a common destiny - impermanence that carries us along in the flow of time in the ocean of birth and death.
These are difficult principles - Wisdom, Compassion, Impermanence, Interdependence, [Prajna, Karuna, Anicca, and Paticcasamuppada]. They are just abstract words. They might seem distant from everyday life. But they take distinct form in our minds and enable us to live well, make choices, express care and concern, and give meaning to life. In Buddhism, Wisdom and Compassion take forms - The form of Compassion is Kannon.
Kannon goes by many names - Avalokitesvara [Sanskrit], Kuan-yin [Chinese]) and Kanzeon or Kannon [Japanese]. A Bodhisattva stays/manifests/returns to this world to help save others directly. In the case of Kannon, he remains in form in this world to save all beings. Kannon Manifests as male or female as is appropriate to the situation.
In the 84,000 volumes of Buddhist texts there are about eighty that teach about Kannon. The most popular is found in chapter 25 of the Lotus Sutra. The chapter describes the ability of Kannon to help all people in any kind of distress, if they call upon her name.
In our Pure Land tradition, Kannon [Compassion] and her counterpart Seishi [Wisdom] are embodiments of the attributes of Amida Buddha. Amida Buddha is the Buddha of Infinite Light and Life, the Buddha extending universal Compassion and Wisdom for all beings. Amida and his attendants Kannon and Seishi, express the deep faith that the heart and essence of Reality is Compassion and Wisdom. Kannon’s compassion is manifest through each of us in moments where our “I-me -me -my” self is absent.
In order to express this ideal, Kannon has taken many forms and is probably the most venerated of Buddhist figures. There is the Thousand-armed Kannon representing the ability of Kannon to rescue and respond to every need. The Thousand Eyed kannon who sees all the suffering. and many more. Really a Kannon manifestation for every situation. She is very personal. And even the Horse-head Kannon is protector of animals. In March we visited the famous Sanjusangendo in Kyoto, where there are a thousand and one statues of Kannon. Every one with many arms and hands each holding a different implement - to render aid and comfort to all however that is needed. It is a magnificent expression of Kannon.
In the center of Kyoto we visited the Rokkakudo temple. It is a small six sided temple surrounded by modern buildings now. It has an important and anchinet history - the temple was founded by the first Buddhist ruler of Japan Shotoku Taishi in the year 587.
The legend of its founding goes something like this … when Prince Shōtoku was a child on Awaji Island he found a small Chinese chest on the beach. Inside was a small bronze statue - 2 inches tall. It was the seated Kannon. The prince kept the statue as a sacred Buddhist amulet. He prayed to Kannon to bring him success in his life ahead, promising Kannon that he would build a fine temple to Kanon if he was successful.
When Prince Shotoku decided to build the temple of Shi-ten-noji in Osaka and to find building materials, the prince journeyed north. It was a very hot day and the prince stopped by a pond to cool down. He took off his clothes and the precious amulet to swim. He placed his clothes, and the Kannon amulet next to the pond. After his swim, he went to put on his clothes but for some reason the Kannon seemed to be too heavy to pick up. So the prince decided to spend the night there beside the pond and wait until morning.
During the night he dreamed that Kannon appeared to him saying, “With this amulet I have given you, I have protected many generations but now I wish to remain in this place. You must build a six sided temple here and enshrine me within. Many people will come here and be healed.” So Prince Shotoku built the temple and enshrined the Nyoirin Kannon within.
The prince’s role as founder of Buddhism in Japan is very important. The founder of Shin Buddhism, Shinran Shonin deeply revered Shotoku Taishi and wrote many verses about Shotoku. We can clearly see from these wasans that Shinran worshiped Prince Shotoku as the incarnation of Kannon and the manifestation of Amida Buddha’s virtues of love and compassion in the world.
Although we focus on Amida Buddha for refuge, Kannon is very important. When specific issues or problems arise in our practice or our lives. We can turn to Kannon. Shinran, the founder, had a deep crisis of faith when he was 29. He left the mountain monastery and meditated at this same Rokkakudo temple in the heart of Kyoto. The temple dedicated to Kannon by Shotoku Taishi. After 90 days of meditation there he had an important drea. In his dream, he saw Kannon Bodhisattva in the form of Prince Shotoku, who told Shinran that …
If he wanted to leave the monastery that was OK.
If he wanted to get married, that was OK.
As well, Kannon/Shotoku promised to manifest as a woman to be Shinran’s wifes and, as his helpmate, help propagate Buddhism in Japan.
The Kannon/Shotoku also recommended that Shinran seek out Honen to be his teacher and opened a new direction in Pure Land Buddhism, freely going among the regular people. He did that and he is here with us now.
And it is interesting that in light of his dream at Rokkakudo Shinran eventually got married to a wonderful woman - Eshini. And after his death Eshinni’s sent a letter to their daughter, Kakushini, it recounts a dream in which she saw Shinran as a manifestation of Bodhisattva Kannon. Here are some of her words about the dream...
In front of the temple, images of the Buddha were hung on something
that looked like a torii (a Shinto gate). One image, which I
could not clearly see, seemed to emanate a bright light from the head
of the Buddha. There was another image that clearly showed the face
of the Buddha.When I asked which Buddha it was, someone replied
that the one that emanates a bright light is Honen Shonin, who is
none other than Seishi Bodhisattva.
Then when I asked about the other image, the voice replied that the one with the face of the Buddha was Bodhisattva Kannon, who is in the form of Shinran Shonin. After I heard these words, I awakened and realized that it was all a dream.
After that dream, Eshinni regarded her husband Shinran as the manifestation of bodhisattva Kannon and saw his work to teach the dharma to all people as a great compassionate act.
I share these old stories for one important reason. The promise of Kanon to hear the cries of the world is not an empty one. It is one that is fulfilled each day. We each have these moments of connection - of Kindness with others - either receiving kindness of giving it - and we are the manifestation of Kannon at that moment. The weird statues with 1,000 arms now make sense. We are her. She hears and sees through our eyes. [He isn't sitting on a cloud with binoculars and a parabolic microphone]...
“The Dharma-body of Kuan-yin
Is neither male nor female.
Even the body is not the body,
What attributes can there be? . . .
Let it be known to all Buddhists:
Do not cling to form.
The bodhisattva is you:
Not the picture or the image.”
- Traditional Chinese poem
So how do we freely manifest Kannon Bodhisattva? It is easy - like making any new habit - if we consistently apply some measure of effort. Here are four practices that are helpful...
Have a Morning ritual of setting intention.
Say to yourself something like ...“Today I am fortunate to have woken up, I am alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it.
I am going to use all my energies to expand my heart out to others, to pursue enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others, I am going to benefit others as much as I can.” - Dalai Lama
An Empathy Practice. Focus on the suffering of a dear person. Everyone has troubles big or small. Now try to imagine the pain they are going through. Imagine the suffering in as much detail as possible. After doing this practice for a couple of weeks, you can try moving on to empathize with suffering of others you know, not just those who are close to you. Eventually even strangers are good focus points for this practice.
Act of kindness practice. Plan on doing something small each day to help end the suffering of others, even in a tiny way. Even a smile, or a kind word, or doing an errand or chore, or just talking about a problem with another person is an act of Kind-ness.
Evening reflection routine. Take a few minutes before you go to bed to reflect upon your day. Think about the people you met and talked to, and how you treated each other. Think about the intention you stated in the morning, to act with compassion towards others. How well did you do? What could I do better? What did I learn from the experience of today?
These compassionate practices can be done anywhere, any time. Weave them in and make them habitl. It is important to have the morning and evening ritual, to frame your day well. An attitude of being compassionate will develop within your. This is Kannon. Her promise is to listen and relieve the suffering of sentient beings in the ten directions.
This is living the nembutsu in deep gratitude for all the compassion we receive. This does not happens by our own efforts alone. And so we take refuge in Amida Buddha.
I want to extend Kannon’s deep wish to all of you. Please say it too - just repeat after me...
May you be happy;
May you be free from harm:
May you receive boundless compassion;
And may peace and harmony fill your heart
- Namu Amida Butsu Namu Amida Butsu Namu Amida Butsu -
Thanks to these sources:
Rev. Alfred Bloom, Emeritus Professor, University of Hawaii
Kenneth Doo Young Lee - Shinran and Shotoku
Leo Babauta on Compassion
Gene Reeves - Lotus Sutra
A Reading from the The Lotus Sutra - Chapter 25 in Summary.
A bodhisattva named Inexhaustible Mind asks the Buddha why the bodhisattva Kannon is called “Regarder of the Cries of the World.” The Buddha explains that if those who are suffering sincerely call Kannon’s name with all their heart, they will immediately be heard and will be able to free themselves from suffering. A wide variety of possible misfortunes from which one can be saved and a large variety of benefits that can accrue from worshiping the Bodhisattva are mentioned. If a huge ship with thousands and thousands of fortune-seekers is caught in a storm at sea and blown ashore on an island of terrible beasts, if just one person calls to Kannon, all of them will be saved. One has only to call out the name of the Bodhisattva in order to be saved from various calamities and dangers. One can be saved not only from external dangers but also from the three inner poisons—from lust or greed, from anger or rage, and from folly or foolishness. Praying to Kannon can also result in having a baby of the desired gender, one who will be blessed with great merit, virtue, and wisdom if a boy and one who will be marked with great beauty and by long ago having planted roots of virtue and being loved and respected by all if a girl. The Buddha says to Inexhaustible Mind Bodhisattva: “If there were countless hundreds of thousands of billions of living beings experiencing suffering and agony who heard of Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World and wholeheartedly called his name, Regarder of the Cries of the World Bodhisattva would immediately hear their cries, and all of them would be freed.” (LS 371) The Bodhisattva sometimes takes the form of a buddha, a pratyekabuddha, a shravaka, a king, a prime minister, a wife, boy, or girl, or any of thirty-three bodies in order to help those who can be helped in such a way. Inexhaustible Mind Bodhisattva then takes an extremely valuable necklace from around his neck and offers it to Kannon. But the Bodhisattva does not accept it, until the Buddha pleads with Kannon to do so out of compassion both for Inexhaustible Mind Bodhisattva and for all other living beings. Then Kannon accepts the necklace and divides it into two parts, offering one to Shakyamuni Buddha and the other to the stupa of Abundant Treasures Buddha.
Leave a Reply.