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Guan Yin Bodhisattva

On Sunday, October 11, 2009, at CMC, Venerable Chang Hwa gave a talk entitled, "Guan Yin Bodhisattva" in English and Chinese. During this talk, Venerable recounted legends and stories related to Guan Yin, explained the significance of the bodhisattva in Chinese Buddhism, Guan Yin is a popular figure in Chinese religions.

She is portrayed as a compassionate mother-figure who looks after all beings. Her popularity is due to the belief that she listens to and grants the wishes of those who pray to her and the simplicity of the method of practice, which is to merely call out her name when in need. Many miracles, old and new, have been attributed to the practice of chanting Guan Yin’s name.

There are a number of legends associated with Guan Yin. In the legend of "Guan Yin Bodhisattva with the Fish Basket", she manifests herself as a beautiful fishmonger.

In order to propagate Buddhism, she challenges her admirers to memorize sutras to win her hand in marriage. Finally, a winner emerges, and just right after the wedding, she dies suddenly, her body decaying almost immediately. A monk prays and announces that the woman is Guan Yin Bodhisattva herself.

In another legend, "Guan Yin Bodhisattva Who Does Not Want to Leave," a Japanese monk goes to China to seek teachings. On his return trip home, he takes a statue of the bodhisattva on the ship.

As they pass a certain island, the ship strangely encircles it for three days, despite the monk’s ardent prayers to Guan Yin. Finally, he lands on the island and ends up staying there to found Pu Tuo Mountain, a very important site associated with Guan Yin.

Guan Yin is manifested in many different forms. Before the Tang Dynasty, she was represented as male in Chinese artwork. After the Tang, she is portrayed as a female, perhaps due to the fact that in Chinese society, the mother represents love and compassion, and the father represents wisdom.

In the Shurangama Sutra, she is said to manifest in 32 forms, and 33 forms in the Lotus Sutra. It is also said that Guan Yin Bodhisattva has countless forms, depending on the person, time and place.

One particular manifestation of Guan Yin is the "Thousand-Handed, Thousand-Eyed" bodhisattva, who is said to have made great vows in the presence of Amitabha Buddha-- to not attain Buddhahood until all sentient beings are delivered, adding that if she ever regrets her vow, may her head burst into a thousand pieces.

After helping countless beings for numberless eons, on one occasion, she thought about how she had saved innumerable beings but because they generate bad karma again and again, there remain countless beings to be delivered, and it seemed to be impossible to fulfill her vows. At this thought, her head exploded into a thousand pieces.

Guan Yin prayed and repented to the Buddhas in the ten directions and her teacher, Amitabha Buddha, who then appeared and transferred their combined merit to save and recreate Guan Yin with a new body-- ten heads with Amitabha on the top of her head to guide her, and a thousand hands with an eye on each palm, representing great wisdom and power.

As we observe our mind, we can generate a sense of gratitude towards people that we have conflicts with, because we are able to see the vexations that arise within us, how much of our problems are caused by ourselves, and as a consequence, improve ourselves by changing.

"Instead of continuing a vicious cycle of negative emotions, by observing the negative emotions and thoughts arising, we can transform them. By transforming them, this cyclic existence can end."

Or, at least, these negative thoughts and emotions will weaken and diminish because we are not fueling them. We can have this attitude of gratitude towards everyone, and towards all situations which generate vexations within us.

While there is no scholarly evidence of Guan Yin, she is mentioned by Sakyamuni Buddha in many sutras. One origin story tells of how the bodhisattva was once a princess, the youngest of three daughters of a powerful king.

Despite her father’s protest, she wants to become a nun, and is forced to work day and night at the temple to discourage her. But her will is strong, and the king burns the temple, killing 500 monastics, and hangs the princess.

The Earth Store Boddhisattva leads her spirit to hell to deliver sentient beings, the princess returning to earth to practice, dhr ptsvyivrd in fragrance Mountain for 9 years. When the father becomes incurably ill, she visits him, disguised as an old man, and tells him that in order to be cured, he must visit an immortal and ask for his legs and eyes.

He follows this advice, takes the legs and eyes of an immortal, who is none other than the princess herself, and is cured. When he learns of his daughter’s sacrifice, he is deeply moved and converts to Buddhism. Guan Yin then transforms into her original form and reveals her identity.

The name Guan Yin or Avalokitesvara (Sanskrit) can be translated as "to observe or contemplate" or "wisdom that can be observed," and "sound" or "sound that can be contemplated."

One Buddhist commentary states that there are four meanings to this name-- to observe or hear the sounds of sentient beings and deliver them, to observe sentient beings' body action or body karma and deliver them, to observe and understand the mind karma and deliver them, and finally, a combination of all three.

Guan Yin appears in many sutras, including the "Universal Gateway" chapter in the Lotus Sutra, the Thousand-Handed, Thousand-Eyed Sutra, the Vimalakirti Sutra, and the Great Compassion Dharani Sutra.

She plays several roles in Buddhism. One role is that of the attendant of Amitabha Buddha according to the Pure Land sutra, the Sukhavativyuha Sutra. Another role is as the future successor of Amitabha in Karuna Pundarika, where Guan Yin is the eldest of a thousand sons of a powerful worldly king and is prophesized to become the successor to Amitabha Buddha by a Buddha called Precious Treasure. In the Lotus Sutra, Guan Yin is a savior of the world and appears in any place to save any being who seeks her help.

The Shurangama Sutra describes how Guan Yin practiced meditation to gain enlightenment and the Heart Sutra summarizes the experience of emptiness of Guan Yin’s enlightenment. Both sutras, which are important texts in the Chan school, systematically describe how we can use our own power to deliver sentient beings.

While the practice associated with Guan Yin bodhisattva can be done at anytime and in any place, legend has it that there are particular locations where Guan Yin is said to reside and practice. In the Hwa-yen Sutra, the youth Sudhana, a seeker of the truth, is instructed by the Buddha to visit and learn from 53 good and knowledgeable practitioners, including male and female laypersons and monastics.

The 28th practitioner he visits is Guan Yin, who lives in Potalaka Mountain in - a small island south of India, whose name is used in China as. Guan Yin worship is central to Tibetan and Chinese Buddhism—in fact, the Potala Palace in Tibet and Putuo Mountain in Zhejiang province are named after Potalaka, In Dharma Drum Mountain in Taiwan, there are three statues dedicated to the bodhisattva. Guan Yin is key in the transmission of Chinese, Tibetan, and Theravadan Buddhism from India.

Venerable will focus next week’s talk on the method of Guan practice Yin and its application in daily life.

(Talk translated by Venerable Chang Hwa/Report by Chang Jie)

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