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The Content of the Great Compassion Dharani

The Great Compassion Dharani encompasses the sacred name of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara and the manifold facets, wisdom, spiritual power, and virtuous merits of Avalokitesvara, as well as that of all other bodhisattvas and Buddhas.

Because of its great power and unfathomable efficacy, it is also referred to as the “Miraculous Great Compassion Dharani” and has been widely popular among devotees. It is said that by genuinely practicing the Dharma and sincerely reciting this miraculous dharani, even those who have committed the Five Heinous Crimes and Ten Unwholesome Deeds will be able to resolve, eradicate, and cleanse their immensely heavy sins and karmic obstructions. Furthermore, “the wishes will be fulfilled” indicates that whatever the practitioner prays for—from mundane wishes such as avoiding illness and disasters or attaining longevity and abundance, to the great vow of accomplishing the Buddha path and attaining Buddhahood—will be fulfilled.

Regarding the dharani, some might ask this question: Is it really effective just by chanting all those syllables without actually understanding their meaning?
Of course, the dharani encompasses the merits, power of vows, and spiritual endowment of the bodhisattvas. The science of its spiritual response lies in reciting the syllables as they originally sound. Therefore dharanis, or mantras, keep the original Sanskrit pronunciation, and they are not translated literally, but only recited in its transliteration.

In fact, we can say that “Shakyamuni Buddha” is a mantra in the epithet itself; and so is “Amitabha”. Both are Sanskrit words.

In Sanskrit, a dharani has its meaning as well as its sound. So is the case with the Great Compassion Dharani. However, it cannot be translated literally word by word and sentence by sentence due to its manifold meaning. It is great if you understand the meaning; otherwise, there is no need to worry about it. Dharani is a sound-based Dharma method of practice to evoke response, for which practitioners are required to follow the Sanskrit pronunciation and recite in earnest. Practitioners may want to set a goal by reciting a certain number of times on a daily basis, as a regular practice.

The Great Compassion Repentance Rite

There are many sutra-based repentance rituals. The Great Compassion Repentance Rite, which is centered on Guanyin Bodhisattva, is just one of them. Perhaps I have a deep and special karmic affinity with Guanyin Bodhisattva. Throughout the turbulent years of my youth, I recited the Great Compassion Dharani and practiced the Great Compassion Repentance Rite every day.

Are the Great Compassion Dharani and the Great Compassion Repentance Rite the same thing? What is the relation between the two? And, what are their differences? Many beginner Buddhists may have these questions.

The Great Compassion Dharani and the Great Compassion Repentance Rite share the same source, in the Great Compassion Dharani Sutra. The Great Compassion Dharani is a supreme mantra spoken by Avalokitesvara of “thousand hands and thousand eyes,” as recorded in this sutra. The fundamental mantra taught by the thousand-handed thousand-eyed Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva contains altogether 415 syllables, in 84 phrases.

Legend has it that the liturgy book of the Great Compassion Repentance Rite was developed and written by Zhi-Li (知禮), a Buddhist monk in the Song dynasty, based on the Great Compassion Dharani Sutra. It includes the Great Compassion Dharani as well as the core ideas in the Sutra. It also includes the procedures and rituals for setting up the venue, designating the sacred space, making offerings, chanting the prologue, starting the repentance rite, making repentance, and performing contemplation. It takes only a few minutes to recite the Great Compassion Dharani, while it usually requires two hours or so to complete the Great Compassion Repentance Rite.

The Great Compassion Repentance Rite represents a repentance approach, which is one of the activity-based methods of Buddhist practice featuring the form of activities and rituals. Through the sound of chanting, solemnity of the venue, and sincerity of the congregation, it evokes collective spiritual resonance and spiritual sentiments in participating practitioners. As such, it is also a method for group practice.

Compassion and Wisdom as Realized by Guanyin Bodhisattva

Since the establishment of the Rite by Buddhist monk Zhi-Li in the Song Dynasty, the Great Compassion Repentance Rite service has become a most widespread Dharma assembly dedicated to Guanyin Bodhisattva, particularly among Chinese Buddhists. Though regarded as a repentance approach, its content is not limited to performing repentance, including prayers for wishes such as avoiding disasters and increasing in wellbeing in one’s present life. A method of practice dedicated to Guanyin Bodhisattva, the Rite encompasses the wisdom and nirvana as realized by the Bodhisattva, as well as his compassion and skillful means in delivering sentient beings.

The ultimate sense of this repentance rite lies in personal awakening, enlightenment, and liberation, through which one will generate the great Bodhi mind reflecting the compassion of Guanyin Bodhisattva, enabling one to exercise expedient means to benefitand help other sentient beings realize the true nature of Dharma.

Its Application In Daily Life

Ultimately, the Great Compassion Repentance Rite is not just about the cleansing that takes place in the two hours of ritual performance, but more about the real practice of constantly contemplating and remembering Guanyin Bodhisattva’s compassion and gentle forbearance in our daily life, by taking Guanyin as our model to purify our actions. This way, we can then really make the repentance rite relevant to our life in terms of its fundamental impact.

Methods and Practices of Guan Yin Bodhisattvas, by Master Sheng Yen

Book Store- 聖嚴法師教觀音法門

Translation: Yeh, Shujen (葉姝蓁)
Editor: Chang, ChiaCheng (張家誠)



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