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The Universal Door of Gwanshiyin Bodhisattva
(The Bodhisattva Who Contemplates the Sounds of the World)

Chapter 25


The Five Marks of Decay of the Gods:

1. The flower garlands that adorn their heads wilt. The flowers that adorn the heads of the gods are not like the flowers grown in the human realm. These flowers grow quite naturally right on the heads of the gods—it is a natural adornment for them. But when the five signs of decay appear, the flowers wilt. Before these signs appear, the flowers are always fresh. So, when your flowers start to wilt, then you know you have just about had it.

2. Their clothes get dirty. The cloths of the gods are not like those of people. We have to wash our clothes once or twice a week, because we know that if we do not wash them, they will be dirty. The clothes of the gods never get dirty, because there isn’t anything to soil them in the heavens. But when the five signs of decay appear, their clothes get soiled. So, when you are up there and you see that your clothes get dirty, you know that you do not have long.

This is similar to when people are about to die, even before they stop breathing, various places on their body will start to grow worms. Ordinarily this would not happen, but when they are just about to die and stop breathing, many parts of their bodies start to grow worms. And that is the appearance of death here in the human realm. But, for the gods, the sign of death is that their clothes get dirty. This is a kind of karmic retribution.

The reason we have so much dirt here on earth is that we have too much false thinking. That is why there is such an awful lot of filth in the world. Our false thoughts are exactly the same as dirt. So the filth comes from false thoughts.

3. Their armpits perspire. The bodies of the gods are not like those of humans—they never perspire. But with the five signs of decay start to appear, their armpits sweat.

4. Their bodies smell bad. Basically the gods’ bodies always emit a fragrance, but certainly not because they use perfume or apply scented powders. Their bodies naturally exude this fragrance. But when the five signs of decay appear, they lose their fragrance and start to smell bad.

5. They cannot sit still. Basically, the gods are really comfortable. From morning to night they just sit there in meditation, investigating Chan. They do not have anything else to do. But when the five signs of decay appear, they can no longer sit still. They sit for awhile and then jump up; but once they stand up, they want to sit down again. And once they have settled down, they rise again. So they keep getting up and sitting down again. And the moment they lose consciousness, their life in the heaven ends, and they fall. So the first line of the poem says, “In the Six Desire Heavens, there are the Five Signs of Decay.”

But then in the First Dhyana there is the disaster of water, in the Second Dhyana there is the disaster of fire, and “the Third Dhyana has the disaster of wind.” That is because the gods of the Third Dhyana heavens still have the wind of affliction within their nature. When a hurricane or tornado occurs in the worldly realm, it connects with the wind in their nature, and so they are destroyed by the disaster of wind.

“Even if you cultivate clear to the Heaven of Neither Perception nor Non-perception,” where your heavenly life span is 80,000 great kalpas, nonetheless, when your heavenly reward ends, you still fall back into the human realm, or even worse, into the hells, among the hungry ghosts, or among the animals. So it is very dangerous.

The last line of the verse says that “It is not as good as going to the Western Land and coming back again.” Cultivating to any of those heavens is not as good as getting reborn in the Western Land of Ultimate Bliss, becoming a boat of compassion like Guanyin Bodhisattva and coming back to teach and transform living beings. That is a safer path to take.

Fortunately, the light of the sun of Guanyin Bodhisattva’s wisdom can quell all disasters and break up all darkness as it shines a universal light on all worlds. The world that we common people live in now is called the Land in Which the Common and Sagely Live Together.

The great wisdom of Guanyin Bodhisattva also illumines the Land of Expedients with Residue. That is where those of the Two Vehicles live. "Expedients" refers to clever, provisional means. "With Residue" means that there is still something left, because the inhabitants of this world have not yet completely cut off all their afflictions.

Guanyin Bodhisattva dwells in the Adorned Land of Actual Reward, which is the land where all the Bodhisattvas dwell. The Buddhas dwell in the Pure Land of Eternally Stillness and Light.

With his great wisdom and great knowledge, Guanyin Bodhisattva universally illumines all of these lands, and so the text says his light "shines on all worlds."


Compassionate substance: the thunder of precepts.
Kind intent: a wondrous great cloud.
He rains down sweet dew and Dharma rain,
Which extinguish the flames of affliction.


K3. Universal speaking with mouth karma.


Compassionate substance: the thunder of precepts. Compassionate substance means that Guanyin Bodhisattva takes the substance of compassion as his Dharma substance. Where does this compassionate substance come from? It comes from precepts. When Guanyin Bodhisattva first began to cultivate, he held the precepts purely, and from this purity he brought forth vast kindness and compassion, the kindness that includes even those with whom one does not have affinities. This Dharma substance is like thunder—it emits a thunderous roar, and living beings are awakened by it. The blind can see it and even the deaf can hear the sound of this thunder. And so it says, "Compassionate substance: the thunder of precepts."

Kind intent: a wondrous great cloud. Guanyin Bodhisattva uses level and equal kindness and compassion to help living beings. The Sutra said, "His kind eyes watching living beings." With kindness and compassion, he bestows joy upon living beings in a level and equal way.

Acting like a wondrous, huge cloud, he rains down sweet dew and Dharma rain. Sweet dew is actually the water of immortality found in the heavens. Why are the heavenly gods immortal? Because they drink sweet dew. So you say, "Even the gods take their vitalizers. It is no wonder that these days people who want to get enlightened pop all sorts of pills." But the heavenly medicine is natural—it is not manufactured. When the gods imbibe this medicine, they never age. Now Guanyin Bodhisattva has a wonderful, great cloud that lets fall sweet dew, the elixir of immortality, which extinguishes the flames of affliction and puts an end to the sufferings of birth, old age, sickness, and death.

People in this world have afflictions, and it is as though they were being scorched by flames. Why don’t you become a Buddha? Because you have afflictions. Why haven't you become enlightened? Because you have afflictions. Why aren't you truly free? Because you have afflictions.

Another name for afflictions is attachments. Where do attachments stem from? They come from selfishness. Why are you attached? Because you are selfish and you want to seek private gains. If you have only the common good in mind, if you are truly public-spirited, then what attachments could you possibly have?

If you are not selfish, you would not be attached; if you do not have attachments, you would not be afflicted; and if you do not have afflictions, you will be liberated. Once you are liberated, you are enlightened. To become enlightened is just to realize Buddhahood.

Afflictions are the very worst thing to have, yet people cannot stand to be apart from them. Whether moving or still, awake or asleep, they do not ever want to be apart from afflictions.

You say, "Well, I am happy all the time, and I do not have any afflictions." Well, if you have attained genuine bliss, then of course you are not afflicted. But if you have not attained genuine bliss and you fake it—you force yourself to believe that you are happy—then it is not true happiness. Inside, the affliction is still heavy. And one day it will turn up—it will explode. It is like smothering weeds with a large rock—so that the weeds would not be able to grow. But once you remove the rock, they will quickly flourish. If you have not attained true bliss, your afflictions will still remain.

Of the Four Vast Vows that the Bodhisattva makes, the first one is, "Living beings are boundless, I vow to save them all." Why does Guanyin Bodhisattva come to this world? Only because living beings are boundless, and he has vowed to save them all.

The second vast vow is, "Afflictions are endless, I vow to sever them all." Does Guanyin Bodhisattva have afflictions? No, he has cut them off, but he takes living beings' afflictions as his own. Seeing that living beings have not cut off their afflictions, he makes the vow: "Afflictions are endless, I vow to cut them off." Basically, afflictions are endless, like waves on water: The first wave subsides, and the next one rises. That wave subsides, and yet another wave rises up in its wake. This goes on continuously without cease. Afflictions are just like that—endless.

The third vast vow is, "Dharma-doors are limitless, I vow to study them all." Some people study one or two Sutras, and they become self-satisfied. They say they already understand Buddhism. But the Buddhism they understand is not as much as a single drop within the great sea of the Buddhadharma. These people who become self-satisfied are just like an ant who goes to the ocean to get a drink of water: He takes his fill and says that he has drunk up the entire sea. Actually the ant only filled up his own stomach—he has not even drunk a single drop of the great sea.

The last vast vow is "The Buddha Way is unsurpassed, I vow to realize it." There is nothing higher than the Buddha Way, so everyone should resolve to become a Buddha. Do not look down on yourself. Thinking of yourself as originally being a Buddha. However, that does not mean you are a Buddha now. Basically we were all completely endowed with the Buddha-nature. But now, because we do not know how to cultivate, we do not possess the Three Bodies of the Buddha, the Four Types of Wisdom, the Five Eyes, or the Six Spiritual Penetrations.

Guanshiyin Bodhisattva bases his teaching on the Four Vast Vows, and he uses the sweet dew of Dharma rain to cause all beings to become refreshed and content, so they would not have any more afflictions.


In the midst of contention, when faced with lawsuits,
Or when someone is terrified on the battlefield,
If he evokes the strength of Guanyin,
All his many enemies will scatter and leave.


J2. Revealing the response.


In the midst of contention, when faced with lawsuits. "Contention" means fighting. During the Dharma-Ending Age, contention is at its height.

When the Buddha dwells in the world, the period is called the Proper Dharma Age. During the Proper Dharma Age, Dhyana concentration is solid. At that time, everyone likes to investigate Dhyana and enter samadhi. The Proper Dharma Age lasts from the time the Buddha appears in the world until one thousand years following his passing into stillness. After that comes the Dharma Image Age.

During the Dharma Image Age, people are resolute in building temples. They erect stupas and make images, and they consider that to be the most important work. Everyone likes to build big temples. That was why in this world some countries have great temples as a vestige of the Dharma Image Age. The Dharma Image Age also lasts for one thousand years, and after that comes the Dharma-Ending Age.

The Dharma-Ending Age lasts for ten thousand years. "Ending" here also refers to the tip of the branch. At that time the Dharma has arrived at its termination. At present we are in the Dharma-Ending Age. During this time, people are neither resolute in Dhyana concentration nor in building temples. They are resolute in fighting. And that is what we are discussing now in this line of verse—contention. Countries fight with countries; families fight with families; people fight with people; animals fight with animals; ghosts fight with ghosts—there is fighting everywhere. Why? Because during the Dharma-Ending Age, it is the nature of people to like fighting.

However, right within the Dharma-Ending Age there is the Proper Dharma Age. And, in the Dharma Image Age, there is also the Proper Dharma Age. What does this mean? Even within the Dharma-Ending Age, there are still people who want to investigate Chan and sit in meditation. For example, many people here like to take time out in the morning or evening, or even in the midst of a busy day, to sit in meditation. Just this is being in the Proper Dharma Age. During the Dharma-Ending Age, these people make up only an extremely small percentage of the entire population.

The fact that we can still lecture the Sutras and speak Dharma, and that people vigorously cultivate according to the teachings, and that some still find time amidst their busy schedules to sit in meditation—even to the point that some do not eat or sleep in order to come to hear the Sutra lectures—means that the Proper Dharma Age is found right within the Dharma-Ending Age.

Now, if all of us come together to build great Way-places and temples, then we are in the Dharma Image Age that is found within the Dharma-Ending Age.

Furthermore, within the Dharma Image Age, there are also the Dharma-Ending Age and the Proper Dharma Age. For instance, during the Dharma Image Age, when people like to build temples, there are those who do not like to build temples and who do not even believe in the Buddha, and that is like having the Dharma-Ending Age within the Dharma Image Age. And again, if at that time people get together and vigorously cultivate, then that is the Proper Dharma Age within the Dharma Image Age.

Likewise, within the Proper Dharma Age, the Dharma-Ending Age and the Dharma Image Age are also found. During the Proper Dharma Age, if people like to build temples, then they are dwelling in the Dharma Image Age. There are also those who study the Buddhadharma just a bit and then stop—they do not investigate thoroughly—and that is like having the Dharma-Ending Age right within the Proper Dharma Age.

Although this age is generally recognized as the Dharma-Ending Age, there are those of us in the West who abide in and uphold the Proper Dharma, and who have made vows to propagate the Buddhadharma so that it will forever remain in the world; thus, we have the Proper Dharma Age within the Dharma-Ending Age.

Every day we recite and hold the Shurangama Mantra, and in this way we are helping the entire world. If there is not even a single person who recites the Shurangama Mantra in a world, then that world is about to be destroyed. At that time, all the ghosts, goblins, and demons, the li, mei, and wang liang ghosts will appear. Why is it that they do not dare to make a full-force descent upon the world right now? It is because in this world there are still people who hold the Shurangama Mantra and who cultivate the Great Compassion Mantra and the Forty-two Hands and Eyes. Because of this, the demons and goblins do not dare to come out.

Now the text mentions a time that is strong in fighting, so it says, "In the midst of contention, when faced with lawsuits." At such a time you have to go before a judge and argue things out. Then you have to hire an attorney. Some attorneys have the talent to make you appear totally unreasonable, even if you are on the right side of the law; conversely, the cases of people who are clearly on the wrong side can be made to look completely justifiable. This is distorting right and wrong—turning things upside down.

Several months ago there was a news item in the papers: a woman murdered her husband. Now this woman was really rich. And she promised her attorney a fat sum of money if he got her off. The attorney knew very well that she was a murderer, but somehow he was able to twist the truth at the trial, and defended her in such a way that that she got off with her life. So, tell me, is there any true principle around? If you have enough money, you can kill and still get off scot-free.

This often happens in cases of contention. People go to court to argue principles, but somehow the lawyers twist the facts around so that even if you have principle, they make it appear as if you do not; and if you do not have principle, they make it appear as if you do. Isn’t this world full of darkness? If you go to court and argue your case, but you do not have a lot of money, then even if you have reason on your side, you still get convicted. Conversely, even if you do not have reason on your side, but are wealthy, you are freed. People are manipulated by money to the point that their consciences are completely destroyed.

Or when someone is terrified on the battlefield. This is when one becomes petrified amidst clashing armies on the battlefield. If he evokes the strength of Guanyin, all his many enemies will scatter and leave. If you can only recite "Namo Guanshiyin Bodhisattva," then your enemies will retreat and disperse; all the feuding will somehow disappear, and your enemies will disperse.

Who are your enemies? Say you have to go to court to argue a case against another person, or you fall before an adversary on the battlefield: The reason for this is the resentment piled up over many lifetimes. An animosity builds up over lifetimes to the point that the people involved come together to fight it out. Each person has to undergo his or her retribution. But if, at that time, you can be mindful of Guanyin Bodhisattva, this kind of retribution will be diminished—the heavy offenses will become lighter and the light ones will completely disappear. So the text says, "All his many enemies will scatter and leave." And so the power of Guanyin Bodhisattva is truly inconceivable and not something that most people can understand.

During World War II, a man by the name of Fei Fanjiu lived in Shanghai. He practiced reciting Guanyin Bodhisattva's name every day. During the Sino-Japanese war, Shanghai was constantly being shelled, and so he decided to move from his house to avoid the bombing. Right after he moved, his house was completely destroyed by a bomb. After staying four or five days at the new shelter, he got the notion that this place would not be safe, either. So he moved again. He moved to the "Concession Zone," an area that was loaned to foreigners. That was an area that the Westerners had leased from China to dwell in, and the Japanese did not dare bomb that area.

After living in the Concession Zone for a while, Fei Fanjiu thought that it was not safe either; but that area was surrounded by electric fencing and there was no way he could leave. Right at that time, when he was in a quandary as to what he should do, he saw a child. The child said, "You had better get out of here quickly; the Japanese army is on its way!" Suddenly he saw a place in the electric fence about two feet wide that was broken—just enough of a space to crawl through. He managed to get his mother, his wife, and his children out of the area through this hole in the fence. When they had all gotten out, the guards who had been on sentry duty were astonished; they could not figure out how those people had gotten through.

Fei Fanjiu then turned back to look for the child, but the child was nowhere to be seen. He looked back at the electric fence and the hole was not there. He was really puzzled. In this way he was saved from "the terror of the battlefield." From this incident we can see that the power of Guanshiyin Bodhisattva is truly inconceivable.

Now that we know Guanshiyin Bodhisattva protects those who recite his name, we should bring forth genuine faith and a sincere resolve to recite his name.

“Many enemies” does not refer to just one kind of enemy. I just related how countries fight with countries, families fight with families, people fight with people, ghost fight with ghosts, and animals fight with animals. Our ominous present-day situations are created by the power of living beings’ collective karma. There are many countries, in fact, where the population is not even composed of human beings! Sometimes a large group of mice might get reborn together as people in one place and make up a “country.” Or sometimes a population of frogs can be born together as humans in a particular country.

Last spring [1968] a lay disciple showed us an article in the newspaper which reported that in a certain country several tens of thousands of frogs all committed suicide together. Why did that happened? It is because the frog population was too large, so they all committed suicide in order to be reborn as humans. This shows that most of the people in that country were frogs before. If you check out their physiognomy in detail, they even look somewhat like frogs. Each nationality has its own characteristics, because in former lives they were a particular kind of animal. Now they have become people.

Last spring I talked about this principle and someone asked me, “In America, what were people before?” I said, “They were all kinds of creatures.” There are a lot of immigrants from many different countries in America, and they used to be people, animals, and all kinds of beings. That is the truth!

If you look carefully, and if you have the Buddha Eye, the Wisdom Eye, or the Heavenly Eye, you will know that the “people” in the world are not necessarily people. There are many kinds of creatures in human form. How can you tell? If you have the Buddha Eye, or the Wisdom Eye, and you want to know what people were in their past lives, you look at the “shadow” behind them. If there is a human “shadow” behind them, then they were people in their last lives. If they were animals or some strange creatures, they will have those “shadows” behind them. But if you have not opened your Buddha Eye, Wisdom Eye, or Heavenly Eye, you would not be able to tell.

Do not think that everyone you meet is a person. For example, Lin Biao [Commander-in-Chief of Chinese Communist army, who was chosen by Mao Zedong to be his official successor] was a wolf in his last life. That was why so many people were afraid of him. Zhou Enlai was a human in his last life. How can you know? If you obtain the Heavenly Eye, you can know all about these things. Do not be impatient. Just keep working hard, and you will be able to know whatever you want to know.

Now, in China—and I am not scolding Chinese people—there are a lot of people who used to be mice. But there are also many who used to be people, ghosts, or animals. In general, every country has people who used to be horses, cows, sheep, chicken, dogs, pigs, and so forth. Most people have come from the animal realm. This is a very subtle doctrine, however. Most people would not believe it if they have not experienced it. If you really want to know these things, you have to put your feet firmly on the ground and cultivate. When you obtain spiritual powers you will know: “The things that the Dharma Master said are really true! He told us really wonderful things!” Then you will know.

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