The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra
Chapter 25: The Universal Door of Guanshiyin Bodhisattva
(The Bodhisattva Who Contemplates the Sounds of the World)
At that time, Inexhaustible Intention Bodhisattva rose from his seat, uncovered his right shoulder, placed his palms together, and facing the Buddha, said, “World Honored One, for what reason is the Bodhisattva Guanshiyin called ‘Guanshiyin?’”
D2. “Universal Door” chapter.
E1. Questions and answers.
G1. First question.
“At that time” refers to the time when the chapter on the Bodhisattva Wondrous Sound was finished and the “Universal Door Chapter” was about to begin. This is the time when Inexhaustible Intention Bodhisattva, being present in the Dharma Flower assembly, asked the Buddha how Guanshiyin Bodhisattva got his name.
Inexhaustible Intention is the Bodhisattva's name. In general, there are three kinds of inexhaustibility.
1. The inexhaustibility of worlds like floating motes of dust. We should not think that the world consists simply of what our eyes can see or our ears can hear. There are limitless, boundless worlds--this world, that world, and an infinite number of worlds. These worlds are like floating specks of dust. Why "floating?" Because they are in a state of constant agitation and movement; they are never still. Another aspect of dust is that it is not clean; or world is filled with dust.
When the sun comes out and shines through a slightly opened window, you will see an infinite number of dust particles dancing, bobbing up and down. Where does all this dust come from? From the minds of living beings. Why? Because living beings' minds have too much idle thinking. Idle thinking is like floating dust. Take a look at how much idle thinking you are aware of. Try to imagine how much idle thinking you cannot perceive! In a single thought there are ninety kshanas. A kshana is the briefest instant of time. In one kshana, there are nine hundred births and deaths.
So where do all these worlds come from? They come from living beings' idle thoughts. Relying on the true, they give rise to the false. From a single false thought, the mountains, the rivers, the great earth, and all the buildings and vegetation are created.
2. The inexhaustibility of living beings, with their vast karma. Worlds are boundless, and boundless living beings are created out of these worlds. Living beings are born from a mass of causes and conditions. Some are born from womb, others from eggs, moisture, or transformation. These are discussed in detail in the Shurangama Sutra. Living beings are born from wombs because of the emotion of love. Other beings are born from eggs because of thought.
Where do living beings come from? They come from the Buddha nature.
We say, "All living beings have the Buddha-nature and all can become Buddhas." But this is not the same as saying, "Living beings are Buddhas." You cannot become a Buddha without cultivating. You have to cultivate, meditate, and study the Buddhadharma. Then you can return to the root and go back to the source and become a Buddha. You cannot say, "Living beings are Buddhas. We do not need to cultivate!" That is just deviant knowledge and deviant views. You must cultivate to become a Buddha.
3. The bottomlessness of the river of love, with its endless waves. Not just people, but also animals, are attached to love. They are not clear about principles, and their sexual desire is very strong. You should lessen your desires and purify your mind. Pare away your thoughts of desire. Then you would not be far from Buddhahood.
Why is this river of love bottomless? Because the more you fall, the more you tend to fall; the deeper you sink, the deeper you get mired. Thoughts of desire are like waves which never stop. Why are there waves on the sea? Because there are waves in our minds. The waves in our minds are made from the river of love which flows without stopping.
No matter how sharp a knife you may use to try to cut off your emotional love, it is still not easily severed. But it is said that, "The sword of wisdom can slice through emotion." With genuine wisdom, you can solve this problem and cut it off. Without wisdom, you fall into the bottomless river of love.
Because of these three kinds of inexhaustibility, Inexhaustible Intention Bodhisattva wishes to turn inexhaustible worlds into the Land of Ultimate Bliss, to cause inexhaustible living beings to become Buddhas, and to fill up the bottomless, inexhaustible river of love. That was why he is called Inexhaustible Intention.
Bodhisattva is a Sanskrit word which means "enlightened being." Bodhi is “the Way of enlightenment.” A sattva is “one with sentience.” A Bodhisattva uses the doctrines of awakening to the Way to enlighten all beings with sentience. The Bodhisattva resolves, "I am enlightened and I am going to find a way to cause all beings to become enlightened." This is to enlighten oneself and enlighten others.
Where do Bodhisattvas come from? They come from living beings. Bodhisattvas start off as living beings, just like you and me. However, they become enlightened living beings. We living beings are confused; they have awakened. If you wake up today, you are a Bodhisattva today. If you wake up tomorrow, you will be a Bodhisattva tomorrow.
Wake up to what? Wake up out of your ignorance. If you can know where your ignorance came from and break through it, you are awakened. If you cannot break through your ignorance, you are confused. When one breaks through ignorance, the Dharma-nature manifests. Ignorance disappears, and the river of love dries up. Once the river of love has dried up, your wisdom can manifest.
So, a Bodhisattva is a person who enlightens others--an enlightened one among living beings.
Bodhisattvas are also called "living beings with great minds for the Way." They are also called "Initiating Knights." They can open up living beings' stupidity in order to reveal the original Buddha-nature.
When the Dharma Flower Sutra was spoken, five thousand people in the assembly walked out. Who were they? They were those with overweening pride, the arrogant and naughty ones. When Shakyamuni Buddha started lecturing the Dharma Flower Sutra, he said, "I am now lecturing the real truth. I am not speaking provisionally." These five thousand people were unhappy with him and left in a huff.
Having heard the “Wondrous Sound Bodhisattva Chapter,” Inexhaustible Intention Bodhisattva then rose from his seat. In a large assembly, if you want to say something you have to stand up. You cannot just raise your hand. Not only did he stand up, but he uncovered his right shoulder. That was the custom to show respect in India, and so today our sashes do not cover the right shoulder.
In India and Southeast Asia, the monks do not have clasps on their sashes. They just wear them as clothes; they do not need a clasp. Since the robe is their main piece of clothing and is next to their skin, if it falls off they will know. In China, the monks wear clothing underneath their sashes. And so if their sashes fall off, it is not easy for them to detect it. That is why they attach a clasp to their sashes.
Inexhaustible Intention Bodhisattva uncovered his right shoulder as a gesture of respect, placed his palms together, and facing the Buddha said, "World Honored One."
“World Honored One” means that the Buddha is honored by those in and beyond the world. The narrative preceding the phrase “World Honored One” was added by Ananda at the time the Sutra was compiled. For what reason is the Bodhisattva Guanshiyin called 'Guanshiyin?'" With great compassion, Guanshiyin Bodhisattva rescues people from the seven difficulties, counteracts the three poisons, and responds to the two kinds of seeking. He has fourteen kinds of fearlessness and nineteen ways of speaking Dharma. For what reason is he called Guanshiyin Bodhisattva? What Dharma did he cultivate in the past that he is now called Guanshiyin?
The Buddha told Inexhaustible Intention Bodhisattva, “Good man, if any of the limitless hundreds of thousands of myriads of kotis of living beings who are undergoing all kinds of suffering hear of Guanshiyin Bodhisattva and recite his name single-mindedly, Guanshiyin Bodhisattva will immediately hear their voices and rescue them.”
I1. General answer.
The Buddha told Inexhaustible Intention Bodhisattva. This is also a phrase of narrative spoken by the Sutra compiler, Ananda. "Good Man," said Shakyamuni Buddha, "if any of the limitless hundreds of thousands of myriads of kotis of living beings..." Let us assume that there are countless living beings from all the types of birth--egg, womb, moisture, transformation; with form, without form; with thought, without thought; not totally endowed with thought, and not totally lacking thought--who are undergoing all kinds of suffering.
There are many forms of suffering, but, in general, they can be said to fall into four categories:
1. One person may undergo one kind of suffering. This is like a mute experiencing suffering of which he alone is aware, since he cannot express his misery. Hence the saying, "like a mute tasting huanglian." Huanglian is the most bitter kind of Chinese herbal medicine.
2. One person may undergo many kinds of suffering. A single individual may run into natural disasters or man-made calamities, experiencing the entire gamut of suffering.
3. Many people may undergo one kind of suffering. For example, people in South Vietnam experience the agonies of war, bloodshed, or political upheavals. Or there may be epidemics that wipe out entire populations at one time.
4. Many people may undergo many kinds of suffering. Because there are many living beings, there are also many varieties of suffering. How many kinds of suffering are there? Basically, there is no way to count them all. In general, there are 84,000 kinds.
So what should people do when they have to undergo all these terrible kinds of suffering? When they hear of Guanshiyin Bodhisattva, they should recite his name single-mindedly. When you are suffering, do not forget Guanshiyin Bodhisattva.
Now, how many people in America have heard of the name of Guanshiyin Bodhisattva? Those who have heard of it are very few. Think it over. "Hearing" just means understanding and being able to learn about something. You have studied the Shurangama Sutra and you know of Guanshiyin Bodhisattva's perfect penetration of the ear organ and his thirty-two response bodies--all his inconceivable spiritual powers of self-mastery.
The most important requirement is single-mindedness. You should have one mind, not two or three. If you are scattered, the effect of your recitation is diminished. Unless you turn to one, it is not efficacious.
Now we have been working single-mindedly. Last week my disciples were setting up the Buddha-altar. This week they were dumping loads of garbage until Guo You said, “I am really tired, I do not want to work tomorrow.”
I said, “One gains merit and virtue doing work for the Buddhadharma.”
He said, “What does merit and virtue look like?”
I could not tell him what it looks like. So I said, “If you want to work, go ahead. If you do not, just forget it.”
Actually, work like this has priceless merit and virtue which is worth much more than any amount of gold, silver or jewels. You should not work and harbor doubts at the same time, thinking, “Is there any merit and virtue in this?” Just do the work and have faith. There is great merit and virtue in working for the Buddhadharma, but it is not something that can be seen. Why not? Because it is too real. If it were false, you could see it. If it could be seen, thieves could steal it! Since it is invisible, it can never be taken away from you. It remains forever in your account of merit and virtue. Therefore, stay single-minded; do not have two or three minds about things.
“Guan” means to contemplate, “shi” means world, and “yin” means sounds. This Bodhisattva contemplates the sounds of all living beings who hear of or recite his name in all the worlds, whatever the distance. Guanshiyin Bodhisattva will immediately hear their voices and rescue them. These desperate living beings will be rescued from all torment. They will be happy. They will obtain genuine freedom and be without restraints or hang-ups.
“If a person who upholds the name of Guanshiyin Bodhisattva enters a great fire, the fire will not burn him, all because of this Bodhisattva’s awesome spiritual power.”
I2. Specific answer.
J1. Response to mouth karma.
K1. The seven difficulties.
L1. The difficulty of fire.
Guanshiyin Bodhisattva rescues living beings from the seven kinds of difficulties, the first of which is fire. Now another hypothetical case is presented, of a person who upholds the name of Guanshiyin Bodhisattva. “Uphold” means to receive and maintain, and not to forget. In every thought one recollects the name of Guanshiyin Bodhisattva, reciting "Namo Guanshiyin Bodhisattva." If such a person enters a great fire, the fire will not burn him. However, this means that one recites the Bodhisattva's name during ordinary times. One cannot wait until there is a disaster and then recite like crazy to make up for lost time.
There is a saying,
In your free time you never light incense,
But when there's an emergency, you are on your knees before the Buddha.
If you do not cultivate during ordinary circumstances but wait until an emergency to do so, it is not going to work.
"Sometimes there are cases when someone does not ordinarily recite, but Guanshiyin Bodhisattva does save them. How does that happen?" You ask.
Everyone has his or her own set of causes and effects. In former lives, perhaps this person recited vigorously and performed many kinds of meritorious deeds. In this life, even though he does not recite, the power of his good roots from reciting in previous lives carries through and he is saved. This is an example of a distance cause. However, if you think you can wait and rely on your good roots, there is no guarantee. If you recite well in this life, I guarantee that in the future you will be helped in an emergency. If you do not have the penetration of past lives, how do you know whether you recited in the past? If you have the Heavenly Eye or Heavenly Ear, you might know; but in order to be sure it is still better to recite now.
Once there was a man who wanted to go to Mount Putuo in Nanhai to bow to Guanshiyin Bodhisattva. He became a vegetarian three years before going to Mount Putuo. But can you guess what happened? Just as he got on the boat, a neighbor came running up and said, "Our entire neighborhood is on fire." Then his relatives arrived and said, "Bad timing. Come back and save our home!"
"I have been preparing for this pilgrimage for three years, and now I am on the boat. If the house is supposed to burn, it will burn anyway, even if I get off the boat now. If Guanshiyin Bodhisattva protects me, then it would not burn and I do not need to get off the boat. I can go to the mountain. I would rather have my house burn down, than not go bow to Guanshiyin Bodhisattva."
He did not pay attention to anything after that. He went to Mount Putuo to bow to Guanshiyin Bodhisattva, and when he returned to his own village, every house in his neighborhood had burned down except for his. Everyone said, "Why didn't your house burn?"
He replied, "I put everything down. I just went to bow to Guanshiyin Bodhisattva. It was through the power of Guanshiyin Bodhisattva."
So if a person enters a great fire, the fire will not burn him, all because of this Bodhisattva's awesome spiritual power. That is why he would not be burned.
“If a person being tossed about in the great sea calls out the Bodhisattva’s name, he will find a shallow place.”
L2. The difficulty of water.
If a person is being tossed about in the great sea, that is, if he is accidentally thrown into the ocean, he can be saved by reciting Guanshiyin Bodhisattva's name. Now, you cannot do this on purpose just to test it out. If you try to test Guanshiyin Bodhisattva to see if he is efficacious or not, he most certainly will not be. You will sink without a doubt. Why? Because you are testing him! You are not a teacher and he is not a student, so why do you want to test him? You do not believe Guanshiyin Bodhisattva has such spiritual powers, and so tested him out. It is as if you really did not have faith in a friend and so tested him out to see if he is truly loyal. You leave some money lying around to see if he will steal it. That is because you really do not know whether he is your good friend or not.
Why would you want to test Guanshiyin Bodhisattva? Because you do not really have faith in him. But in testing him, you may lose your own life. Do not experiment with your life.
If the person calls out the Bodhisattva's name, he will find a shallow place. You would not quite know how it happened, but suddenly you will be on the shore. It all happened due to the power of Guanshiyin Bodhisattva.
“If the hundreds of thousands of myriads of kotis of beings who seek gold, silver, lapis lazuli, mother-of-pearl, carnelian, coral, amber, pearls, and so forth enter the great sea, an evil wind may toss their boats into the territory of the rakshasa ghosts. But if among them there is even one person who calls out the name of Guanshiyin Bodhisattva, they will all be saved from the difficulty of the rakshasas. For this reason, he is called Guanshiyin.”
L3. The difficulty of the rakshasas.
Among the seven kinds of difficulties, this is the third, the difficulty of meeting with rakshasa ghosts. If the hundreds of thousands of myriads of kotis of beings who seek gold, silver, lapis lazuli, mother-of-pearl, carnelian, coral, amber, pearls, and so forth. People are greedy for these things because they think they are treasures. Actually these things are external to the body. Before you have understood the true treasures within your own nature, even if you greedily pursue external treasures, they would not be of any great use. They have nothing to do with your own nature. But most ordinary people seek these things.
Every country is greedy for gold and so most citizens think it is a rare and valuable thing. Day and night, they scheme to get gold. This goes on to the point that countries fight with other countries over gold. Why do people think gold is so valuable? Because there is not very much of it, so everybody is greedy for it. It is hard to obtain and so people even dream of it. Some go to Africa, some to America. The Chinese used to call America "Old Gold Mountain." Everyone ran here from China for the gold. Once they had got most of the gold from America, they ran off to Australia, to " New Gold Mountain."
People travel all over for the gold. We do not know how many people died on the high seas coming over here after the gold. A lot of them. But communications were not as advanced in those days, and the news did not get reported. A lot of people died and no one ever knew. That is because they met with the difficulty of the evil wind while searching for treasures. They had small boats, nothing like the big ones we have today. Some found gold, but most did not. Everyone knows about those who found the gold, but who knows about all those people who died at sea? There is no record of those who were lost. Many went to New Gold Mountain, to Australia.
People also went to find silver. Gold is first, and silver is second in value. Next comes lapis lazuli, which is translated as "blue gem." Mother-of-pearl has lines running through it that look like cart tracks, but its surface is actually very smooth.
Carnelian is called "horse brain," because there are thread-like lines running through it that resemble blood vessels. In the old days in China, those who smoked pipes had their long pipes made out of carnelian or jade. They were very expensive. Those people, having eaten their fill and having nothing else to do, wanted to be different, to show how unusual they were, and so they made extravagant pipes. They would compete to see who could have the most expensive pipes, to show off how rich they were.
Coral grows in the ocean in formations that look like trees. Some of them grow to be three feet tall. I have seen one that was one foot tall. There are small creatures in the ocean who leave their shells in these shapes that look like trees. Such trees are very expensive.
In China, a man called Shi Chong once competed with a certain relative of the Emperor to show off his wealth. The Emperor had given his relative a coral tree, probably about two feet tall, especially expensive. The person invited Shi Chong to dinner one night and showed him his coral tree. "See my expensive coral tree?" he asked.
Shi Chong picked it up and threw it on the ground, smashed it into pieces. The man was crushed. "That coral tree was given to me by the Emperor! Now what do I do?"
"Do not worry about it," said Shi Chong, "I will replace it. Come over to my house tomorrow and you can pick a coral tree out of my collection."
When the Emperor's relative went to Shi Chong's house the next day, he saw that the living room was filled with lovely coral trees all over three feet tall! The man realized he was nowhere near as wealthy as Shi Chong, even though he was the Emperor's relative, and so he took a coral tree and left.
Later, Shi Chong, however, was murdered for his money. It is said,
People die because of wealth;
Birds die because of food.
Amber is another kind of precious substance. Sometimes it is yellow in color and called golden amber. Pearls are obtained from oysters.
If people should enter the great sea to acquire such things, they may run into trouble. And suppose an evil wind comes up. This is hypothetically speaking, mind you. An evil wind is literally a "black wind." This is something everyone personally has.
What do I mean? This is what happens when your face gets all contorted with affliction and turns black. When you get angry, you have an evil wind. If you have no temper, you do not have an evil wind. The great sea is the sea of our own nature. The evil wind is ignorance. We speak about it in many ways, but it all comes back to the same thing--ignorance. Ignorance is also called affliction. If you have affliction, you have an evil wind. Without affliction, the sea of your own nature is calm and placid. To seek jewels is to enter your own nature to look for treasures. When you try to uncover the treasures within your own nature, you might run into demonic obstacles. Demonic obstacles arise because you do not have enough virtue. If you have not done enough virtuous deeds, your virtue is not complete, and so the evil wind--the demonic obstacle--starts blowing. If you possess great virtue, the evil wind will turn into auspicious clouds--fortunate energy.
In China we say,
When the Way is lofty, dragons and tigers are subdued.
When virtue is profound, ghosts and spirits are respectful.
When the Way is lofty, the dragons will coil up and the tigers will lie down when they see you. Dragons are basically very fierce, they can move mountains and turn over the seas with their spiritual penetrations. But if you have the Way, even though dragons have such spiritual powers, they do not dare use them on you. They have to coil up. Tigers are very mean, but if you have no anger, when they see you they will act like tame dogs--like house pets. They will wag their tails and welcome you like kitty cats. But you must have the Way--Tao. If you do not, the dragons would not coil up and the tigers would not crouch.
If your virtue is sufficiently profound, then when the ghosts and spirits see you they will bow. But you must have the virtue; otherwise, they would not. Therefore, developing virtue by doing virtuous deeds is most important.
The evil wind may toss their boats into the territory of the rakshasa ghosts; they will be in trouble. Rakshasa ghosts eat people's essence and energy. They are female. But if among them--the people on the boat--there is even one person who calls out the name of Guanshiyin Bodhisattva, they will all be saved--all hundreds of myriads of millions of them--from the difficulty of the rakshasas. For this reason, he is called Guanshiyin--the Contemplator of the World's Sounds.
Virtue is something all people should consider the most important issue, because virtue is what differentiates people from animals. Without virtue, we are no different from animals.
Also, virtue must be put into action. If you do not “do” it, it is not there.
In Manchuria, I had a very good friend. He was my good friend because he was on the same Path as I was. I observed filial piety by my mother's grave, and he had done the same by his mother's grave. He was called Filial Son Yu. Before he began his filial practice, he had been a robber. He went everywhere plundering households and kidnapping people.
Once he was wounded in a fight. The wound festered and refused to heal for over half a year. At that time he woke up: "Probably I have been doing too many wrong things and so my wound would not heal." Then he made a vow, "If my wound heals, I will never rob again. I will observe filial piety at the graves of my parents." After he had this thought, his wound was well in a few days, and he went to start his practice. Many strange things happened to him then. There is not enough time to go into all of them in detail today.
Once, seeking to stop the rain to aid his village, he cut off his flesh as an offering to Heaven. While he was sitting beside his parents' graves, it started raining and the rain continued for days and days. He thought, "All the crops will be flooded," and so he began to pray for the rain to stop. As a token of his sincerity, he said, "If the rain stops within three days, I shall cut off my flesh as an offering to the Heaven and the Buddha." After he made this vow, oddly enough, in two and a half days or so, the rain stopped.
To carry out his vow, he stood before a Buddha image and cut off about one or two ounces of his flesh as an offering. Then he fainted from the shock and the pain. When he woke up again, the ground was covered with blood. The magistrate of Shuangcheng County happened to come by. Seeing Filial Son Yu lying in a pool of blood, the magistrate thought he was deranged. But when he found out the details of his offering, he said, "That was terrific!" and was very impressed.
Soon after this incident, a little bird came to visit Filial Son Yu. It chirped in a very strange way. It said, "Do more virtue! Do more virtue! Doing more virtue is good!" [In Chinese, Duo zuo de! Duo zuo de! Zuo de duo hao!] It was telling people to do more good things, the more the better.
That is why I am not afraid of working too hard. I work along with you all day and then I lecture at night. I do so because I want to do more giving of Dharma. In America, the Buddhadharma is extremely scarce and so I am not afraid of working hard to give you the Buddhadharma. No matter how hard it is, I am not going to go on strike. To say nothing of all of you, even if only one or two of you understand what I am saying, that will be enough. I will have found "those who know my sound."
Now there are so many of you who come every day to hear the Sutra. You are all my most understanding Dharma friends and so, even though it gets tiring--people get tired when they work--I go ahead and speak the Buddhadharma for all of you.
return to top