Lectures by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
Constantly Be Mindful of the Guanshiyin in Your Own Nature
In studying Buddhism, we should not seek for what is lofty or profound. The ordinary mind is the Way. The straight mind is the Way-place. Cultivation must be done with an honest mind. Don't use a greedy mind to recite Guanyin's name. Recite with an ordinary mind, without seeking anything. If you truly recite Guanyin's name, how could you think of eating good food, wearing nice clothes, or living in a fine place? You would forget everything else and become one with Guanyin Bodhisattva. There is a Guanyin Bodhisattva in every person's mind. That's why you are able to be mindful. You are being mindful of the Guanyin Bodhisattva in your mind.
Guanyin Bodhisattva has no thoughts, no attachments, and nothing that he seeks. His work is to cross over living beings, to help living beings leave suffering and attain bliss, end birth and death, and quickly become Buddhas. He doesn't seek anything from living beings; he simply wants them to gain true understanding and put down all their greed. That's his hope for each of us. And so, as we recite Guanshiyin Bodhisattva's name, we should not constantly indulge in idle thoughts.
We recite Guanyin Bodhisattva's name and bow to him, but when he manifests before us we don't recognize him. We are truly pathetic. Not recognizing Guanyin Bodhisattva when he manifests, we fail the test. When we recite his name, we should learn to have Guanyin Bodhisattva's great kindness, compassion, vows, and power.
When people treat us badly, scold us, beat us, or try to kill us, we should remain unmoved and endure it, paying back the debts we owe. If we hadn't killed, scolded, or beaten others in past lives, they wouldn't be treating us that way now. They want to hurt us now, because in the past when we were stupid and deluded, we also hurt them. In the past when we didn't understand this principle, we refused to pay our debts. Now that we understand, we should honestly acknowledge our debts. To acknowledge and pay our debts is to truly see Guanyin Bodhisattva and become a true member of his Dharma family.
He Contemplates with Kindness, Compassion, Joy and Giving
How can we recognize Guanshiyin Bodhisattva? We have to know his principles. His principles are kindness, compassion, joy, and giving. We should learn Guanyin Bodhisattva's kindness and be kind towards those with whom we have no affinities. Kindness means making living beings happy. It means sharing our own happiness with living beings, not being selfish.
Compassion pulls beings out of suffering. We should help those who are suffering or in difficulty. Joy means being happy and not feeling anger even when others get angry at us. Giving means taking our most prized possessions and giving them to living beings. If we can base our practice on the four limitless minds of kindness, compassion, joy, and giving, then we are true Buddhists. Those who lack the four limitless minds are not qualified to be Buddhists.
We should never be selfish, seek personal gain, tell lies, or covet what is not ours. If we wish to win a fortune at a casino so we can do meritorious deeds, we are seeking beyond our rightful due and Guanyin Bodhisattva will not help us out.
We should follow the Six Guiding Principles that are advocated every day at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas: no fighting, no greed, no seeking, no selfishness, no pursuit of self-benefit, and no lying. If we can honestly apply the six guidelines as our function and take the four limitless minds as our substance, so that function and substance assist each other, then we will recognize what Buddhism and Guanshiyin Bodhisattva are all about.
We recite "Guanshiyin Bodhisattva," but do we know what it means? Those who know Chinese might understand a little, but for Westerners who don't know Chinese, it's just like reciting a mantra. For example, people recite " Om mani padme hum" but they don't know what it means.
Guan means to contemplate, to observe the sounds (yin) of the world (shi). That's what this Bodhisattva does, because he has nothing better to do. He looks, not outside, but inside living beings' minds, to see whose mind is free of idle thoughts. Once the mind is empty, then one can become enlightened. A verse says, "People flock from the ten directions / To study the unconditioned." All the faithful men and women come together to cultivate the unconditioned dharma. Reciting Guanyin's name is an unconditioned dharma for stopping our idle thoughts. It is unconditioned, and yet nothing is not conditioned by it.
We Have a Bodhisattva for a Brother and a Dharma King for a Father
When you recite "Namo Guanshiyin Bodhisattva," Guanshiyin Bodhisattva is mindful of you. It's just as when you think of your relative, your relative thinks of you. We have been relatives in the Dharma with Guanshiyin Bodhisattva for countless ages. It all began with Amitabha Buddha, the teaching host of the Western Land of Ultimate Bliss and the teacher of Guanyin Bodhisattva. Guanyin Bodhisattva and Great Strength Bodhisattva help Amitabha Buddha to propagate the Pure Land Dharma door.
If we recite "Namo Amitabha Buddha," we will be reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss and Amitabha Buddha will be our guide and teacher. Since Guanshiyin Bodhisattva is Amitabha Buddha's disciple, he is our elder Dharma brother. In fact, he is the elder brother of all living beings who have not yet been born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. If I explain it this way, we become very close relatives. So we are mindful of our brother, and our brother also keeps us in mind. We are Guanshiyin Bodhisattva's younger brothers, and Guanyin Bodhisattva is our elder brother.
Someone is saying, "How can Guanshiyin Bodhisattva be my elder brother? Doesn't that make me too exalted?" Not only does Guanyin Bodhisattva regard us as his younger brothers, he treats all living beings as his younger brothers. Otherwise, why would he listen to our sounds and come rescue us from our suffering? When we get ourselves into trouble, why would he want to help us out? He sees that all living beings are just the same as his own hands and feet, his own flesh and bones. That's why he fears neither trouble nor difficulty, and comes to rescue all the beings who are suffering in this Saha world.
None of us should forget our Dharma brother. When we recite "Namo Guanshiyin Bodhisattva," Guanshiyin Bodhisattva is also mindful of us. When we call out to Guanshiyin Bodhisattva, we're calling our elder brother. He then calls out to his younger brothers, who are future Bodhisattvas and future Buddhas. If we contemplate in this way, we'll recite Guanshiyin Bodhisattva's name even more sincerely, as if we were reciting our own brother's name.
Now that we have encountered the Dharma door of reciting Guanyin Bodhisattva's name, we shouldn't miss our chance. We should recite as sincerely as we can. But as we recite, we shouldn't let our heads droop. We should lift our heads up and recite with courage and vigor. When Guanyin Bodhisattva sees our vigorous spirit, he'll take us by the hand and say, "Quickly come with me!" Then he'll lead us step by step towards the Western Land of Ultimate Bliss.
Someone else is wondering, "Why does Guanshiyin Bodhisattva do so much looking, while I am not allowed to look at anything at all?" You should know that your looking and Guanyin Bodhisattva's looking are not the same. Guanyin Bodhisattva looks inside, but you look outside. Guanyin Bodhisattva looks at his own nature. He has every living being on his radar screen, and he knows all the thoughts in their minds.
Because some living beings are far away from him, even a thousand hands and a thousand eyes are not enough. He wants to look at infinite living beings, but he cannot see them all. That's why he turns his attention inward to look at and listen to his own nature. He looks at the living beings in his own nature and saves those who are in suffering. You, on the other hand, look outside and forget all about your inherent wisdom. That's why, in response to your idle thought, I said your looking and his looking are different.
Kindness and Compassion Are Guanshiyin
Guanshiyin Bodhisattva contemplates not his own sound, but all the sounds of the world. There's a saying, "With no self and no others, he contemplates at ease." "He Who Contemplates at Ease" is another name for Guanshiyin, so Guanshiyin is also devoid of self and others. Anyone who is devoid of self and others is Guanshiyin. If you are free of arrogance, jealousy, contrariness, and attachment to self and others, then you are Guanshiyin. If you have these faults, then you are not. Seek within yourself, not outside, for Guanshiyin. If you wish to become one with Guanshiyin, then you cannot be jealous of or wish to obstruct others.
Learn to be like Guanshiyin by getting rid of your bad temper, greed, anger, and stupidity. If you can get rid of the three poisons and cultivate precepts, concentration, and wisdom, you are Guanshiyin Bodhisattva. Are you Guanshiyin Bodhisattva? If so, then you should not give rise to anger or ignorance, but instead should cultivate compassion, patience, vigor, giving, morality, Chan samadhi, and Prajna.
Whoever has Prajna is Guanshiyin; whoever doesn't, is not. The little child who knows how to nod his head is also demonstrating that he has Prajna. We all have a Guanshiyin Bodhisattva in our hearts, but we haven't seen him so we don't know that he's there. Now that I've introduced him to you, you should always listen to the Guanshiyin Bodhisattva in your mind.
"Who is Guanshiyin Bodhisattva?" you ask. I don't know. But the Sixth Patriarch long ago said, "Kindness and compassion are Guanyin; joy and giving are Great Strength." If you do kind and compassionate things, you are Guanshiyin Bodhisattva. If you joyfully give to others, you are Great Strength Bodhisattva. Not recognizing these two Bodhisattvas who are right beside you every day, you get mad at them all the time.
And you recite "Namo Amitabha Buddha" all day long, but you don't even look at Amitabha Buddha when he appears before you. You fail to recognize Guanshiyin, Great Strength, and Amitabha when coming face to face with them. The Three Sages of the Western Land are constantly right next to you, but you insist on putting them at a distance. And so although Guanshiyin Bodhisattva is so kind and compassionate, he cannot help you. Great Strength Bodhisattva is joyous and giving, but he has no way either. Amitabha Buddha thinks, "Let's wait a little longer. Gradually, one of these days, he will bring forth the Bodhi mind."
Turn the Light Around and Contemplate at Ease
"When Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara was practicing the profound Prajna Paramita, he illuminated the five skandhas and saw that they are all empty, and he crossed beyond all suffering and difficulty." This line from the Heart Sutra speaks of Guanshiyin (whose name in Sanskrit is Avalokiteshvara) Bodhisattva, who realized perfect penetration by means of the faculty of hearing.
He "turned the hearing back to listen to his own nature, so his nature attained the unsurpassed Way." To turn the hearing back means to "turn the light around and reflect within," and to "investigate." If you investigate, you will discover an inconceivable state. I cannot describe this state to you; if you want to taste its flavor, you have to work at your own practice.
Turning the light around means to reflect, to investigate, to illuminate. You have to truly practice if you want to experience that inconceivable state. You turn the light around and reflect within, using your Prajna wisdom to illuminate it and dispel all the darkness. This is also known as turning the hearing back to listen to your own nature. Your inherent nature is pure and undefiled, but your mind--not the true mind, but the human mind which exploits for selfish benefit--is defiled. That mind is very unreliable, like a monkey that bounces up and down all day long.
Turning the hearing back to listen to the nature means watching over the mind until the mind returns to the nature. The mind moves, but the nature is still and unmoving. When the stillness reaches an extreme, the light becomes penetrating. When you are still to the utmost point, the light appears and your nature attains to the unsurpassed Way. This is the method that Guanshiyin Bodhisattva cultivated.
Reflecting within means seeking inside yourself, listening to your nature to see if you have thoughts of greed, anger, or stupidity. If the three poisons are not present, then you have the three nonoutflow studies: precepts, concentration, and wisdom. This is the general meaning of turning the hearing around to listen to the nature.
Because he turned the hearing back to listen to his own nature, he was able to contemplate at ease. Being at ease is a state of being without others, self, living beings, or a life span. "At what level is one at ease?" you ask. One is at ease at the level of sagehood. Ordinary people are not at ease. Sages have no mark of others, self, living beings, or life span, so they can be at ease. Ordinary people are attached to these four marks, so they are never at ease.
People study the Buddhadharma but cannot see the four marks as empty, so they cannot obtain ease. To be at ease, you must sweep away the three minds and annul the four marks. "The mind of the past cannot be got at," because it has already passed. "The mind of the present cannot be got at. "You may say "this" is the present, but by then it has already become the past. There is no such thing as "the present"; it is false. "The mind of the future cannot be got at," because it is not here yet. Since the future hasn't arrived, why think about it? If you know that the three minds cannot be obtained and the four marks are empty, then you are the Bodhisattva Who Contemplates at Ease.
We are holding a Chan session so we can contemplate at ease. Everyone should contemplate at ease. Don't say, "Guanshiyin Bodhisattva is the Bodhisattva Who Contemplates at Ease; it says so in the Heart Sutra." Whoever is at ease is the Bodhisattva Who Contemplates at Ease. This Bodhisattva doesn't have a fixed identity. All living beings can be the Bodhisattva Who Contemplates at Ease.
As you begin to sit in Chan, contemplate yourself to see if you are at ease. If you are, you'll be able to "illuminate the five skandhas and see that they are all empty." That is what is meant by "practicing the profound Prajna Paramita." If you can do that, then you'll be able to "cross beyond all suffering and difficulty." Having ended all suffering, you are at ease. Not only will Guanshiyin Bodhisattva become one with us, all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in the ten directions will become one with us.
return to top