OF THE TWENTY-EIGHT chapters of the Lotus Sutra, there is none that has been more misinterpreted than this one. Having been interpreted superficially and literally, it has been regarded as teaching an easygoing faith: anyone who calls upon the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World will be delivered instantly from all his sufferings.
To be sure, the first half of this chapter deals for the most part with the supernatural power of this bodhisattva, declaring that if living beings keep in mind and revere the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World, they will be freed from the seven dangers of fire, water, wind, sword, demon, torture, and robbery. If they continue to revere the bodhisattva they will be delivered from the four human sufferings of birth, old age, sickness, and death. If they revere the bodhisattva still more, they will be emancipated from the three poisons of desire, anger, and foolishness, and they will be able to obtain the kind of children they desire. When ordinary people read chapter 25 with a shallow understanding, it is only to be expected that they will fall into an easygoing faith. Such a misinterpretation of this chapter comes from their insufficient understanding of the teachings preached in the rest of the Lotus Sutra. If they could truly understand at least chapter 16, "Revelation of the [Eternal] Life of the Tathagata," they could not misunderstand chapter 25 in this way.
The causes of their misunderstanding are basically two. The first is their superficial idea of salvation, which they seek in something outside themselves. As has already been explained in chapter 16, salvation lies in our awareness of the existence of the Eternal Original Buddha, who is omnipresent both within and outside us, and in our earnest and heartfelt realization that we are caused to live by the Buddha.
Such a firm realization leads us to true peace of mind. At the same time, our speech and conduct come naturally to be in accord with the Buddha and will produce harmony in our surroundings. The Land of Eternally Tranquil Light, namely, an ideal society, will be formed when a harmonious world gradually spreads in all directions.
True salvation comes about in this way. Misunderstanding salvation is caused by our mistakenly regarding it as meaning freedom from pain and distress through the help of some outside agency. This is just like a person who suffers from a headache caused by constipation and takes aspirin for the headache. He will temporarily feel relief from his headache because of the medicine, but he will not recover completely so long as he is not cured of his constipation, the root cause. In the same way, to rely completely on power outside oneself will not cause one to be truly saved from suffering, even though he may be relieved of an immediate problem.
Secondly, there is a great misunderstanding of the status of bodhisattvas. True salvation is realized only through the Buddha; this should be clear from the principle of salvation discussed above. Salvation comes from our realization of the existence of the truth, and there is only one truth. A bodhisattva is one who has a great will to save others, and he can certainly save all living beings suffering from delusion and suffering on specific occasions. Fundamental salvation, however, is not brought about except by our realization of the existence of the Buddha. How does a bodhisattva manifest his salvation to living beings? This is, of course, a salvation revealed by him to save them from their delusions and suffering on specific occasions. A much more important working of his salvation, however, is to transmit the Buddha's teachings as his messenger and to provide us with a good example of religious life. The true salvation of the bodhisattva lies in leading us to salvation through his good example.
The great bodhisattvas have perfected their virtues, and each is possessed of special virtues peculiar to him. For example, the Bodhisattva Never Despise is characterized by his practice of paying respect to others and disclosing their buddha-nature. The Bodhisattva Medicine King displays his distinctive character in his practice of repaying the Buddha's grace through his personal practice of the teachings. The Bodhisattva Wonder Sound is characterized by his practice of having a great regard for the realization of an ideal. We can model ourselves after the special virtues of one or another of the various bodhisattvas.
The Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World is not a buddha but a bodhisattva. He is one whom we regard as a model, but he should not be the object of our prayers for salvation. In this chapter, the Buddha declares the supernatural power of the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World as a model in order to cause us to wish to be as splendid as this bodhisattva and to try all the harder to practice the teachings of the Lotus Sutra.
To keep in mind and revere the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World is to think about this bodhisattva and to feel a longing for him as an ideal model. To keep in mind this bodhisattva, with deep longing for him, will help improve our character. However, since ancient times most people have not interpreted the meaning of keeping in mind the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World in this way but have revered the bodhisattva in order to be set free from actual suffering through the bodhisattva's supernatural power. This cannot be said to be true faith; true faith is much more profound.
Let us study chapter 25 with these basic points in mind. This chapter includes a few difficult or puzzling terms, but it will be enough for us to understand its general teaching and the meaning of the important points.
WHAT IS AVALOKITESHVARA? The chapter begins with the following question that the Bodhisattva Infinite Thought asked the Buddha: "World-honored One! For what reason is the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara named Regarder of the Cries of the World?" The Buddha answered that if there are countless living beings suffering from pain and distress who call upon the name of the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World, the bodhisattva will instantly regard their cries and all of them will be delivered, and for this reason he is named Regarder of the Cries of the World.
Kanzeon or Kannon is the name in Japanese of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of great compassion, mercy, and love. Kan means to behold something, and zeon indicates the idea of the cries of the people. These cries are not limited to people crying out aloud but include their earnest desires and aspirations. The Bodhisattva Kanzeon may be considered as the bodhisattva who, by virtue of his supernatural power, is capable of regarding or taking notice of the cries of the people whether these represent either suffering or desire, letting them be delivered from their suffering by preaching the teaching suitable to each one, leading them to their desire, and appearing in the forms suited to those to be led.
These are absolutely indispensable conditions for those who are in a position of leading others. The parents in a family must always watch over their children's health and their state of mind in order to bring them up correctly. When the parents regard the cry of each child - this child needs a certain food, or that child seeks something - they prepare suitable meals, give the children sound training, and advise them on their problems. The parents lead their children in the way conducive to their health and suited to their desires. All parents worthy of the name make sacrifices for the happiness of their children. Such people are ideal parents and are also a manifestation of the spirit of the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World.
At work, managers and supervisors must discern in each person who works under them what his character is, how much ability he has, what he is dissatisfied with, what he is worried about, and what hope or ambition he cherishes, and they must guide and manage each employee in the way best suited to him. Through such discernment, guidance, and management, they can supervise a large number of people and can cultivate each one's ability. Managers can then efficiently accomplish the work in their charge. The need of such a spirit and ability is even greater in the case of high executives and presidents of companies, teachers responsible for the education of many students, politicians, and government ministers. All leaders need accurate insight into human nature and the spirit of great compassion that makes one willing to undergo any self-sacrifice for the sake of others, as with the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World.
A believer in the Lotus Sutra, who has the earnest wish to spread the Buddha's teachings abroad, to lead all people to the way of the perfection of their character, and to establish an ideal society in this world based on the spirit of great benevolence and compassion shown by the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World, must clearly discern the worries, sufferings, and desires of those around him. He must also be able to lead those people freely with the tactful means best suited to each one. Then he can effectively carry out the practices of the bodhisattvas.
By virtue of his supernatural power, the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World can save all living beings from the seven dangers and three poisons, give them what they desire, and preach the Law freely by appearing in whichever of his thirty-three incarnations suits the nature of the follower. The supernatural power displayed by this bodhisattva is the goal that a believer in the Lotus Sutra must endeavor to reach by following the example of the bodhisattva, and it is also the ideal required of a leader, who must set an example for others through his position.
THE COMPASSION OF AVALOKITESHVARA. Since ancient times, statues and paintings of the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World have featured a very compassionate and peaceful facial expression. Buddhist sculptors and painters have traditionally depicted this bodhisattva as an ideal leader characterized by gentleness, tolerance, and compassion. Our minds are naturally mellowed by worshiping a sculpture or painted image of this bodhisattva.
Dr. Hideki Yukawa, a theoretical physicist and winner of the Nobel Prize for physics in 1951, had a photograph of the Eleven-faced Kannon with a Thousand Arms made the frontispiece of his book Man and Science. He appended the following commentary: "Although this image of Kannon has eleven faces and a thousand arms, it seems to lose nothing of the harmony of the whole body and radiates mental peace. It may not suit the taste of modern people, and its perfect features may instead dissatisfy them somewhat. People today possess many faces and arms as a result of the remarkable progress of science and technology. They now have new eyes for their work, such as the microscope and telescope. They have produced magic hands in order to avoid the danger of radio-activity. Electronic computers have replaced men's brains. These all aid the advance of human beings through science. People today, however, live in a world surrounded by machinery, and have gradually become angular and nervy. They seem to be in the process of discovering a fresher, sharper, more streamlined beauty. A peaceful and compassionate expression like that of Kannon is not to be seen in today's people. There is a certain danger in the tendency to believe that a person who is not somewhat neurotic is abnormal. But is it not true that the more marked this tendency becomes, the more deeply and keenly do they seek mental peace and world peace?"
How can we attain the self-sacrificing spirit, the supreme discerning power and leadership of the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World? We can do this only by receiving, keeping, cultivating, and practicing the teachings preached by Shakyamuni Buddha. This bodhisattva has also obtained his supernatural power by means of the truth preached by the Buddha. This is clearly expressed in the sutra as follows: "The Bodhisattva Infinite Thought said to the Buddha: 'World-honored One! Let me now make an offering to the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World.'"
"Thereupon he unloosed from his neck a necklace of pearls worth a hundred thousand pieces of gold and presented it to him, making this remark: 'Good sir! Accept this pious gift of a pearl necklace.' But the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World would not accept it.
"Again the Bodhisattva Infinite Thought addressed the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World: 'Good sir! Out of compassion for us, accept this necklace.' Then the Buddha said to the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World: 'Out of compassion for this Bodhisattva Infinite Thought and the four groups, and for the gods, dragons, yakshas, gandharvas, asuras, garudas, kimnaras, mahoragas, human and nonhuman beings, and others, accept this necklace.' Then the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World, having compassion for all the four groups and the gods, dragons, human and nonhuman beings, and others, accepted the necklace, and dividing it into two parts, offered one part to Shakyamuni Buddha and offered the other to the stupa of the Buddha Abundant Treasures."
The division of the necklace into two by the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World indicates the following: "I owe my supernatural power to the Tathagata Shakyamuni, who taught me the truth, and to the Tathagata Abundant Treasures, who bore witness to the truth." The bodhisattva revealed here that he had obtained his transcendent power as the result of realizing and practicing the truth taught by the Tathagata Shakyamuni. Since many people have lost sight of this important point, they entertain the superstitious and simplistic belief that they will be saved from their sufferings by merely keeping in mind and revering the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World. Modern people must reject such a mistaken belief entirely.
THE VOW OF AVALOKITESHVARA. We can understand this clearly through the following verse spoken by the Buddha in answer to the inquiry of the Bodhisattva Infinite Thought as to why this bodhisattva was named Regarder of the Cries of the World.
"Listen to the deeds of the Cry Regarder,
Who well responds to every quarter;
His vast vow is deep as the sea,
Inconceivable in its eons.
Serving many thousands of kotis of buddhas,
He has vowed a great pure vow."
To paraphrase: Listen first to all the deeds that the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World has accumulated. This bodhisattva made a vow to help all people out of difficulties in the way suited to each one. His vast vow is as deep as the sea and inconceivable by ordinary people for eons. With such a vast vow, he has served countless buddhas and has vowed a great pure vow.
From the above verse, we see that all the supernatural powers of the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World are based on his vow to save all living beings by means of his powers, and that he obtained such powers as the result of his having made this vow and having practiced the Buddha's teachings for a very long time. The prose portion of the chapter indicates the effect of the bodhisattva's supernatural power and the verse portion its cause--the great vow itself. Through both portions of this chapter, the Buddha teaches us that if we make vows to benefit others and vows of compassion, and practice with a steadfast mind, we will surely attain the same stage as the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World.
The verse portion of this chapter is one of the most famous in the Lotus Sutra. In the first part the Buddha mentions various difficulties and calamities that beset living beings. Then, summarizing, he preaches as follows:
"The living, crushed and harassed,
Oppressed by countless pains:
The Cry Regarder with his mystic wisdom
Can save such a suffering world.
Perfect in supernatural powers,
Widely practiced in wisdom and tact,
In the lands of the universe there is no place
Where he does not manifest himself.
All the evil realms of existence,
Hells, hungry spirits, and animals,
Sorrows of birth, old age, disease, death,
All by degrees are ended by him."
The mystic wisdom of the Cry Regarder is one through whose power he can discern people's minds and can give them the teaching of salvation suited to them. The Cry Regarder desires to be perfect in such supernatural powers as can save a suffering world. He wishes to practice wisdom and tact extensively and to manifest himself to save people throughout the universe. He aspires to save those who have fallen into the evil states of existence, including the realm of the hells, hungry spirits, and animals. He is also anxious to gradually remove the sorrows of birth, old age, disease, and death from people's minds, and finally to lead them to extinguish all sorrows. This is the great vow taken by the Cry Regarder.
According to the extant Sanskrit text of the sutra, the above verse is followed by the sentences: "Hearing from the Buddha this, / Infinite Thought with joy and satisfaction / Spoke thus in verse." When this verse portion from the Sanskrit is inserted, the continuity becomes clearer and harmonizes with the whole of the Lotus Sutra. The next portion should be considered as the verses with which the Bodhisattva Infinite Thought, moved by the verses spoken by the Buddha concerning the various vows of compassion of the Cry Regarder, answered commending the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World.
"True regard, serene regard,
Far-reaching wise regard,
Regard of pity, compassionate regard,
Ever longed for, ever looked for!
Pure and serene in radiance,
Wisdom's sun destroying darkness,
Subduer of woes of storm and fire,
Who illumines all the world!
Law of pity, thunder quivering,
Compassion wondrous as a great cloud,
Pouring spiritual rain like nectar,
Quenching the flames of distress!
In disputes before a magistrate,
Or in fear in battle's array,
If he thinks of the Cry Regarder's power
All his enemies will be routed.
His is the wondrous voice, voice of the world-regarder,
Brahma-voice, voice of the rolling tide,
Voice all world-surpassing,
Therefore ever to be kept in mind,
With never a doubting thought.
Regarder of the World's Cries, pure and holy,
In pain, distress, death, calamity,
Able to be a sure reliance,
Perfect in all merit,
With compassionate eyes beholding all,
Boundless ocean of blessings!
Prostrate let us revere him."
True regard signifies the bodhisattva's ability to penetrate the truth, serene regard his freedom from delusions, far-reaching wise regard his perfected wisdom of saving all living beings, regard of pity his pity for all suffering living beings and his determination to save them from such a state, and compassionate regard the compassion by which he leads them to happiness. These regards imply admiration of the eyes with which the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World is endowed. To admire the eyes of the bodhisattva, of course, indicates admiration of his mind.
The phrase "ever longed for, ever looked for" means that we desire to have eyes (a mind) like the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World and to take the bodhisattva as our model.
Because of his compassionate mind, the bodhisattva radiates a ray of pure and serene light and illuminates everything around him. This is the ray of light emitted by his warm character, and it naturally brightens the minds of those around him. The phrase "pure and serene in radiance" includes this very holy meaning. His wisdom's sun destroys darkness. As often mentioned in this book, darkness disappears as soon as true wisdom's sun shines upon it, because darkness comes from the state in which the real aspect of all things is covered with delusion. When delusion vanishes, various calamities will disappear and the whole of society will become bright. This state is expressed in the lines, "Subduer of woes of storm and fire, / Who illumines all the world!"
The words "law of pity, thunder quivering" commend the great power of the precepts kept by the bodhisattva. The worth of the precepts depends on the fundamental spirit of the person who establishes and keeps them. The value of rules, laws, and ordinances depends on the spirit of those who establish and issue them. The more selfishness their spirit contains, the lower the value of such rules, laws, and ordinances becomes. It is not good to ignore the general public, forcing people to observe difficult laws or rules simply because the formulators of such laws have themselves already reached a high state of mind; laws or rules based on such a self-centered and self-satisfied premise are inferior.
On the other hand, the precepts of the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World arise from his compassionate mind, through which he feels pity for all living beings and desires to remove their sufferings. His precepts, based on his compassionate mind, have as great a power as the roll of thunder. Here is the model for those who are in positions of leadership.
A profound meaning is included in the following lines: "Compassion wondrous as a great cloud, / Pouring spiritual rain like nectar, / Quenching the flames of distress!" Compassion indicates the spirit of the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World, who desires to make all living beings happy. His compassionate mind is as infinite as a great cloud covering the sky. With this spirit, he pours the rain of the Law on living beings and quenches the flames of their distress, just as the rain of dew reinvigorates withered plants.
The supernatural power of this bodhisattva is described in the following lines: "In disputes before a magistrate, / Or in fear in battle's array, / If he thinks of the Cry Regarder's power / All his enemies will be routed." Here we must read between the lines. All disputes, large or small, originate in the conflict of egos. They come from man's merciless mind, which does not care what becomes of others, and his intolerant mind, which cannot forgive others. At such times, we must keep in mind the name of the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World and must think of his power. The bodhisattva has made a great vow to regard the cries of people's minds and to remove their sufferings. We must remember his gentle mind, his self-sacrificing spirit, and his compassionate face, full of warmth. Then there will be responsive communion between his mind and ours.
RESPONSIVE COMMUNION. If we think of the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World, our mind is spontaneously led to the same mental stage as his. As a result, we will generate feelings of warmth and tolerance. We can rid ourselves of disputatiousness caused by egoism and attain a peaceful state of mind. We will feel easy even in conflicts and disputes, and accordingly these will be brought to a peaceful settlement. This is the true meaning of responsive communion between the bodhisattva and ordinary people.
The following lines also contain heartening words: "His is the wondrous voice, voice of the world-regarder, / Brahma-voice, voice of the rolling tide, / Voice all world-surpassing, / Therefore ever to be kept in mind." As mentioned before, "the wondrous voice" means the word of the truth. The words "voice of the world-regarder" have already been explained. The words "Brahma-voice" express the idea of the teaching preached with a pure mind. The words "voice of the rolling tide" indicate that the teaching affects the depth of listeners' minds, just as the voice of the rolling tide reverberates within one even at a long distance. The words "voice all world-surpassing" mean the teaching with the supernatural power that enables it to overcome any delusion and suffering in the world. Therefore, all living beings should ever keep in mind the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World, who preaches the teaching that is supreme in every respect, and should desire to be like this bodhisattva. The verse section ends with the following lines:
"With never a doubting thought.
Regarder of the World's Cries, pure and holy,
In pain, distress, death, calamity,
Able to be a sure reliance,
Perfect in all merit,
With compassionate eyes beholding all,
Boundless ocean of blessings!
Prostrate let us revere him."
We must not keep in mind the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World doubting whether our desire will be accomplished or not. We can always rely upon this bodhisattva in the face of pain, distress, death, and calamity. He is perfect in all merits and beholds all living beings with his compassionate eyes. All blessings can be bestowed on us by virtue of his power of compassion. For this reason we must prostrate ourselves before him, revering him and following his practices.
Chapter 25 ends with the following words: "Thereupon the Bodhisattva Stage Holder rose from his seat, and went before and said to the Buddha: 'World-honored One! If any living being hears of the sovereign work and the all-sided transcendent powers shown in this chapter of the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World, it should be known that the merits of this man are not a few.'
"While the Buddha preached this chapter of the All-sided One, the eighty-four thousand living beings in the assembly all set their minds upon Perfect Enlightenment, with which nothing can compare."
Summarizing the teachings of this chapter, the following three points may be mentioned:
The first teaching is: If a person is in a position of leadership, he must regard the wishes of all the people and with a perfect mind of compassion sacrifice himself for the suffering people, and he must help them in their suffering and distress. The second teaching is: When a person is confronted by a crushing or harassing problem or any conflict, or feels the urge to indulge in any evil, he should call to mind the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World, who is gentle, peaceful, and tolerant. Then he will be able to open his mind and cope calmly with any problem, however crushing or harassing. He will also become free of disputatiousness and all evil impulses. The third teaching is: A person should aim at reaching the mental stage of the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World, who possesses excellent virtue and supernatural power. For this purpose, he must follow the teaching of the truth taught by the Tathagata Shakyamuni and practice the disciplines without retrogression.
From these three teachings, we can well understand the true intention of the Buddha in this chapter.
Copyright © 2009 by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.