Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva is a very well-known and well-received spiritual figure in the Mahayana belief. This Bodhisattva embodies the qualities of compassion (karuna) that all Buddhas have and it is common for practitioners to seek Him for protection and to answer prayers.
Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva is in Sanskrit and this name has been translated to Guanyin 觀音 (or Guanshiyin 觀世音) Pusa in Chinese, Kannon Bosatsu in Japanese, Chenrezig in Tibetan, just to name a few.
Guanyin is particular popular in societies where Chinese Buddhism is significant or had influenced. This could be due to the combination of the rich history in terms of practice, folklore legends that had incorporated Guanyin and more importantly, the adaption of a female or goddess entity. A good understanding on Mahayana would know the Bodhisattvas do not have gender specific even though the traditional images of Bodhisattvas were found to including moustaches which suggest masculine qualities.
Somehow, the adaption of Guanyin as a female-looking Bodhisattva surfaced and it is probably natural for most people to be able to relate the quality of compassion to a motherly figure better. It is also a common understanding that Guanyin is able to manifest into different forms. This understanding actually goes down two paths: one is that the different manifestations is meant to appear appropriately to a person to preach the Dharma (that is taught in the Lotus Sutra); another is that Guanyin manifests into some other spiritual figures which possess unique practice protocol which influenced the many diverse techniques that can be found in the esoteric division in the Mahayana belief.
There are three main festivals in Chinese Buddhism that commemorate Guanyin using the Chinese lunar calendar and they are:
- 19th day of the 2nd month – commemorating the Birth of Guanyin
- 19th day of the 6th month – commemorating the Enlightenment of Guanyin
- 19th day of the 9th month – commemorating the Ordination of Guanyin
Today is the 19th day of the 6th month in this year’s Chinese lunar calendar and commemorates the Enlightenment of Guanyin. So I contemplated on the subject of the Enlightenment of Guanyin after I had recited Chapter 25 of the Lotus Sutra in addition to the Chapter 16 that I am usually performing as my morning service.
It came to mind of a long reply that I had left as a comment in a friend’s facebook discussion a few years ago. I had also reflected on the scripture of Chapter 25 and the general happenings in relation to Guanyin-worship.
So it is not uncommon to always find people praying and worshiping this or that god, this or that Pusa; and Guanyin included, that there are always people demanding blessings, demanding wishes to be fulfilled. I do not think that is inherently wrong because it is true that people in general always wish to have some sort of extra help, supernatural or not. So the Guanyin-belief had kind of regress to a merely worship-belief, that the devotee shall receive some blessings like healing the sick, striking lottery, passing the driving test and many other mundane wishes by just offering some joss sticks, fruits and flowers. I label this as a spiritual-trading, which is, I give you something and I expect you to return me something, which is usually what I want.
Will Guanyin grant the wishes of these people? Honestly, I do not know but my (probably) intelligent guess is that Guanyin would do what is best for the person that goes to Her. But is this healthy? I personally think this is not as I am coming from the understanding of the Universal Gate Chapter of the Lotus Sutra.
The Universal Gate Chapter actually has a few key points but I am keeping it concise with regards to what I am discussing here. The sole reason for Guanyin to be travelling in different world system is preach the Dharma to save the spiritual lives of sentient beings that He come across. He does so by manifesting into the forms of the recipient. This means that Guanyin would understand the recipient and appearing as a friend, someone of same status and to offer spiritual salvation.
“…in various forms travelling in different worlds to liberate sentient beings…”
So we can see that what Guanyin does actually do is different from how Guanyin is worshipped these days and this is the result mainly due to misinformation.
Even though there are practices that deem Universal Gate Chapter as a stand-alone scripture, we have to understand that it is, after all, a chapter taken from the Lotus Sutra and to look at Universal Gate Chapter as part of the Lotus Sutra structure makes more sense.
Lotus Sutra focuses on preaching the Bodhisattva-path, which is, the Mahayana; that would mean that Guanyin takes different forms to preach the Bodhisattva-path to recipients that He comes across. It is by possessing the correct outlook in life that can enable us to find silver lining in any situation.
One important difference between Mahayana belief and others is that, we aspire to become who we venerate. Looking beyond the supernatural abilities those Bodhisattvas might have manifested, there are key lessons us to learn and this is how eventually we can become who we venerate. This process is known as Perfection.
Lord Buddha, being spiritually enlightened, was of course concern with our spiritual lives. Guanyin is very respectful towards Lord Buddha and this can be found in the same Universal Gate Chapter. So for Guanyin-believers, a better way of worshipping is to acquire and equip the Dharma well and be a friendly person towards another to touch him spiritually.
As mentioned earlier, Guanyin is involved or included in a number of different practices in Buddhism and some of these practices had evolved into sectarian movement. So it will not be impossible for a Guanyin-believer to run into some other Guanyin-believers that are influenced by some possible pessimistic practices.
I am not judging whether are those other type of Guanyin-believer right or wrong but I strongly recommend the practice of Guanyin from the Universal Gate Chapter which can lead to the practice of the Lotus Sutra. This is because Guanyin puts Her compassion into a very active mode which is in-line with what Lord Buddha had done for us, that had manifested in this world and reveal the good Dharma.
Such heightened spiritual outlook naturally enables a believer to receive blessings without the need to demand or trade with anything. This is because the Mahayana is the blessed spiritual path.
So I do hope that on this day which commemorates the Enlightenment of Guanyin, a good time for every one of us to contemplate and reflect what type of belief are we practicing. Especially for Guanyin-believer, I sincerely wish that you will aspire to go to the next level to embody the traits in the Universal Gate Chapter that can eventually leads you into the practice of Lotus Sutra.
Homage to Lord Buddha!
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