12 June 2013

Lotus Sutra Study Questions 25

Chapter 25 of the Lotus Sutra is among the most frequently chanted Buddhist texts in East Asia.  Its popularity may reflect its accessibility and the profundity of its message.  In content, this chapter sings the praises of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, whose name is translated in the Chinese editions variously as the one who hears the cries of the world, the world-voice-perceiver, the cry regarder; in all these translations, the essential point is that Avalokiteshvara represents the capacity to recognize and respond to the sufferings of others, even at a distance.  This capacity is compassion.

When the sutra calls on us to contemplate the power of the Cry Regarder, what the sutra is asking us to do on one level is to contemplate the power of compassion, and to cultivate that ability in ourselves. We have the capacity to do it.  It is in our power to develop in this way.  We ought to do it. This is how I have been taught to understand this chapter.

Other meanings are also available, and can be just as meaningful in regards to practice.  For instance, in some traditions practitioners are advised to recite the name of Avalokiteshvara, calling on her by name for aid (in the form of Guan Yin, Kanzeon, or Kwanseum).  This is another way to understand the sutra's repeated insistence that we should contemplate the power of the Cry Regarder.  And the famous Tibetan mantra OM MANI PEME HUM?  That, also, is an invocation to Avalokiteshvara; it is considered by many in this tradition to be the most important of Buddhist practices, and also the most accessible to all.  Anyone can cultivate this capacity, and more than one method exists to do it.  As the sutra says, this is a "Universal Gate" of practice.

Please take this contemplation to heart.  Consider:  what are some contexts in which you can start to this contemplation on the power of compassion?

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