Legends, Origins and other miscellaneous stuff 缘起与传承

1) When a person wish to devote oneself to the Avalokitesvara, the Compassionate One, he must make the following 10 vows and 6 resolutions:

Namo Avalokitesvara Bodhisattvaya! May I quickly master all Buddhist teachings.

Namo Avalokitesvara Bodhisattvaya! May I quickly attain the wisdom-eye.

Namo Avalokitesvara Bodhisattvaya! May I quickly deliver all sentient beings.

Namo Avalokitesvara Bodhisattvaya! May I quickly learn all skillful means.

Namo Avalokitesvara Bodhisattvaya! May I quickly board the ship of Prajna-paramita.

Namo Avalokitesvara Bodhisattvaya! May I quickly cross the sea of Samsara.

Namo Avalokitesvara Bodhisattvaya! May I quickly achieve Sila (morality) and Samadhi (concentration).

Namo Avalokitesvara Bodhisattvaya! May I quickly reach the shores of Nirvana.

Namo Avalokitesvara Bodhisattvaya! May I quickly dwell in the house of the Unborn.

Namo Avalokitesvara Bodhisattvaya! May I quickly realize the Dharmakaya (body of Truth).

If I must head for the mountain of sabres, let the mountain crumble.

If I must head for the sea of fire, let the sea dry up.

If I must head for the Hells, let the hells be destroyed.

If I must head for the Peta (ghost) realm, let all their hunger be fulfilled.

If I must head for the Asura (titan) realm, let all their hatred be conquered.

If I must head for the Animal realm, let all animals become wise.

<Extracted from the 大悲心陀罗尼经 Maha-karuna-citta dharani Sutra>


2) The Chinese have a tradition of celebrating the Birthday of Avalokitesvara on the 19th day of the 2nd Lunar month, his Day of Enlightenment on the the 19th day of the 6th Lunar month, and his Day of Renunciation on the 19th day of the 9th Lunar month. I suppose this is based on the ancient chinese legend of the life of Guanyin (Avalokitesavra), depicted as a certain Princess Miao Shan 妙善公主 who saved all the people of her country from calamity, and later became a Buddhist Nun, finally transforming into Guanyin herself. This legend, originating from the Mongol Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368AD), has Guanyin reborn as the 3rd daughter of King Miao Zhuang 妙庄王. It is totally fictitious, however.


The Potala Palace, Lhasa, Tibet 布达拉宫


The Gates of Mount Putuo in Zhejiang, China 菩陀山山门 

 3) The 道场 Bodhimandala, (Buddha Land, Site of Enlightenment) of Avalokitesvara is believed to be in our Saha world, and it is said that this place is situated either on Mount Putuo (Putuo Shan) in Zhejiang, China, or on the Potala hill in Lhasa, Tibet, where the Potala Palace is. Either way, both of these places are sacred to Buddhists, more so for those who are devoted to the Bodhisattva. Every day many pilgrims flock to these places to pray. There's yet another saying that this bodhimandala is in an island in the ocean south of India, but there's no evidence to support this view. I believe, however, that where our compassion are, there also can be found the Bodhimandala of Avalokitesvara - 悲心在即道场在.


4) Officially, Avalokitesvara only appeared in human history with the appearance of the 法华经 Lotus (Saddharma Pundarika) Sutra at around the 1st century AD and the less known 悲华经 Karuna Pundarika Sutra. From then on he is believed by Mahayana Buddhists to be embodiment of the compassion of all Buddhas. His influence affects Theravada Buddhist cultures like Thailand and Sri Lanka as well, where we can still find many people worshipping the Bodhisattva. The same can be said for many non-buddhist countries, where the Bodhisattva is worshipped as a Goddess of Mercy. Though sometimes misguided, this proves the far-reaching and powerful effect that the Bodhisattva has on all the peoples who come into contact with him/her.


Landmarks of Putuo Shan

5) According to Scroll 66 of the Avatamsaka Sutra 华严经 Sudhana Shresthi 善财童子 was told by Upasaka Shavedira that "In the South (of Jampbudiva) there is a Mountain named Potala.. & there dwells a Bodhisattva by the name of Avalokitesvara."

The Chinese believe this place to be the Putuo Shan we know of today. Putuo Shan is one of the 4 Sacred Buddhist Mountains of China, situated on a coastal island in 定海县 Dinghai county, 浙江省 Zhejiang province. There are now 80 temples and nunneries on the 12.5-square-km island. During the era of the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420-581 AD), there was a Japanese monk named 慧谔和尚 Hui Er who went to China to study Buddhism. He was a devoted believer of Guanyin (Avalokitesvara). After completing his learning, he was going to return to Japan with a large number of scriptures and an image of Guanyin. Now this Guanyin image was actually stolen by him from 五台山 Wutai Shan. His intention is to bring it back to Japan for his people to worship. However, when Hui Er's ship sailed near to an island named 梅岑岛 Mei Cen in Dinghai County, a terrible storm arose. Miraculously, iron lotuses began to sprout from the sea to block his boat, whichever direction he tried to sail. Filled with fear he took out the image & started to pray to it in repentance. He realized his mistake & decided that the karma of his people is not ripe yet to receive this image. He then had the intention to set up a shrine on the nearest piece of land. Precisely at that moment the iron lotuses disappeared back into the sea & his ship was forced to dock on the shores of Mei Cen Island. There, he met an old fisherman living in a small hut, to which he related his wish. Happily the old man said, "Since the Japanese are not blessed at this time to see Guanyin, & since this is where the Bodhisattva wish to stay, may you & the holy one both stay here for the people of this island to venerate." Soon the first shrine was built & all started praying to this image of Guanyin. This shrine still stands today; it is aptly named 不肯去观音院 "Temple of Guanyin who refuses to go".

Hui Er remained there as the first abbot & patriarch till his last day, never returning to Japan. As time passes, more and more people in the surrounding area came to this shrine to pray, and everyone experienced miracles and visions of many kinds. In due time, the whole of China came to know of this island, and it prospered with the great number of pilgrims who came. At its peak, there were over a hundred temples big and small on the island all devoted to Guanyin, as compared to now. Some years after Hui Er set up his shrine, Mei Cen Island was renamed 菩陀山 Putuo Shan, and it became the Bodhimandala of Avalokitesvara. It is now famous in and out of China. The number of pilgrims who visit yearly is beyond count.


6) According to the 法华经 Lotus Sutra:

"If there are measureless sentient beings going through from all kinds of suffering, who upon hearing the name of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, sincerely call on him; the Bodhisattva will immediately answer their prayer and relieve them of all suffering."

This passage contains the essence of the 普门品 <The Universal Gateway of Avalokitesvara> chapter in the Sutra and of his fundamental vow.


7) According to the 悲华经 Karuna Pundarika Sutra, Avalokitesvara, along with Maha Sthama Prapta, are the right and left hands of Amitabha Buddha in His Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss 极乐净土 in teaching the Dharma. That much you would have known, if you have been in this Temple long enough. To continue, after Amitabha enters Parinirvana, immeasurable kalpas (cosmic ages) in the future, Avalokitesvara will immediately take his place as the Buddha of that Pure Land. His title will be 一切光明功德山王 The Supreme Mountain of All Bright Merits. The Pure Land will be renamed 众宝净土 the Land of All Treasures and it will be of even greater majesty than the current one.


8) According to the 大悲心陀罗尼经 Maha-karuna-citta dharani Sutra, Avalokitesvara, with his inconceivable miraculous powers, had already attained Buddhahood immeasurable kalpas ago. His title was 正法明如来 Light of the Correct Dharma. But out of compassion for all sentient beings, he manifests as a Bodhisattva named Avalokitesvara to perform the work of deliverance. Incidentally, our Buddha Sakyamuni was a disciple of this Buddha at that time. All these may seem contradicting with each other, but in Mahayana Buddhism, all things are equal in enlightenment. Time and space, past and future, superior and inferior are all meaningless with regard to the Absolute Truth. This is the concept of 法身 Dharmakaya, the Body of Truth - Vairocana. Thus there is no real difference between ordinary beings, Bodhisattvas and Buddhas; all is illusion, all is Truth.


9) Regarding how Avalokitesvara possesses a thousand hands and eyes, the 大悲心陀罗尼经 Maha-karuna-citta dharani Sutra has a story. It says that at one time, immeasurable kalpas ago in this world, Avalokitesvara was the disciple of a Buddha named 千光王静住如来 He who dwells in the peace of a thousand rays of light. This episode is of course long after the time of the episode above. Out of compassion for Avalokitesvara, this Buddha taught the Dharani of Great Compassion (Sanskrit version) to him by reciting it. Immediately, Avalokitesvara's mind ascended from the (4) 1st bhumi to the (4) 8th bhumi (plane) of Enlightenment 不动地 Filled with joy he made the following vow:

"If I may in future existences benefit each and every sentient being through my compassion, may I immediately be perfectly adorned with a thousand hands and eyes."

True enough, his vow was immediately fulfilled. The Earth shook in 6 ways and all the Buddhas in the 10 directions shone infinite rays of light on him in praise. Since then Avalokitesvara was able to freely and completely carry out his vow. Know therefore the merits of Avalokitesvara is inconceivable, and equally so is that of the Dharani.


10) Know also that Avalokitesvara is neither male nor female, neither big nor small, neither human nor non-human, neither old nor young but can manifest as anything that is appropriate for teaching sentient beings. This is best expressed in the 三十三应化身 <33 Transformation Bodies> of Avalokitesvara in the 楞严经 Surangama Sutra. However, humans feel a greater affection for the female form of the Bodhisattva, a superhuman motherly figure who will protect them from all suffering. In China, where Avalokitesvara is Guanyin, this is very much the case.

In Tibet, Tara takes over this important role instead. For Catholics, they have Mary to fulfill this role. In Buddhism, a clear line is drawn between reverence and worship, although not many Buddhists know the difference. Avalokitesvara is not God or a god, nor is the Buddha. The same can be said for all other deities of the Buddhist pantheon. Strictly speaking, there should be no worship involved at all because all Buddhist deities are only symbolic personifications of the all-embracing Truth 诸尊皆如幻如化 They are just as illusionary as you or I, like flowers in the sky, or the moon in the lake. Like a mirage, a dream, an echo or lightning, they possess no real natures of their own. Why worship something that is not real? Therefore know that Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara cannot be found anywhere except in the Lotus of Compassion within our Hearts 观音者,大悲心莲是也.


Distant views of Putuo Shan

11) There are many true legends surrounding the miraculous island 菩陀山 Putuo Shan, the Bodhimadala of Avalokitesvara, even up to this day. They are immortal testimonies to the power of his compassion for all sentient beings in this Saha world. 1 such story happened during World War II:

A close-up of the giant bronze Guanyin perched on Putuo Shan

During the Japanese Invasion (in 1943), a brigade of almost 8000 Japanese troops from occupied Shanghai was ordered to station on a nearby island, Putuo Shan. They had of course no idea the holiness of the place they were going to take over. So they went around to gather a lot of livestock like chickens, goats & cows for their meals. After they set up camp near the beach they proceeded to slaughter these animals for cooking. The monks from the temple heard of the cries of slaughter & the stench of burnt meat. Appalled, some of the braver ones went to the camp of the Japanese & told the commander, "Officer, this is the sacred land of Guanyin that you are standing on & it is totally unacceptable & very sinful to taint it with the bloodshed from slaughtered animals. Have compassion for these fellow sentient beings; please stop it at once." The commander was cynical, so he asked the monks instead, "I don't understand what you mean. What else do you expect us to eat if we do not kill those livestock? In order to fight for the glory of our Emperor we must sacrifice those animals for sustenance!" & chased them away. The monks were very sad but they could only shake their heads at such ignorance.

That night, something miraculous happened. The Japanese troops saw many bright red objects in the sea slowly approaching the beach. They were in panic & thought it was an enemy ambush. So they fired their rifles & anti-ship cannons at the objects. However the more they fired the more they multiplied & the faster they came. Soon the Japanese saw very clearly what they were shooting at. They were all glowing lotus flowers! Hundreds of them that multiplied every time they were shot at, covering the entire sea. The Japanese were surrounded totally by glowing lotuses & were immediately overwhelmed. The commander, all of them fell to their knees & begged for forgiveness from what they thought were 'the gods' of this island. This miracle lasted for sometime & only disappeared at dawn. 3 days later the entire brigade packed up & made a hasty pull out from the island, to the surprise of the monks, & the island returned to its original peace state. Some of the wiser ones knew more or less what happened, & this legend came to be heard by many. It is said that many of those Japanese soldiers gave up the war, returned to Japan & became Buddhists. Perhaps some of them are still alive today?


"When the iron bird flies & the horses run on wheels, the Tibetan people will be scattered like ants across the world; thus the Dharma will reach the land of the red men."

12) Just as the great Guru Padmasambhava has foretold more than 1200yrs ago, now Tibet no longer exists as a country but only as a spirit that continues to live in the hearts of Tibetans all over the world. Yes, such is the collective karma of the Tibetan people. As it is, his holiness the Dalai Lama will never be able to see his homeland again, & the Potala Palace, once the seat of Chenrezig (Avalokitesvara) & the Center of Tibetan Buddhism is now no more than a big tourist attraction overlooking the now modernized Lhasa. Alas the Bodhimandala of Chenrezig is now among the mud of civilization manifested as new office buildings, markets, stock exchanges, karaoke lounges, discos & cinemas etc. Yes, Lhasa is no longer the Lhasa of yesterday, nor is the Potala still the holy Potala. Slowly & surely, China is transforming Tibet into its own image, with all these works of progress & so many new schools to educate the next generation of Tibetans in science & commerce, & of being Chinese. After all, the medium of teaching is Chinese, not Tibetan. The rulers knows that the people still cannot give up Tibetan Buddhism which is their soul, & that they still revere their spiritual leaders. So they chose their own Panchen Lama as soon as the previous one passed on, to serve as a puppet, no more. Now the central government can't wait for the Dalai Lama to pass away as well so that they can again choose the next one themselves. They don't really want to negotiate with him, let alone allow his return. Ah, with both the Dalai Lama & Panchen Lama under their dominion, the Chinese grip on the Tibetan mind will be complete. No more trouble & everyone's happy.. how wonderful. Let the people make money, enjoy themselves & keep the Dharma as a hobby. Let the monks & nuns practice freely as long as they don't disturb Chinese rule. Well, the Chinese are really smart, aren't they? But take heart, as long as there are still Tibetans out there who follow the Dharma faithfully, wherever they may be, Chenrezig will always be with them. May the spirit of Tibet be enduring. Saddhu.


13) The Chinese have a long tradition of using 灵签 divination sticks in temples to ask the different gods & immortals for advice when they meet with difficulties or uncertainties in life. It is the same for all the major 观音庙 Guanyin Temples around the world. They are well known for their efficacy to the sincere devotee. 100 numbered sticks are placed in a bamboo/plastic cylinder, and the devotees pray, then tilt & shake the cylinder until one of the sticks are flung out. They then 'confirm' the stick by throwing 2 圣杯 divine cups. If they land one facing up & one facing down the stick is 'confirmed'. The devotee finally checks with the temple caretakers who give them a paper slip with the corresponding numbered advice on it. As the advice is in 偈语 poetic stanzas, there's a standard book to explain their meaning in detail, which may be auspicious, medium or bad. Accompanying the explanation is a 典故 short story of Chinese historical/mythical figures, which serves to reinforce the meaning via live examples. Although the poems made many obvious references to 命理 pre-destiny & fate, we should never mistake them for unchangeable divine will or something. The Bodhisattva is merely trying to hint to the devotee that all things arise dependent on conditions & our present state is conditioned by our past actions. As we cannot change the past, we should not willfully force changes in the present; nor should we become pessimistic & resign ourselves to inaction, but willingly do what is necessary at the right time. This is the Buddhist outlook of life - as being 非空非有 neither real nor unreal. Life simply is. Another feature of the poems is that it often tells people to be patient & contented. This is of course contradictory to modern ideals of "living life to the max" or "time is money", but since ancient times the wise have always knew that 欲速则不达 more haste often leads to less speed. Whenever we wish to achieve an objective, we need all the right conditions like ability, proper preparation, planning & very importantly, timing. Very often, people overlook these things & fail, then foolishly blaming their failure on everybody except themselves. Ultimately, the poems are a form of tactful means for Guanyin's compassion to aid sentient beings; leading them from the darkness of ignorance & serving as 心理妙药 unsurpassed psychological medicine. From there the blissful path of the Dharma reveals itself to the devotee - the fate of all men can be changed by their own present actions. The poems are not absolute truths; but only by 断恶修善 cultivating all good & refraining from all evil can one begin to master his/her own destiny. 



More to come...

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