"The Practice of Guan Yin Bodhisattva"
Talk translated by Venerable Chang Hwa
Report by Chang Jie 10/18/2009
On Sunday, October 18, 2009, Venerable Chang Hwa gave a talk entitled, "The Practice of Guan Yin Bodhisattva", the second part of a two-part talk on Guan Yin. The first talk focused on origin stories and legends related to the bodhisattva. During this talk, Venerable recounted stories about Master Sheng Yen, eminent Chinese patriarchs, and ordinary practitioners and their experiences in their practices related to Guan Yin Bodhisattva. Venerable also described some methods of practice and gave practical instructions on the methods.
According to Venerable, some masters who practiced methods related to Guan Yin Bodhisattva have seen visions of the bodhisattva, attained greater wisdom and speaking abilities. The Lotus Sutra describes the simple method of chanting Guan Yin's name single-mindedly. With regular practice, a person may go from chanting with a scattered mind to a focused mind, where body and mind become one. When one is able to chant effectively, one may be able to face and handle trouble, danger, and death. This is a practice that anyone can do, without even a need to study the sutras. Guan Yin's name may be chanted at any time, at any place and during activities such as walking, sitting, and waiting for the bus.
Another method related to Guan Yin is the chanting of the Great Compassion Dharani. It is said that Guan Yin made the vow that if one chants this mantra, one will gain much benefit. Composed of variations of Guan Yinˇ¦s names as mentioned in the sutras, as well as the wisdom, compassion, blessings, and merits of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas, this mantra, is usually chanted 14 or 21 times and may be chanted to overcome karmic obstacles. Because the mantra is in Sanskrit, it may not have much meaning for the person reciting it, but it is said that those who chant the mantra will derive much power from it. For those who wish to practice reciting the mantra, Venerable recommended that they do so at a regular time and a specified number of times.
A third method of practice that Venerable described is the one that Guan Yin bodhisattva practices, which is to observe sentient beings' bodily actions and minds. Through this method, Guan Yin is able to listen to all beings and manifest in many forms to help them. The first stage of this method is called "directing the organs into the stream of meditation." "Directing the organs" means directing our ear organ or hearing to "the uninterrupted stream of silent sound." In the beginning, we listen to sound and notice that the sound comes and goes; it does not stay. Eventually, the sound and the listener become one, and at that moment, there is no sound, only the sound of no sound. This is a very advanced level of attainment--when sound, the listener and the environment become one. At this point, the listener hears what is called "universal sound".
If one is in a rural environment, one may listen to the sound of the rain, birds, a stream, waterfall, or wind, and meditate or contemplate on that sound. The mind will start to calm down, and when practiced correctly for an extended period of time, one may enter samadhi. In the city, where it is more difficult to find a good environment in which to practice, one may act as a "noise absorbing panel". To do this, one should listen to sound and absorb it, then open the eyes and mind, and let sound enter. One should not generate secondary thoughts but try to listen with a relaxed mind and not react to the outside world.
While in the first stage, one may hear the universal sound or the sound of no sound, and lose all concepts of time and space, feeling as if time is passing very quickly. In the second stage, one returns to time and space, and may hear everything, but there is no attachment. Instead, one starts to listen inwardly to oneˇ¦s self-nature and let go of the concept of self. We may have different levels of self, based on different levels of attachment. We may think, this body is the self, the mind is the self, or existence is the self, and move to subtler and subtler levels of self. Enlightenment is when we let go of the self and self-nature. The stage of no attachment does not mean I do not exist or everything ceases to exist. Worldly phenomena exist, and while one acknowledges them and has a clear understanding of them, one has no self-attachment. This second stage is a very advanced level.
Through this practice, Guan Yin bodhisattva was able to attain great achievements. The Heart Sutra states, "When the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, was coursing in the deep Prajnaparamita, he perceived that all five skandhas are empty, thereby transcending all sufferings." We all exist in the five skandhas, think they are real, have attachments to them and experience suffering. The five skandhas are merely form, sensation, perception, volition and consciousness. Form means everything we perceive-sound, people, objects-- all of the material world. When we perceive these things, we have feelings, such as good or bad, like or dislike, and then judgment. The process from perception to action is very quick, and all mental processes are buried in our consciousness, which we carry life after life. If we are unable to overcome the five skandhas, we will carry them with us life after life, continuing cyclic existence in the six realms. Practice allows us to transform karma and our consciousness, and find a way out of cyclic existence.
The purpose of practice is to know the real nature of the five skandhas, to realize that everything is impermanent and empty by nature. We can use our illusory mind to transform all illusory consciousness and return to our self-nature. Most of the time, we are not in this natural state of mind but experience vexation. Through practice, we can attain what Guan Yin bodhisattva did, which is to see that the five skandhas are empty and transform suffering and vexation. The Shurangama Sutra outlines 25 methods of using the sense organs as tools of practice. Whatever method or tool we use, the ultimate goal is to see our self-nature. Venerable emphasized the importance of sticking to one method until we see our self-nature and advised the audience to practice daily and diligently. The more we practice, the better we will be able to listen to and help people. The ultimate purpose of Guan Yin practice is to fulfill the bodhisattva path of helping others. Having this vow makes practice more powerful because it is one that is shared with the bodhisattva.