Lesson
5

Avalokiteshvara

3 of 12

Calling On Kanzeon

According to the Lotus Sutra, Kanzeon answers the calls of all in need and appears in whatever form will be helpful to beings in a particular situation. In the sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha promises that if you simply call out her name, wherever you are, Kanzeon, Regarder of the Sounds of the World, will come to you, and you will be delivered from danger. This compassion and salvation is for everyone and is not limited to the virtuous or worthy. The sutra says that prisoners who call Kanzeon's name will be freed from their chains, with no mention as to whether or not they are guilty.

Suppose there were a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, a million living beings who, seeking for gold, silver, lapis lazuli, seashell, agate, coral, amber, pearls, and other treasures, set out on the great sea. and suppose a fierce wind should blow their ship off course and it drifted to the land of raksasas demons. If among those people there is even just one who calls the name of Bodhisattva Perceiver of the World's sounds, then all those people will be delivered from their troubles with the raksasas. This is why she is called Perceiver of the World's Sounds.

We might interpret these stories to mean that calling upon the spirit of compassion and patient awareness in the midst of danger could be calming and could induce one's own awareness of compassion, with beneficial results. But in the tradition there is the unmistakable sense that this bodhisattva also exists as an "external" presence. In some manner she offers her guidance and protection to those with faith.

Many Westerners who come to Buddhist practice want a pure meditation technique, or a therapeutic practice, and may feel that to call on the bodhisattva of compassion sounds too much like Judeo-Christian prayer. Calling out the name of some mythical bodhisattva may seem superstitious or primitive to "sophisticated" Westerners.
Buddhist practitioners, especially some Zen people, may tend to rely on their own abilities in performing spiritual exercises. But Japanese Pure Land devotees, who venerate Kanzeon, believe that it is impossible for anyone, except perhaps the most exceptional, to gain significant spiritual achievement by relying solely on her own strength, intellect, or yogic prowess.

Eyes of compassion, observing sentient beings, assemble an immeasurable ocean of blessings.

In this teaching from the Lotus Sutra, Avalokiteshvara hears the cries of suffering beings in need and simply responds unconditionally. There is something warm and comforting in hearing about this, and in chanting it regularly. The last lines of the closing verse are "Eyes of compassion, observing sentient beings, assemble an immeasurable ocean of blessings." To see each being, from insect to human, whether family or "foe," from a viewpoint of care and sympathy is highly recommended and auspicious.