Monday, October 26, 2009

The Two Buddhisms (and Kwan Yin)

Seven Jaini (Wisdom Quarterly) and Lila Sakura (Kwan Yin material)

(WQ) For those who may not have yet noticed, there are two kinds of Buddhism. One (called Mahayana) is a populist movement that started centuries after the time of the historical Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama). Instead of understanding (or transcendent wisdom), devotion is emphasized, as are chanting, stories, rituals, and dependence on great masters and intervening entities.

The other (called Theravada) is closer to what the Buddha actually taught -- subtle and much less appealing to devotional inclinations. Instead of faith (or confidence in external objects), wisdom is emphasized, as are practice towards enlightenment in this life, meditation, and self-reliance. Chanting ancient texts for recollection (sati), protection (paritta), and uplift also figures into the practice. However, it is more a monastic endeavor rather than mantra-japa or prayer. And it is usually done in the exclusively Buddhist language Pali, a version of which (Magahi) the Buddha spoke.

This chanting emerges from the first type of Buddhism. The intervening entity either being honored, brought to mind, beseeched, relied on, or prayed to is Kwan Yin (Guan Yin, Kannon, Avalokita/Avalokiteshvara, the Mother Goddess in her guise as a Indo-Sino personification of "compassion").

Mahayana Buddhism is tre-mendously influenced by ideas and ideals that are more Hindu than is generally recognized. It prefers Sanskrit texts. For it is a school that emerged, not in China or Japan, but in India. It co-opted Buddhism's growing popularity as an Indian movement independent and philosophically antagonistic to Hinduism (the Brahmanism of the Buddha's day). It syncretized innovative Buddhist teachings, which were rejections of key Hindu tenets, with some of the very Hindu concepts the historical Buddha worked hard to rectify.

Buddhist terms were then used. And entire sutras, not attributable to the historical Buddha, were invented. Oftentimes the ideas behind these new sutras are quite Hindu but dressed in Buddhist guise. Therefore, like the innumerable gods of Hinduism, Avalokita morphed into a diety that vowed with infinite compassion to become a bodhisattva who saves the world.

This deity is called Kwan Yin (Kuan Yin, Gwan Yin, Guan Yin) and is akin to Catholicism's Mother Mary and/or her would-be savior son, who is an avatar of the God Almighty of Christian dogma (a sort of brahma).

Bearing this in mind, and construing karma ("accumulated deeds capable of bearing a result") in a decidedly Hindu and Christian manner, this mantra promises to cleanse one of accumulated "sin," as it were.

Namo ratna travaya / namo arya jnana sagara, Vairochana / byuhara jara Tathagataya arahate samyaksam Buddhaya / namo sarwa Tathagate bhyaya arhata bhyah / samvaksam Budde bhvah / namo Avalokite shoraya bodhisattvaya / maha sattvaya / maha karunikaya / tadyata / Om dara dara / diri diri / duru duru / itte we / itte chale chale / purachale purachale kusume kusuma wa re / ili milli chiti jvalam / apanave shoha.

(Lila Sakura) This is a general translation:

  1. Adoration to the noble Avalokitesvara, bodhisattva, the great compassionate one.
  2. Having paid adoration to One who Dispels all Fears, O noble Avalokitesvara, to You adoration, O Nilakantha.
  3. I shall enunciate the "heart" dharani, which ensures all purposes, is pure and invincible for all beings, and which purifies the path of existence.
  4. Thus: Lord of Effulgence, the World-Transcending One, come, come, great bodhisattva, descend, descend. Bear in mind my heart-dharani. Do, do the work. Hold fast, oh Victor, oh Great Victor. Hold on, hold on, oh Lord of the Dharani. Move, move oh my immaculate image, come, come. Destroy every poison. Quick, bear in mind, quick, quick, descend, descend. Being enlightened, being enlightened, enlighten me, enlighten me. Oh merciful Nilakantha appear unto me. To you who eyes us, hail. To the Great Siddha, hail. To the Great Siddha in Yoga, hail. To Nilakantha, hail. To the Boar-faced, hail.
  5. Adoration to the Triple Gem. Adoration to the noble Avalokitesvara bodhisattva, hail (The Tibetan and Himalayan Library at

Avalokitesvara (Sanskrit), the Bodhisattva of Compassion in the Lotus Sutra, became known as Kuan Yin. The Chinese found it easier to think of "compassion" in terms of a loving and compassionate goddess (also known as Chenrezig and Kannon).

Chanting has its Rewards

Reciting the Great Compassion Mantra can prevent and cure the eighty-four thousand kinds of diseases, including AIDS and pneumonia. This mantra can prevent and cure all kinds of illness and diseases if recited with utmost sincerity, according to the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua.

"To recite it a full five times in one evening is to wipe away your heavy offenses of hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, tens of thousands of millions of aeons of birth and death" (Dharani Sutra).

Benefits of Reciting
People and gods [devas] who recite and hold the Great Compassion Mantra will obtain fifteen kinds of good birth and will not suffer fifteen kinds of bad death.

15 Bad Deaths

  1. They will not die of starvation or privation.
  2. They will not die from having been yoked, imprisoned, caned, or otherwise beaten.
  3. They will not die at the hands of hostile enemies.
  4. They will not be killed in military battle.
  5. They will not be killed by tigers, wolves, or savage beasts.
  6. They will not die from the venom of poisonous snakes, black serpents, or scorpions.
  7. They will not drown or be burned to death.
  8. They will not be poisoned to death.
  9. They will not die as a result of sorcery.
  10. They will not die of madness or insanity.
  11. They will not be killed by landslides or falling trees.
  12. They will not die of nightmares sent by malevolent people.
  13. They will not be killed by malignant spirits or ghosts.
  14. They will not die of ruinous illnesses which bind the body.
  15. They will not commit suicide.

15 Good Births

Those who recite and hold the spiritual Mantra of Great Compassion will not suffer any of these fifteen kinds of unfortunate deaths. But they will obtain the following fifteen kinds of good births:

  1. Their place of birth will always have a good king.
  2. They will always be born in a good country.
  3. They will always be born at a good time.
  4. They will always meet good friends.
  5. The organs of their body will always be complete.
  6. Their heart will be pure and full in the way.
  7. They will not violate the prohibitive precepts.
  8. Their family will be kind and harmonious.
  9. They will always have wealth and goods in abundance.
  10. They will always obtain the respect and help of others.
  11. Their riches will not be plundered.
  12. They will obtain everything they seek.
  13. Dragons, devas, and good spirits will always protect them.
  14. Where they are born they will see the Buddha and hear the Dharma.
  15. They will awaken to the profound meaning of the proper Dharma they hear.

Those who recite and hold the Great Compassion Mantra will obtain these fifteen kinds of good birth. All devas and people should constantly recite and hold it, without carelessness.

This video features the China Disabled People's Performing Art Troupe performing the Thousand-hand Bodhisattva dance; the members are all deaf. Music can be downloaded here: