The Sangha Jewel: Community as a Medicine for Modern Ills
Bendowa: Zen Master Dogen on Why Zazen Is Such a Big Deal

Many Buddhists throughout history have prayed to Kanzeon, the bodhisattva of compassion, for succor. That kind of prayer continues today.

Kanzeon is also known as Avalokiteshvara, Kannon, and Guan Yin. Sometimes portrayed as male, sometimes as female, she’s hands-down the most popular of the Buddhist archetypal bodhisattvas. One of the standard Soto Zen daily chants is called the “Universal Gateway Chapter” (of the Lotus Sutra), which states:

“If floating on a vast sea,
menaced by dragons, fish, or demons,
by mindfully invoking Avalokiteshvara’s power
the billowing waves cannot drown you.

If from Mount Sumeru’s lofty peak,
someone were to throw you down,
by mindfully invoking Avalokiteshvara’s power
like the sun you would stand firm in the sky…

If, persecuted by rulers,
you face torture and execution,
by mindfully invoking Avalokiteshvara’s power
their weapons will thereby shatter to pieces.

If imprisoned in shackles and chains,
hands and feet bound in restraints,
by mindfully invoking Avalokiteshvara’s power
suddenly you shall be released.”

It may seem strange to some of us to “pray” to Kanzeon as if she’s a deity who’s able to respond to us using supernatural powers. That’s why I’ve somewhat adapted the version of Kanzeon’s “Universal Gateway” scripture we chant at Bright Way (it’s in Full Service B) in order to leave out the most magical-sounding of the verses. (We have brand-new people drop in for chanting on a regular basis, and I feel these verses need some explanation…)

But there’s another way to look at such prayer. Compassion, according to Buddhism, is a force unto itself – a reflection of interdependence and something that functions freely when we simply get ourselves out of the way. Rather than compassion being merely a feeling, something we create, or an ideal for personal conduct, we practice in order to tap into and more skillfully manifest the compassion that’s already inherent in the universe.

One way to tap into compassion is to invoke its power in a prayerful or devotional way. For fun, I tried writing a few new verses for the Universal Gateway Chapter that we might find it easier to relate to. As you read them, see if such a prayer resonates with you, even if you don’t believe in supernatural beings who can intercede on our behalf:

If selfishness and fear lead people to turn their backs
on their fellow human beings who are starving, dying, and without homes,
by mindfully invoking the power of Compassion
those who are suffering and homeless will find succor and safety.

If ignorance and greed cause those with wealth and power
to exploit and oppress those without it, to an extreme degree,
by mindfully invoking the power of Compassion
all beings will be cherished and given a chance for a fulfilling life.

If small-minded people torment others with hatred and xenophobia
because of the color of their skin, or any other arbitrary characteristic,
by mindfully invoking the power of Compassion
human beings will recognize and embrace one another as kin.

If systemic greed results in a planet
stripped of resources and full of poisons
by mindfully invoking the power of Compassion
you shall find a way to heal the world.

 

The Sangha Jewel: Community as a Medicine for Modern Ills
Bendowa: Zen Master Dogen on Why Zazen Is Such a Big Deal
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