Remembering the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion

Lễ Vía Ngày Quán Thế Âm Bồ Tát Xuất Gia

On Sunday November 5, 2017*, our temple celebrated the renunciation day of Avalokiteshvera Bodhisattva (Bồ Tát Quán Thế Âm). It was an important day for all of us because it was the day when we celebrated compassion, forgiveness, and equanimity. It was also the day we were all encouraged to put the Buddha’s teaching to practice.

The Buddha said that anger cannot diminish anger, but only compassion can diminish anger. However, compassion is the one quality that is not always easy to cultivate.
Compassion requires one to step outside of his or her comfort zone, and rise above one’s self-centeredness. We will often experience resistance. The good news is that the practice will become easier. The task of transforming the way we react to the world and to situations that normally fuel our anger will become much easier over time.

That was the purpose of the observance. We dedicated the whole morning to learning about Avalokiteshvera Bodhisattva through reading the Universal Door Chapter (Phẩm Phổ Môn) and recollecting the Bodhisattva’s name. Nam Mô Đại Bi Quán Thế Âm Bồ Tát . We repeated with sincerity and admiration.

Our dedication on that morning became a positive reinforcement for us. The only name we hear was that of Avalokiteshvera Bodhisattva’s, the only story we read was that of the Bodhisattva’s vows, and the only image in our mind was that of a compassionate being, who devotes herself fully to the work of liberating others from pain and suffering. What a wonderful and compassionate being the Bodhisattva is.

In our daily life, this type of influence is not always available to us. The people we encounter, the stories we hear, and the situations we face frequently remind us of the pain and suffering that we yearn to be free from, but haven’t yet been able to. So the more we encounter, the bigger the pain becomes, and the more we yearn to break free and run away from it.

But we just don’t know how to be free. Our habitual tendency is to either withdraw into darkness or act out in rage. These modes of reaction are called habitual tendencies because they have the potential to produce a momentum of reaction, causing us to continue to react in the same old ways the next time around when we encounter unwanted situations. So our unwholesome habits shape our lives. There is a deep resentment and dissatisfaction that we feel toward all the things that don’t go our way.

In the Agama Suttra (Kinh Oán Gia), the Buddha says that resentment is an unforgiving foe, because it brings seven types of calamities into our life. The seven calamities are:

1. Not having graceful physical features.
2. Not getting peaceful sleep.
3. Not gaining good benefits.
4. Not being able to make friends.
5. Not getting compliments or praises.
6. Not being able to become wealthy.
7. Not being able to be reborn into peaceful places or the heavens after death.

At different points in life, we experienced one or several of these calamities. We have tasted the bitterness and loneliness that came as results of these calamities. That is how resentment takes away all the things that we wish to gain in this life. That is why we must liberate our minds from anger, resentment and dissatisfaction.

The practice begins with emulating after Avalokiteshvera Bodhisattva’s vow.
Compassion means being able to put ourselves in others’ shoes and forgive them for all the wrongs that they have done. We cannot understand a person if we haven’t lived their life. By acknowledging that others have inherent sufferings too, our hearts become soften, and we can break down walls and barriers much more easily.

We will realize that they too are humans with limitations, and that they too are pretty caught up. This is the beginning of releasing ourselves from the anger and resentment we feel toward them. We can then look back at them with a pair of fresh eyes, and see them in ways that we have never seen before. The function of compassion is to dissolve conflicts and barriers; to help us be able to relate to people and situations with open heart and open mind. When we can open up, anger and resentment naturally diminish. This is the underlying meaning of the following verse in the Universal Door Chapter:

Wellspring of compassion, precepts’ thunder
Your Wondrous cloud of kindness covers all
Extinguishing the fires of life’s aflictions
As the rain of sweet-dew Dharma falls.
Lòng bi răn như sấm
Ý từ diệu dường mây
Xối mưa pháp cam lồ
Dứt trừ lửa phiền não.

In forgiving others, we are liberating ourselves. There is no better freedom than the freedom from suffering. The Bodhisattva’s compassion is vast and boundless, it touches even those who have done many wrongs in the world. So, let the rain of compassion wash away all anger and resentments, and let coolness permeate throughout our life and our whole being.

Celebrating the Bodhisattva’s renunciation day is a reminder to us all that we have the capacity to give and forgive, and that we are able to extend compassion farther and wider than we think we can. Our heart is limited by craving, anger, and delusion only to the degree that we allow those unwholesome habits to bound our lives.

Regardless of how difficult it is, unlearning our habitual tendencies and limitations is a possibility available to us all. If we decided that we bring joy and happiness into life, that we must extinguish the fires of anger and resentment, we have the capacity to do so. It only takes a willing heart, for there is a Bodhisattva who is waiting to take our hands and guide us on this path.

Homage to Great Compassion Avalokiteshvera Bodhisattva!

Bhikkhuni Thích Nữ Diệu Tịnh

*The official lunar day is the nineteenth day of the 9th month (Ngày 19 Tháng 9 Âm Lịch).