Where is Avalokiteśvara?

Copyright©2020 Misaki C. Kido

Dōgen’s Chinese Poems (36)

Written on the Occasion of Visiting Mount Potalaka in Changguo


[Guanyin is found] amid hearing, considering, practicing, and truly verifying the mind,
Why seek appearances of her sacred face within a cave?
I proclaim that pilgrims must themselves awaken.
Guanyin does not abide on Potalaka Mountain.[1]

聞思修本証心間 (聞思修本より証心の間、)
豈覓洞中現聖顔 (豈に洞中に覓めんや聖顔を現ずることを、)
我告來人須自覚 (我來る人に告ぐ、須く自ら覚るべし、)
觀音不在寶陀山 (觀音は寶陀山に在らずと。)


This is verse 35 in Kuchugen and verse 45 of volume 10 of Eihei Kōroku (Dōgen’s Extensive Record). In Manzan’s version, this verse has some differences in the first three lines:

聞思修入三摩地 (聞思修より三摩地に入り
Entering samadhi through hearing, considering, and practicing,
自己端嚴現聖顔 (自己端嚴にして聖顔を現ず)
The upright and solemn self appears in the sacred face.
爲告來人明此意 (爲に來人に告げて此の意を明らかにす
I proclaim to the pilgrims to make this meaning clear.

Written on the Occasion of Visiting Mount Potalaka in Changguo

As a young monk, Dōgen Zenji went to China where he lived and practiced Zen about five years, from 1223 to 1227. He mainly practiced at Tiantong (Tendō, 天童) Monastery in Ningbo, near Shanghai. Not far from Ningbo there is a famous sacred place of Avalokiteśvara, on a small island named Putuoluo-shan (Jp. Fudaraku-san普陀洛山). Putuoluo is a transliteration of the Sanskrit name Potalaka, the island where Avalokiteśvara dwells, according to the Gaṇḍavyūha Sutra.[2] This place is, even today, a popular holy site which millions of pilgrims and sightseers visit every year to pay homage to Avalokiteśvara. In the 13th century, Dōgen visited this sacred place as a pilgrim.

According to legend, this sacred place in China was founded in the 9th century by a Japanese monk, Egaku (慧萼, ? – ?). During his travel in China Egaku had obtained a beautiful statue of Avalokiteśvara at Mt. Wutai (Godai-san, 五台山), another sacred mountain, and he wished to take that statue back to Japan. But soon after beginning his journey home he encountered a windstorm as he neared an island, and his ship ran aground. Egaku thought the statue was telling him, “I don’t want to go; I want to stay.” He founded the “Unwilling Avalokiteśvara Temple” (不肯去観音院) on that island. Later the temple was renamed Puji Temple (Husaiji, 普済寺), Universal Salvation Temple. Dōgen visited China about four hundred years after Egaku. At that time the island was already a popular sacred site.

[Guanyin is found] amid hearing, considering, practicing, and truly verifying the mind,
Why seek appearances of her sacred face within a cave?

People believed that Avalokiteśvara appeared in a cave on that island. Dōgen Zenji also visited it, but he found that Avalokiteśvara (Guanyin) “does not abide on Potolaka Mountain.” Then we have to ask, “Where is Avalokiteśvara?”

In the poem, “hearing” is mon (聞) in Japanese, “considering” or “thinking” is shi(思), “practicing” is shu (修), and “verifying” is shō (証). Mon shi shu shō (聞思修証) is an important expression in Dōgen’s teaching. Commonly, this phrase is understood as the process of our studying and practicing the Way. When we hear (聞) some teaching, in this case Buddha’s teaching, we think (思) about the teaching and if we consider it reasonable and doable, then we put the teaching into practice (修). And if we experience the expected result through our actual practice, we verify (証) that the teaching is true and that it works. This is how we commonly understand the process of studying, practicing and verifying Buddha’s teachings.

Often, this shō (証) or verification is translated as “enlightenment.” According to common sense, this is the final step in the process from the first step (hearing) to the final goal (verification, or enlightenment). When Dōgen says practice and enlightenment (verification) are one, he uses the expressions shu and shō. As a matter of common sense, shu (practice) is the cause; and shō (verification or enlightenment) is the result. But when Dōgen says that practice and verification are one, he means the cause and the result are one. He says our practice is itself verification, and we don’t need to wait until we finish practicing for verification. According to our common sense, after we have practiced for a certain period of time and accumulated a certain amount of merit, we can attain enlightenment. However, Dōgen says in Bendōwa that enlightenment is already within our practice:

Thinking that practice and enlightenment are not one is no more than a view that is outside the Way [that is, deluded]. In Buddhadharma, practice and enlightenment are one and the same. Because it is the practice of enlightenment, a beginner’s wholehearted practice of the Way is exactly the totality of original enlightenment. For this reason, in conveying the essential attitude for practice, it is taught not to wait for enlightenment outside practice. This must be so because [this practice] is the directly indicated original enlightenment.[3]

Basically, Dōgen is saying in this poem that our study and practice allow us to verify and become intimate with “the mind.” We need to understand what this “mind” is. In Shōbōgenzō Sokushinzebutsu (The Mind is itself Buddha), he said,

The mind that has been authentically transmitted is “one mind is all dharmas; all dharmas are one mind.” For this reason, an ancient said, “When we understand the mind, there is not an inch of soil on the great earth.” We should know that when we understand the mind, the entire sky is struck down and the whole earth is ripped apart. On the other hand, when we understand the mind, the great earth becomes three inches thicker.[4]

This is the mind that is one with the myriad things, and the myriad things include the self. In this poem, Dōgen says that right within the process of our practice Avalokiteśvara appears.

I proclaim that pilgrims must themselves awaken.
Guanyin does not abide on Potalaka Mountain.

Because the cave is empty, he says, “Why seek appearances of her face within a cave?” and continues, “I proclaim that pilgrims must themselves awaken. Guanyin (Kannon) does not abide on Potalaka Mountain.” Here Dōgen tells us Avalokiteśvara is right within our practice, not some particular holy place. Avalokiteśvara is not a statue or an image. A statue is an object of our six sense organs, but Avalokiteśvara is beyond this separation and connection of the six sense organs and their objects.

In Genjōkōan we read, “To study the Buddha Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be verified by all beings.”[5] Here Dōgen says our practice of the buddha-way is a connection or relationship between the self and the myriad dharmas. Avalokiteśvara is right there, in this inter-connectedness. The reality of our life itself is Avalokiteśvara (Kannon).

I wrote about this verse in my article on Shōbōgenzō Kannon for Dharma Eye, the newsletter of Sōtōshū International Center No.45, March 2020. This article is based on that article with minor changes.

— • —

[1] (Dōgen’s Extensive Record 10-45, p.621) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.
[2]The Gandavyuha Sutra is the 39th chapter of the Avataṃsaka Sūtra entitled “Entry into the Realm of Reality” (Nyu-hokkai-bon, 入法界品). This chapter is the story of a boy named Sudhana who travelled to visit 53 teachers. Avalokiteshavara was one of the teachers, living in the mountains of southern India. See The Flower Ornament Scripture: A Translation of The Avataṃsaka Sūtra (Thomas Cleary, Shambala, 1984) p.1275–1279.
[3]Translation by Shohaku Okumura & Taigen Leighton. (The Wholehearted Way, Tuttle, 1997) p.30.
[4]Okumura’s unpublished translation.
[5]Okumura’s translation (Realizing Genjōkōan: The Key to Dōgen’s Shōbōgenzō, Wisdom Publications, 2010, p.2)

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

— • —

For further study:

> More of Dōgen Zenji’s Chinese Poems

Copyright©2020 Sanshin Zen Community

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