With Eyes of Compassion
The Meaning of “Beholding Living Beings with Eyes of Compassion”
“She beholds living beings with eyes of compassion / Her blessings are an ocean, vast and immeasurable” are famous lines of a verse familiar to us from chapter 25 of the Lotus Sutra, “The Bodhisattva Regarder of the Sounds of the World as Universal Gateway.”
This chapter suggests that beholding living beings with eyes of compassion accumulates infinite blessings. If we maintain the perspective of looking at the world, and people, with eyes of compassion, to what kinds of things do we assign importance?
In the June issue of this magazine, I mentioned the poet Sansei Yamao (1938–2001). In his poem “Kanzeon bosatsu,” (“The Bodhisattva Regarder of the Sounds of the World”), he explains in clear, simple terms the truth of the Buddha’s teaching, which can be said to be the answer to this question. Let me quote a part of this poem, excerpted from the book Kannon gyo no mori o aruku (Eng. “walking in the forest of the Regarder of Sounds Sutra”):
The Bodhisattva Regarder of Sounds
Is the mind of deep compassion, flowing through the world
Her deep compassion also flows through me.
It is one, this mind of deep compassion.
If someone brings me joy,
That person is the Bodhisattva Regarder of Sounds,
And if a tree brings me comfort,
That tree is definitely the Bodhisattva Regarder of Sounds.
When I am someone who blames no one,
I am the Bodhisattva Regarder of Sounds,
And when you are someone who forgives me,
You are the revered Bodhisattva Regarder of Sounds.
The Bodhisattva Regarder of Sounds
Is the mind of deep compassion, flowing through the world.
Flowing through you and flowing through me—
She is this one mind of deep compassion.
I think this wonderful poem can make anyone who reads it awaken to their buddha nature. The poet wants us to understand what is really important, and his compassionate mind has created a poem that conveys, in simple, straightforward language, the truth of the teachings.
If you think about the meaning of the phrase “beholding living beings with eyes of compassion” in light of this poem, you’ll see that we all have the same deep compassion as the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Sounds of the World flowing within ourselves. Even though each person has his or her own way of living, we are individuals forming a whole—we are all living the one great life-force that is the unity of self and others, and we are receiving this precious, sacred life together. This way of seeing through compassionate eyes calls forth innumerable blessings.
The Light Shining on the Path
The novelist Wahei Tatematsu (1947–2010) wrote an essay about an experience he had climbing Mount Nantai, a well-known sacred mountain in Tochigi Prefecture.
Tatematsu and his group hadn’t brought flashlights because they weren’t expecting to be on the mountain after dark. However, they were delayed in their descent, and as the sun started to set, it became difficult to walk down the mountain path. Far below his feet, Tatematsu could see Lake Chuzenji and the lights from souvenir shops and inns shining by the lakeshore, but they only made the mountain darkness pitch black by comparison. Just then, he saw a faint light ahead of him. It came from the small flashlight of a woman who had become tired and was crouched down by the side of the path. Tatematsu and his friends approached the woman and picked up her pack. Then they went down the mountain together with the woman, the path at their feet lit by her small, thin light.
Tatematsu wrote that “for the woman, we who walked together with her became her Regarder of Sounds, while she who lit the path for us became our Regarder of Sounds. No matter how bright the lights in the distance were, they were of no help to us. On the contrary, no matter how weak the light in front of you may be, it is an enormous help.” Indeed, it is in the faint light of compassion and consideration for others that the bodhisattva appears. As chapter 25 of the Lotus Sutra teaches, the Regarder of Sounds may appear anytime, anyplace, to show us the means of liberation.
Chapter 16 of the Lotus Sutra, “The Life Span of the Eternal Tathagata,” concludes with lines of verse that are said to be the greatest vow of compassion: “How can I cause living beings to / Embark upon the unsurpassable Way / And quickly accomplish embodiment as buddhas?” The Regarder of Sounds Sutra provides us with encouragement and liberation by telling us that if each and every one of us makes this vow and shows consideration for other people, we will produce many bodhisattvas and make everyone happy.