The Lotus Sutra, expounded by the Buddha at the end of his teaching career, was first written down in approximately 200 C.E. In the following excerpt, taken from Chapter 25, Shakyamuni Buddha explains to a member of the assembly, the Bodhisattva of Inexhaustible Intent, why Avalokiteshvara is called “Perceiver of the World’s Sounds.”
The Buddha said:
“Good man, suppose there are innumerable hundreds, thousands, ten thousands, millions of living beings who are undergoing various trials and suffering. If they hear of this bodhisattva Perceiver of the World’s Sounds and single-mindedly call his name, then at once he will perceive the sound of their voices and they will all gain deliverance from their trials.
“If someone, holding fast to the name of Bodhisattva Perceiver of the World’s Sounds, should enter a great fire, the fire could not burn him. This would come about because of this bodhisattva’s authority and supernatural power. If one were washed away by a great flood and called upon his name, one would immediately find himself in a shallow place.
“Suppose there were a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, a million living beings who, seeking for gold, silver, lapis lazuli, seashell, agate, coral, amber, pearls, and other treasures, set out upon the great sea. And suppose a fierce wind should blow their ship off course and it drifted to the land of the rakshasa demons [malignant forces that sometimes also appear as protectors of the dharma]. If among those people there is even just one who calls the name Bodhisattva Perceiver of the World’s Sounds, then all those people will be delivered from their troubles with the rakshasas. This is why he is called Perceiver of the World’s Sounds.
“If a person who faces imminent threat of attack should call the name of Bodhisattva Perceiver of the World’s Sounds, then the swords and staves wielded by his attackers would instantly shatter into so many pieces and he would be delivered. . . .
“Suppose there is a person who, whether guilty or not guilty, has had his body imprisoned in fetters and chains, cangue and lock. If he calls the name of Bodhisattva Perceiver of the World’s Sounds, then all his bonds will be severed and broken and at once he will gain deliverance. . . .
“If there should be living beings beset by numerous lusts and cravings, let them think with constant reverence of Bodhisattva Perceiver of the World’s Sounds and then they can shed their desires. If they have great wrath and ire, let them think with constant reverence of Bodhisattva Perceiver of the World’s Sounds and then they can shed their ire. If they have great ignorance and stupidity, let them think with constant reverence of Bodhisattva Perceiver of the World’s Sounds and they can rid themselves of stupidity.
“Inexhaustible Intent, the Bodhisattva Perceiver of the World’s Sounds possesses great authority and supernatural powers, as I have described, and can confer many benefits. For this reason, living beings should constantly keep the thought of him in mind.”
From The Lotus Sutra, translated by Burton Watson, reprinted with permission from Columbia University Press.
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