Avalokiteshvara: Fall Retreat, Lexington Zen Center

In the Fall retreat Daniela Myozen Osho proposed that we look into the story of Sul, who was a great disciple of the Zen Patriarch Ma-tsu. Here is part of Sul’s story, excerpted from Dropping Ashes on the Buddha.

Among the students of Great Zen Master Ma-tsu, there was a layman named Chang. This man was a very devout Buddhist who bowed and chanted sutras twice a day and paid frequent visits to the Zen master. He would always take along his little daughter Sul.

The little girl was even more devout than her father. She would join him every day for bowing and chanting, and looked forward with the greatest pleasure to seeing the Zen master. One day, during a visit, Ma-tsu said to her, “Since you are such a good girl, I will give you a present. My present is the words Kwan Shi Yin Pusal. You must repeat the Bodhisattva’s name over and over, as much as you can. Then you will find great happiness.”

After they came home, Sul’s father gave her a picture of the Bodhisattva to hang up on her wall. She spent many hours in front of it, chanting Kwan Shi Yin Pusal. Gradually she came to chant it all day long, wherever she was—while she was sewing, while washing clothes, cooking, eating, playing, even while she was sleeping. Her parents were very proud of her.

Several years passed and her friends had long since concluded that Sul was a little crazy. This didn’t affect her at all; she continued to chant all day long, wherever she was. One day she was washing clothes in the river, beating the dirt out of them with a stick. Suddenly the great bell from Ma-tsu’s temple rang. The sound of the stick and the sound of the bell became one; she felt as if the whole universe was dancing along with Kwan Shi Yin Pusal! And Kwan Shi Yin Pusal was the earth, the sky, the great bell from Ma-tsu’s temple, the dirty clothes which lay in a heap on the riverbank. She ran back home for joy, and never chanted Kwan Shi Yin Pusal again. …

As Sul grew up, she always kept a perfectly clear mind. Outside, her actions were ordinary actions; inside her mind was the mind of a Bodhisattva. Eventually she married and raised a large, happy family, all of whom were devout Buddhists. Many people came to her for help and teaching. She became known as a great Zen Master.

On day, when she was an old woman, her granddaughter died. She cried bitterly during the funeral and kept crying back at her home, as the visitors filed past to offer their condolences. Everyone was shocked. Soon they were whispering. Finally one of them went up to her and said, “You have attained the great enlightenment, you already understand that there is neither death nor life. Why are you crying? Why is your granddaughter a hindrance to your clear mind?”

Sul immediately stopped crying and said, “Do you understand how important my tears are? They are greater than all the sutras, all the words of the Patriarchs, and all possible ceremonies. When my granddaughter hears me crying, she will enter Nirvana.” Then she should to all the visitors, “Do you understand this?”

No one understood.

As we spent the day meditating in silence on this story as koan, we were all keenly aware that our friend Audrey Robinson, a founding member of the Lexington Zen Center, lay dying in her home after a ten-year struggle with colon cancer. As the silence deepened it became apparent that all three: Sul, Audrey and Avalokiteshvara—the Kwan Shi Yin to whom the young Sul prayed, the Bodhisattva of compassion who attained enlightenment by hearing the cries all suffering beings—were not separate from each other or from ourselves.

As a token of my own non-understanding, and in memory of Audrey, I offer this poem.

Avalokiteshvara

Hearing, you turn;
Turning, you meet your very self.
Even in the clear blue sky
Spring showers fall.

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