Questioner: We pray to Buddha seeking his blessing. What is the true meaning of Buddha's blessing?
Ven. Pomnyun: There is a tendency to believe that receiving Buddha's blessing means the fulfillment of a wish by virtue of Buddha’s infinite power. For example, one may attribute fulfillment of the wish to become pregnant or having a son to be a blessing. How should we pray to obtain such blessings from Buddha? We need to pray with all our heart and to the extent that the heavens are moved. You cannot expect to move anyone, let alone the heavens, if you indulge in food, wear fine clothing, sleep long hours, and do everything you desire to while you pray. Your prayers will not be answered. How can you tell whether or not the way you pray is enough to move the heavens? You can feel it in the response from people close to you. If a wife’s prayer moves her husband or a husband’s prayer moves his wife, then such prayers will touch the heavens. Such a sincere prayer changes people, so that a wife’s prayer can change her husband, while a husband’s prayer can change his wife. This kind of prayer by the parents can also change the nature of your children.
Miracles occur when people are deeply moved. In other words, extraordinary things can happen when people’s unconscious is affected. Knowledge changes the conscious world, while sincerity affects the unconscious world, which in turn alters the autonomic nervous system. As a result, even incurable internal diseases may be healed. Externally, as people are moved by the person who is praying, their collective energy can bring about miracles. People think this is Buddha’s blessing. However, it is merely a small part of Buddha’s blessing, and it is within the cycle of samsara, birth and death. There is an infinitely bigger blessing, the one you can receive by taking refuge in the dharma which leads to enlightenment - freedom from the cycle samsara.
If you like someone, it is you who are happy. If you help someone, it is you who feels joy. These are immediate blessings. When you do good deeds, someone may love you or help you in the future. This kind of blessing requires time to materialize, so it may occur after a month, a year, or even a hundred years later. It may even be realized in the next life or a couple of lifetimes later. Is the longest day in the Northern Hemisphere also the hottest? No. The hottest day arrives about a month later. Does a room heat up instantly as soon as the heater is switched on? No. it takes time for the room to get warm.
We tend to think of worldly good fortune as the only kind of the Buddha's blessing. However, the true blessing bestowed upon us by the Buddha is the realization that we become happy when we understand and love others. Let's assume that you are digging for gold in a gold mine. During the process, you may dig up silver and copper as well as gold. Even so, the first priority is to collect gold. It would be foolish to gather silver and copper before gathering gold. Of course, once you have collected all the gold in your bag, then you could put in as much silver and copper as you need.
As Buddhists, we should always keep in mind that the ultimate goal is reaching nirvana. This blessing consists of attaining enlightenment by taking refuge in the dharma. There are some extra rewards that come with it – the worldly blessings. They are unimportant, though they are the only kind of blessing that sentient beings or ordinary people seek. If you attain enlightenment, you will be able to experience permanent joy and happiness. When you reach this stage, all suffering disappears and you reach nirvana.
Question: I heard that anyone who sees Gwanseumbosal (Avalokiteshvara) in his dream may receive a blessing. Please tell me about this blessing.
Ven. Pomnyun: I will first tell you the story of how Gwanseumbosal (Avalokiteshvara; Bodhissattva of Mercy; manifestation of all Buddha’s' compassion) came into being. In his previous life Gwanseumbosal lost his mother at a young age. His father soon remarried but he dearly loved his two sons from his previous marriage. This fact made the new wife believe that she and her children would receive little inheritance in the event of her husband’s death. Thus, when her husband went on a long business trip, she took her step sons to a deserted island under false pretenses and left them there. Unaware of their stepmother’s intentions, it didn’t occur to the boys to look for her until it began to grow dark. When their stepmother did not answer their frantic calls, they finally realized that she had abandoned them.
They became filled with hatred for their stepmother. They called out to their father for help, but he could not hear them, being so far away. They then came to resent their father, lamenting over the fact that their father had married such a wicked woman who brought them this great suffering. They then cried out for help to their dead mother but of course there was no answer. The children then began to hate their dead mother, blaming her for dying and leaving them motherless. I think we would all behave this way if we were in such a situation. When your life is hard because you lost your parents early, you would blame them, wouldn’t you? When a woman leads a difficult life with her children because her husband died young, she would resent him, wouldn’t she?
Although the children desperately cried out for help, nobody answered and before long they were on the brink of starving to death. Usually, when people find themselves in a desperate situation, they tend to harbor hatred for whoever caused it. By that reasoning, the children should have been filled with resentment toward the stepmother who deserted them, the father who did not answer, and the mother who had died too early.
However, in the moment of desperation, the older child, rather than vowing revenge on those people who caused his fatal plight, thought of the people who may be in a similar situation with him. The child realized he had not been able to hear people’s cries for help until that moment. He became conscious of the fact he himself had ignored people’s cries of suffering that went unheard. At that very moment, the boy decided to become a person who hears the cries of people in predicaments like him and help them. In his moment of great suffering, the boy understood the suffering of others because of his own, repented his past of indifference to the adversities of others, and vowed to help people in desperate situations in the future.
He vowed that if anyone were to call his name, he would become aware of his or her suffering and alleviate it. As his wish to help others grew, his ability to understand people’s suffering and his power to aid them grew. How is it possible for him to help so many people? He has a thousand eyes and hands. He can see everything and help everyone. You may think that a thousand is not a large number, but in the old days, a thousand represented an infinitely large number. That is, a thousand hands and eyes symbolized omnipotence and omniscience, respectively. Thus, Gwanseumbosal can be said to be an omniscient and omnipotent being. Consequently, when we call out to Gwanseumbosal in our times of hardship, he knows what our problems are and always helps us.
How then should we pray to Gwanseumbosal?
Let me tell you a story. A woman whose son was in prison prayed to Gwanseumbosal with all her heart that her son may soon be released. Her prayers were answered, and her son was released from prison. Not long after, however, he was killed in a traffic accident. This example teaches us a lesson about how we should pray to Gwanseumbosal. Rather than praying for her son’s release from prison, the woman should have prayed, “Please, let my son be happy wherever he is.” She should have prayed to let him be released from prison if that was beneficial for him or let him remain in prison if that was good for him. It was her prayer to get her son out of prison at any cost that ultimately resulted in his death.
Often, our prayers invite disaster. This is because we pray for good fortune when we have not done any good deeds and resist accepting any retribution for the bad deeds we have committed. If a person receives good fortune without having done any good deeds, a person who has done good deeds will not get the merit he or she deserves. This is no different from stealing. Also if someone who has done a misdeed runs away to avoid the consequences, someone else must pay the price. Many people pray they can go to heaven or for good things to happen to them without accumulating any good deeds. Such prayers go against the principle of causes and conditions.
Having the mind of a bodhisattva means you are willing to accept the retribution in place of the person who has done the misdeeds, because the retribution may be too great for him or her to bear. Also, it means you are willing to share your good fortune with others who have none because they haven’t done any good deeds. Those who share their fortune rather than steal it and are even willing to take on the responsibilities of others instead of shirking away from their own are bodhisattvas. People who have such a mind would look wonderful in the eyes of the Gods. Even I would like to shower them with good fortune. If they refused to accept it, I would follow them and make them accept it. This is why I repeatedly emphasize that you need to do good deeds and be considerate of others. If you do so, good fortune will come to you naturally.
When we pray to Gwanseumbosal, he accepts the retribution in our stead and shares his good fortune with us. This is what Gwanseumbosal vowed to do, so your prayers will always be answered. Even if you don’t see any results right away, you shouldn’t say, “It’s no use praying.” You need to believe. You must have a good reason for praying to Gwanseumbosal, so pray with heart and sincerity. Only then will you be showered with his blessings. However, most of you cannot hope for Gwanseumbosal’s blessings in the way you are praying. You may be doing your best, but may be unaware that you are praying in a way that invites disaster. You need to pray with all your heart while thinking, speaking, and behaving in a way that attracts good fortune.