As the name implies, the core of “Kwan Seum Bosal Chanting” is the actual chanting of the name of the Bodhisattva of Compassion (Kwan Seum Bosal) over and over again. As a general rule, “Kwan Seum Bosal” should be repeated at least 108 times.
The practice of reciting the names of various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas is very widespread in all the different flavors of Mahayana Buddhism that exist throughout central, northern, and eastern Asia. A very well known instance of this practice is that associated with Amitabha Buddha. Chinese Buddhists chant “namo amitufo”, while Korean Buddhists have a slightly different pronunciation: “namu amitabul”, and Japanese Buddhists have the more condensed version “nembutsu”.
The 25th chapter of the Lotus Sutra is largely devoted to listing the benefits of “calling the name of Bodhisattva Perceiver of the World’s Sounds”, and in the Korean pronunciation, this name is “Kwan Seum Bosal”. The benefits range from “fearlessness” to “good fortune” to “immeasurable and boundless good merit and virtue” to being protected from “bandits”, “evil demons”, and any other kind of “attacker”.
Many Buddhists, especially Western Buddhists, are a little (or even more than a little) leery of anything that smacks of “worship”. And what could be more worshipful than bowing down to some being while calling on them to save us from calamities and to grant us good fortune? But even just a little reflection, combined with just a little basic education in Buddhism 101, shows the way out of this antipathy to “worship”.
Generosity, not just as a concept, but, more importantly, as a practice, is central to Buddhism. Generosity means giving, and giving implies (1) a giver, (2) a receiver, and (3) something that is given. But, “giver”, “receiver”, and “what is given” are also called “the three concepts”, “the three spheres”, “the three conceptual spheres”, or “the three fixed points of reference.” And since from an enlightened point of view there is no “self”, no “other”, and no separate “things” at all, then, from such an exalted perspective, the three fixed points of reference simply disappear.
Which is all well and good if I am enlightened. But what if I’m not? We unenlightened beings do have the ideas of “self”, and “other” – as well as the idea of separate “things” that can be given by “me” to some “other”. Intellectually we might be able to (just barely) understand that “I” and Kwan Seum Bosal are one and the same. But there is still a slight difference between “me” and “Her”. She is always compassionate and wise, whereas I am rarely either, let alone both.
So, while giving our praise, devotion, worship, whatever, to Kwan Seum Bosal, we can simultaneously have the aspiration to go beyond “the three fixed points of reference.” And the cool part is, She will help us.
Offering / Devotion
kwan seum bosal
kwan seum bosal …. (repeat)
Perceive World Sound Bodhisattva
觀 世 音 菩 薩
觀 世 音 菩 薩 ….
관 세 음 보 살
관 세 음 보 살 ….
觀 kwan (pinyin: guān)
Literal meaning: perceive
世 se (pinyin: shì)
Literal meaning: world
音 um (pinyin: yīn)
Literal meaning: sound
菩薩 bosal (pinyin: púsà)
Chinese for “Bodhisattva”
Sources / Resources
• Here is a nice, if somewhat dense, description of “the three concepts”, found in “Zurchungpa’s Testament” (added emphases in bold are not in the original):
“Leaving everything as it is” means that one does not apply all sorts of fabrications: one leaves things as they are in the mountainlike view. But it is not that there is a subject that leaves and something that is left. There is no question of taking possession of the state of meditation and thinking, “This is my meditation” or “This is your meditation.” “As if stunned” implies that there is no owner. It is a neutral state in which there is a complete absence of grasping. With all the myriads of perceptions that arise in the mind, there is no fixation or clinging to these perceptions. They are just left in a completely relaxed state.
In this natural state of the inseparability of the two truths, leave things in uncontrived simplicity, a state of clear, empty awareness that is not produced by effort through different causes and conditions.
In short, the manifested aspect, which is the infinite display of phenomena arising interdependently in accordance with the laws of causality, is relative truth. And the fact that all these phenomena are permeated with the emptiness endowed with all supreme qualities is the absolute truth. The true nature is the essential unity of these two truths, relative and absolute. It is not a state that is produced artificially by means of different causes and conditions. It is something that is recognized by remaining in the great evenness, directly recognized through the blessings of the teacher. It is clear, empty awareness free from effort and not made to happen by a combination of causes and conditions. In that state there is no subject who meditates, no act of meditation, and no object of meditation: these three concepts are entirely absent.
• Here is a less dense and somewhat irreverent look at the whole thorny issue of prayer in Buddhism by Brad Warner: Thoughts and Prayers. And here’s a very brief excerpt:
You might wonder why a religion that doesn’t believe in God would pray for anything. And who are they asking to provide this protection and well-being?
Different teachers would probably have different answers. Here’s mine.
I think we are ultimately praying to ourselves. In praying to ourselves we direct the thoughts of our conscious, reasoning, rational mind toward that deeper, larger, unthinking part of our selves and ask that deeper, larger part for help.
• And for those who are less leery of the devotional aspects of Buddhism, here is a nice article on Guan Shi Yin and the ten great protections of the Goddess of Mercy Kuanyin: Avalokiteshvara, Bodhisattva of Compassion. That article makes reference to the 25th chapter of the Lotus Sutra, which was also mentioned in the previous post in this series.