Once, I had the privilege of listening to a pre-recorded dharma discourse by the esteemed H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III. During this enlightening session, His Holiness shared a captivating story that left a profound impact on my mind. It was the tale of Kumarajiva, a legendary figure who demonstrated his profound inner realization by consuming needles. Intrigued by this extraordinary account, I felt compelled to delve further into the remarkable life of Kumarajiva.
Kumārajīva was a Buddhist monk, scholar, missionary and translator from the Kingdom of Kucha (present-day Aksu Prefecture, Xinjiang, China). Kumārajīva is seen as one of the greatest translators of Chinese Buddhism. According to Lu Cheng, Kumarajiva’s translations are “unparalleled either in terms of translation technique or degree of fidelity”.
Kumārajīva settled in Chang’an during the Sixteen Kingdoms era. He is mostly remembered for the prolific translation of Buddhist texts written in Sanskrit to Chinese he carried out during his later life.
At Chang’an, Kumārajīva was immediately introduced to the emperor Yao Xing, the court, and the Buddhist leaders. He was hailed as a great master from the Western regions, and immediately took up a very high position in Chinese Buddhist circles of the time, being given the title of National Teacher. Yao Xing looked upon him as his own teacher, and many young and old Chinese Buddhists flocked to him, learning both from his direct teachings and through his translation bureau activities.
Kumārajīva appeared to have a major influence on Emperor Yao Xing’s actions later on, as he avoided actions that may lead to many deaths, while trying to act gently toward his enemies. At his request, Kumārajīva translated many sutras into Chinese. Yao Xing also built many towers and temples.
Yao Hsing was so impressed with Kumarajiva’s political acumen, intellectual talent and spiritual depth that he was impelled to try a eugenic experiment. He insisted that Kumarajiva move out of the monastic community into a private house staffed by female attendants. Yao Hsing believed that the offspring of Kumarajiva and carefully selected maidens would be as brilliant and talented as their father. Although Kumarajiva was repelled by the experiment, he refused to jeopardize the welfare of the translation centre by refusing to obey his emperor. He complied with Yao Hsing’s orders but was concerned about the effect his actions might have on the monastic community. He likened himself to a lotus growing out of the mud and enjoined the monks to attend to the lotus and ignore the mud.
However, it is widely understood that monks are expected to adhere strictly to the rules and precepts, diligently purifying their bodies and minds while maintaining purity in their six senses. Deviating from these principles, particularly by engaging closely with women and disregarding the precepts, can hinder the attainment of positive outcomes. Consequently, doubts began to arise among the Sangha regarding Kumarajiva’s integrity, leading to a decline in the commitment of some disciples to uphold the essential Buddhist rules.
When Kumarajiva became aware of the troubling trend spreading among the monks, he could not afford to be complacent. In response, he summoned all his disciples to gather before him, determined to address the issue head-on.
Before the perplexed audience, Kumarajiva unveiled a bowl filled with silver needles, their sharpness and gleaming appearance catching everyone’s attention. The monks were left wondering about the purpose behind Kumarajiva’s display.
In a solemn tone, Kumarajiva addressed his disciples, saying, “Not every monk is qualified to enter into worldly attachments and establish households. If you can swallow these silver needles as I do, then I will consider granting you permission to marry and have children. However, if you are unable to do so, you must never attempt to follow in my footsteps.”
Having spoken these words, Kumarajiva proceeded to place each silver needle into his mouth, consuming the entire bowl with a composed ease. The supernatural power exhibited by Kumarajiva left the assembled monks awe-struck, their eyes widened in astonishment. In the end, they were all convinced by Kumarajiva’s demonstration, believing him to be the true successor endorsed by the Buddha.
With this act, Kumarajiva showcased the potency of the correct Buddha Dharma. Consequently, no one dared to criticize him from that point forward. Instead, they committed themselves to diligent practice, upholding the precepts, engaging in self-cultivation, and abandoning any fantasies of pursuing worldly desires.
The community perceived Kumarajiva’s actions as an exemplification of self-sacrifice in the pursuit of the Bodhisattva Ideal, despite the disappointment he experienced due to the children of Yao Hsing’s experiment falling short of his grand expectations.
Although I am an ordinary RINPOCHE without any deep realization, nevertheless, I am very fortunate to have visited many Rinpoches. I have sought instruction from Great Dharma King Yangwo Yisinubu and from famous Rinpoches, such as Panchen Lama, Dalai Lama, Karmapa, Bo Mi Qiang Ba Luo Zhu, Dorje Losang, Dilgo Khyentse, Jiang Gong Kang Qin, Jiang Gong Kang Ce, Ga Wang, Zong Nan Jia Chu, Chuang Gu, Xia Ma, Hsi Jao, Bei Lu Qin Zhe, Tai Xi Du, Heng Sheng, Jia Cha, and Kalu. Especially with respect to nectar, I have a detailed understanding.
In general, nectar can be divided into five types: Most Precious Nectar, Great Precious Nectar, Long Life Nectar, Vajra Nectar, and Bodhi Nectar. These different types of nectar can also be divided into two different types: nectar that comes from sacred Dharma practice and nectar that comes from exoteric Dharma practice. There are several different types of nectar within the category of nectar that comes from sacred Dharma practice, depending upon the different manifestations of Dharma by each Buddha. Nectar resulting from exoteric practices is most prevalent in contemporary Vajrayana Buddhism. Basically, any Rinpoche can practice the Dharma to produce such nectar. Medicine or food is mostly used. Added to and mixed together with the medicine or food is sharira or a Dharma object that has been empowered. This is then made into powder to make pills. This powder is then empowered through practice of the Dharma and the recitation of mantras to become various types of nectar. Nectar that comes from exoteric Dharma practice is mostly used for empowerment, curing illnesses, and other reasons.
Nectar that comes from sacred Dharma practice is totally different from nectar that comes from exoteric, ordinary Dharma practice. The degree of empowerment from nectar that comes from sacred Dharma practice as compared with nectar that comes from exoteric Dharma practice is as different as ten thousand miles and one footstep. No words could adequately praise the nectar that comes from sacred Dharma practice. Ordinary Rinpoches and ordinary Dharma Kings who have been conferred such titles by the world cannot successfully practice the sacred Dharma to invoke nectar. Only those who are true Buddhas, or incarnations or transformations of Great Bodhisattvas, can successfully practice such Dharma. In the sacred Dharma practice to invoke nectar, the Dharma King conducting the practice will assemble over 100 Rinpoches to form a mandala. Gold, silver, and other precious items will be burnt as offerings. The Great Dharma King will then practice the holy Inner-Tantric Dharma to invoke the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to bestow nectar from the realm of the Buddhas. The Buddhas will assemble in the sky or will enter the mandala area. This holy scene will be seen by all of the more than 100 Rinpoches in attendance.
At this time, the Buddha who corresponds to the particular nectar that is being invoked will descend. The appearance of that particular Buddha and its bestowing of nectar can be seen. There will be the emission of light and the manifestation of supernormal states when the nectar descends into the bowl. This Dharma bowl must first be thoroughly washed and must be empty. There is absolutely nothing in this world which has the mysterious and changeable shape of the nectar that descends into the bowl. It is exactly as what is described in the book Know the True Doctrines. According to people of great virtue, only this type of sacred nectar is true nectar. According to Tibetan tantra, nectar is the holy material used for initiations. No matter what type of initiation is performed, nectar must be used. Especially for the supreme yoga initiations, true nectar is an absolutely indispensable material for the initiation Dharma water. True nectar represents the causative factor that raises one from the ordinary world to the realm of the Buddhas. If true nectar is not used as the basis for an initiation, such as when man-made nectar created from medicine is used to empower, then such initiation is not an Inner-Tantric Sacred Dharma Initiation. Therefore, according to tantra, nectar is fundamental for liberation. Determining whether a Dharma King is the incarnation of a Buddha or Great Bodhisattva mostly depends upon whether he or she has the depth of realization to successfully practice the nectar Dharma. Can he or she commune with the Buddhas and successfully invoke them to bestow nectar? Any explanation other than this, no matter how many times said, is merely empty talk. This includes explanations such as, “I am the heir to a certain spiritual legacy… Since childhood, I have been officially recognized as a Holy One and have been so for many lives…. I am a Dharma King recognized by a certain Great Rinpoche…I am the head of a certain great temple.” This only proves that they are Rinpoches according to worldly regulations and teachings. Of course, they can save living beings. However, such explanations definitely do not prove that they are able to represent the sacred essence of the supreme tantra. Nevertheless, one cannot dismiss such people. They are persons of great virtue. It is simply a matter of different levels of attainment.
When visiting Rinpoches, I would speak of this matter of the Buddhas bestowing true nectar. Some Rinpoches who do not have the ability to successfully invoke true nectar become quite unhappy when this subject is raised. I think that this is not a big problem. If you think that you are a Great and Holy Dharma King or a Great Rinpoche, then conduct a Nectar Dharma Assembly in order to prove that you are someone whom living beings can fall back upon. Let everybody see that you have the Buddha Dharma within you and that the Buddha Dharma is true. This is saving living beings! Otherwise, use empowered medicine as nectar and save living beings while cultivating yourself with a heart of humility!
I would like to raise the following question for everybody’s consideration. Are the Dharma Kings who successfully invoke the Buddhas to bestow nectar in front of everybody able to represent the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas or are the Dharma Kings who only speak empty words able to represent the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas? This question is worthy of deep consideration! I and many people of great virtue believe that those who can commune with the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are definitely Great Dharma Kings. Those who can only reach ordinary states are ordinary Rinpoches!
Emperor Fu-Chien (337-385), also known as Fu-Jian, became increasingly interested in Buddhism. In 379, he conquered the city of Hsiang-yang and invited Tao-an to establish his renowned center for the translation of Buddhist scriptures and texts in the capital of Ch’ang-an, which Fu Chien fully supported. Tao-an, impressed by Kumarajiva’s spiritual, philosophical, and linguistic abilities, urged Fu Chien to invite him to Ch’ang-an. However, the warlord-emperor, in his aggressive manner, dispatched Lu Kuang with an army to conquer Kucha and capture Kumarajiva. Kucha fell to Lu Kuang, and Kumarajiva willingly accompanied the conquering general to Ch’ang-an in 383.
Then, a series of unexpected events occurred. Tao-an died in 385, and six months later, the Yao family attacked and conquered Ch’ang-an, killing Fu Chien. The new dynasty continued the policies of the previous rulers, such as preserving Tao-an’s translation center and promoting Buddhist studies, eagerly anticipating the arrival of Kumarajiva in the capital. Lu Kuang, upon hearing of the conquest of Ch’ang-an, halted his return and declared himself independent, establishing a state known as Later Liang with its center at Ku-tsang. Although Lu Kuang was not a Buddhist and did not care for spiritual matters, he recognized the political value of Kumarajiva.
Lu Kuang held Kumarajiva captive for sixteen years, subjecting him to numerous indignities while also using him as a military adviser. During this time, the rulers of Ch’ang-an pleaded for his release, but to no avail. Kumarajiva found this period of his life difficult and frustrating, as he was mocked for his beliefs and practices and could not pursue the work he felt destined to do. Despite this, he did not become passive or disheartened. Instead, he used this time to learn about China from the rugged soldiers who had traversed much of the country. He also quietly gathered texts to take with him to Ch’ang-an and thoroughly mastered the Chinese language.
Eventually, Yao Hsing, the second ruler of the new dynasty at Ch’ang-an, grew tired of fruitless negotiations with Lu Kuang and took a daring risk. In 401, his armies attacked and conquered Ku-tsang (in present-day Afghanistan). Kumarajiva was rescued unharmed, and in 402, he was welcomed into Ch’ang-an. He finally realized a dream he had conceived in his twenties, but it took until his fifties to come to fruition.
Kumarajiva was warmly received by Yao Hsing, who bestowed upon him the title Teacher of the Nation. The fruitful phase of his life, which has profoundly influenced Chinese Buddhist tradition from the moment he entered Ch’ang-an to the present day, began with his arrival and lasted barely a decade. Within six days of taking up residence in his new home, he accepted the suggestion of a monk named Seng-jui, later one of his chief disciples, and began to translate a text on meditation, the Tso-ch’an san-mei ching. He found that the translation centre founded by Tao-an had been preserved and supported by Yao Hsing, and he marvelled at the quality of the work his predecessor had undertaken. He found himself surrounded by an enormous group of knowledgeable monks who were ready to continue the work of translation under his guidance. He rapidly reorganized the centre so that new translations could be made even while the accomplishments of the previous generation could be reviewed and revised. Within the next few years he translated almost fifty works in about three hundred volumes.
Like Tao-an, Kumarajiva thought that the ko-i or ‘matching the meaning’ method of translation, in which unfamiliar Sanskrit Buddhist concepts were replaced by well-known Chinese Taoist words, compromised Buddha’s teachings. A review of Tao-an’s work convinced him, however, that too strict an insistence on literal translation, sometimes requiring the creation of awkward neologisms, rendered beautiful texts obscure. His belief that a translation should accurately convey the tone and texture of a teaching inseparably from its content compelled him to adopt a new methodology for translation. He chose to emphasize the central theme of a text or treatise and to edit passages which would seem unnecessarily repetitive to Chinese readers. Once he had arranged the working force at his disposal to his satisfaction, he would read a text aloud, sentence by sentence, before a large congregation. Yao Hsing would often attend these sessions, and sometimes he held the original palm-leaf manuscript in his own hands while Kumarajiva explained it. After each sentence, Kumarajiva explained its meaning and offered an oral translation in Chinese. The congregation would comment on the results and suggest improvements. Meanwhile, a recorder would write down the approved translation, and later an editor would review the whole text for style and internal consistency. Finally, a calligrapher would correct the Chinese ideographs to be sure there were no ambiguities in transmission of the texts.
Kumarajiva’s influence was not limited to the so-called barbarous kingdoms of northern China. In 378 Hui-yuan, one of Tao-an’s chief disciples, had gone south and made his abode in a monastic community at Lu-shan, a mountain famous amongst Taoists, Confucians and Buddhists for its majesty and mystery. Within a few years, he became the informal leader of the Southern Chinese Buddhist community. Shortly after Kumarajiva’s arrival in Ch’ang-an in 402, Hui-yuan wrote to him and encouraged him to continue the work of Tao-an. A year later, hearing that Kumarajiva might return to Kucha, he wrote again, strongly urging him to remain in China. During the next few years the two monks exchanged letters on philosophical and monastic subjects, and eighteen of these exchanges survive. Hui-yuan enquired about many issues, but he was most interested in gaining a clear understanding of the dharmakaya, the highest vehicle of a Buddha. Kumarajiva distinguished between dharmakaya, the ultimate body of Buddha, and dharmadhatujakaya, the invisible body consciously evolved by a Bodhisattva to serve humanity in the world even after physical death. Thereby he showed how that which is ultimately real is reflected in subtle material form through one-pointed and universal consciousness. In these letters answering questions posed by a serious disciple of buddhadharma, one can glimpse something of Kumarajiva’s own profound insight and understanding. In general, he preferred to remain hidden behind the lustre of his translations and refrained from writing treatises setting out his own views.
Seng-jui is said to have rejoiced after attending a translation session with Kumarajiva, because for the first time he caught a glimmer of understanding of the enigmatic concept of shunyata. The collective work of Kumarajiva and his colleagues produced texts which were readable, comprehensible and inspiring. After a millennium and a half his translations are still read and studied, and they are often used as the basis for new translations into other languages, including English. Even though he translated a range of sutras and commentaries from a variety of Buddhist teachings, such as the Prajnaparamita literature, the Vimalakirti Sutra and the Surangama Sutra, his most famous and influential work was his powerful rendition of the Lotus Sutra, known in Sanskrit as the Saddharma Pundarika Sutra and in Chinese as Miao-fu lien-hua. In it one finds harmoniously combined Kumarajiva’s astounding linguistic facility and his profound grasp of the scope and depth of buddhadharma. Perhaps less obvious to the modern reader is the remarkable support Yao Hsing gave to this sort of project. Also, Kumarajiva never hesitated to point out the enormous support he received from knowledgeable and enthusiastic monks who worked together with an exemplary spirit of harmony and cooperation.
Within just 11 years, Kumarajiva and his team translated 384 volumes, including sutras, commentaries, and other Buddhist texts. Since that time, his translations have been held in high regard by modern scholars due to the smooth flow of the work which conveys deeper meaning than just literal rendering. If it wasn’t for Kumarajiva, many of the great Mahayana texts may not have been preserved until today.
The major scriptures translated by Kumarajiva between 401-413 CE include:
Smaller Sukhavati-vguha (Amitabha Sutra) in 1 volume, 402 CE
Vajracchedika Prajnaparamita Sutra (Diamond Sutra) in 1 volume, 402-412 CE
Satyasiddhi Shastra, (Treatise on the Completion of Truth) in 20 volumes, 402-412 CE
Mahaprajnaparamita Upadesha (Treatise on the Great Perfection of Wisdom Sutra) in 100 volumes, 402-405 CE
Shatika-shastra (Treatise in One Hundred Verses) in 2 volumes, 404 CE
Sarvastivadin Vinaya (Ten-Category Vinaya) in 61 volumes, 404-409 CE
Panchavimshati Sahasrika Prajnaparamita Sutra (Perfection of Wisdom Sutra in Twenty-five Thousand Lines) in 27 volumes, 404 CE
Vimalakirti Nirdesha Sutra (Vimalakirti Sutra) in 3 volumes, 406 CE
Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita Sutra (Perfection of Wisdom Sutra) in 10 volumes, 408 CE
Madhyamaka-shastra (Treatise on the Middle Way) in 4 volumes, 409 CE
Dvadashamukha Shastra (Treatise on the Twelve Gates) in 1 volume, 409 CE
Maitreyavyakarana Sutra in 1 volume
Shurangama-samadhi Sutra in 2 volumes
Karunikaraja Prajnaparamita Sutra in 2 volumes
Brahmajala Sutra (Brahma Net Sutra) in 2 volumes
Saddharmapundarika Sutra (Lotus Sutra) in 8 volumes
Dasabhumikavibhasa in 17 volumes
On his deathbed, Kumarajiva prophesied to his closest disciples that his cremation would serve as a criterion of his success as a translator. If he had made errors – a possibility he was always willing to acknowledge – his entire body would be consumed by the funeral flames. However, if he had not erred, then his tongue would remain untouched by the fire. His disciples testified that his tongue survived the cremation of his body unharmed. This precious tongue relic is now preserved at the Kumarajiva Temple, located in Wuwei, in northwest China’s Gansu Province. It is the only temple in the world named after Kumarajiva. Additionally, the Kumarajiva Pagoda, built in the 4th century, was an important structure on the Silk Road. The elegant 12-storey brick pagoda was destroyed during a great earthquake in 1927, but was later rebuilt.
The judgement of history concurs with Kumarajiva’s disciples: his work became the backbone of the grand organic edifice of Buddhist thought and teaching that arose in China, even as the buddhavachana began to wane in India. Kumarajiva gave his life to a sacred mission, the full significance of which his contemporaries could not fathom. However, they correctly sensed from the magnetic force of his presence that subsequent generations would benefit immensely from his selfless service.
Kumarajiva’s translations were instrumental in the development of Buddhism in China, as he was able to transmit the true meaning of Buddhism through his works, which contributed to the development of schools such as the Pure Land, Tian Tai, San Lun, and many others. His translated sutras were always considered central to their principal readings.
The Yungang Buddhist grottoes, a massive complex comprising 252 caves and niches with 51,000 statues carved into an area of 18,000 square meters, are a remarkable achievement of Buddhist cave art in China. Constructed from the mid-5th to early-6th century AD, the grottoes were influenced by Buddhist cave art from South and Central Asia but also incorporated distinct Chinese elements and local spirit. They played a crucial role among early Oriental Buddhist grottoes and had a far-reaching impact on Buddhist cave art in China and East Asia.
The five caves of Tanyao and their imperial patronage
The construction of Yungang began with five cave-temples, known today as caves 16 to 20, at the west end of the cliff. These caves were imperial commissions of the Northern Wei dynasty in around 460 C.E. The Northern Wei rulers, who belonged to the Tuoba clan from northern China, had recently unified northern China after centuries of political turmoil and established Buddhism as the state religion. The dynasty’s capital, Pingcheng, became a significant center for Buddhist religious and artistic expression.
The five caves of Tanyao, created by Tan Yao, are classical masterpieces of the first peak of Chinese art, displaying a strict unity of layout and design. These caves each contain a colossal Buddha as the central icon, with Cave 20 housing a gigantic seated Buddha in a meditation posture and a standing attendant Buddha on one side. Another attendant Buddha likely existed on the other side, but it has been lost along with the cave’s exterior wall. The imperial patronage of these caves reflects the Northern Wei dynasty’s fusion of state power and religious devotion.
The main Buddha measures roughly 13 meters in height. He has plump cheeks, a thick neck, elongated eyes, a sharply cut nose, slightly smiling lips, and broad shoulders, all of which produce a solemn appearance.
The well-preserved halo behind the main Buddha is composed of an outer band of flame patterns and two inner bands decorated with seven seated Buddhas of miniature size. The robe features zigzag patterns on the edge. The right shoulder of the main Buddha is left exposed, whereas the standing attendant Buddha on the east wall wears a robe that covers both shoulders with a high neckline.
Historical records recount that Tanyao, a renowned monk cleric with official ranks, advised Emperor Wencheng to undertake construction of five cave-temples (Caves 16–20) to commemorate the five founding emperors of the Northern Wei dynasty. Claiming that the emperor of Northern Wei was the living Buddha, this project declared the emperor’s political and spiritual legitimacy, and strengthened the rule of the imperial family.
Buddha (left) and attendant Buddha (right), Cave 20 at Yungang (photo: xiquinhosilva, CC BY 2.0)
The statues housed in the caves and niches are in good condition and all of the caves and statues have not suffered major damage from vandalism and/or natural disasters. Restoration and repair had been made on deficient parts of some statues in the past. All the necessary attributes demonstrating the Outstanding Universal Value of Yungang Grottoes are contained within the boundary of the property area. The buffer zone provides a necessary safe area for the conservation of the Grottoes, the setting and the historic environment. These measures have enabled the Yungang Grottoes to serve as one of the greatest ancient stone carving art treasure houses in the world.
The location, caves and statues of the Yungang Grottoes have retained their historic appearance. The eaves of wooden pavilions of the caves and the related historical remains have kept the distinctive character of the times when they were constructed. The daily maintenance and conservation intervention have been conducted following the conservation principle of minimal intervention in design, materials, methodology, techniques and craftsmanship.
The paired caves and the major development at Yungang
Beginning roughly a decade after the initial commission, the imperial projects at Yungang advanced to a second phase that lasted from c. 470s until 494 C.E. In contrast to the monumental Buddha found in Cave 20, the interior of the second-phase cave-temples are decorated with reliefs that depict Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and other divine figures in various scales and configurations.
One of the most distinctive features developed in the second phase of construction are paired caves—two adjacent caves featuring a similar architectural plan and pictorial program. The paired cave-temple layout is understood to symbolically represent the reign of two coincident rulers: Emperor Xiaowen (471–499 C.E.) and Empress Dowager Wenming (442–490 C.E.). The use of paired cave-temples became another means to demonstrate the dynasty’s imperial power.
The paired Caves 5 and 6 are among the most lavishly decorated cave-temples at Yungang. Cave 6 has an antechamber and a square main chamber supported by a central pillar (see the full cave 6 in 3D). A square clerestory (window) is opened right above the passageway to the main chamber to let in light (although it is hard to see in photos or the 3D image).
In the main chamber of Cave 6, the east, south, and west walls are divided vertically into three main registers that include complex pictorial programs (the north wall features a large niche housing a trinity of Buddhas that are later repairs). We find seated Buddha figures and scenes from the Buddha’s life throughout the chamber. Depictions of the historical Buddha, who was believed to live in the Ganges River basin during the 6th century B.C.E., derived largely from Buddhist texts. The Buddha’s biography details the course of his life from birth to enlightenment, and eventually to nirvana, the final extinction. The life of the Buddha was among the most popular themes for artistic representation throughout the Buddhist world.
One scene from the Buddha’s life (at the southern end of the east wall) shows the First Sermon of the Buddha at Deer Park, identifiable by the depiction of a pair of deer on the Buddha’s throne. We see a canopied standing Buddha flanked by two standing bodhisattvas and a myriad of worshippers in the background. Just below the standing Buddha niche, a seated Buddha with his right hand raised (the fearless gesture) can be seen in a trapezoidal-shaped niche flanked by two five-story pagodas (just visible at the edges of the scene in the photograph). Worshippers either kneel in front of the throne or stand facing the Buddha on his two sides.
Rock-cut cave-temples first appeared in western India in the 1st century B.C.E. There are two basic types: apsidal-shaped (semicircular) chaitya (sanctuary, temple, or prayer hall in Indian religions) and vihāra caves where monks resided—both of which we find at places like the caves of Ajanta, India. Both types were transmitted eastwards to Central Asia up to the 5th century with modifications of the structures. At Yungang, the sanctuary type was further adapted into a square shape that houses a central pillar in the middle, as we find in Cave 6. At the same time, a number of architectural features find their precedents in Goguryeo tombs from present-day northeastern China and North Korea.
But what facilitated these different traditions coming together at Yungang?
Transmissions and transformations of artistic styles
Yungang was a hub where multiple artistic traditions of South Asia, Central Asia, and pre-Buddhist China synthesized into something new. This was made possible by the Silk Road, a network of ancient trade routes linking East Asia with the rest of Eurasia. Goods and ideas have been exchanged along the Silk Road since at least the second century B.C.E. Central to the economic, cultural, and religious interactions between different parts of Eurasia, the Silk Road tied the Northern Wei territory to the sacred heartland of Buddhism in South Asia, and to Central Asian kingdoms that promoted Buddhist teachings.
A primary factor facilitating the encounter of these varied traditions was the gathering of human resources and materials from different regions. In the 430s and 440s, the Northern Wei court issued decrees that relocated artisans and monks from its conquered lands to the capital city of Pingcheng. The concentration of people and craftsmanship in the capital led to the artistic flourishing of well-executed Buddhist monasteries, cave-temples, sculptures, and murals. Eminent monks who were active in Pingcheng had also engaged with religious activities in other urban centers such as Chang’an and Wuwei, and maintained close ties with Central Asian Buddhist communities.
Just as the form of the rock-cut cave-temples was adapted from earlier traditions in South Asia, statues and reliefs at Yungang exhibit strong stylistic and iconographic affinities with earlier Buddhist art traditions from northwestern India and Central Asia. For instance, the main colossal Buddha images in Caves 16 to 20 feature a round face, with a gentle, calm expression that creates an impression of sanctity, and a robe style that clings tightly to the body yet is rendered with schematic patterns. All of these features echo the aesthetics found in previous traditions, especially the Buddhist sculptures in Gandhara, a Buddhist center located in present-day northwest India and Pakistan.
Yungang art exerted influence, in turn, on Central Asian cave-temples starting in the later 6th century, such as Dunhuang, indicating that a dynamic exchange took place among the major cultural centers along the Silk Road.
Sinicization reforms under the reign of Emperor Xiaowen
One of the new developments shown at Yungang that would have a long-lasting effect on Chinese Buddhist art was Sinicization, a process of adapting non-Chinese traditions into Han Chinese culture. In Cave 1, between the canopy of the central pillar and the ceiling we find intertwined dragons surrounding mountains that represent Mount Meru (the sacred mountain considered to be the center of the universe in Buddhist cosmology). The design shows strong influence of the pre-Buddhist Chinese tradition in two aspects. First, the dragons are depicted with typical Chinese conventions—a snake-like curving body with four legs. Mount Meru was not related to dragons in pre-Chinese Buddhist art traditions. The incorporation of dragons in the design reveals an integration of the motif’s symbolic reference to a spiritual life force in traditional Chinese beliefs.
In Cave 6, we also see Sinicized traits in a new style of the Buddha’s monastic robe, which features loose drapery that falls around the body and clothes the Buddha entirely instead of the earlier style that clings closely to a partly exposed body. The new style finds parallel in the contemporary dress of court officials.
Overall, these new styles and motifs were a response to the political reform of Sinicization promoted by Emperor Xiaowen and Dowager Wenming during their reign in the Taihe era (477–499 C.E.). The reform aimed at legitimizing the Northern Wei regime, built by non-Chinese nomadic groups, as an imperial Chinese dynasty, and promoting a greater sense of conformity throughout the empire.
The legacy of Yungang
Despite the move of the capital to Luoyang in 494 C.E., constructions at Yungang continued for another three decades. Cave-temples of this phase are much smaller in size than at the earlier western end of the complex. Over half a millennium later in the 13th century when Yungang was the capital of the Liao Dynasty, Yungang witnessed another era of glory, with restorations of the caves and installation of wooden structures attached to their façades. Yet it was only a temporary phenomenon. The site later stayed silent for centuries until its early 20th-century rediscovery along with other major cave-temples by foreigners on expeditions.
Modern scholarship about the history and the art of Yungang Cave-temples has continued to provide new information about the site. The most recent archaeological excavations at Yungang unearthed the remains of a monastery dated to the Northern Wei dynasty above the western section of the cliff. The well-preserved foundations of courtyards, the central stupa (a sepulchral monument that refers to the Buddha), residential cells for monks, and objects continue to enrich our understanding of the site as a significant religious center from the 5th century.
Here is one thing author Robert Wright and I agree on when it comes to Buddhist meditation: It’s really, really boring. At least, it’s boring in the beginning. But there is another thing we agree on, too. That initial meditative boredom is actually a door. It’s an opening that can lead us to something essential, and essentially true, that Buddhism has to teach us about being human.
Wright’s insight on this point is just one of the many truths in his delightfully personal, yet broadly important, new book Why Buddhism Is True.
The “true” in Wright’s title doesn’t refer to the traditional kinds of scriptural truths we think of when we think of religions and truth. Wright is explicitly not interested in the traditional aspects of Buddhism as a religion. The book, for example, makes no claims about reincarnation or Tibetan rainbow bodies or the like. Instead, Wright wants to focus on Buddhism’s diagnosis of the human condition. The part that is relevant to the here and now. It’s Buddhism’s take on our suffering, our anxiety and our general dis-ease that Wright wants to explore because that is where he sees its perspective lining up with scientific fields like evolutionary psychology and neurobiology.
To his credit, Wright is more than cognizant that exploring just these aspects of Buddhism means he is filtering out quite a bit of its history. As he reminds his readers:
“Two of the most common Western conceptions of Buddhism — that it’s atheistic and that it revolves around meditation — are wrong; most Asian Buddhists do believe in gods, though not an omnipotent creator God, and don’t meditate.”
Wright also acknowledges that even within this “scientific” Buddhism he is interested in, there are also enormous differences between various philosophical schools of thought, many with 1,000-year histories.
“I’m not getting into super-fine-grained parts of Buddhist psychology and philosophy,” he tells us.
“For example, the Abhidhamma Pitaka, a collection of early Buddhist texts, asserts that there are eighty-nine kinds of consciousness, twelve of which are unwholesome. You may be relieved to hear that this book will spend no time trying to evaluate that claim.”
I was happy to see Wright address these issues of history and interpretation head-on. No matter where Buddhism’s encounter with the West takes it, ignoring history doesn’t do anyone any good (I’ve tried to explore these issues myself here at 13.7 and elsewhere, including here and here).
But with those important caveats, Wright is then forceful in his main argument that “Buddhism’s diagnosis of the human predicament is fundamentally correct, and that its prescription is deeply valid and urgently important.”
To back up this claim, Wright leans heavily on evolutionary psychology, which he says, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, “is the study of how the human brain was designed — by natural selection — to mislead us, even enslave us.” That misleading and enslaving, however, is all in the service of getting our genes into the next generation. As he writes:
“Don’t get me wrong: natural selection has its virtues, and I’d rather be created by it than not be created at all — which, so far as I can tell, are the two options this universe offers.”
These lines give you hint of Wright’s tone throughout the book. He is very funny and uses his own experiences to drive to the book’s questions. In particular, it was his first experience at a week-long meditation intensive two decades ago that launched his journey into Buddhism and “contemplative practice” (i.e. meditation). His accounts of time spent on “the cushion” are full of self-effacing humor and real insights.
Wright’s main point is that evolution hardwires us with intense emotions that are in fact delusions. (He has discussed this in an interview with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross.) They developed as survival responses to the environments we evolved in and they were tuned to those environments. Now they just don’t make sense and need to be seen for what they are. As he puts it:
“These feelings — anxiety, despair, hatred, greed — … have elements of delusion, elements you’d be better off without. And if you think you would be better off, imagine how the whole world would be. After all, feelings like despair and hatred and greed can foster wars and atrocities. So if what I’m saying is true — if the basic sources of human suffering and human cruelty are indeed in large part the product of delusion — there is value in exposing this delusion to the light.”
According to Wright, Buddhism, at least its more contemplative side, offers specific insights into, and a path out of, these delusions. In particular, the direct experiences gained via contemplative practice can, he says, weaken the hold of these evolutionary once-needed delusions. In the process, Wright argues, we can all learn to wreak a little less havoc on ourselves and the rest of the world. As he puts it:
“There are other spiritual traditions that address the human predicament with insight and wisdom. But Buddhist meditation, along with its underlying philosophy, addresses that predicament in a strikingly direct and comprehensive way.”
That broad nonsectarian approach is an important part of Wright’s approach. Raised as a Southern Baptist, he left the church in his teens. But he doesn’t look back in anger. Perhaps that is why he isn’t arguing that people need to become a Buddhist to practice its truths. As he writes: “Asserting the validity of core Buddhist ideas doesn’t necessarily say anything, one way or the other, about other spiritual or philosophical traditions.” Later, he reminds us of the Dalai Lama’s admonition: “Don’t try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a better Buddhist; use it to be a better whatever-you-already-are.”
Which takes me back to that whole meditation is boring (at least in the beginning) thing. One of the best parts of Wright’s book is its realism. No matter how many books you read on Buddhist insights into human beings, they won’t mean much unless you find yourself a regular practice. It’s the practice that counts. It’s the practice that slowly lets you see the delusion in our constant stream of desires and aversions. That is, after all, why they call it practice. Wright does an excellent job of unpacking this reality for his readers, demonstrating again and again how contemplative practice can lead to understanding and how understanding can lead to an important kind of freedom.
When his mother joined the monastery, it was said that Kumarajiva had already memorised many texts and sutras. Kumarajiva proceeded to learn the Dharma further and followed his mother into monastic life at the age of seven. When he was nine years old, mother and son undertook the arduous journey to India, eventually reaching the Kashmiri kingdom known to the Chinese as Chi-pin, which was probably his father’s native home. Bandhudatta, a renowned Buddhist teacher and cousin of the king, instructed Kumarajiva in the agamas (the nikayas of the Theravadin tradition). During the next two years Kumarajiva mastered these texts and was honoured by the king. Once he defeated several non-Buddhist teachers in a debate held before the ruler, and from this moment his reputation preceded him wherever he travelled. In addition to learning the scriptures and treatises of the Sarvastivadin school, Kumarajiva seized the opportunity afforded by his presence in India to study medicine, astronomy and astrology, exegetical and hermeneutical methods of exposition, logic and the applied sciences.
By the time Kumarajiva was twelve, he and his mother set out on the journey back to Kucha. The pace was leisurely, for every kingdom and principality along the way fêted and honoured him, and several urged him to take up residence as a teacher and adviser. As he was making his way through the mountains of the Yueh-chih region, he met an arhat who volunteered a prediction to his mother:
You must watch over and protect this novice. If by the time he reaches the age of thirty-five he has not abandoned the rules of religious discipline, he will become a great propagator of buddhadharma, enlightening countless people, and he will be the equal of Upagupta.
Upagupta was the fourth Indian patriarch after Buddha, famous for having converted the emperor Ashoka to the Buddhist way. Though Kumarajiva was forced by circumstances to break one vow late in life, he met the conditions of the prophecy and fulfilled the prediction.
Passing through Yueh-chih, Kumarajiva and his mother came to Kashgar, a Buddhist kingdom known for its excellent teachers and libraries. He settled there for a year and completed his studies of the Abhidharma and the texts revered by the Sarvastivadins. During this time he concentrated intently on Vedic literature and studied the most important systems of chanting the Vedas. Whilst he learnt a great deal about Hindu philosophical schools, he focussed upon the power of sound to affect the receptivity of consciousness to transcendental truths. The knowledge he gained later influenced his stirring translations of sutras and texts into Chinese. He also expanded his considerable grounding in Sanskrit and Pali and learnt more of the languages of Central Asia. On the advice of a monk, the king of Kashgar invited Kumarajiva to take the seat of honour and expound a sutra to a prestigious assembly which included the king himself. Kumarajiva did so, and as a result the monks of Kashgar were indirectly impelled to reform their previously lax monastic disciplines. At the same time, the king of Kucha heard of the high esteem in which Kumarajiva was held in Kashgar and sent a delegation to cement friendly relations between the two kingdoms.
While living in Kashgar, Kumarajiva met Sutyasoma, a prince of Yarkend (So-ch’e), perhaps as a result of his public discourse. Sutyasoma had renounced his royal inheritance and gone to Kashgar for spiritual instruction, and he was a revered teacher when he took Kumarajiva under his guidance. As a follower of Sarvastivadin doctrines, Kumarajiva held that the dharmas or ultimate constituents of existence are eternally real, whereas empirical phenomena which arise out of the momentary confluence of dharmas under karma are unreal. Sutyasoma adhered to the Mahayana view that all dharmas are themselves unreal; ontologically, dharmas are like empty space and assume distinct existence only in their momentary, ever-changing combinations. Although Kumarajiva initially found such teachings difficult to comprehend, Sutyasoma’s more universal application of Buddha’s doctrine of impermanence soon won him over to the Mahayana standpoint. Kumarajiva felt a tremendous sense of release and emancipation, declaring that he had been like a person who did not know what gold is and had previously taken brass for something wonderful.
Kumarajiva took up an intensive study of the sutras with the same enthusiasm he had brought to all his earlier training. He learnt the doctrines of the Madhyamika schools, memorized treatises by Nagarjuna and Aryadeva and rapidly assimilated Mahayana teachings. Just how fundamental a turning point Kumarajiva’s encounter with Sutyasoma was for his life is illustrated by his insistence that Bandhudatta, his first teacher in India, come to Kashgar. There Kumarajiva and Bandhudatta engaged in friendly but intensive debate, and eventually Bandhudatta was won over. During this time Sutyasoma foresaw something of the magnificent work Kumarajiva would undertake in China. Years after he left Kashgar, Kumarajiva recounted to his disciples in China what Sutyasoma once told him:
The sun of Buddha has gone into hiding behind the western mountains, but its lingering rays shine over the Northeast. These texts are destined for the lands of the Northeast. You must make sure that they are transmitted to them.
After spending a memorable year in Kashgar, Kumarajiva and his mother set out for Kucha. They stopped for a time in the kingdom of Wen-su and then moved on to their home. By the time Kumarajiva reached Kucha, his reputation had gone ahead of him as far as northern China. Monks from all over Central and East Asia gathered in Kucha to learn from him, even though he was only twenty years old and still officially a novice or shramanera. Within the year he was made a full monk in the Sangha and spent much of his time teaching others. For almost a decade he prepared himself for the mission to China which had been prophesied and which he felt was the central focus of his life work.’ This period lacked the peacefulness and prosperity that had marked his earlier years, for he witnessed the steady decline of the Kuchan state and heard reports of the incessant internal struggles which plagued northern China. Nonetheless, he worked quietly in the conviction that he was destined to go to the East one way or another.
Around this time, Jiva said to her son, “You should propagate the profound teachings of the Vaipulyasutras (the most important of the Mahayana sutras) in China. Its dissemination in the eastern countries will depend only on you. Does it matter that there will be no personal advantage for you (in this)?” To which he famously replied, “The teachings of the great master are there to serve (others) and to forget oneself (in the process). If one is able to spread the great conversion and awaken the blind masses, then, even if one’s body were burning in a red hot oven, one may suffer but feel no regret.” His mother, seeing the decline in Kucha’s fortunes and believing that she had done all she could for her son, exhorted him to follow unwaveringly the Bodhisattva Path and left to return to India. They never met again.
Kumarajiva stayed in Kucha and studied extensively the Pancavimsatika-Prajnaparamita and other Mahayana sutras and shastras. When he was first exposed to the Prajnaparamita texts, legend has it that Mara came to distract him by covering the pages so that they appeared blank. Ever more resolute when he discovered it was the devil’s work, Kumarajiva recited the sutras with vigour. Mara then spoke to him, declaring him already wise and questioned his need to read the sutras. Kumarajiva responded by telling him he was “a small devil” and to leave immediately. Reflecting the celebrated words of Buddha Shakyamuni, he declared, “My heart is (firm) like the earth; it is immutable.”
The meaning of Buddhism is to liberate us from the limited perspective given by natural selection, and to observe and experience the world from a higher level.
Buddhism is a complex topic that has been the subject of debate among scholars and practitioners for centuries. Some see it as a religion, complete with supernatural deities and reincarnation, while others view it as a secular philosophy of life or a therapeutic practice. In his book “Why Buddhism Is True,” Robert Wright offers a nuanced perspective on Buddhism that combines elements of these different approaches.
At the heart of Buddhism is the idea that the reason we suffer, and cause suffering for others, is that we don’t see the world clearly. We are deluded by our own emotions and desires, which evolved as survival responses to our environments but may no longer make sense in modern society. By practicing mindful meditation, we can learn to see the world more clearly and gain a deep and morally valid happiness.
Wright draws on science, especially evolutionary psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience, to support this perspective on Buddhism. He argues that the direct experiences gained through contemplative practice can weaken the hold of our once-needed delusions, making us less likely to wreak havoc on ourselves and the world around us.
One of the key strengths of Wright’s approach is its nonsectarian nature. He does not argue that people need to become Buddhists to practice its truths, and he acknowledges the value of other spiritual and philosophical traditions. Instead, he focuses on the practical benefits of mindful meditation and contemplative practice, which can be applied to any belief system or way of life.
Importantly, Wright emphasizes that simply reading about Buddhist insights into human beings is not enough. To truly benefit from the practice, one must commit to a regular practice and be willing to confront the delusions within themselves. This is why it is called practice – it takes time, effort, and dedication to see results.
Overall, Wright’s blend of Western Buddhism offers a compelling perspective on Buddhism that is rooted in science, applicable to everyday life, and inclusive of other belief systems. While it may not be the definitive answer to the question of what Buddhism really is, it is certainly a valuable contribution to the ongoing conversation about this ancient and fascinating tradition.
The primary purpose in practicing Buddhism is to gain control over your life and death. That is true liberation and true happiness! Disciples of His Holiness Dorje Chang Buddha III have exhibited extraordinary feats at the time of their death. There have also been supernormal phenomena manifest at the time of or after their death. Disciples have even returned from the “Pure Land” to report on their new home to their families and to urge them to follow the teachings of His Holiness.
His Holiness has disciples who are eminent monastics and enlightened laypersons who if they want to live, they live. If they want to die, they die. Many have passed on while sitting in the cross-legged meditation position after they announced that they were leaving. They reached a level where they were liberated from the cycle of reincarnation. Many have left behind shariras or firm relics as evidence of their achievement. They have also left behind their body of flesh that does not rot.
Even non-Buddhist relatives of the Buddha Master’s disciples were able to make the transition to the Pure Land after they received the Buddha Master’s instructions and blessings. In all of these examples, the time of transition was an extremely joyous event. Friends and family were able to know that their loved one was making a peaceful transition to a wonderful existence..
TYPES OF LIBERATION FROM THE CYCLE OF BIRTH & DEATH: Regarding liberation from the cycle of birth and death, His Holiness has told us that there are several ways to obtain it. Roughly speaking, it is divided very crudely into four types. There is a dharma that will lead one to have the lifespan as long as heaven which was called the “immortal body”. This is what Guru Padmasambhava achieved. This is the highest dharma which can not be learned by ordinary people. Then, there is the dharma of the rainbow body transformation, which one achieves by transforming one’s entire fleshy body into a rainbow body. Another type is passing away in a sitting position and freeing oneself from the cycle of birth and death. The other type is passing away and being reborn in the Western Paradise of Ultimate Bliss. These are the four types of achievement. Other than that, without achieving liberation or enlightenment, it is descending to reincarnation and death.
The rainbow immortal body is also referred to as the body of supreme transformation or the rainbow body attainment of All-Surpassing Realization. In this higher form the rainbow body transmutes all psychophysical components into the light of buddhahood, so that no outward change is visible. This is why Padmasambhava, Vimalamitra, Vairocana and the like can pass into other buddha-lands in the same forms they enjoyed in our world. The lower rainbow body attainment transmutes consciousness, feeling, perception, and habitual tendencies into the light of buddhahood, but the component of form shrinks in size until only fingernails, tooth-enamel, hair, or relics remain, some time as a “vajra sharira” or “human body sharira.”
Guan Shi Yin (Avalokitesvara) Bodhisattva is a revered figure in Buddhism who has achieved the level of marvelous enlightenment, possessing the same qualities as a Buddha. According to sutras, Guan Shi Yin Bodhisattva is believed to be the manifestation of an ancient Buddha called True Dharma Brightness Tathagata and is considered the king of great compassion. The Bodhisattva tirelessly works day and night to help all beings in the Three Spheres, accumulating boundless merit.
Guan Yin is one of the most widely depicted figures in Chinese temples, with thousands of different incarnations or manifestations. Typically portrayed as a graceful woman dressed in flowing white robes and a hood, carrying a small vase of holy dew, she stands tall and slender, emanating selflessness and compassion. She may be depicted in various forms, such as seated on an elephant, standing on a fish, nursing a baby, holding a basket, or with multiple arms and heads. Her main goal is to alleviate the suffering of all beings.
Guan Yin is often portrayed riding a mythological animal known as the Hou, similar to a Buddhist lion, symbolizing her divine power over nature. She is usually depicted barefoot, while on public altars, she is flanked by two acolytes: a barefoot, shirtless youth known as Shan-ts’ai (Golden Youth) on her right, and a demure maid known as Lung-nü (Jade Maiden) on her left, holding her hands together inside her sleeves.
Guan Yin’s birthday is celebrated on the nineteenth day of the second lunar month, which falls on March 10th this year. She is considered a model of Chinese beauty, and being referred to as a “Guan Yin” is the highest compliment for grace and loveliness.
There are many legendary stories and folk tales about Guan Yin, which have been collected and passed down through generations.
Willow Guan Yin, left hand has a jar containing pure water, and the right holds a willow branch.
According to legend, during a period of severe drought and corruption in the Zhongzhou area of China, Guanyin Bodhisattva came to enlighten the people and show them the path to righteousness. With her compassion for all living beings, she took out willow branches from a jade bottle and poured nectar into the fields. Suddenly, it rained heavily, relieving the drought and bringing new life to the parched land.
The Willow Guan Yin’s willow branch represents her ability to heal and soothe, while the jar of pure water symbolizes her power to purify and cleanse. Her actions during the drought represent her willingness to help those in need and her desire to alleviate suffering. Her message is clear: no matter how dire the circumstances, there is always hope and a chance for redemption.
According to legend, a fearsome monster with the head of a dragon and the body of a turtle that dwelled in the East China Sea. This monster was known to cause great havoc and destruction, leaving the people in constant fear and anxiety.
The people’s prayers were answered when Guanyin Bodhisattva heard of their plight. Being the embodiment of compassion, Guanyin Bodhisattva arrived in the East China Sea, he rode on the back of the dragon-headed monster, showing no fear, and subdued it with his magic power. From that day on, the people lived in peace and safety, free from the monster’s threat.
In honor of Guanyin Bodhisattva’s courageous act, the people erected a statue of him standing on the dragon-headed monster, enshrining it as a symbol of his boundless magic power and compassion for all living beings.
According to legend, Guanyin Bodhisattva traveled to Luoyang City and took out a precious mirror. She claimed that as long as people paid three Wen coins, they could see their past and future lives from the mirror. The people eagerly lined up and took turns looking into the mirror. They were all surprised to see their past and future lives reflected back at them.
However, when Guanyin Bodhisattva revealed her true form, the people saw different expressions on her face. Some saw an angry face, some saw a fierce face, and some saw a joyful face. The people were confused by these different expressions.
Guanyin Bodhisattva warned all living beings not to think that their evil deeds would go unnoticed. She urged them to do more good deeds instead. It is absolutely true that one cannot escape karma. Evil will be rewarded with evil, and good will be rewarded with good.
According to legend, there was a time when people living on the coast of the East China Sea lacked manners and etiquette. Guanyin Bodhisattva, being the compassionate deity that she is, decided to intervene and provide enlightenment to these people.
In order to do so, Guanyin Bodhisattva transformed herself into a beautiful fisherwoman and began to teach the people about the importance of etiquette and manners. She also promised to marry whoever could recite the Buddhist scriptures that she taught them.
A young fisherman named Ma Lang was determined to gain the Bodhisattva’s favor and started to diligently study the scriptures. Eventually, his hard work paid off, and he was able to recite the scriptures flawlessly. Impressed by his dedication, the Bodhisattva decided to imparted him with further enlightenment. At the wedding night, the Bodhisattva left the house with sudden death.
Ma Lang realized the fishwoman was actually Guanyin Bodhisattva, he carved a statue of Bodhisattva looking like a fisherwoman and enshrined the statue in his house.
According to the legend, Dogen, a Japanese monk who had just returned from studying in China, found himself in the middle of a terrible storm while sailing near the coast of Nanming. Fearing for his life, he prayed silently to Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion, to protect him from the storm.
Suddenly, he saw a miraculous sight. A beautiful and serene figure of Avalokitesvara appeared riding on a lotus leaf, floating on the sea. The Bodhisattva’s presence calmed the storm, and the wind and waves stopped. Dogen was filled with wonder and gratitude, and he knew that he had witnessed a great miracle.
After he landed safely, Dogen decided to commemorate this miraculous experience by creating a statue of Guanyin as he had seen her on the lotus leaf. He had the statue enshrined in the Nanming Guanyin Temple, where it became an object of veneration for countless devotees.
Avalokitasvara, Guan Shi Yin in Chinese, means the Perceiver of World’s Sounds. The Lotus Sutra says: “Perceiver of the World’s Sounds, heavenly voice, the voice of the sea’s tide—magnificent, rich and harmonious surpassing all worldly sounds.” The bodhisattva always help all beings in danger and distress and is willing to bear the pain of all beings. If we hold the bodhisattva in our hearts and call on her sincerely, she will always respond.
May the greatly loving and compassionate Namo Guan Shi Yin Bodhisattva bless all beings!!!
Kazuo Inamori, born in 1932 in Kagoshima, Japan, was one of seven children. During his elementary school years, he showed a strong interest in science and machines, particularly those in his father’s printing shop. However, in the sixth grade, he contracted tuberculosis, which led him to read a book by a Buddhist monk, sparking his interest in religion. When Inamori was young, his father took him to see a monk who advised him to recite “Namo Amitabha Buddha” every day. He has been chanting it every day since then without interruption.
According to Inamori, the initial 20 years of life should be dedicated to learning, growing, and preparing for entry into society, while the following 40 years from age 20 to 60 should be focused on working hard and contributing to society. He also maintains that at least 20 years of preparation are necessary to face death.
At the age of 65, Inamori decided to shave his head and embrace Buddhism. His intention was to rediscover the meaning of life and prepare for death.
The philosophy of Dr. Kazuo Inamori, who founded Kyocera, centers around the mission “to do what is right as a human being.” This concept is included in all decision making, emphasizing the importance of fairness and diligent effort.
When Inamori’s start-up business faced dissatisfied employees who demanded regular salary increases and guaranteed bonuses, he spent several days and nights negotiating with them. This incident made him realize the importance of securing the future of his employees. He adjusted the company’s business philosophy to be “a place to protect employees’ self and their family’s material and spiritual life.”
In Buddhism, there is a saying called “self-interest and altruism.” It emphasizes that if one wishes to benefit oneself, they must also benefit others. This philosophy encourages individuals to not only focus on their own interests but also consider the well-being of others. As a leader, I often encourage my employees to lend a helping hand to others during business operations.
In Japan, there is a saying that goes, “Human affection is not for others,” implying that treating others kindly will ultimately bring rewards. However, Mr. Inamori disagree with the notion that Buddhism is incompatible with capitalism and corporate profits. In fact, he believe that conducting business operations based on Buddhist principles is far more admirable than conducting business solely for profit.
Inamori founded KDDI with the lofty spirit of devoting himself to society and the world, leading to its success as the second-largest communication company in Japan after NTT.
In 1985, Kazuo Inamori founded The Kyoto Prize, which is considered Japan’s most prestigious private award for lifetime achievement in the arts and sciences. The prize is bestowed upon individuals who have not only excelled in their respective fields but also contributed significantly to the advancement of human knowledge, culture, and spirituality.
In 2010, at the age of 77 and with no prior experience in the industry, Inamori became chief executive of Japan Airlines. The following year, he returned the carrier to profit and led it out of bankruptcy. He relisted it on the Tokyo stock exchange in 2012. Inamori changed employees’ mentality by printing a small book for each staff member outlining his philosophies, emphasizing the company’s dedication to their growth, explaining the social significance of their work, and outlining Buddhist-inspired principles for how employees should live.
Kazuo Inamori holds the belief that the universe has an expectation for us when we are brought into the world. While it may be a question beyond human wisdom on how we should live in accordance with this expectation, he firmly believes that the only answer lies in “enhancing the mind”.
He has often expressed his desire to depart from this world with a heart that is kinder and more beautiful than when he was born.
When asked about his future goals in a 2002 interview with the New Sun, Inamori answered, “As long as I live, I would like to continue to contribute to the material and spiritual happiness of humanity and society.”