Wednesday, January 4, 2017


One of the interesting things to me about the beginning of the Heart Sutra is the use of the name Kanjizai (顴自在) Bosatsu for Avaolokiteshvara. In Japan, it seems that almost everywhere else he/she is know as Kannon (観音) Bosatsu instead.

The kanji for Kannon imply a bodhisattva (bosatsu) who actively perceives (観) the sounds (音) of the world. One who listens for the cries of distress and supplications for help by all of us mortal beings stuck in samsara, and who vows to use any means possible to alleviate our pain and suffering.

The kanji for Kanjizai, though, to me, paints a different picture. Of course you can never remove the "the one who listens for the cries of the world" message from any talk of Kanjizai Bosatsu, but looking at the kanji you get another side of who this bosatsu is.

Kan (顴) still means to perceive; more than just to hear, more broadly meaning to perceive with any of the six senses. Ji (自) means oneself, yourself; pointing your finger directly at your heart (or nose, in Japan) and noting that you are referring to only yourself. Zai, or Sai, by itself (在) means existence, to exist.

So, Kanjizai Bosatsu (顴自在菩薩) can be the bodhisattva who directly perceives the existence of him/herself. The bodhisattva who perceives in a direct, unhindered, and unconditioned way, the manner that he/she truly exists. How does he/she do that? As the next phrase of the sutra says, 行深般若波羅蜜多時, he saw the truth of existence while deeply practicing, while deeply immersed in Prajna Paramita.

For me, this alters who Kannon is when i read the Heart Sutra. He/She isn't a remote, unapproachable deity "somewhere out there" who is willing to help when we get to the boiling point and scream out in pain. No, This Kanjizai is an advanced version of you and me, a being that started out in the same shackles that we wear, but over time and with countless amounts of effort, overcame his/her conditioning and finally came to understand just who and what he/she really is. Just who and what he/she really isn't. Who was able to cut through all the conditioning, was able to crawl through the gaps between thoughts, and was finally able to stay there when and for as long as desired.

The egg had been hatched, so to speak. When he/she left the egg a new life came into existence; just as when the silk worm leaves the cocoon and the butterfly springs forth, one life is traded for another, even though the life is the same. 

And it is with this new life, this new way of being, this new ability to simply Be without all the conditioned "stuff" that entombs us now, that Kanjizai was able to sit and perceive what existence really is. And it is with this new life that all pain and suffering will disappear.

And it is only when you get to this point that you can honestly say that you perceive that form is not different than emptiness (and vice versa) and that form is exactly emptiness (and vice verse), and that this is true also for the other four skhandas. Until you get to this point, though, it's all just an intellectual understanding, which is not prajna.

When i hear "Kannon," i imagine a deity other than myself offering to help. When i hear "Kanjizai," i imagine myself sitting on my cushion, immersed in prajna paramita, and one day crawling out of the cocoon. In just the first few kanji, the Heart Sutra makes this a very, very personal journey.

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