A Verse for Guan Yin

The Encounter  |  The University   |   James Roberts  |   March 23, 2013, 4:07 pm

Cultivate and walk the Way, and never seek outside,
The hidden cause is just the wisdom-nature of the mind.
White billows soar to heaven and the black breakers subside,
Now to the other shore, Nirvana, effortlessly climb.
Don’t miss another chance, return, return, time after time,
Take care, take care, attentive to this innocence divine,
The news arrives in shadows, shadows hazy through the blind,
In fleeting, fleeting glances, the inherently sublime.

–Master Hsuan Hua, Verses on the Heart Sutra

How does a verse communicate all of its meanings to us?

With midterm break just beginning, I’ll be spending the week contemplating and reciting Guan Yin’s name. In some sense I feel that for every session I have to reorient myself to practice, and of course, exactly what this means is different every time. Luckily, my recent classes have been providing a lot of food for thought. In our Avatamsaka Sutra class, we spent the last several weeks translating verses about spiritual practices. There has been quite a bit of discussion about their meaning, as well as about literary style and accuracy. How does a verse communicate all of its meanings to us? What is the experiential difference between reading prose and chanting verse, and how does this affect our consciousness?

Translation for me, like spiritual cultivation, has become a constant balancing act between strict discipline, focus, creativity, learning, and of course humility, as the ego tends to always show its face. In our Heart Sutra class this semester, we focused on commentary by Master Hua, also written in verse. On of my favorite verses is the exhortation for practice above—and seeing that the Sutra was spoken by Guan Yin Bodhisattva, I thought it might be an appropriate verse to inspire aspirations for the spring Guan Yin Session.

This is the original verse:

行道修身莫外尋 自性般若深密因 
白浪沖霄黑波止 涅槃彼岸任運登
時兮時兮勿錯過 慎之慎之取天真 
杳杳冥冥通消息 恍恍忽忽見本尊

James Roberts 03.26.13, 11:46 AM

“What is the experiential difference between reading prose and chanting verse, and how does this affect our consciousness?”

The Wonderful Lotus Sutra comes to mind. The workings with prose and verse are unusual. Reading it, I’m constantly wondering why it is written in this style. It is like the prose say the same thing as the verse; but, in a different way.

Nigel 03.29.13, 12:07 PM

Hi Nigel,

“Constant wonder” sounds like a Lotus Sutra state.

A lot of scholars think that verses are for memorization. I don’t think this is wrong, but there’s so much more to it than that. How many times have you found yourself with some song lyrics running through your head, only just noticing that a few minutes ago, part of the song had just happened to you? That happens to me all the time.

James Roberts 03.31.13, 08:23 AM

I have started to memorize poems and will add the one below to my repertoire.


Isabella Salaverry 04.01.13, 09:56 AM

Hi Isabella,

Good to hear. Have you seen the rest of Master Hua’s heart sutra verses? I’d like to set them all in verse and memorize them.

James Roberts 04.03.13, 06:58 AM

I just returned from this same session. Thank you much for sharing this verse.

Min Chien 04.25.13, 01:51 PM

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