One day the master went to the provincial capital. The governor, 0 Joji, invited him to take the High Seat. Then Magok came forward and asked: “The Great Compassionate Bodhisattva, Avalokitesvara has a thousand hands and a thousand eyes. Which eye is the true one?
Magok was also one of famous masters at that time. This question by Magok was a very well-known koan among monks who practised Zen meditation and is still popular with Zen practitioners. Avalokitesvara, a symbol of compassion, is said to have a thousand hands and a thousand eyes and save any sentient beings from suffering who call his name. A thousand hands implies that he can help anyone, and a thousand eyes implies that he can see anyone.
Many people have the wrong idea that Avalokitesvara and Buddha are different and separate from each other and that Avalokitesvara is one of Buddha’s students, or a being a little lower than Buddha. This misunderstanding is due to being deluded by words.
In fact, the core idea of Buddhism is that everything is empty. When everything is empty, everything is one as Emptiness, which is called non-Duality, Oneness, or Emptiness. So, it is said that the main idea of Buddhism is the idea of non-Duality, or the idea of Emptiness.
Emptiness is referred to as Buddha, or the true-Self, and the personified name of the function of Buddha is Bodhisattva. There are many Bodhisattvas with different names according to the functions. Avalokitesvara is one of them. In fact, there is no action that is not Bodhisattva because every action is the function of Emptiness. It follows that no matter how many Bodhisattvas there may be, they are just one as Buddha, the true- Self. This means that all the eyes of Avalokitesvara are just one as Buddha, Emptiness. So, realising the true-Self, Emptiness is referred to as opening the eye of wisdom, and the true-Self is also called the single eye.
Although Magok seems to try to check Rinzai with this question, he is actually asking the assembly if they know what Emptiness, the root of Avalokitesvara is by asking which eye is the true one.
Student: “What is Avalokitesvara true eye?”
Master: “How could you see without it?”
Student: “What is it like?”
Master: “It can’t be closed.”
All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway
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