We Call Upon Ourselves as Kwan Yin: On Mass Shootings in America.

Kwan Yin Goddess of Compassion

by Christopher Kakuyo Sensei

What can one say? I find myself at a loss for words again. Another mass shooting. Here is a vain attempt to share what I am feeling.

Any words I could say to the families of the murdered or to their community would feel hollow, self-serving, so I could say my peace and move on. This is so hard. But possible because I am alive to write this. Today the samsaric cycle of the six realms seems less poetic and more visceral more literal than metaphorical – In a real way the Buddha Dharma has taught me that it was not someone else that was killed while praying in a mosque on the other side of the world, or a Church in Sugarland, Texas or Walmart in El Paso it was me, my family, my community that was harmed. We are not separate, we are one, intimately connected. I want to remember that it is not the world out there that is burning but the whole world that is suffering fear, loneliness, anger, and hopelessness.

I know this and yet when I heard of yet another and another mass shooting my first response was simply to say to myself, not again and I went about my day at work and didn’t think about it again till I was driving home and listening to the details on the radio. I am worried because I feel myself become desensitized and turning away. I realize that sometimes I have to, to take a breath but I know I can’t turn away. It seems like it’s taking more effort to face the suffering and acknowledge the fire burning the world. I turn to the story of Kwan Yin and Amitabha Buddha.

Kuan Yin Bodhisattva, Goddess of Compassion and mother of all Buddhas, makes a great vow to never rest until she has freed all sentient beings from the endless cycle of suffering.

Despite all of her endless efforts, she realizes that there were still countless unhappy beings yet to be helped. After struggling to comprehend the needs of so many, her head split into eleven pieces. The Buddha Amitābha, upon seeing her plight, gives her eleven heads to help her hear the cries of those who are suffering.

Upon hearing these cries and comprehending them, Kwan Yin attempts to reach out to all those who need aid but her two arms shatter into pieces. Once more, Amitābha comes to her aid and gives her a thousand arms to let her reach out to those in need.”

This story speaks to me in the only way the imaginal can, when my faith in the everyday wanes, the mythic brings determination, courage, vision and wise hope. Because Kwan Yin is more than just a myth, she is me, she is you, she is what all of us can be.

Some Sundays we recite from our practice book these words,

“We call upon Kwan Yin to inspire our lives

We call upon ourselves to inspire Kwan Yin

We call upon ourselves as Kwan Yn.

The friend and enemy as Kwan Yin.”

We call upon ourselves as Kwan Yin.

What can we do when the world is on fire? First, we need to put out the fire in our own hearts and turn and face our suffering and the suffering in the world. We will then come to see how they are interdependent, attending to the one is attending to the other and by doing so, let our two arms be broken that we can be given a thousand more.

What can we do when the task is impossible? We do what we can. It is that simple, but the thing that I must, that we must guard against, is letting the frequency and size of the suffering keep us from doing what we can.  Let this be a call not to close our hearts but to break them wide open so that the light can be set free, so that our thousand arms, which are us together untied in the work of the Buddhas, taking one step at a time, sharing one deep bow, helping one person at a time.

May it be so,

Namu Amida Butsu

Christopher Kakuyo Sensei

Salt Lake Buddhist Fellowship

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