Why is there still suffering in the world when Tara or Kuan Yin is ready to help? If the Bodhisattva vow of Avalokiteshvara Kuanyin Tara — and all her forms — is to rescue beings who call her name why are some people not saved?
In Buddhism, these are important and difficult questions to answer. A promise is a promise, right? Why did I chant her mantra, but I still had to wait for emergency services to rescue me? Why am I still suffering in poverty, when I’ve asked her for help? If she is the Goddess of Mercy, why wasn’t I helped?
In Chapter 25 of the Lotus Sutra, it is written, that thinking of Kuan Yin or Tara or Avalokiteshvara is enough to save beings from the 10 fears and dangers. In the great Sutra it is written:
Her vast oath is deep as the ocean; kalpas pass but it remains unfathomable. She has attended many thousands and millions of Buddhas, setting forth her great pure vow.
Later, the Sutra describes all the various dangers and fears, and how, just thinking of Her is enough to be rescued. In the Sutra it is written:
Her pure light, free of blemish, is a sun of wisdom dispelling all darknesses. She can quell the wind and fire of misfortune and everywhere bring light to the world.
This is wonderful, and millions of faithful are helped in this way by Guanyin, Tara, or her many manifestations. She emanates in countless forms, male and female, to help us in different ways.
But, what about those apparently not rescued? There are three main reasons why someone may not apparently be helped. The first two are related: lack of faith in the Dharma, and lacking the wisdom to accept the help that is offered. The third is Karma.
In the Lotus Sutra this is expressed in the Parable of the Jewel in the Robe, which tells the story of a man rescued from poverty:
One day, a poor man visits a wealthy friend. They drink and enjoy each other’s company until the poor man gets so drunk that he passes out.
The wealthy man has to leave on business, but before he goes, he finds a priceless gem and decides to hide it in the poor man’s robe as a present. He sews it into the lining of the robe so that it will be a surprise for his friend when he wakes up.
The wealthy man has to leave on business, but before he goes, he decides to help his friend. He sews a priceless jewel into the lining of his friend’s robe so that it will be a surprise when he wakes up. The poor man wakes up sometime later. Without realizing the gift that he received from his friend, he goes about his day, resuming his life as a vagrant.
With the passing years, the man becomes more and more poverty-stricken, until one day, he bumps into his good friend. The rich man is shocked to see his friend’s destitute state!
The wealthy man showed his friend the jewel that he sewed into his robes. It had remained hidden all this time!
Even though the jewel had always been with him, no that he actually held it in his hands, the poor man was able to sell it and free himself from the grips of poverty.
In this parable, of course, Kuanyin is the rich man trying to help his poor friend. His friend lacking wisdom, fails to see the help that was offered until years later.
In the Lotus Sutra, Kuanyin is described this way:
Her compassionate body shakes us like thunder,
the wonder of Her pitying mind is like a great cloud.
She sends down the sweet dew, the Dharma rain,
to quench the flames of earthly desires.
There are two aspects to these verses. The first is Dharma rain. The second is the notion of faith and wisdom — not just in Her, but in the Dharma. Without faith in the Dharma, the truth of Dharma, calling out her name is empty of meaning.
If we persist and have faith, we will be rescued. We will receive the help we genuinely need, like the poor man in the parable.
Even though faith and wisdom are needed, does this mean Tara or Guanyin give up on us? The answer is explicitly no. This was illustrated beautifully in another parable in the Lotus Sutra, the famous parable of the Burning House.
In this story, a wealthy man returns from his travels to find that his large house is burning down while his children are still inside, oblivious to the situation that they are in.
Unable to enter the building, he screams at them to come out. But the children are too busy playing with their toys to pay attention.
Knowing his needy children, he yells at them “I have new toys outside, even better than the ones you are playing with.”
The children are so excited by the prospect of new toys that they run out of the house — screaming with joy rather than fear. They didn’t even notice the flames consuming the house.
In this parable, of course, Kuanyin or Tara is the wealthy man. Because Kuanyin sees her children do not have the wisdom to accept the help offered, she tries skillful means to lure them out. Of course, the children are us. We are so attached to our needs and fears that we can only be helped by clever means. This is why the Bodhisattva emanates in countless forms, and teaches countless methods. She never gives up on us.
There are those, as we all know, who call out for Tara, Avalokiteshvara, or Guanyin, but who are not apparently rescued. Why is this? They are the children in the house, so blinded by their toys, they don’t see the way out of danger. They are not tempted by new toys, because they’re clinging to the old ones.
The ones who resist being rescued are like the poor man in the first parable.
Guanyin, Tara and all the Bodhisattvas, fortunately, are like the wealthy friend in the story who never gives up. Eventually, we can see through the obscurations of our negative karma and obstacles, and accept the help offered and find the jewel hidden in our robes.