Kanzeon and the axe

audio files from Vermont Zen Center

Hakuin tells the story of a man in ancient China called Kao-huang, who was sentenced to be executed.  On midnight the day before his execution he was meditating upon Kannon, when the form of the Bodhisattva appeared before him. He was told that if he could recite the Kannon Sutra a thousand times in the night, his life would be saved.

The next morning, when he was about to be killed, the sword snapped. The amazed executioner asked as to the reason and when told he pardoned Kao-huang. Ever since this Sutra has been held in high esteem in many Zen centers and monasteries. [source]

I admit it. I love this chant. It was one of the few Sino-Japanese chants that I felt open to from the beginning and found myself reciting throughout the day whenever the moment struck me.  It has almost become a work gatha that moves me through the day.  Honestly, the translation is wonderful but meaningless, the sounds and tempo of the chant embody an excitement and ernestness that portrays the plight of a man waiting for the axe to drop. 

Each recitation brings the axe into clearer focus but no longer on the impending downward slice but on the magnificant gleam of the edge that reflects in our eye.

Praise to Buddha!
All are one with Buddha,
all awake to Buddha—
Buddha, Dharma, Sangha—
eternal, joyous, selfless, pure.
Through the day Kanzeon,
Through the night Kanzeon.
This moment springs from Mind.
This moment itself is Mind.



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