Ever since the International Buddhist Temple introduced the Peacock King Sutra chanting and prayer sessions, there have been warm responses. Over the years we have received inquiries from devotees regarding the teaching of this sutra. As a two-day Peacock King Sutra chanting session is scheduled for February 22-23, 2020 for blessing, protection and disaster cessation, here I attempt to answer some commonly asked questions based on the teachings I personally received from Venerable Chien Ju and members of his Peacock Mountain sangha, in the hope to help our readers better understand the teaching and the practice.
Question: I like Peacock King prayer ceremonies a lot as they are so special. Although there are many mantras I don’t yet know how to chant, they sound joyful and overwhelming. Is there a reason for this?
Answer: As many Buddhist elders have taught us, a difference between the Peacock King Sutra and other scriptures lies in the way it is chanted with a song-like quality, i.e., a unique rhythmic phonography capable of drawing the focus of the audience. In other words, in the course of the chant, it captures the audience’s joyous mind. Just as Venerable Chien Ju said, over what all beings rejoice at, Buddhas and Dharma-protectors also rejoice. The Master devoted a lifetime to studying the chant of the Peacock King mantras, so that all beings would feel joy over the dharma when chanting the sutra. Such is the merit of the chanting.
Question: Would I need to go through abhiseca, an initiation ritual, before chanting the sutra?
Answer: I remember asking the venerable monk this question, and he said, “Coming to a Peacock King service is tantamount to receiving an initiation.” Here, we need to understand the meaning of initiation. What exactly does an abhiseca initiation manifest? Well, it manifests a kind of Dharma inheritance between master and disciple, and a very devout inheritance at that. In the scripture there are these chants: conversion to the Vajra guru, conversion to Buddha, conversion to the Dharma, conversion to the monk. At a prayer ceremony, of course, there is always a sheltering master, and with a joyous, devout mind, we go through the whole process of constructing a mandala, encompassing all our invocations of and offerings to the yidam, Vajra guru, various bodhisattvas and Dharma guardians as well as the yidam mantra inside the mandala. In fact, this means all that an abhiseca entails is sufficient and complete here. Ah, so at a Peacock King chanting session, every participant is under an abhiseca initiation!
And if you look at the version translated by Master Amoghavajra, the sutra does not say one must get an oral edict from a guru before reading it. In Volume 3, the World’s Honoured One told Ananda, you should have this sutra widely circulated, whether with the King, a Minister, upasaka, upasika, bhikkhu, or bhikkhuni. In other words, the sutra must be widely chanted and disseminated.
Question: The sutra said that mankind has 444 kinds human diseases. And I heard that Venerable Chien Ju’s promotion of the scripture started with an ambition to help cure these diseases. Why does the text talk about so many Dharma-protector, the eight groups of spiritual beings, deities and ghosts? What does it have to do with healing?
Answer: Sickness is nothing more than the imbalance of the four great elements of the body, a consequence of infection from the environment and interference from non-humans as well as negative karmic energy. No sentient being wants to be sick and none of us know what karmic obstacles we have carried on from our previous lives. Practitioners do need good health for their spiritual cultivation, and bad health is an obstacle. The merit from chanting the Peacock King Sutra can turn an obstacle created by the environment into a kind of sambhara, or meritorious virtue. This is not to say that you can eliminate your evil karma. Because when one created bad karma, one has to bear the fallout. But through chanting the sutra, one can confess ones acts of greed, anger and delusion, and receive blessing from Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and eventually plant seeds of virtue and make wide connections for good karma. Buddhism attaches great importance to building karma. At the prayer session, you chant the sutra together with all predestined beings from the ten dharma realms, transmit thoughts of good will, sincerely repent, and are able to reduce and alter the accrued karmic force.
Why do we invoke all these dharma-protectors guardian, the eight groups of spiritual beings, deities and ghosts? Because while their names are different, the afflictions they bring and their victims are also different, resulting in different pains, diseases or obstacles. From the content of the Peacock King mandala, we see that Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are very compassionate and protective to them. There are many types of protection in the scripture, and each time it is chanted, one gets protection and support from the Peacock King. For sure, we understand that everything is a creation of the mind. Chanting the sutra prevents interfering non-humans from turning hostile, and makes them amiable. So the karmic grievance is resolved through the chanting session. As mentioned in the invocation section of the sutra, we ask fellow practitioners “not just pray for good retribution in the human and celestial realm, or that of the sravakayana or pratyekabuddhayana, but go with the uppermost vehicle, and attain the ultimate anuttara samyak sambodhi together with all beings in the ten dharma realms”.
Question: I also practise other methods in my daily life. If I add the Peacock King approach, how would I determine the order of my practice?
Answer: I also asked the Venerable the same question. And he said, “The Peacock King should be an addition to your practice, no matter what method you follow, because it has an added layer of empowerment”. What does it mean to have an added layer of empowerment? It means that it should not replace something else, but instead, it would accelerate the achievement made with the method you are already following.
For example, your practice uses the Pure Land method. So, of course, you want to improve your daily chanting of Buddha’s name, but you have various obstacles such as sickness and non-human interference. When one suffer, one may not even keep up the practice. With the Peacock King, however, we rely on its noble virtues to eliminate vices, reduce punitive karma, and return the sambhara and supplementary karmic energy to help your Pure Land-bound journey. Fundamentally, it is not inconsistent with the ultimate goal of becoming a Buddha.
Question: I feel a good connection with the Peacock King Sutra, but don’t know how to practise it.
Answer: A concrete program should be arranged to assist followers in starting to practise this sutra. And you have to work out a routine for yourself too. If we really want to get the benefit, then we must work for it. It is important to understand some of the most basic mantras. Otherwise, no matter how great the beneficial it is, it just exists in your imagination. You need to invest time, that is, to spend time practicing, which includes reciting the sutra and repeatedly chanting the mantras every day. If you are really busy, reading even half a fascicle is still fine. But it’s best to recite the Peacock King mind-dhāraṇī as a regular part of your daily routine. This would be a more feasible way of practicing the Peacock King method.
Due to limited space here, we will continue our Q&A down the road. Everyone is welcome to comment, and the author will do everything possible to share what little I know in the hope of experiencing the joy of the Dharma together with you.