In Vietnam she’s the Lady Buddha. In Taiwan temples, she’s often the central deity. These firsthand discoveries inspired further research on Guanyin and the title of my upcoming book, The Female Buddha: Discovering the Heart of Liberation and Love.
When I share these simple experiences from traveling overseas, my friends are delighted to hear the news of a fully empowered image of the awakened feminine. It’s time we receive this celebrated transmission from cultures seeped in the Buddhist tradition.
Why? For the same reason young girls need positive images of female doctors, construction workers and world leaders. And why boys need positive images of male nurses, househusbands and ballet masters. So they believe they can.
We need to know we can. We can embrace the aspiration of freedom from suffering, the aspiration of the clear seeing and the aspiration of an open heart. We need to see it can happen in this body, in this lifetime.
Advertisers understand the not-so-subtle psychological message of a gender image. They overwhelmingly conform to the use of stereotyped social constructs to sell goods and maintain profit margins. The basic tenets of Buddhism ask us to see through all mental constructs to the nature of our mind…that which is without prejudice or construct…Mind that is like the clear blue sky.
Opening to diverse possibilities is like immersing yourself in a foreign country. We gain a broader perspective of what is possible in our lives and our communities. Ways of being are challenged and minds are blown open. Experiencing a female Buddha is a Zen koan. What does she mean in my life?
When looking for Quan Am (Guanyin) in Cholon, the Chinese district of Ho Chi Minh, we asked strangers for directions. Those who spoke some English would excitedly punctuate their words, “Oh, you mean the female Buddha?” or “The lady Buddha? She’s that way.” She has entered the common vernacular of the people.
Later we would meet both men and women who shared tremendous enthusiasm for their personal deity, Quan Am. In the pouring rain during our four days in Hue, I tried to capture a decent shot of her several hundred foot tall figure overlooking the hills of the city. Unsuccessful, I could only marvel at the distant image blessing her community with equanimity.
The Bodhisattva’s symbolic resurgence in these large statues sprinkled across Vietnam follows years of devastating loss and death in a country torn by war. The faith of many unshaken, her image represents the perennial flowering of Buddha Nature, the truth of our basic goodness beyond all constructs.