The Ground of Compassion: Mary, Guanyin and Mother Earth

The Ground of Compassion

“The smile of a mother is that of the Buddha.  Peace of mind and peace in the world will flow from a smile like that of a mother.”   Chiko Komatsu

Our tour guide ushered us into the centuries old chapel in the pueblo of the Red Willow tribe just outside of Taos, New Mexico.  Three large figures of Mary adorned in pink stood central to the altar.  Drawn like a fly to honey I approached them while our woman guide explained how Mary reminded her people of Mother Earth.

I’d been making 7000-mile roundtrip flights to experience the divine feminine in Asia. Here she was being honored practically in our backyard.  The visceral experience was indelible.  I am happy to report that I cannot get the visions of Mary or the Buddhist inspired Guanyin out of my mind.

Our pueblo guide was careful to explain how her community follows their native religion and also worships Mary in the Christian tradition.  I was struck by her clarity and appreciative of a people whose ways of life have been so deeply tested.  Our guide’s clarity inspired me to reflect on the statues of the holy mother we saw in Vietnam and the similar challenges of war and cultural genocide the Vietnamese have faced.

On the highway to Ho Chi Minh City every house had Mary or Guanyin prominently placed on the roof or at the portal.   My husband and I made a game of differentiating between the two but their similarities were great and we were not always able to tell the difference careening down the treacherous highway.   I was happy to pray to any divinity.

Mary, Guanyin and Mother Earth figures have been merged, conflated and compared as historical currents have brought their cultural streams into contact.  All three offer sustenance and unconditional love.  As archetypal figures of the Great Mother, their gifts of joy and solace extend to all sentient beings.

While Mother Earth symbolizes the bounty of the harvest, she also represents in-your-face reality.  All creatures are borne of her and all return at their death.  When I stood awestruck in front of the Pieta in Rome I felt Mary’s loving embrace of Jesus penetrate my heart.  Like Mother Earth, Mary represents an enduring and eternal strength.

In Taiwan I was hosted by the Luminary order of Buddhist nuns, women who are characterized as feminists by western scholars. Through their Master, Wu Yin, I was directed to locations where a statue of Guanyin was placed to honor the miracles she was said to perform at each site.

Following the directions of my hosts, every image of Guanyin I encountered shouted strong, grounded and present.  Her eyes always lowered in contemplation, her body substantial and seamlessly connected to the earth.

The ground of our experience is compassion. Guanyin, Mary and Mother Earth are embodied representations of this truth.  When we are grounded in reality we are connected.  When we genuinely connect to others and ourselves, there is no division and love arises spontaneously.

Whenever I have the opportunity to spend time in the presence of sacred images of the feminine I am brought to my knees.  Thank goddess; it’s a soft  landing on the ground of compassion.

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