Making a Buddha: Women in Mandalay

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Therefore, the practice of generosity is about creating space.  We see our limits and we extend them continuously and consciously, joyfully, which creates an expansiveness and spaciousness of mind that’s deeply composed.

Sharon Salzberg

On one side of this narrow road in Mandalay men used power tools and chisels to carve the forms of many Buddhas and on the other side of the road women refined the figures by shaping the details and polishing the stone.  I was drawn to the gentle touch and concentration of these women.  They appeared generous in spirit and deeply composed like the Buddhas they were creating.

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TEMPLES OF SOUTH AND EAST ASIA: DISCOVERING THE SUBLIME IN A PHOTO

Free: Tues, Mar 11, 7 pm, Changes in Latitude, 2525 Arapahoe Ave, Boulder, CO

Join Deborah Bowman in a search of the transcendent at temple sites in Asia.  Enjoy the draw of both famous and obscure sites at times of silence or among throngs at colorful festivals.   Come now to enjoy a feast of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas or learn tips for great shots at exquisite gardens or inside darkened temples.

Deborah Bowman, Ph.D., is a photographer, psychologist & professor at Naropa University.

Awakening Together: Photos from Laos

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Because reality is seen as dependently co-arising, or systemic in nature, each and every act is understood to have an effect on the larger web of life, and the process of development is perceived as being multidimensional.  One’s personal awakening (purshodaya) is integral to the awakening of one’s village (granodaya), and both play integral roles in deshodaya and vishodaya, the awakening of one’s country and one’s world.

Joanna Macy

Joanna’s words seem an apt compliment to this photo of Buddhas from a temple in Laos. During the “secret” bombing of Laos by the United States in the Vietnam War the town of Luang Prabang was considered the spiritual capital of Laos and was not struck.  Villagers and monks from the surrounding towns brought Buddha statues and other sacred relics to be stored for safety in temples in Luang Prabang.

When we visited several years ago sacred wooden statues were stacked many deep in Wat Winsunalat and the opportunity to photograph “relationships” between the Buddhas was impossible to pass up.  The foreground figure in the photo above seems to capture the mind of the Buddha, peaceful no matter who is looking on.

IMG_3548print 9.21.07slide showI was thankful to be able to salvage a little beauty in a photo out of the results of a terrible war.  These Buddhas appear to timelessly stand for teachings of wisdom and compassion passed down for over 2500 years.

The morning I discovered the many standing Buddhas stored in a temple in Laos I felt ecstatic.  Sunlight streamed through the windows and reflected off the golden figures draped in orange cloth.  They were glowing strength!”

Deborah Bowman, The Luminous Buddha

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The Female Buddha: Words and Images of Wisdom

FREE Lecture & Slides  Jan 31, 2014,  7 – 9, Naropa U., 2130 Arapahoe, Boulder, CO 

Poetry suggests what prose cannot convey: the sublime and transcendent.  We will look at quotes in The Female Buddha that open “doors of perception” including Niguma’s reference to the mind as a “wish fulfilling jewel”, the words of enlightened women at the time of the Buddha, the haiku of Chiyo-ni and modern day reflections by women teachers.

Paired with the quotes are moving photographs of Guanyin temples and statuary throughout Asia. We will explore the historical meaning of her vibrant presence across time and place and trace her spiritual influence to our lives today.

Deborah Bowman, Ph.D., is a psychologist, photographer and professor at Naropa University where she founded the Transpersonal Counseling Psychology Program and the Wilderness Therapy program.  For 25 years, she has worked as a Gestalt and Jungian oriented psychotherapist. Passion for Guanyin guided her travels in Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, Korea, Japan, Cambodia, China and Myanmar. She is author of The Luminous Buddha and The Female Buddha: Discovering the Heart of Liberation and Love. 

 

Buddha, Birds and Freedom: Photos from Burma

For those whom there is no hoarding,

Who have fully understood the nature of food,

And whose pasture is freedom

That is empty, that has no sign,

Their course is as hard to trace

As that of birds in the sky.

The Buddha ~ The Dhammapada


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The quote by the Buddha refers to the quality of freedom experienced by the enlightened, leaving no trace like a bird in the sky.  Empty of any “baggage”, the sages freedom is without the things we hoard and the desires that drive our clinging to the material world.  We can understand this metaphor to also refer to all hoarding; of our past wounds, of our future expectations and ultimately, our sense of self.  Freedom is liberation of the heart and mind, an experience aptly described by the flight of a bird in the clean, bright, open blue sky.

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Two years ago we had the delight to visit Shwedagon temple in Rangoon with many  outdoor altars and many golden Buddhas.  Pilgrims left plates of rice offerings and the crows kept the offerings fresh by waiting on top of a Buddha’s head and regularly cleaning the plates.  I found the juxtaposition of the many Buddhas and   crows delightful.  At home when reviewing my photos I found more crows in the shots than I remembered! Can you find them too?

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When looking for images to offer for the holiday season I found myself drawn to these photographs and wanted to offer something playful and rich.  May you delight in this season of renewal and freedom.

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Still on sale through Amazon!  Last day to ship for Christmas!

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The Buddha and Bodhisattva in our Heart

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The wooden and stone buddhas and bodhisattvas in temples are not the real Buddha that can inspire us.  They merely help calm us so we can concentrate our minds on the study of the teachings of Buddha.  The truly inspiring Buddha can only be found in our hearts.   ~ Cheng Yen

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The building above is the entrance to the Fayu temple complex built on the side of a mountain on Putuoshan Island in China. You may enter five major temples one after another as you walk up steps between each exquisite site.  Each temple is either dedicated to a particular Buddha or Buddhas or the bodhisattva Guanyin.  The site was dazzling and took us over two hours to visit and make offerings at each temple.

The Guanyin image above was in the final temple at the top and was my favorite in the complex.  She has a vase on one shoulder and a bird sitting on her other shoulder.  The vase represents the healing amrita or water she offers others and the bird refers to the parrot that became her constant companion after she healed his grief from losing his mother.  The rest of the temple was filled with many magnificent large and small Buddhas and Guanyin figures.

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On sale on Amazon…over 20% off list price:

The Female Buddha book

The Female Buddha book

Riding the Tiger: At one with our demons

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Normally we empower our demons by believing they are real and strong in themselves and have the power to destroy us.  As we fight against them, they get stronger.  But when we acknowledge them by discovering what they really need, and nurture them, our demons release their hold, and we find that they actually do not have power over us.  By nurturing the shadow elements of our being with infinite generosity, we can access the state of luminous awareness and undermine ego.  By feeding the demons, we resolve conflict and duality, finding our way to unity.

Lama Tsultrim Allione

Getting friendly with powerful instinctive forces is easier said than done.  I took the photo above during the Lotus Lantern Parade during the festival of the Buddha’s birthday in Seoul.  I haven’t found the exact story it corresponds to as there are numerous myths about befriending tigers in Korea.  I trust its symbolic message is universally vital.

Lama Tsultrim’s quote speaks to befriending “demons”, those aspects of ourselves and our world that frighten us.  The girl riding the tiger is at ease with a beast we normally consider terrifying.  She has learned to work with powerful energies and align herself with  natural forces as she moves in the world.

We can learn with the innocence of a child to trust our “wild” nature.  I imagine the young girl represents feminine intuition – something available to both men and women.  As an aspect of our Buddha-nature, it is something we are born with and can be revealed as we re-train in our natural goodness…demons and all!

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The Female Buddha book

The Female Buddha book – now on sale at Amazon – click on book!

http://www.thefemalebuddha.com

Light of Consciousness: Journal of Spiritual Awakening

Light of Consciousness Magazine

Light of Consciousness Magazine

This wonderful magazine, Light of Consciousness, has a five page article, including seven photos, that I wrote on Visions of The Female Buddha.  Please check it out!

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Learning to be kind to ourselves, learning how to respect ourselves, is important.  The reason it’s important is that, fundamentally, when we look into our own hearts and begin to discover what is confused and what is brilliant, what is bitter and what is sweet, it isn’t just ourselves that we’re discovering.  We’re discovering the universe.

Pema Chodron.

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Vietnamese Temple: Male and Female Spiritual Icons

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“I try to give joy to one person in the morning, and remove the suffering of one person in the afternoon.  That is the secret.  Start right now. ”

Sister Chan Khong

I choose this quote by the foremost disciple Thich Nhat Hanh to match the photograph I took in a Vietnamese temple in the middle of Bangkok.  I noticed the colorful exterior and wandered into the grounds to be met by a kindly young monk who spoke enough English to describe its Vietnamese origins.  He invited me to explore the temple and went back to his work.

The figures in the photo are among many on an elaborate altar that include a possible Taoist warrior and a praying figure that may represent the Buddha or the monk that brought Buddhism to China.  The female icon in the background is not identified but may represent one of the Chinese female deities commonly seen in temples in Vietnam.

Below are two of the several statues of Guanyin in this temple and an unidentified Bodhisattva image in the background.  Discovering female images in temples in Thailand is unusual and I was delightfully surprised to stumble upon a Mahayana temple in the heart of Bangkok.

Guanyin

Guanyin

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A third wonderful book review from Buddhist Art News.   http://buddhistartnews.wordpress.com/2013/02/12/book-review-the-female-buddha/  

Poetry of Women Chinese Chan Masters: Ziyong

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I still recall, how with my bag on a pole,

I forgot my yesterdays,

Wandering the hills, played in the waters,

went to the land of the clouds.

The lift of an eyebrow, the blink of an eye–

all of it is samadhi;

In this great world there is nowhere that is

not a wisdom hall.

Ziyong

I took this photo at the monastic center of the Luminary Order of nuns in Taipei on the first day I arrived in the country.  This order has been described by American scholars as a “quiet” feminist center of activity.  During the five days I spent in Taiwan they guided me to sites where miracles occurred at or near Guanyin statues.      You can read more about the rise of Guanyin East and West in my new article in elephant journal on Celebrating the Divine Feminine.

The poet Ziyong was a Chinese Buddhist nun in the 18th century and an exceptional poet.  This poem was written on her year off from intense practice, teaching and administrative duties as the abbess of numerous monastic sites.  During her time off she wandered the countryside and mountains as her poem suggests.

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Last weekend a gathering of 12 women joined me in contemplating other poems and verses of the wise women of the Buddhist tradition.  We meditated, made art and shared tender stories of our own struggles, insights and awakenings.  The time together at this Female Buddha workshop was declared “Transformational!”  Please stay in touch for the next workshop announcement at http://www.thefemalebuddha.com.

Books available at www.thefemalebuddha.com or www.amazon.com

Book imageAvailable at www.thefemalebuddha.com or www.amazon.com

The Monk and the Woman: Greatness is not related to Gender

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Being a great human being is not related to gender, it depends on caring about the well-being of all our fellow sentient beings.

Wu Yin

This photo was taken in the amulet market in downtown Bangkok.  The monk is looking at a ring with an inscribed Buddha figure while a woman in the background looks on.  What a lucky shot with the purple and orange colors reiterating in their clothing and her hair.

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Please read my latest article on Celebrating the Divine Feminine in elephant journal.

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www.thefemalebuddha.com

Earth Goddess confirming the Buddha’s Awakening

The Buddha and the Earth Goddess, Luang Prabang, Laos.

After sitting for seven days under a Bodhi tree, some 2500 years ago, The Buddha was challenged by “Maras”, nightmarish demons questioning the authenticity of his realization. In response to the Mara’s attack the Buddha touched the earth asking for witness to his enlightenment.

In the mythology of Southeast Asia, when the Buddha touched the ground, the earth goddess rose up and wrung an ocean of water from her hair. The earth shook and the demons vanished.

He reconciled the demons of self doubt, perhaps his version of the inner critic.  He was wrestling with his capacity to take what he had learned and communicate it effectively in the world. In his meditation, the Buddha discovered a path to relieve suffering in the world.

When we humbly touch the earth as our witness, we touch into the truth of our own being and discover confidence. We ground in the groundlessness of an ever shifting reality.  We wring ourselves of illusion and allow the demons of our imagination to dissolve in the ground of awareness.

The earth goddess represents the “ground” of our experience in the here and now.  She symbolizes the feminine principles of relationship, the cycles of life and humility.  Humus is the root of the word humus, the fertile decaying material of the soil, not unlike the mud from which a lotus grows.

The Female Buddha book has arrived!

CLICK HERE to find out more about The Female Buddha book and other lovely gifts including notecards, photos and a weekend workshop in Februrary, 2012.

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www.thefemalebuddha.com