China: Sacred Sites of the Divine Feminine

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Putuoshan Island is dedicated to the goddess of compassion, Guanyin. Above she is depicted on the central altar in Puji temple with a smaller statue of Tara below her.  Practitioners come in droves to pray for her mercy and offering gratitude for her blessings. Her large countenance creates a sense of awe when you enter the temple and there is a hushed quiet in the movement of men and women circumambulating her altar.

In September I will be returning to Putuoshan and other sacred sites in of Guanyin to guide a 12 day pilgrimage sponsored by True Nature Journeys.  Please check out: Sacred China and consider joining us!

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Sacred China: Pilgrimage to Guanyin

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Announcing a rare opportunity to journey to China next September to visit sites sacred to the Goddess of Compassion, Guanyin.  We will travel together as a small group of pilgrims and practice mindfulness to enhance our receptivity, wisdom and compassion.

The image above is from the Dazu grottos where we will see many beautiful statues and reliefs carved into caves and cliff sites.  These sacred images  from the 7th – 13 centuries are well preserved and still have their original paint.  We will also visit Anyue, Qingcheng and the island of Putuoshan, dedicated to Guanyin since the 9th century.

For more information on this pilgrimage, lead by Deborah Bowman and sponsored by True Nature Journeys, click this link: Sacred China.

For those of you looking for an armchair experience and lots of photos of these rare site, stay tuned to this blog in the coming months!

“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent upon arriving.”

~ Tao te Ching

Anita Hill is a Bodhisattva: Quote and Book Review

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We must all understand that there is great merit in sacrificing for others and that by so doing we live the full life.

Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize Winner

Aung San Suu Kyi is considered a bodhisattva in her country.  I would consider Anita a bodhisattva in the USA.  Both have led full lives of compassionate giving.  Below is my book review of Hill’s book from goodreads.

Anita Hill tells her story with courage and heart. Her incise arguments to every sexist and racist claim made against her had me riveted. Her stories were both moving and offered insight into several generations of an African-American family meeting degradation with strength and unrelenting dignity. The recent documentary film, Anita, is a great compliment to her writing and helps us understand the tenor of the Hill-Thomas hearing of 1991 by the power of it’s visual impact. We also have the opportunity to see the continuation of her impactful work against sexual harassment two decades after the event. Although the book was published in 1998, I found it vital in describing a historical event, Anita Hill speaking truth to power, that has changed the lives of women worldwide.

Nowhere that is not a Wisdom Hall

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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

 

This poem by the 18th century Chinese nun, Ziyong, provided the anchor for the faculty commencement speech I gave this year the Naropa University.  I spoke about the lessons I learned from a climbing accident I barely survived in 1979. It taught me to look for the wisdom in every moment!  Please check it out by clicking on: 12 minute speech

In gratitude,

Deborah

P.S. I took this photo at Wat Arun in Bangkok.  He reminds me of the joy of living.

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The Female Buddha book

The Female Buddha book

Guanyin in China: Inclusive and Connected

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Spirituality is the movement from our prison of self-blame and self-preoccupation to an inclusive and open engagement with all of life.  In many ways a spiritual path is essentially about connection – a deep connection to our own inherent capacity for wisdom and love no matter what, a connection to a bigger picture of life no matter what.        ~Sharon Salzberg

This image of Guanyin, taken at Fayu temple on the island of Putuoshan, captures her amid many historic and mythological figures of China.  It captures the spiritual importance Chinese Buddhists place on her role as the Bodhisattva of Compassion and her relationship to the vast pantheon of spiritual personalities.

The diorama was placed on the backside of the altar and she was “mobbed” by worshippers as they circumambulated the temple.  I had to wait for an opportunity to capture her photo as individuals bowed and made offerings at the statue’s feet.

In the photo below, in Shanghai, we discovered another diorama featuring Guanyin placed similarly in the Jade Temple.  It was a day to honor ancestors and again we encountered large crowds making offering to Guanyin and Buddha.

We never encountered another Westerner in the days we spent visiting temples and gathering images of Guanyin in China.  In some ways we were invisible yet connected, everyone intent in their devotion to the divine.

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GUANYIN: THE EMBODIMENT OF LIBERATION AND LOVE

Free talk/slides: Fri, Feb  21,  7 pm, Paramita Campus, 3285 30th St., Boulder, CO 

Focusing on the qualities of selflessness central to Guanyin, we will explore her incarnation as the Chinese folk legend Miao-shan, and compare her to the Handless Maiden in the western fairy tale.  These stories ask soul-searching questions:  What is sacrifice? What is unconditional love?  How is the feminine liberated from patriarchal dictates?

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

Free talk/slides: Tues, Mar 11, 7 pm, Changes in Latitude, 2525 Arapahoe Ave, Boulder

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. 

 

Enlightened Women of the Therigatha

Therigatha Altar

Therigatha Altar

There are women teachers everywhere.  It is for me to recognize and acknowledge this fact.

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The hand formed clay figures above represent the 12 women who were recognized by the Buddha for having exceptional skills and enlightenment.  They are known as Therigatha, or women elders in the early Buddhist tradition.  These figures were made by the Venerable Dhammananda, the abbess of the Songdhammakalyani monastery for women in Thailand.

I had the delight and honor to spend 3 days practicing and photographing the nuns at the monastery.  The clay figures were one of the priceless finds on the altar in one of the temples where we practiced meditation.

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Watermoon Guanyin, Sanyi, Taiwan

Guanyin at Wat Pho

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Guanyin in China: Her Sacred Mountain

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Guanyin Altar at Yangzhi Monastery on Putuoshan Island

Putuoshan Island off the coast of Shanghai is one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains in China.  Each mountain is dedicated to a particular Bodhisattva and Putuoshan is dedicated to Guanyin, the goddess of compassion.

Last month I visited the many temples dedicated to her at Putuoshan and spent a week studying with Dr. Chun-Fang Yu, Columbia University’s scholar on the Guanyin.  We studied the transformation of this deity from male into female over many centuries in Chinese history.  While in certain settings Guanyin is still depicted as male, at Putuoshan she is primarily considered female and tied to the Chinese folk legend of Miaoshan, a young woman who is transformed into Guanyin through her exceptional sacrifices.

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Guanyin Statue in reconstruction at Fayu Temple on Putuoshan Island

I’ll be sharing more of the story of Miaoshan later in this blog and also for the C.G. Jung Society in Denver on Oct 4.  Learn more about the talk at www.thefemalebuddha.com

Guanyin: Archetype of Liberation and Love:  Friday Oct 4, 7 p.m.,  First Divine Science Church,  14th Ave. and Williams St.,    $15 at the door, $10 for students and seniors

Generosity on this Path of Love

Chinese Statue at Wat Arun, Bangkok

Chinese Statue at Wat Arun, Bangkok

Together on this path of love, we can try to make a small difference in someone’s life.  What else is there to do?

Sister Chan Khong

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I’m in China this month studying and practicing at Putuoshan, an island dedicated to Guanyin since the last millennium.  My husband and I received generous scholarships from a Chinese and American organization and are grateful for the opportunity to share our experience when we return.

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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