Quotes on Courage: Buddhist Women Ride the Dragon

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To live the full life one must have the courage to bear the responsibility of the needs of others – one must want to bear this responsibility.

Aung San Suu Kyi

 

It’s not that hard to be enlightened!  Just change your patterns!  All it takes is courage!

Khandro Rinpoche

 

We aspire to spend our lives training in the loving-kindness and courage that it takes to receive whatever appears – sickness, health, poverty, wealth, sorrow, and joy.  We welcome and get to know them all.

Pema Chodron

When I was researching quotes to put in my book, The Female Buddha: Discovering the Heart of Liberation and Love, I copied down many possible quotes before deciding which ones to pair with photos of Guanyin and women at temple sites in Asia.  Today I searched the collection for the word courage and found so many quotes referencing this trait!

Above are a few of my favorite quotes from women I admire for their courage to speak out and not always say what we want to hear.

This photo from my travels in Korea depicts Guanyin riding the dragon over the waves of the ocean; symbolic of the courage it takes to trust one’s basic nature of compassion and equanimity.  When our emotions are like tempestuous waves it is often difficult to remember we can stay calm in the storm.

Guanyin is often depicted calmly riding on the back of an animal.  It could be a dragon, carp, horse, lion or immense turtle.  She reminds us that we are one with the natural world and the implication that we can trust our power and strength needed to fuel courage.

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A Deep Bow of Thanksgiving

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When we extend attention and appreciation toward our environment and other people, our experience of joy gets even bigger.                                                 Pema Chodron

photo: D. Bowman, Jogyesa Temple, Korea

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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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Tranquility and Insight in the New Year

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Two things will lead you to supreme understanding. What are those two? Tranquility and insight.

If you develop tranquillity, what benefit can you expect? Your mind will develop. The benefit of a developed mind is that you are no longer a slave to your impulses.

If you develop insight, what benefit will it bring? You will find wisdom. and the point of developing wisdom is that it brings you freedom from the blindness of ignorance.

A mind held bound by unconsidered impulse and ignorance can never develop true understanding.  But by way of tranquillity and insight the mind will find freedom.

–  The Buddha

Pouring water over the Buddha’s body is an act of devotion and new beginnings.  At Shwedagon temple in Yangon my husband joins hundreds of worshippers in this ritual of purification and commitment to the Buddhist path of tranquility and wisdom.  The moment was serene and full of delight.

Often the practice of bathing the Buddha is done on the day celebrated for his birth, enlightenment and death.  Below a woman baths the baby Buddha at the Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul.

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Both these photos were taken on trips to collect images for my books, The Female Buddha (with quotes by women teachers) and The Luminous Buddha (with quotes by the Buddha).  Please click on these links to find out more!

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Buddha’s Birthday in Korea: Photos and Festivities

Hanging lanterns

Two years ago I spent four days in Korea for the purpose of photographing the events celebrating the Buddha’s birthday, enlightenment and passing away.  During the event, known as the Lotus Lantern festival, hundreds of thousands of lanterns are hung in every Buddhist temple across Korea.  Each one represents an offering made by an individual or family to commemorate the day.

Jogyesa temple in Seoul was the center of activities and first place I visited when I arrived. For two weeks hundreds of practitioners had been gathering, praying and chanting under a canopy of lanterns and an old bodhi tree. In the last four days before the culminating activities the crowds grew and a sense of reverence was interwoven with joy.

Buddha's Birthday Girl

The day of the Buddha’s birthday a street festival lined many blocks of one of the central avenues in Seoul.  Venders sold food, non-profits brought attention to their causes and children were offered arts and crafts projects.  At one booth young boys and girls lined up to have their photos taken as a Buddha.  This young girl captured my heart.

Special tables were set up so visitors from other countries were assisted in making Lotus Lanterns.  At another booth images of Guanyin, the bodhisattva of compassion, were colored in by children and adults alike.

Dragon

Over 10,000 participants marched in the evening Lotus Lantern Parade. Starting at dusk everyone walked for five miles before arriving at the final stretch of the procession.  At the end of the procession several city blocks were lined with crowded stadium seats waiting for the parade.  The children particularly delighted in this sixty foot dragon that shot fire from its mouth.

Cymbal Band

A cymbal band made up of nuns and monks took my breath away as they whirled
and punctuated the air with the synchronized bursts of their percussive instruments. How joyfully they affirmed the clarity each moment!  The Buddha’s teaching resonating into the night for everyone to hear.

At the beginning of the parade I joined the many onlookers as we clapped and cheered on the groups of children, elders and marching musicians.

A group of young girls dressed in bright turquoise decorated their dharma drum lanterns with Buddhas  and cartoon characters.  Groups of women dressed in chiffon streamed in unison as a light wind rippled their flowing gowns.

Woman with Lantern

Every group wore an emblematic color and carried matching lanterns in the shape of dharma wheels, bells, umbrellas and all things symbolic of the tradition. Several hundred Buddhist lay and monastic groups carrying lighted paper lanterns walk down the central streets of Seoul after dark.  The final parade marked the culmination of many spiritual activities rejoicing in the life of the Buddha.


 I took a subway to the end of the parade where a baby Buddha riding on the back of an twenty foot elephant was pulled by four young strapping men.

Constructed of paper each figure was magically lit from within.  I spotted the bodhisattva of compassion, Guanyin, or Kwan Um as she is known in Korea.  Almost twenty feet tall she was one of many historical and legendary figures of the Buddhist pantheon celebrated in the final night of the festival.

Young monks

Everyone wanted to photograph these young monks whenever they were spotted during  festivities.

Guanyin statue at Doseon-sa Temple

A bus trip took me to the Doseon-sa temple in the mountains just outside of Seoul. Strangers became friends as they held my hand and assisted me in finding my way.  At the temple this lovely Guanyin figure riding a dragon was set off by the colorful lanterns and flags from many nations.

Heartened yet wistful I flew out of Korea the day after the parade. Without the photos to jog my memory it would be difficult to recall the colorful crowds and smiles that shattered the language barrier.

Vesak, the celebration of the Buddha’s birth, death and nirvana was made more meaningful by joining in a centuries’ old tradition celebrated by thousands in the heart of a modern Asian city.

The quote below is by one of Korea’s most revered living teachers.  I’m delighted she happens to be a woman.

Spiritual practice means having faith that there is a great treasure within your mind, and then finding it.  Learning to discover the treasure within you is the most worthwhile thing in the world.  If you can put this into practice, you can live freshly, with a mind open like the sky, always overflowing with compassion.  What could be better than this?

                               Daehaeng Sunim,  Zen Master

For more photos and inspirational quotes go to: www.luminousbuddha  and www.thefemalebuddha

Photography and Celebration in Korea: The Lotus Lantern Festival

I’ve been at a loss for what to write about and stumbled on my photo of a radiant nun in the Lotus Lantern Festival Parade.  How could I not be cheered and inspired?

A little over a year ago I spent four days in Korea for the sole purpose of photographing the events celebrating the Buddha’s birthday, enlightenment and passing.  Drawing on over 10,000 participants it’s an event not to be missed if you love what glows in the dark.

Literally several hundred Buddhist lay and monastic groups carry lighted paper lanterns for miles down the central streets of Seoul after dark.  Near dust I captured this shot as her group of nuns and monks waited to begin the march.  Those of us lining the streets seemed to glow as well as we clapped and cheered on the many groups of children, elders and marching musicians.

A cymbal band took my breath away as a collection of men and women monastics whirled
and punctuated the air with the synchronized bursts of their percussive instruments. How joyfully they affirmed the clarity each moment!  The Buddha’s teaching resonating into the night for everyone to hear.

Every group wore an emblematic color and carried matching lanterns in the shape of dharma wheels, bells, umbrellas and all things symbolic of the tradition.  A group of very young girls dressed in bright turquoise decorated their dharma drum lanterns with Buddhas  and cartoon characters.  Large groups of women dressed in pink chiffon streamed in unison as a light wind rippled their flowing gowns.

As the marching groups neared the packed stadium seats lining the final blocks of the procession, large floats of Buddhist saints joined the pageantry.  A baby Buddha riding on the back of an twenty foot elephant on top of a gigantic lotus flower stood above the floats of fire breathing dragons and storybook maidens riding tigers.


Constructed of paper each figure was magically lit from within.  I spotted the bodhisattva of compassion, Guanyin, or Kwan Um as she is known in Korea.  Almost twenty feet tall she was one of many historical and legendary figures of the Buddhist pantheon celebrated in the final night of the festival.

In the days before the parade I joined hundreds of practitioners at holy sites to chant the scriptures of the faith.  For two weeks Buddhists had been gathering in central Seoul at the Jogyesa temple under canopies of lanterns.  The parade marked the culmination of many spiritual activities rejoicing in the life of the Buddha.

Heartened yet wistful I flew out of Korea the day after the parade. Without the photos to jog my memory it would be difficult to recall the colorful crowds and smiles that shattered the language barrier.  How else could I share the wonder of a centuries’ old tradition celebrated by thousands in the heart of a modern Asian city.

Traveling to Guanyin Mountain: Photography and Pure Light

My journey to Taiwan was sparked by a brief comment from a dear friend I consider a mentor and teacher, Judith Simmer-Brown.  She mentioned the many temples she saw dedicated to Guanyin and how the female form of the bodhisattva of compassion was “everywhere” in Taiwan.  Immediately I knew I wanted to go.

A year later I shared my travel plans with Judith and she suggested I contact her former student at Naropa University, Jenkir Shih, a nun of the Luminary Order in Taiwan.  A single email to Jenkir yielded a warm invitation and when I arrived at her monastic center in Taipei I was greeted whole-heartedly.

For the next five days I was a chick being cared for by a mother hen.  Jenkir was attentive to every detail of my practical needs.  Most significantly, she shared her enthusiastic support for the mission of my travels, to capture photos of Guanyin for a book in the works, The Female Buddha.

When Jenkir introduced me to Master Wu Yin, the elderly yet robust female head of her spiritual community, my eyes welled up.  These kinds of tears seem to be my best indicator of auspicious moments in the presence of pure light.  Newborn babies do the same thing to me.

Jenkir later relayed a list of Guanyin sites that Master Wu Yin suggested I visit, places of miracles connected to the deity.  My visit to each site is a story worth telling.  The most adventurous took me to Guanyin Mountain on the Northwest coast.  Said to be in her shape, the tall luxuriant hills were wrapped in a continual gray haze when I arrived in May.  Not exactly a photographer’s dream-landscape.

Nevertheless, I was encouraged as strangers pointed the way to her heights, people I met on the train, walking through nearby towns and on the local ferry transporting shoppers and school children.  At my last stop on the outskirts of a small town I stood bewildered, impossibly trying to match my map to the local road signs.

A small gaggle of engineers inspecting a broken water line noticed my confusion and offered help.  The woman in the group spoke enough English to understand my interest in Guanyin and enthusiastically offered to drop me off at a temple on the mountain on their way home.  The odds are they went out of their way to help a foreigner.

Squeezing into their pickup we ascended the winding roads to a very large monastery hugging the upper reaches of the terrain.  They dropped me off with just a few hours of daylight left.  I recognized the historic Lingyun Zen Temple from my Internet research but never imagined I would make my way to such an obscure and magnificent setting.

 The doors at the bottom of the storied structure were open but no one was in sight.  Exploring the bottom floor I discovered an altar with a large and feminine statue of Guanyin.  Eager to catch the simplicity of her delicate form I carefully moved the offerings of florescent colored bows and plastic cups of water lovingly placed in her lap.

Continuing my wandering in the bowels of the temple I was welcomed by a smiling nun and ushered up several flights of stairs to a spacious sanctuary on the top floor.  I had arrived just in time for the evening service.

As usual I was torn.  Do I use these last precious hours of daylight to capture the magnificence of the temple and the nuns conducting the service?  Or do I surrender to the beautiful chants and sit in exquisite reverie with the others who have come to worship?

Juggling my schizophrenic desires I managed to do some of both.  The stillness of the service contributed to the cool I needed to adjust camera settings and capture the magic of a sister raising her striker to a gong so big she could sit in it.

At the end of the service another nun climbed a ladder (with switchbacks) to reach a twenty-foot drum suspended from the tall ceiling.  The massive reverberation of the drumbeat penetrated my core.

She descended the stairs and walked across the room to a to hanging rope so thick it took two hands to grasp its circumference.  With all her might she pulled it down and the attached bell, equal to the size of the drum, shattered the silence again.  Could any other sound offer such clarity?

And did I mention the backdrop of the central altar?  A bronze statue of Avelokitesvara was so immense the details of his thousand compassionate arms were distinct and articulate.  The same bodhisattva as Guanyin, but in male form, had a smile broad enough to make you smile back.

As the light began to fade it was time to descend a labyrinth of stepping-stones down the steep hills to a bus stop the Chinese-speaking sisters pointed me towards.  On the way I stopped at a small folk temple where village members had lit incense and candles.  The figures on the altar were small and ornate with Guanyin in the center surrounded by a retinue of deities from the Taoist tradition.  Alone, I was able to capture a few stills with my camera balanced carefully on a railing and the aperture wide open.

As I ran towards the bus, the driver motioned me towards him and assured me he was going to the spot I pointed to on the map.  Where else in the world can you use a single prepaid travel pass to ride the subway, train, ferry and bus across a wide swatch of a country in a single day?

The smiles, head nods and hands that gestured the way to and from Guanyins abode on the mountain are expressions of the generosity and good will for which she stands. I shared my travel tales with Jenkir and her face seemed to express both wonder and disbelief.  Women in Taiwan don’t do such crazy things.

The following day when Jenkir escorted me on another incredibly fruitful quest for images of the female Buddha I was held not by the kindness of strangers but with the loving care of a family member. Each time I was blessed and amazed in new ways.

The Treasure Within: Reflections on No River to Cross

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“Spiritual practice means having faith that there is a great treasure within your mind, and then finding it.  Learning to discover the treasure within you is the most worthwhile thing in the world.  If you can put this into practice, you can live freshly, with a mind open like the sky, always overflowing with compassion.  What could be better than this?”

– Daehaeng Sunim

Blogging last week I shared about discovering images of the female Buddha in Vietnam.  This week I want to share my encounter with the female Buddha inside the pages of a book by an astounding Korean Zen master, Daehaeng Sunim.

I discovered her googling: women, Buddhism and Asia. I was looking for quotes by genuine women teachers from the countries where I was photographing the female deity of compassion, Guanyin.

To my delight, the book, No River to Cross, popped up on my screen thanks to the translation of her work by Robert Buswell of UCLA.  If you’re a Buddhist, a feminist or enthralled by a good adventure story this is a must read.

For the adventurous in spirit, her tale unfolds on both outer and inner levels.  First we read about her life in the woods from age six after her family home is destroyed and they are forced to hide in exile from the Japanese occupation.

Also escaping her father’s rages, Sunim begins to meander farther and farther from the rudimentary hut her parents construct in the forest.  She sleeps on the ground and eats grass to fill her stomach. More than once she narrowly escapes death in the dark of night when she intuitively stops herself from walking over the edges of cliffs.

Over the next several years her isolated wanderings become the setting for extraordinary transpersonal experiences.  Sunim connects to a universal father and experiences an overwhelming sense of love and wholeness.  She later comes to understand this loving figure as symbolic of the basic goodness within us all.

A lifetime pursuit of questioning began during her early years of transience.  Her quest became more refined when she encountered a friendly monk who offers her food and guidance.  It is only later that she discovers he is the most venerated teacher in Korea and has the opportunity to formally receive him as her spiritual guide.

After committing to the rigorous training to become a nun, Sunim throws it off for something more difficult, twelve additional years of solitary wandering working with the questions arising in her heart.  Later she returns to complete her training astounding her teachers with a treasury of understanding.

The amazing details of her story are only a small part of No River to Cross.  Even better yet are the wise and celebratory reflections she offers in her teachings. I’ve passed this book to Buddhist colleagues who are thrilled to discover a new and passionate voice.  My mystic Christian friends resonate with the accessibility of her insight.

For the first time in the history of Korea, monks are becoming the students of a nun, Daehaeng Sunim.  Twenty-five centers of study have sprung from the organization she founded over thirty years ago.  Her clarity resonates with scholars and lay people alike.

“Just get rid of ignorance and delusions, and you will know that you are a Buddha and that you are already complete as you are.  If you awaken to this, you will burst out laughing at how much effort you spent in order for you to become yourself.  This is the laughter of peace and joy.”

-Daehaeng Sunim