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.

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The Feminine and Birth of the Buddha

In Thailand it is very difficult to find female imagery in a traditional temple.   These figures are at Wat Arun, one of the oldest and most revered temple in Bangkok.  Wat Arun was built to evoke Mount Meru, a famous spiritual mountain said to be the center of the universe.  Very steep steps lead up its spire with niches where statues portray important stories from the Buddha’s life.

At his birth it was said that the Buddha stood up, took seven steps and pointing to the heavens and the earth, declared himself  to be the “world honored one.”

While the story is laden with the mythology of India, significant to this depiction are the two female figures on each side of him.  Are they his mother and aunt, the former giving him birth and the latter raising him after his mother died seven days following his birth?  If this were true both women play significant roles in the history of Buddhism. His aunt, Mahaprajapati became a follower of the adult Buddha, organized the first sangha of women nuns and reached enlightenment through her practice and study.

I’d love to know more about this lovely work of art.  The women could be guardian figures or dieties known as asuras associated with Mount Meru. I am so happy to have found it and invite anyone with more scholarly information to share what you know.


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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.