The Patience of a Mother

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Patience takes courage.  It is not an ideal state of calm.  In fact, when we practice patience we will see our agitation far more clearly.

Pema Chodron

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I took these photos at the Denver Botanical Gardens several years ago when there was a show of African Sculpture in the Gardens.  This figure was one of my favorites.  The top photo shows the mother and the bottom photo shows her two children leaning against her large figure.

The quote from Pema reminded me of her patience and eternal support for her children, something the stone sculpture seems to reinforce. And what patience demonstrated by the artist!

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Approaching Guanyin’s Altar

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We approach Kwan Yin as who we are.  we welcome her into our real, everyday lives. We open ourselves to her as our individual minds and hearts can understand her.  This is how it has always been with Kwan Yin.  she offers her myriad forms to us and promises only as much as we are open to receive in and from ourselves.  She enters and becomes us, we enter and become her.

Sandy Boucher

 

These two images of Guanyin in Marble Mountain Cave in Vietnam struck me as two incarnations of the bodhisattva.  One older and carved from wood, unique in its depiction of her eternal connection to the ground of being. The other statue light and feminine, like a breeze of fresh air.  Their juxtaposition reminding me of the broad range her compassion and willingness to manifest as needed to relieve the suffering of the world.  How has she entered and become us?  How have we entered and become her?

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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.

Tara: The Spirituality of Wrath

Wrathful Tara

Wrathful Tara

When we begin to accept that our anger and grief are as valid sources of learning as our quietness and detachment, we begin to accept ourselves, to heal our selves and to transform ourselves.

Christina Feldman

In the Tibetan tradition of Buddhism Tara is a beloved figure of compassion.  Her wrathful energy is understood to serve others and to cut through to truth.  In this form she is a protector and uses her energy wisely.

Tara is one of the few female figures of divinity that shows a full range of expression.  The figure above is from the Tara Mandala in Pagosa Springs, Colorado.  She is one of 21 Tara figures, each one with a specific expression and meaning.  Her hand is in a teaching  mudra and a Vajra emanates from her arm.  The Vajra is a symbol of discriminating awareness and represents a thunderbolt.

Tara’s wisdom is expressed through the clarity and strength of a thunderbolt.  Imagine a mother tiger protecting her young, ready to pounce if necessary.  Her kindness is as powerful and direct.  She teaches us to appreciate our emotions and channel our passions as devotion to others.

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Click on the link below to view my talk on The Female Buddha at Boulder Bookstore, 2013:

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http://www.thefemalebuddha.com

Tara: Working with Anger Wisely

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Tara

…if anger arises in the mind in response to an outside event, it’s helpful to look for either the saddening or frightening aspect of that event and then take whatever measures we can to address the sadness or the fear.  Knowing that negativity or aversion is a transitional energy never means to ignore it.  It means to see it clearly, always, and work with it wisely.                                             Sylvia Boorstein

Sylvia’s words remind us to work with whatever arises in the mind with equanimity and clear seeing.  Equanimity is necessary for clear seeing.  We need to be able to calm ourselves enough to look at our agitation without judgment or attachment.  Then we can see beneath the anger to our fear or loss.  Compassion naturally arises for ourselves, the other and our situation when we see vulnerability beneath our tendency to defend and fight.

In the Tibetan tradition, Tara, the goddess of compassion, also helps us see that all states are ultimately pure, even our anger.  The wrathful image of her above*, shows her working skillfully with powerful emotion to cut through to truth.  Nothing in human experience is rejected or labeled “bad.”  In fact, this statue symbolically represents the value of the right use of wrath in certain circumstances.  Imagine a mother protecting her child from an assailant.  Or the feelings that arise that clue us into a terrible injustice.  How we work with anger defines our humanity and our effectiveness.  Think Nelson Mandala or Mother Teresa.

In Nonviolent Communication all feelings are valued as indicators to learning more about ourselves.  What we label as “difficult emotions” help us discover the basic need for happiness and our urgent desire to have it met.  Mindfulness practices help us slow down, learn to settle our mind and set the stage for insight. Nonviolent communication skills help us learn more about ourselves and others and work with difference mindfully and with words.

*This statue is one of 21 depictions of Tara in the temple at the Tara Mandala Retreat Center in Pagosa Springs.

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Please see www.thefemalebuddha.com for more on Guanyin and Tara a goddesses of compassion.

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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3 Faces of the Feminine in Bangkok: Photos of Guanyin

White Marble Guanyin

***********************************************************************I am experiencing and cultivating an opening of my heart that allows for tenderness, for forgiveness, for a deep listening to others and myself.  Kwan Yin has been part of this opening.

   Sandy Boucher

Each of these three photos were at separate temple sites throughout Bangkok.  This first white marble Guanyin had it’s own worship area in a corner of Wat Indravahin.  A little more than life-size, she sat between two large dragons on an altar covered with candles, offering trays and small figurines.  I was able to capture her as the light changed from afternoon to dusk and placed the white and red flower offering over the vase she is holding.  A little while later a temple attendant cleaned the statue of flowers and beads so the next round of visitors could make similar offerings.

Guanyin at the Royal Palace

Within the grounds of the Royal Palace are many grand and lovely statues of Buddhist dieties.  The gold on this bronze Guanyin statue is the result of men and women placing gold leaf on her in acts of devotion.  Behind her stands a large guardian figure covered in mosaic.  Guanyin figures are rare in Thai temples unless found in Chinatown.  The Chinese immigrants at the beginning of the 20th century became more influential over time and are responsible for her presence at a few more traditional temples throughout the city.

Guanyin at Wat Pho

I photographed these golden figures of Guanyin in the early morning light at Wat Pho, one of the oldest temples in Bangkok.  Although the general public was not admitted to the site until a later hour, an old women escorted us to a back entrance where locals came early to  worship.  I can’t tell you how delightful it was to walk around the grounds in the peace of dawn and the reverence of those making offerings.  For a photographer it was heaven.

Update on my book, The Female Buddha: Looked over the color proofs from China this weekend and sent the first edit back.  It looks great and should be out before Christmas!

For more inspirational images and information about The Female Buddha go to: www.thefemalebuddha.com  and www.luminousbuddha.com

The Generosity of Guanyin in Bangkok’s Chinatown

Guanyin on a Dragon

We practice generosity with others and with ourselves, over and over again, and the power of it begins to grow until it becomes almost like a waterfall, a flow.  We practice kindness with others and ourselves, over and over again, and this is who we become this is what feels most natural.

 Sharon Salzberg

When I first starting looking for images of Guanyin in Bangkok I headed out to Chinatown.  Like many of our big cities in the United States, Chinatowns may be found throughout the world.  The large cities and coastal town of East Asia were particularly popular for  immigrants when times were hard or there was political repression in China.

The Chinese practiced a form of Buddhism giving devotion to Guanyin and brought many images of the her to the shores of Bangkok where only images of the original Buddha are found.  I discovered the mural above adorning the walls of an outdoor temple amidst a busy street in the heart of Chinatown.

Guanyin has a willow branch in one hand displaying her gentle nature and a vase pouring healing nectar in the other hand.  She rides the back of a dragon on ocean waves with confidence and command.  She is known as the one who hears the cries of the world.

This outdoor temple was part of a Charity Medical Center sponsored by a Buddhist association.  When I went to the door I was asked if I needed medical attention and was touched by their generosity.

Guanyin at Charity Medical Center

At the back of the temple was this life size statue of Guanyin in the male form.  When Buddhism came to China in the 2nd century Guanyin was known by his Indian name, Avelokitasvara.  By the 8th century many depictions were painted and sculpted as  female. Today you will see statues in East Asia that are male, female or androgynous.

Guanyin in Chinatown

I discovered this last image of Guanyin at the back of another temple that was closed for the day.  As you can see many individuals leave sweet and kitschy items to honor her presence.  In the next post I will share more of my photos of the feminine Guanyin found throughout the temples of Bangkok.

For additional inspirational images and quotes go to : www.thefemalebuddha.com  and www.luminousbuddha.com

A Nun of Cambodia: Keeping Buddhism Alive at Angkor Wat

nun, mother and childWho has gone past being a someone, a this or a that,

That one is free from fear and is blissful.

                                                                                            The Buddha

When we visited the great temple site of Angkor Wat in Cambodia several years ago this beautiful nun was offering incense sticks to worshippers.  Nuns keep all the Buddhist holy sites at temples fresh and instruct foreigners how to make offerings with incense.  We happened to arrive on the day the country was celebrating freedom from Pol Pot and many Cambodians were making offerings and seeking religious ceremonies for family members they lost in the genocide.  The nuns have taken over these responsibilities because almost all the monks were wiped out in the mass murders.

We were greatly surprised by the warmth and natural cheerfulness of the Cambodian people and were happy to join in the celebrations on this day.  Capturing the photo of this generous nun and the mother and child behind her was a highlight of my experience.

For more photos and inspirational words go to www.thefemalebuddha.com

and www.luminousbuddha.com