Love in any Language is a Blessing

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When purified of self-centeredness, passion is expressed as devotion to others, caring skillfully and utterly about their welfare; it is also expressed as joy in living and appreciation of the unique beauty of each moment.

Judith Simmer-Brown

At Doi Suthep, a large and beautiful temple in northern Thailand, I took a photo of these bells hung around the complex by practitioners.  From each bell hung a ringer in the shape of a leaf from the Bodhi tree where the Buddha first experienced enlightenment.  Prayers and blessing are inscribed on the leaf by the individual who placed the bell.

The shape of the leaf reminds me of a heart and the heartfelt wishes of the person making his or her offering at the temple.  Many are hung to commemorate a loved one and wish them well on their journey after death.  Others are asking for relief from suffering for a family member or themselves.  Some ask for the blessing of a healthy child or acceptance into a job or university. As the wind moves the bells and releases their music the wishes are sent on their mission.

Many Buddhist practitioners may make a once in a lifetime pilgrimage to Doi Suthep as it is considered a great Buddhist site.  As I joined the many men and women circling the main stupa I felt a deep sense of reverence and joy shared by all.

 

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Enlightened Women of the Therigatha

Therigatha Altar

Therigatha Altar

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

China Galland

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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Concentration: Returning the Market Place

Bangkok Floating Market 1

Bangkok Floating Market 1

My mind has three qualities: concentration, equanimity and loving kindness.  That’s it.

Dipa Ma

In a famous Zen proverb, one returns to the market place after the work of enlightenment. One brings the skills he or she has developed back into the world.  These women at the floating market south of Bangkok reminded me of this proverb.  Tourists are brought in hordes to this place yet the people marketing their wares go about their business with a calm and concentration that is notable.  It may not be enlightenment but I witnessed something we do not observe in many parts of the world; a people at peace with the bustle about them.

I went to photograph the floating market several years ago during a trip to Bangkok and was first horrified by the insane tourist “scene.”  It was only when I got inside the crammed water course that I began to notice the remarkable individuals in their boats and by the riverside.  What a delight  trying to capture their dignified essence!  I was lucky they were happy to ignore another curiosity seeker with her clicking camera.

Bangkok Floating Market

Bangkok Floating Market

Bangkok Floating Market 2

Bangkok Floating Market 2

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The Female Buddha book

The Female Buddha book

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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/  

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

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 Indiegogo campaign has raised 91% of it’s goal so far and your timely donation now offers the opportunity to receive gifts by Christmas. These include signed copy of the Female Buddha book, lovely notecardsphotographs, a workshop, consulting or other generous rewards for your donations.

Please join us today in bringing her quotes and photographs to an audience eager for her wisdom, compassion and beauty. check her out!

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Be the Lotus: Emerging From the Mire

Lotus Buds

Don’t you know that afflictions are nothing more

than wisdom?

And that the purest of blossoms emerges from

the mire?

  Benming

Lotus Buds, Flower Market, Bangkok, Thailand

The lotus represents the interdependent nature of samsara and nirvana, or suffering and enlightenment. Blooming out of the muck and mire of worldly existence into a pure, beautiful flower, the lotus blossom represents the enlightened mind.  The lotus bud symbolizes inner purity and our potential to awaken at any moment.

Lotus Bud Bouquets, Flower Market, Bangkok, Thailand

The lotus buds have begun to open and will be bought by individuals and families to offer at temple sites through out Bangkok.
Mother and Daughter offering Lotus Flowers

Mother and Daughter Offerings, Wat Phra Kaeo, Bangkok

These two women offer individual lotus blossoms, incense and candles at an altar to Guanyin within the Royal Palace complex in Bangkok.  The presence of Guanyin figures at sites in Thailand is seen in large cities where Chinese practitioners also come to visit. Guanyin is becoming an important figure for a growing number of Thai women.

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Dear friends,

The Female Buddha book is available this Christmas!

You can receive a signed gift copy by donating through the Indigogo Campaign beginning Nov 1. through Dec 7.  Other valuable gifts include notecards, photographic prints and a weekend workshop in February.

Go to www.thefemalebuddha.com to see the offerings. Be the first to receive a book  and support a great cause.

Yours most appreciatively, Deborah

P.S. don’t miss the Discovering the Female Buddha slide presentation and lecture in Boulder on Fri, Nov 2, 7 – 9 pm.  READ MORE

Deborah Bowman with Guanyin statue

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see more images at www.thefemalebuddha.com  or  www.luminousbuddha.com

Guanyin: One with Nature

Guanyin on a Lion

Sit like a mountain. Sit with a sense of strength and dignity.  Be steadfast, be majestic, be natural and at ease in awareness.  No matter how many winds are blowing, no matter how many clouds are swirling, no matter how many lions are prowling, be intimate with everything, and sit like a mountain.

                                                                      Sharon Salzberg

Sitting on a Lion, Marble Mountain, Vietnam

Outside the Marble Mountain caves many large sculptures of Guanyin stand along the roadside, commissioned by temples or waiting for potential buyers.  This fifteen-foot sculpture shows her in the royal ease posture, calmly sitting on the back of a ferocious lion, confident and at one with all of life.

Guanyin and Parrot, Phouc An Hoc Quan Pagoda, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Carrying Guanyin’s beads, the parrot flying next to Guanyin vowed to forever accompany her after she relieved him of consuming grief after the death of his mother.  He has become a symbol of filial piety, an attitude of deep respect towards one’s parents and ancestors. In most depictions the parrot is white and in a few tales the parrot represents Guanyins loyal husband.

Horse Mounted Guanyin, Wat Indravihan, Bangkok, Thailand

Guanyin is depicted in meditation posture on the back of a horse, her power in harmony with the natural world.  She tames and subdues dangerous outer circumstances as well as painful inner emotions run amok.  Behind her is a framed image of Guanyin with squares of gold leaf placed on her in acts of loving devotion by visiting practitioners.

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Don’t miss…..

DISCOVERING THE FEMALE BUDDHA:  The Heart of Liberation and Love

by Deborah Bowman, Ph.D.

  Slide Presentation & Lecture:   Fri., Nov. 2, 2012
    7  – 9 p.m.

Sponsored by Boulder Friends of Jung  $15.00

The First Congregational Church, 1128 Pine Street  
Boulder, CO 80302

On the altar of the most visited temple in Taipei sits a fire-haloed Guanyin, one hand holding a sacred scroll and the other in a teaching gesture. A few years ago, I photographed her among a throng of worshipers hoping to add her to my book.

Over twenty years ago, I had a dream of walking in a garden surrounded by three immense sculptures of female Buddhas. My dream has manifest in ways I never would have imagined.

Pursuing her image across Eastern Asia, I’ve discovered she is the representation of wisdom and compassion in several countries. In Vietnam, when asking directions to the temples of Guanyin, people would say, “you mean the female Buddha?”  This is when I was inspired to entitle my book, The Female Buddha.

Looking at Guanyin through the lens of Jungian psychology, we see a feminine figure distinct in her all-knowing capacity and power to transform through lovingkindness. She is a guiding light, completely free yet thoroughly relational. In this slide presentation, we will look at her unique iconography and well as the evolution of Guanyin throughout history and what she means to us today.

Deborah Bowman, Ph.D. is a psychologist, photographer and professor of Transpersonal Counseling Psychology at Naropa University. She has been in private practice as a psychotherapist for 25 year and is a trainer with the Boulder Psychotherapy Institute. She is author of When Your Spouse Comes OutThe Luminous Buddha and The Female Buddha.

Deborah Bowman with Guanyin statue

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see more images at www.thefemalebuddha.com  or  www.luminousbuddha.com

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

A Mother Meets the Buddha: Patacara

Patacara statueThis photo of Patacara is taken in Thailand at Songdhammakalyani Monastery where 12 statues are placed of the foremost Theri (elder nuns) from the time of the Buddha.  

The next photo is from the same monastery of clay sculptures of the Theri by Venerable Dhammananda.  

The last photo shows Rev. Dhammananda and the sisters of the monastary meditating under a Medicine Buddha.

   

Last night I delivered a speech about Patacara to the 2012 graduating class of Transpersonal Counseling Psychology at Naropa University.  I learned several members of the class would sing Bridge Over Troubled Waters by Paul Simon right before my talk.  Those students inspired the beginning of my speech:

Our job as transpersonal psychotherapists is to be that bridge over troubled waters and to help others to learn to ease their minds.  Our job is also to inspire the depths that are possible below those troubled waters, where the peace of our greatest nature resides.

In an ancient Chinese text, the TaoTe Ching, an old sage expressed it this way:

Some say my teachings are nonsense.

Others call them lofty yet impractical

But for those who have looked inside themselves,

This nonsense makes perfect sense.

And to those who have put it into practice,

this loftiness has roots that go deep.

I have just three things to teach:

simplicity, patience and compassion.

These three are your greatest treasures.

Simple in actions and thoughts,

you return to the source of being.

Patient with both friends and enemies,

You accord with the way things are.

Compassionate towards yourself,

you reconcile all beings in the world.***


Therigatha statues

Simple in our thinking as we start to drop some of our mind chatter and insecurities.  Instead of our ranting or babbling with others, simply saying, “I’m sad or angry and I need support” or “I hear how much pain you are in.”

Patient towards all parts of ourselves, towards the differences of others and what we don’t understand.

Compassionate. Trusting compassion is our basic nature.  When we look within and put compassion into practice our world is righted and we see a human being where we once saw a wrong.

I’d like to share a story on this day before Mother’s day about a mother who lost everything, went mad and then found a bridge over troubled waters.

Her name is Patacara and she lived some 2500 years ago in ancient India.   She was making the traditional trip home to her parents to birth her second child.

The baby came midway on the journey and while her husband struggled to make a shelter in a storm he was bit by a poisonous snake and died.

Continuing her journey both her sons died as she attempted to cross a river.

When she came to the town of her family she discovered her parents and brother died when their house collapsed in a fire. The ashes were still smoldering.

Mad with grief she wandered about walking in circles and tearing at her cloths. As a ragged and now homeless person people threw trash at her.

Sitting with the Medicine Buddha

One day she entered a grove where the Buddha was teaching and the audience attempted to keep her away.  Nevertheless the Buddha approached her and said “Sister, recover your presence of mind.”

Her mind became clear at that moment and after hearing his words of wisdom she asked to be ordained.  On the spot he left the audience and  took her to a community of nuns where she was accepted.

Here is a poem by Patacara of her later enlightenment in a moving translation by Anne Waldmen, one of the founders of our Writing and Poetics program:

Young Brahmins plough fields,

sow seeds,

nourish their wives and children,

get wealthy

Why can’t I find peace?

I’m virtuous

comply with the teacher

not lazy or puffed up

One day washing my feet

I watched the water as it

trickled down the slope

I fixed my mind

the way you’d

train a thoroughbred horse

Later, taking my lamp

I enter my cell

sit on my bed and

watch the flame

I extinguish the wick

with a needle

The release of my mind

is like the quenching of the lamp

O the nirvana of the little lamp!

Patacara expresses frustration in this verse yet describes how she returns to a simple practice with patience.  No longer tearing her cloths to shreds or the facets of her mind she finds the compassion that has no boundaries.

The moment the lamp is extinguished so is her final suffering.  Her peace is the bliss of nirvana.

Patacara went on to become a great teacher and many expressed their appreciation her for being their own bridge over troubled waters.

We have a lot to celebrate today.  You’ve followed your own emotional, mental and spiritual path of development these past 3 or 4 years.

You’ve shared what you’ve learned of simplicity, patience and compassion with your clients in internship.  You bring your presence of mind to your work and invite others onto the same path.  This is the transpersonal path.

Now you are about to make your own journey as healers into the world.  I speak for all the staff and faculty of Naropa University in wishing you many, many blessings on your journey.

***translation by Stephen Mitchell

All photos by Deborah Bowman

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

For the 2008 Naropa University graduation speech go to www.luminousbuddha.com