Mindful Life on the Nine Dragons: Vietnam

UntitledMindfulness enables us to cultivate a different quality of attention, one where we relate to what we see before us not just as an echo of the past or a foreshadowing of the future, but more as it is right now.  Here too we find the power of kindness because we can connect to things as they are.

Sharon Salzberg

The Mekong River divides into nine channels known as the Nine Dragons at the delta in Vietnam.  Life on the river must be attentive to detail as the river has many undercurrents and is constantly changing. Many people live on the boats they work on and appear relaxed yet ever aware of their environment.  Sharon’s words of wisdom reminds me of the attitude of attention we observed when we spent the day in a boat exploring one of the dragons of the Mekong in south Vietnam.



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Approaching Guanyin’s Altar


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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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


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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Vietnamese Temple: Male and Female Spiritual Icons


“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.




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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/  

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.


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


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

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.

The Lady Buddha: beyond all construct

In Vietnam she’s the Lady Buddha. In Taiwan temples, she’s often the central deity.  These firsthand discoveries inspired further research on Guanyin and the title of my upcoming book, The Female Buddha: Discovering the Heart of Liberation and Love.

When I share these simple experiences from traveling overseas, my friends are delighted to hear the news of a fully empowered image of the awakened feminine.  It’s time we receive this celebrated transmission from cultures seeped in the Buddhist tradition.

Why?  For the same reason young girls need positive images of female doctors, construction workers and world leaders.  And why boys need positive images of male nurses, househusbands and ballet masters.  So they believe they can.

We need to know we can. We can embrace the aspiration of freedom from suffering, the aspiration of the clear seeing and the aspiration of an open heart.  We need to see it can happen in this body, in this lifetime.

Advertisers understand the not-so-subtle psychological message of a gender image.  They overwhelmingly conform to the use of stereotyped social constructs to sell goods and maintain profit margins.  The basic tenets of Buddhism ask us to see through all mental constructs to the nature of our mind…that which is without prejudice or construct…Mind that is like the clear blue sky.

Opening to diverse possibilities is like immersing yourself in a foreign country.  We gain a broader perspective of what is possible in our lives and our communities. Ways of being are challenged and minds are blown open.  Experiencing a female Buddha is a Zen koan.  What does she mean in my life?

When looking for Quan Am (Guanyin) in Cholon, the Chinese district of Ho Chi Minh, we asked strangers for directions.  Those who spoke some English would excitedly punctuate their words, “Oh, you mean the female Buddha?” or “The lady Buddha? She’s that way.”  She has entered the common vernacular of the people.

Later we would meet both men and women who shared tremendous enthusiasm for their personal deity, Quan Am.  In the pouring rain during our four days in Hue, I tried to capture a decent shot of her several hundred foot tall figure overlooking the hills of the city.  Unsuccessful, I could only marvel at the distant image blessing her community with equanimity.

The Bodhisattva’s symbolic resurgence in these large statues sprinkled across Vietnam follows years of devastating loss and death in a country torn by war.  The faith of many unshaken, her image represents the perennial flowering of Buddha Nature, the truth of our basic goodness beyond all constructs.