Kindness: A nun in Taiwan

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We need to remember that most of practice can be summed up in kindness.

Charlotte Joko Beck

I feel blessed to include this photo in my book, The Female Buddha: Discovering the Heart of Liberation and Love.  My host in Taiwan, Venerable Jenkir Shih, is pictured on the right with one of her elder students from one of her classes on Buddhism.  She brought me with her to visit this lovely woman after the death of her husband.  Many family members gathered for the visit with Ven. Jenkir and I was treated to the warmth of an extended Chinese family honoring a loved one.

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If you are in Boulder don’t miss my book signing at the Boulder Bookstore, Weds, Apr 24, 7:30 – 8:30.  I will be presenting a slideshow of photos from the book and talking about the quotes from women teachers that accompany the photos.

In Vietnam with Guanyin

Deborah Bowman in a temple in Hoi An, Vietnam

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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/  

Responding to Nature: What the Video Editor saw

When I first started imagining a video for my Indiegogo campaign to promote The Female Buddha book a good friend suggested I work with Bill Woolery, an accomplished editor of film trailers.  Lucky for me he had switched to making trailers for documentaries after many years working commercial films in Hollywood.  Some of them quite well known!

I sent him most of the photos from my book and he immediately began seeing a nature theme and used most of my work from Japan, where gardens were the best place to get a stunning shot of the Bodhisattva, Kwannon or Guanyin as she is known in China.

For me, nature has a feminine quality, a place where you are inspired and have to yield to her whims.  In Japan, a temple is always surrounded by the beauty of the natural world.  In the garden is where Kwannon always resides, to welcome you and offer you peace of mind.

I feel very blessed to have Bill’s creative mix of images to show you here.  Please take the time to watch the trailer and if you are inspired buy a book or contact Bill to make your own video.  I learned a lot from what he chose to use to tie the piece together and feel very blessed to have a nature loving man on my team.

Steps to the Temple

Kyoto Temple Steps

For more information go to http://www.thefemalebuddha.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

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

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.

Open Engagement: Relationship and Empathy

Spirituality is the movement from our prison of self-blame and self-preoccupation to an inclusive and open engagement with life.
-Sharon Salzberg


This week I’ve been under a deadline to write an academic paper for a conference I attend every year in Bangkok sponsored by the International Association of Buddhist Universities.  I have struggled to write again as a scholar after enjoying the free flow of sharing as a blogger, personally and upfront.

I’ve fallen behind in my blog schedule and just realized that a few fragments from the paper I’ve been laboring on addresses Sharon’s invitation into a more open engagement with life.  Here are some excerpts on relationship and empathy, topics addressed in my paper: Slang, Freud and Buddhist Psychology: Clarifying the Term “Ego” in Popular, Psychodynamic and Spiritual Contexts.  Quite a mouthful.

Relationship

The Buddhist concept of interdependence informs our understanding of relationship and the natural reciprocity inherent in all of life.  While a psychodynamic perspective understands the autonomous development of the individual as a necessity, Buddhism points to the danger of the extremes of self-sufficiency creating a false sense of “I.” This “I” or ego manipulates and misperceives self and other.

Suffering in relationships stem from the extremes of independence and dependence.  One is marked by the painful experience of isolation and the other is an immature fusion where our demands on others do not reflect our chronological age.  Learning to walk the interdependent path begins with the practice of attending to the present moment, seeing through the impermanence of past wounds and trusting the guidance of our teachers to mirror our yearning for compassion and liberation from suffering.

The Bodhisattva Vow, to liberate others before oneself counters the tendency of the individual to attend to oneself and not the other.  From the Buddhist point of view we are all narcissistically wounded in clinging to the “I” and it’s delusional views and habits. Waking up requires the development of clear seeing and the reversal of painful self-centric patterns in relationship.

Empathy

Compassion is Buddhism is related to empathy as it is based in entering the experience of the other.  The Latin root of the word refers to having deep feelings (passion) with (com) another.  Compassion implies a further response of an action to bring relief to the passion (suffering) of the other.  In this case passion is understood as the impossible desire to escape “what is.”

A compassionate response can pierce the ego-encasement that an individual has built to protect him or herself from pain.  Compassion acknowledges and accepts loss and other feelings imagined as too big to bear.  Compassion understands the ultimate boundarylessness of experience and the natural exchange continuously occurring between all beings.

In the Buddhist view any wall created to protect the self from others is the creation of ego or a false sense of self.  At the same time Buddhism does not deny the uniqueness or the different experiences of each human being.  The task to hold both a relative and an absolute understanding of self and “no-self” is embraced on the path of liberation. Holding this paradox we open to embracing other and “no-other” as well.

If this were a blog I’d add it’s kind of like having your cake and eating it too!

Blossom — 7 Quotes and Articles

A deep week of #14Buddha posts has wrapped up and your comments and sharings in the blog comments, across Twitter and FB have been inspiring and greatly appreciated.

#14Buddha posts will take place every other day this week.

Please do continue to share your reflections and writings that are inspired by the women writers featured here at The Female Buddha.

Did you miss a post?  Highlights and links below….

“All of the sudden I woke from my hazy reverie. This was the photographic moment!
The statue was lovely yet these few minutes brought it to life. I had almost missed it.”

— September 19th

“Here is one of my worst habits and a true confession.  I don’t exercise my photography muscle and find myself at square one every year when I go overseas to shoot in Asia, the land of amazing photo opportunities.”

September 20th

“For years after the accident I dreamt of climbing down anything and everything vertical.  My spiritual work was to come down to earth and to be in my body.”

September 21st

“She was a quirky, sad, funny and beautiful lady. She turned me on to bugs and Indian paintbrush and the smell of rain through a rusty screen door. ”

September 22nd

“Laying down and closing my eyes the sun melted my last resistance. Then hearing a birdcall, I sat up and looked across the lake where a massive cottonwood was speaking to me.”

September 23rd

“Taking the extra time for self-care can seem like an indulgence but it rights my world. A bath or a walk in the woods provides alone time in a supportive, sensual environment. Digging weeds in the garden is a great alternative.”

September 24th

“The mental computer loops through tasks while I practice coming back to my breath again and again. I always imagined I was 180 degrees different from the engineering lineage of my grandfather, father, uncles and brother…”

September 25th

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This post is a part of the 14-day The Female Buddha community dialogue visual arts and writing invitation. Artist Deborah Bowman has gathered inspirational quotes from global women teachers to reflect on your life travels and creative practice.
Feel free to  reply to today’s prompt on your own blog. Share your link in the comments.
Join the dialogue on The Female Buddha page on Facebook@thefemalebuddha on Twitter and #14Buddha hashtag.

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.