Sacred China: Pilgrimage to Guanyin

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Announcing a rare opportunity to journey to China next September to visit sites sacred to the Goddess of Compassion, Guanyin.  We will travel together as a small group of pilgrims and practice mindfulness to enhance our receptivity, wisdom and compassion.

The image above is from the Dazu grottos where we will see many beautiful statues and reliefs carved into caves and cliff sites.  These sacred images  from the 7th – 13 centuries are well preserved and still have their original paint.  We will also visit Anyue, Qingcheng and the island of Putuoshan, dedicated to Guanyin since the 9th century.

For more information on this pilgrimage, lead by Deborah Bowman and sponsored by True Nature Journeys, click this link: Sacred China.

For those of you looking for an armchair experience and lots of photos of these rare site, stay tuned to this blog in the coming months!

“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent upon arriving.”

~ Tao te Ching

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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.

The Buddha and Bodhisattva in our Heart

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The wooden and stone buddhas and bodhisattvas in temples are not the real Buddha that can inspire us.  They merely help calm us so we can concentrate our minds on the study of the teachings of Buddha.  The truly inspiring Buddha can only be found in our hearts.   ~ Cheng Yen

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The building above is the entrance to the Fayu temple complex built on the side of a mountain on Putuoshan Island in China. You may enter five major temples one after another as you walk up steps between each exquisite site.  Each temple is either dedicated to a particular Buddha or Buddhas or the bodhisattva Guanyin.  The site was dazzling and took us over two hours to visit and make offerings at each temple.

The Guanyin image above was in the final temple at the top and was my favorite in the complex.  She has a vase on one shoulder and a bird sitting on her other shoulder.  The vase represents the healing amrita or water she offers others and the bird refers to the parrot that became her constant companion after she healed his grief from losing his mother.  The rest of the temple was filled with many magnificent large and small Buddhas and Guanyin figures.

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On sale on Amazon…over 20% off list price:

The Female Buddha book

The Female Buddha book

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.

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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

The Female Buddha

“The Female Buddha is beautiful and inspiring. The photos and the quotations both remind us of our own inner capacity for love and freedom.”

                             Sharon Salzberg, Lovingkindness 

Just had to show off.  Here’s the cover of my new book coming out this December. Let me know what you think!

see more at 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

Photos of Guanyin at the Bangkok Flower Market

Making Lotus Bouquets Making Lotus Bud Bouquets

These photos were taken in Bangkok at the Flower and Produce Market.  I was working on a project to photograph images of Guanyin and happened on this lovely setting while searching for temple sites.  I felt as if I had encountered Guanyin embodied!

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Purple and Yellow Flowers

Altar Decorations

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Making Altar Arrangements

Woman Making Altar Bouquets

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Loading Truck with Flower Arrangement

      Sending Floral Arrangements to the Temple


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Contemplating the Buddha at the Market

          Buddha at the Produce Market

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Two women stringing flowers


              Stringing Flowers for the Temple 

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All the delightful things of the world–sweet sounds, lovely forms, all the pleasant tastes and touches and thoughts–these are all agreed to bring happiness if they are not grasped and possessed.

But if you regard them merely as pleasures for your own use and satisfaction and do not see them as passing wonders, they will bring suffering.

Be aware of the paradox, for if you are blind to the way things are you will not be able to make out anything, even though you might be right on t0p of it.

The teaching about the way things are is not a way to enlightenment for someone who is still fill with desires or who still longs to be a this or a that.  But those who do understand it will become beings of distinction, dispersing all the forces of confusion.

The Buddha

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More inspirational words and photos at

Photos of Temple Life in Burma

Old Monk in MandalayMonk at Teak Temple

 Italian designed eight sided temple, Mandalay

These are just a few of the people we encountered visiting the temples of Mandalay and the surrounding towns in Burma.  The elder monk above guided us through an abandoned temple and showed us where the altars and Buddha statues used to sit.  He smoked a large cigar and folded it into his robes when I asked to take his photograph. 

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Woman ringing bell

Woman ringing Burmese Gong, Kuthodaw Paya (temple), Mandalay

This woman was demonstrating how to ring a traditional Burmese gong and sold us a smaller version after much haggling.  Her original prices were twice what we discovered on the streets  so we were happy to have engaged in   friendly haggling over the gongs.

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Children visiting temple

Young girls visiting a temple, Kuthodaw Paya (temple), Mandalay

These young students were on a field trip from the surrounding villages and flocked around us to see and touch a foreigner.  Their smiles and giggles were infectious and we found ourselves inundated by twenty or thirty at a time.  They wanted us to take their pictures and often expressed a mixture of delight and embarrassment when I snapped a shot.  

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Women Praying

      Women Praying, Mahamuni Paya (temple), Mandalay

This famous temple receives thousands of visitors who come to venerate the famous Mahamuni Buddha image that is believed to have been caste in the 1st century AD.  Only the men are allowed to walk up to the image and apply gold leaf that is now more than six inches thick on the statue. The women gather to worship in front of the Buddha.

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Young Boys in Costume

          Young Boys in Temple Ceremony,

         Mahamuni Paya (temple), Mandalay

These boys stand in line waiting for the procession to begin where they will be “king for the day”.  This Buddhist initiation ceremony occurs once a year and is a once in a lifetime opportunity for both girls and boys.  When we first asked a bystander about the procession where an adult holds an umbrella over the head of each child, he pointed to a girl and said she was “queen for the day”.  I put my hand to my heart to express the specialness of the occasion yet couldn’t stop my mind from the association to the TV show of my childhood era where women were crowned “queen for the day”.  What a different experience! 

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Young people in costume


              Preparing for Temple Procession, 

                                              Mahamuni Paya (temple), Mandalay

These young people pose for a group photo before they join the processional walk around the temple.  Unlike the children we met everywhere we went they held back their smiles for the seriousness of the event.  I am so thankful we stumbled on this ceremony and just wish I could say more about its meaning and origin. 

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Nun studying for exam

Nun Studying for Exam, Samaidodaya Recluse, Sagaing

This beautiful nun was the attendant for the head abbess of a monastery for approximately 250 women.  While we visited and had tea with the elder abbess the young woman studied for an important exam she would take the next day at a Buddhist university.  Her studies included English and she was able to share at bit of her knowledge of the challenging Buddhist philosophy she was preparing to be tested on.  

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Whenever you have friendliness to yourself, then friendliness to your world happens simultaneously.  As natural goodness begins to dawn in your heart, and a sense of dignity begins to occur.  The more you open yourself up to this process, the more you find that the world extends its hospitality for you to proclaim your dignity.

Cynthia Kneen, Awake Mind, Open Heart

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More inspirational words and photos at

Making a Buddha in Burma: Photos of Devotion

two women making a buddhaWomen polishing a Buddha

Three or four blocks of a street in the busy city of Mandalay are devoted to sculptors working on Buddha statues.  On the east side of the street men wield power tools carving out the basic shapes of Buddhas sitting, standing or lying down.  On the west side the women refine and polish the statues before they are distributed to temples or individuals who have purchased the sacred icons.  Men and women cross back and forth checking on the work and chat with their friends and family members.

Although I had permission to take photos I felt as if I was an intruder.  Did I understand their devotion and concentration?  The last thing they probably imagined was that our faith was mutual and that I hoped to share the beauty of their work with the world.  

Everyone one making a buddha is also working on the project of becoming a Buddha.  Below I share a passage of a conversation between Subhuti and the Buddha on what that might look like in our everyday lives.

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Four Burmese making Buddhas


Sculpting Many Buddhas

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Making a Buddha with power tools

      Power tools to shape a Buddha

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Finishing touches on a Buddha

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 Buddhas for sale in the Scupture Park

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Subhuti asked: “What does buddha mean?”

The Buddua answered: “Buddha is reality. One who thoroughly comprehends all the factors of existence is a buddha.”

Then Subhuti asked: “What does enlightenment mean?”

The Buddha replied: “Enlightenment is a way of saying that all things are seen in their intrinsic empty nature, their Suchness, their ungraspable wonder.  Names or words are merely incidental, but that state which sees no division, no duality, is enlightenment.”

Subhuti asked: “if one wants to know emptiness, how should one do it?”

“The one who wants to realize emptiness should adore reality, develop a skill in living in the world, and cultivate friends of the same mind.  Skill can only be developed in the presence of reality, not otherwise.  Endowed with skill, the person gives without the idea of a giver and lives in the realization that all the factors of existence have no ultimate substance.”

The Buddha, from the Prajnaparamita Sutra 

translation by Anne Bancroft, The Buddha Reader

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More inspirational words and photos at