Quotes on Courage: Buddhist Women Ride the Dragon

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To live the full life one must have the courage to bear the responsibility of the needs of others – one must want to bear this responsibility.

Aung San Suu Kyi

 

It’s not that hard to be enlightened!  Just change your patterns!  All it takes is courage!

Khandro Rinpoche

 

We aspire to spend our lives training in the loving-kindness and courage that it takes to receive whatever appears – sickness, health, poverty, wealth, sorrow, and joy.  We welcome and get to know them all.

Pema Chodron

When I was researching quotes to put in my book, The Female Buddha: Discovering the Heart of Liberation and Love, I copied down many possible quotes before deciding which ones to pair with photos of Guanyin and women at temple sites in Asia.  Today I searched the collection for the word courage and found so many quotes referencing this trait!

Above are a few of my favorite quotes from women I admire for their courage to speak out and not always say what we want to hear.

This photo from my travels in Korea depicts Guanyin riding the dragon over the waves of the ocean; symbolic of the courage it takes to trust one’s basic nature of compassion and equanimity.  When our emotions are like tempestuous waves it is often difficult to remember we can stay calm in the storm.

Guanyin is often depicted calmly riding on the back of an animal.  It could be a dragon, carp, horse, lion or immense turtle.  She reminds us that we are one with the natural world and the implication that we can trust our power and strength needed to fuel courage.

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Riding the Tiger: At one with our demons

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Normally we empower our demons by believing they are real and strong in themselves and have the power to destroy us.  As we fight against them, they get stronger.  But when we acknowledge them by discovering what they really need, and nurture them, our demons release their hold, and we find that they actually do not have power over us.  By nurturing the shadow elements of our being with infinite generosity, we can access the state of luminous awareness and undermine ego.  By feeding the demons, we resolve conflict and duality, finding our way to unity.

Lama Tsultrim Allione

Getting friendly with powerful instinctive forces is easier said than done.  I took the photo above during the Lotus Lantern Parade during the festival of the Buddha’s birthday in Seoul.  I haven’t found the exact story it corresponds to as there are numerous myths about befriending tigers in Korea.  I trust its symbolic message is universally vital.

Lama Tsultrim’s quote speaks to befriending “demons”, those aspects of ourselves and our world that frighten us.  The girl riding the tiger is at ease with a beast we normally consider terrifying.  She has learned to work with powerful energies and align herself with  natural forces as she moves in the world.

We can learn with the innocence of a child to trust our “wild” nature.  I imagine the young girl represents feminine intuition – something available to both men and women.  As an aspect of our Buddha-nature, it is something we are born with and can be revealed as we re-train in our natural goodness…demons and all!

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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/  

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

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

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

Photographing Nuns Making History in Thailand

Venerable Dhammananda

Brave or rude?  I learned from an Italian to get up close and uncomfortable for a really good photo of a monk or nun.  Massimo Bassano’s stunning shots for National Geographic are a testament to his fearless approach.

In Italy I also learned to not hesitate crossing a busy street.  Boldness counts in photography as well.  She who waits gets stuck in traffic or misses the perfect light before the Bhikkhuni (nun) lowers her gaze.

An hour west of Bangkok, at the Songdhammakalyani Monastery, I captured shots of the sisters raking leaves, felling dead trees and sitting quietly in meditation.  While some of the younger ones acted camera shy, the older nuns were content to ignore my intrusions.

Even with permission to shoot the stillness of contemplative practice or chanting I needed to be more sensitive to their needs for concentration.  A few clicks of the shutter may have been fine.  My zealous barrage was too much.

As the youngest daughter in my family the sweet smile and fade into the woodwork was my strategic coping style.  As a photographer and woman of words it is a bane.

One of the principle reasons I’ve sought out Venerable Dhammananda and her order of nuns is their big, bold assertion living as Bhikkhunis in a country where it’s considered illegal to be ordained as a woman in the Buddhist Theravada tradition.

Despite the extreme misogyny of the times, the Buddha accepted women into the religious community of devoted practitioners over 2500 years ago.  Today the Theravada order in Thailand excludes women as ordained nuns on questionable technicalities.  Buddha’s understanding and nurturance of women’s equal spiritual capacity became lost in centuries of entrenched male autocratic rule.

Venerable Dhammananda is secure in her understanding of the Buddhist faith and women’s necessary leadership role in practicing and teaching the truth of the path.  Her confidence is followed by a rain of blessings to rebuild the women’s monastic tradition in Thailand from the ground up.

My confidence in sharing the beauty of their work fuels the bravery I need to get in there like a true photojournalist.  The delicacy of how much and when is a practice of mindfulness in staying ever vigilant to the changing needs of the moment.

morning alms gathering

On the last morning of my stay I was honored to accompany the Bhikkhunis gathering alms as they solemnly walked in the dawning light of the morning.

In Laos I was touched by this ancient practice while photographing local men and women offering rice into the bowls of monks.  This time I walked with the sisters and felt an exquisite tenderness in the deep spiritual exchange between lay and monastic practitioners.

The tasks of adjusting my camera settings in the increasing light of the morning kept the welling tears in my eyes from dripping on the equipment.  The job to stay focused is a crucial practice.  The world needs to witness the contributions these women offer the world.

woman offering alms to nuns

The alms round are still a significant tradition in several Asian countries.  The nuns also organize social welfare in the community and provide learning opportunities for an increasing number of spiritually aspiring women from around the world.

My own training in Zen and Tibetan Buddhist practice helps me appreciate the joy of capturing an ephemeral moment with the click of the camera.  Many nuns of Japan and China also captured the delight of the passing moment in the contemplative art of poetry.

So too, the camera frames the sweet and sad moment as it rises and passes away.  I’m trained as a Buddhist practitioner to notice and let go.  The ordinary moment appears so extraordinary and once again ordinary.  Then it’s gone!

Providence and pluck have placed me in situations such as my brief three-day stay at the only women’s monastery in Thailand.  In Buddhism we understand these factors as causes and conditions meeting to create a vivid opportunity.

I am grateful for the ripened conditions to encounter and record women making history at the leading edge of Buddhist culture today.  Their motive mirrors my own: to reach fearlessly toward liberation with humility and compassion.  I am happy to learn as I stumble along.

nuns offering work service

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

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.