A Deep Bow of Thanksgiving

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When we extend attention and appreciation toward our environment and other people, our experience of joy gets even bigger.                                                 Pema Chodron

photo: D. Bowman, Jogyesa Temple, Korea

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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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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

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.

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.