Monday, April 24, 2017

A Trans Bodhisaatva: Representations of Mercy


This week marks the one-year anniversary of my life-changing surgery. It is very interesting to relive memories, since it was this time of year that my whole world was turning.

Today, I see Spring budding all around me - especially as of yesterday, and I remember that I was in the hospital in New York City for two weeks, unable to see my baby, and unable to see Spring bloom. When I came out of the hospital, it was like I had escaped Vietnam, and everything was green with new hints of pinks, whites, and spring yellows from the transformation that the world had taken on, seemingly without me, while I underwent my own transformative experience indoors on the 15th floor of Memorial Sloan Kettering.

A few days ago, to commemorate my one year anniversary of my total colectomy last April 19, I found myself in Troy for a pleasant stroll on an overcast, cold day. There, in an antique store there, I "met," if you will, a bodhisattva I had never heard of before. The statue was in the corner, elevated on a green pillar, brilliantly colored. I fell in love instantly. I did not know who this person was, nor how significant in all of the Asian world he/she is. But research would prove her significance, and give great meaning to "meeting" her there in an antique store on an unintentionally special day in not-far-away-upcoming-old-industrial collar city NY. My appreciation of the statue led me to read up on her and appreciate her: Quan Yin is a basically bodhisattva who has transcended time and space to ease the suffering of those on earth - all because she heard their cries. Her Chinese name refers to this hearing - real hearing - of the anguished. And her decision to go back to earth instead of walking into the eternal bliss she had earned through her life. This is what makes her a bodhisattva. Her name is Quan Yin.

Quan Yin, as she first appeared to me visually
There are many reasons to admire her and relate to her, now that I know of her life journeys and have had my own recent ones. It was a bit like love at first sight. I did not take her home, but I wanted to (we would all be wise to not bring a first date home lol). The next morning at 4am I was unable to sleep and was so inspired reading about her that I got up to meditate before the sun rose. So many coincidences with my recent experience with grace and mercy: she brings compassion and healing to those who suffer illness and she brings baby boys to women. It is almost as if what she incarnates had already touched me this past year. She is known for her deep compassion for the suffering, and her mercy. When you think of mercy and grace, what comes to mind? The symbol of a woman who gave of herself to help those suffering is one that evokes characteristics that both reassure - and inspire. All over the world, we all have our symbols and our reminders of values like mercy and compassion for the suffering and the sick.


There happens to be an intriguing and informative summary of her in Wikipedia, where a list of her names is given, already giving a taste for how she has impacted the world over the centuries. Her name Guan Yin is from the Chinese, and she is known as these names (which are fun to look at):
Guanyin statue on Putuoshan Island, China

I観世音
관세음
กวนอิม
སྤྱན་རས་གཟིགས
ကွမ်ယင်မယ်တော်
Quán Thế Âm

In shortened form of the name, Guan Yin means One Who Sees and Hears the Cry from the Human World. Her Chinese name signifies, "She who always observes or pays attention to sounds," i.e., she who hears prayers.
Nitin Kumar has written a wonderful article
called Kuan Yin, Compassionate Rebel
The Sanskrit name of this bodhisattva is Avalokiteshvara. Brittanica has an entry on Avalokiteshvara (click here) that is fascinating, featuring many links for your rabbit hole reading, and is worth reading at length.

In a way, Quan Yin or Avalokiteshvara is transgender (or perhaps androgynous or without gender), which is cool and reminds us that suffering and mercy is universal and that the Atman itself transcends gender. Brittanica gives this summary of the transformation from the male to the feminine image, with interesting traces of masculinity still remaining in some representations centuries later in the form of a light moustache. Quan Yin or Avalokiteshvara is a "Trans Bodhisattva." Like love itself perhaps, she is transcultural, transtemporal, and transgender.


What symbols of mercy and compassion speak to you?