Monday, January 4, 2010

The Compassionate Rebel

I promised more on Kuan Yin after my prior post and I aim to deliver.

This past weekend, I was walking the mall with my niece, who was sleeping like a little princess in her stroller, and I stopped by Teavana for a hot coconut, ginger tea...yum.

While I was waiting on the tea to steep, I walked around browsing the shelves, all the while knowing that I could never in a million years afford much in there except for the tea steeping for me.

I came to a shelf with a statue on it that literally stopped me where I stood and I was drawn into her.

I was about to find out why.

This female, sitting atop a rock, had her right foot propped on the rock with her knee bent and her right elbow sitting on the knee, hand hanging freely. Malas, draping her neck, adorned her bare chest. She emanated power, as if she had experienced every trial and tribulation, every joy and contentment and there she sat, no stranger to life's surprises and certainly not a bystander.

I checked the base of the statue, Kuan Yin.

Immediately, I googled her on my iPhone and found several websites that I browsed quickly, reading enough to know why I was drawn to her in the first place. Serendipity.

One of the first websites I found was this one and I LOVED the reference to her as the Compassionate Rebel.

Her name means "compassionate nature"--one who hears the cries of the world.

As a mother and a rather sensitive person, this resonates with me. My heart has always, for as long as I can remember, expanded to hold the sorrows of others. I long to help, I long to rescue and resolve suffering.

Her origins are Chinese and legend says that she was once a mortal woman. The following is a clip from the site above that offers insight into her magic for me:

It is said that in the past, there once lived a king under whose rule the people led a peaceful existence governed by Confucian ethics. He had three daughters; the eldest two having already married the grooms of their father's choice. The youngest offspring however, was unlike any other normal child. Firstly, when she was born, her body glowed with an almost unearthly light so much so that the palace seemed on fire. She was thus befittingly named Miao Shan (Wonderful Goodness).

Secondly, as she grew up, she wore only dirty clothes and never did display any urge to adorn herself. Further, she would subsist on only a single meal every day. In her conversations she would talk about the impermanence of material things and how human beings suffer because of their attachment to such objects. Naturally worried about their daughter's detached inclinations, her parents proposed that (as per the Confucian ideals of filial piety) she too marry a husband of their choice. To this she replied:

"I would never, for the sake of one lifetime of enjoyment, plunge into aeons of misery. I have pondered on this matter and deeply detest this earthly union (marriage)." Nevertheless, when her parents insisted, she agreed to comply with their wishes if only her future mate would save her from the following three misfortunes:

1). When people are young, their face is as fair as the jade-like moon, but when they grow old, the hair turns white and faces become wrinkled; whether walking, resting, sitting, or lying down, they are in every way worse off than when they were young.

2). Similarly, when our limbs are strong and vigorous one may walk as if flying through air, but when we suddenly becomes sick, we are confined to the bed.

3). A person may have a large group of relatives and be surrounded by his flesh and blood, but when death comes, even such close kin as father and son cannot take the person's place.
Finally she concluded: "If indeed my future husband can ensure my deliverance against these misfortunes, I will gladly marry him. Otherwise, I vow to remain a spinster all my life. People all over the world are mired in these kinds of suffering. If one desires to be free of them, the only option is to leave the secular world and enter the gate of Buddhism."

This narrative of course, is parallel to one of the most significant episodes from the life of the Buddha when he encountered the three maladies of physical existence: sickness, old age and death.

Her story continues--to sum it up, her father sends her to live with nuns, hoping they can change her heart but she's far too strong willed for that and after a period of time is scheduled for beheading. Fortunately, she escapes this fate.

Cut to her father, the king, who sent her away in the first place, resistant to his saucy daughter's courage and determination, he was living in terrible suffering with an incurable disease. A holy mendicant predicted that: "If some person would willingly consent to give his or her arms or eyes without the slightest anger or resentment, the elixir made of these potent ingredients will surely relieve you from your suffering."

The king was certain that there would never be found a person with that level of compassion in their heart...but...

there was.

When the king healed, he and his wife insisted on meeting the dear one compassionate enough to make such an immense sacrifice for he knelt before the mutilated being, he cast his eyes upwards and saw his daughter Miao Shan (Kuan Yin).

Kuan Yin...born of strong will, rebellion, determination and a passion to define her own life while never losing sight of those she shared this life with.

She stopped me in my tracks because she is me and I am are many women walking this earth.

Compassionate Rebels--we fight without weapons, we carry on without force and we love without limits.


The Misanthropic Yogini said...

Beautiful. What a lovely story.

Rachel said...

What a beautiful Story.

Many thanks for your comment on my blog. Hope to see you again :)

La Gitane said...

Very moving! Does it ever seem that in the modern world the simple act of compassion is rebellion?

How sad is that? Or, how joyful that people are still capable of the "random acts of kindness" that make us human. :)

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written! I too love Kuan Yin - one interesting historical anecdote to add is that Kuan Yin's origins are with the Buddhist bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara, who is the bodhisattva of compassion and who was portrayed as a male deity. When Buddhism traveled to China, Avalokiteśvara was absorbed into existing Chinese traditions and transformed in Kuan Yin, who often is shown with more female features, but often looks neither all female, or all male. Over time, Kuan Yin was portrayed more fully as female. So interesting! (and really art historically dorky of me to point out I realize!)


Thank you all...

La Gitane - yes. And what a profound question, one that might just frame the direction my life is taking right now. Sometimes I can fell myself trying to harden up a bit to match the emotional range of those around me because I allow myself to feel that my way of feeling for people is too soft or unrealistic if I want results.

Fortunately I always come back.

We need more love and understanding.

Aja - I don't think you're nerdy at all...I had read this somewhere else and found it very interesting. Thanks for your wise