Monday, 12 December 2011

Guan Yin

In the Oriental religions, the bodhisattva (enlightened one) I find the most attractive is Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy. Her full name Guanshiyin means “Observing the Cries of the World.” She is, therefore, ever presently compassionately aware of all the suffering that occurs on the Earth. Her male counter part is likely Avalokiteśvara. His name suggests the “One that looks upon the world with compassion.” There is a Buddhist story of Avalokiteśvara's efforts at trying to free people (sentient beings) from samsara (the cursed cycle of re-incarnation). The Buddha of Infinite Light (Amitābha Buddha), seeing Avalokiteśvara compassion and sincerity, gives him multiple heads to better observe the suffering of the people, and bestows him with a thousand arms and hands so that he can better reach out to all the suffering.

The video below depicts the Thousand Hands of Guan Yin. It is a riveting performance by a troupe of deaf and mute Chinese women. Looking at the grace and precision with which these “disabled” women depict Guan Yin, one might be tempted to think that there is indeed some divine compassion at work here.

I think what I like about the mythos of Guan Yin is that it captures a key aspect of how I understand God to be. God is ever compassionate, ever merciful. There is no suffering that God is not painfully aware of. When we suffer, God suffers. Not in a pantheistic sense, but very much in a Parent-child sense. When a loving parent sees her child suffer, she is personally hurt by her child's pain as well. In this festive season we are reminded of the Suffering God; the God who “became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood” (John 1:14, The Message); the God that came to live and suffer as we live and suffer; not a far off deity, but a God that is intimately acquainted with our predicaments.

The first time I heard of Guan Yin was in a song by Alanis Morissette called “Citizen of the Planet” in which she sings: “I'm a citizen of the planet / My president is Kwan Yin”. It is a song I associate with. As a traveller of the world and as an expatriate, I agree that my “Patriotism [has] expanded by callings from beyond”. I'm no longer bound by a narrow minded xenophobic patriotism, but by a more open view -- one that is hopefully driven by compassion.

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