Oct 17, 2009


We were on a jungle walk at Lata Berkoh in the Pahang National Park, Malaysia (in the 1980's), and came to a nearly dry river bed, narrowed down to a channel of powerful rushing water just too wide for anyone of us to jump across. So I told those students who could swim to push a fallen tree trunk across it so that we could walk across on it.

Once in the water, the trunk was immediately dragged by the currents into the deep pool downriver, along with all the four boys! Three of them swam back to safety, but the fourth was seen clinging to the trunk. The trunk rolled over a couple of times, and the boy disappeared into the water, both slowly moving farther away. Standing on the bank, I could only helplessly watch and invoke Guanyin while the other boys jumped in again to save him.

After the boy was brought to safety, I spoke to him, telling him how I had feared for his life. Then he told me a remarkable thing: he said that he actually felt very peaceful under the water, and did not feel like coming up again! He felt just like letting go of everything. Then a radiant lady in white appeared above him (in the water) with outstretched hands. And he found himself on the water surface again!
Taken From:Who Really is Guan Yin? (I can't succeed in linking to this article. If interested, do a google search and look for a pdf file of that name.)

Images of Avalokitesvara, then Kuan Yin, are often shown holding a rosary. It is taught that the beads represent all living beings and the turning of the beads symbolizes that Avalokitesvara (Kuan Yin) is leading them out of their state of misery and repeated rounds of rebirth into Nirvana.

Today Kuan Yin is worshipped by Taoists as well as Mahayana Buddhists--especially in Taiwan, Japan, Korea and once again in her homeland of China, where the practice of Buddhism had been suppressed by the Communists during the Cultural Revolution (1966-69). She is the protectress of women, sailors, merchants, craftsmen, and those under criminal prosecution, and is invoked particularly by those desiring progeny. Beloved as a mother figure and divine mediatrix who is very close to the daily affairs of her devotees, Kuan Yin's role as Buddhist Madonna has been compared to that of Mary, the mother of Jesus in the West.

There is an implicit trust in Kuan Yin's saving grace and healing powers. Many believe that even the simple recitation of her name will bring her instantly to the scene. One of the most famous texts associated with the bodhisattva, the ancient Lotus Sutra whose twenty-fifth chapter, dedicated to Kuan Yin, is known as the "Kuan Yin sutra," describes thirteen cases of impending disaster--from shipwreck to fire, imprisonment, robbers, demons, fatal poisons and karmic woes--in which the devotee will be rescued if his thoughts dwell on the power of Kuan Yin. The text is recited many times daily by those who wish to receive the benefits it promises.

Devotees also invoke the bodhisattva's power and merciful intercession with the mantra OM MANI PADME HUM-- "Hail to the jewel in the lotus!" or, as it has also been interpreted, "Hail to Avalokitesvara, who is the jewel in the heart of the lotus of the devotee's heart!" Throughout Tibet and Ladakh, Buddhists have inscribed OM MANI PADME HUM on flat prayer stones called "mani-stones" as votive offerings in praise of Avalokitesvara. Thousands of these stones have been used to build mani-walls that line the roads entering villages and monasteries.
It is believed that Kuan Yin frequently appears in the sky or on the waves to save those who call upon her when in danger. Personal stories can be heard in Taiwan, for instance, from those who report that during World War II when the United States bombed the Japanese-occupied Taiwan, she appeared in the sky as a young maiden, catching the bombs and covering them with her white garments so they would not explode.


Terence Weldon said...

(Placed earlier, lost in the ether)

This is fascinating, Jayden. I never knew there was an Eastern conterpart to the Christian Virgin, with so many clear parallels. This leads me again to question why there must always be a binary approach to truth: if Christianity is "true", then others must be false; reports of apparitions must be "true" or "false". But the reality is that some of these reports are clearly fanciful (think
Madonnas on burnt toast, or on damp stained walls; think ink blots).

But for others, no matter what the empirical truth, there is clearly spiritual truth in the experience of the visionaries and the pilgrims.

On a lighter note, I was intrigued to find that following the story from an earlier post, trying to find more about Guadalupe, I came across a "cyber-chapel" where you can submit your petitions to the Virgin of Guadaloupe by e-mail.

How on earth did people pray before the advent of modern technology?

colkoch said...

Terence, they used road side chapels. There are a lot of them out here in New Mexico, and a lot are to the Virgin of Guadalupe.

I too found this notion of the Bhuddist Mary totally new information. Mind boggling, even down to the beads.

William D. Lindsey said...

Wonderful post, Jayden. It shows us how we need to expand what we think we see when we see an image of the Virgin Mary--or the Lady in White.

Knowing that these are archetypal symbols doesn't in any detract from their transcendence (for me, at least). To the contrary, it enriches these symbols for me.

And shows us how much we (I) still need to learn about other religious traditions of the world.

Richard Demma said...

wow~ I feel like I just hit the jackpot. Thanks so much for these very positive comments, I'm really quite taken aback. I guess as an old Asian expatriate, I took Quan Yin for granted - but NOT the beads. That took me completely by surprise when I read it this morning. Just read Terence's response on QTC for even more remarkable connections. Wonderful stuff. And Colleen's info in a previous comment on The Virgin of Guadalupe was fascinating as well, I just haven't had the presence of mind to get back to it. This whole blooger experience is more than a mystery to me. I'm learning that one receives a 'hunch' about what to post, some of which turns out to have very surprising results.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but the only thought running through my mind after reading this was... You told your students to swim in powerful rushing water? You yourself stiod by and endangered them? Did you not plan to use a bridge ahead of planning the hike? I can't care less about the "spiritual" aspects of this without thinking 1st of how irresponsible. Thank the powers that be for divinity's manifestations! That poor student could have died and his death be 100% the fault of the "Brilliant" person telling him to swim in dangerous waters to move a hunk of most likely dead/rotting/unsafe tree trunk into quickly moving water. Oh my! Who would have guessed it would float away? Wood+ Rapid Water+ Rotten Trunk= Disaster. Hope that was a learning experience for everyone.

Richard Demma said...

I was not the teacher in question. This is a passage taken from the book, "Kuan Yin: Compassionate Savioress." Perhaps now you might be able to view the passage and it's significance a a little bit more dispassionately.