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Lions Roar : March 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2012 77 has appeared to her for years in dreams and visualizations. She’s aware of the underlying paradox: If the bodhisattva of compassion can take any form, in any place and time, to aid those who call on her, why come all the way to China to look for her? “I could come up with a logical explanation that I didn’t need to come here,” she says. “I could have found Guan Yin at home or not found her at home. But this isn’t a logical equation—this is my life.” Here’s a pilgrim’s tale from a privileged Western perspec- tive: Something calls from far away, and the pilgrim takes for granted the importance of the quest (“this is my life”) and has the resources to make the journey. Once, when she’s laughing in public, a Chinese woman asks her what’s so funny. “My life,” she replies. “You are lucky,” the other woman says, “many people do not have very funny lives.” Crashing into the reality of mod- ern China, Truman is candid about the contradictions: she visits sacred sites and wishes she didn’t have to share the experience with groups of Chinese tourists, who keep her up all night in the guesthouses with their smoking and card playing. “What am I doing looking for an image in the People’s Republic of China and then getting upset by reality?” she asks. The book is strung on a series of questions like this, which evolve with time and experience. The lone adventurer initially so often annoyed with what she finds eventually has a dream intimating how much more there is to Guan Yin than her personal experience: SEARCHING FOR GUAN YIN By Sarah E. Truman White Pine Press 2011; 220 pp., $16 (paper) BRINGING ZEN HOME The Healing Heart of Japanese Women’s Rituals By Paula Arai University of Hawaii Press 2011; 261 pp., $52 (cloth) REVIEWED BY JOAN SUTHERLAND THE BODHISATTVA of compassion, known as Guan Yin in China and Kannon or Kanzeon in Japan, is a hugely popu- lar figure around the world, and not only among Buddhists. Though she’s had a number of gender transformations, appear- ing as feminine, masculine, and androgynous, it’s the feminine embodiment of mercy that has inspired the most heartfelt devo- tion, particularly from women. Two recent books show what dif- ferent forms that devotion can take. The Mahayana tradition speaks of two complementary atti- tudes we can adopt in our lives: host and guest. Pilgrims, for example, take up the way of the guest, traveling from place to place and receiving what happens as teachings; they are some- times called “clouds-and-water” because they are always moving, always changing. The teachers they visit sit in the position of hosts, welcoming all; in China, they often have the word “mountain” in their names, indicating steadfastness. In the old stories, it’s in the meeting of host and guest that awakening often blooms—when someone sees the place where abiding nowhere like clouds and water and abiding deeply like a mountain are the same. In her memoir Searching for Guan Yin, Sarah Truman rep- resents herself as the archetypal guest. Since her childhood in Toronto, she has felt a strong connection to China and Guan Yin, and a revelation during meditation prompts her to go to China to see for herself “what Guan Yin is and is not and what China is and is not.” She spends two years there, working as an editor and teacher in Nanjing, and making pilgrimages to places around China associated with the bodhisattva. Truman is searching for the particular image in which Guan Yin Reviews JOAN SUTHERLAND is a Zen koan teacher and the founder of Awakened Life in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She Who Hears the Cries of the World PHOTOBYLIZAMATTHEWS