This weekend I spent a couple days at Mt. Shasta Abbey, a Buddhist monastery I’ve been visiting for several years now. This week the Abbey was celebrating Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Known as Quan Yin in China, Kanzeon in Japan, and other names elsewhere, she’s usually a beautiful woman, although in India, Avalokitesvara is a man. And sometimes s/he is both genders, but always s/he embodies unlimited compassion. Sometimes tamed dragons lie at her feet. Other times a child blooms from her palm. She pours water from a chalice and can be both fierce and gentle.
Avalokitesvara has a thousand arms with an eye in each palm. It’s a beautiful, symbolic representation of the marriage of wisdom and compassion which lies at the heart of Buddhism. And it’s a union that seems necessary to develop true compassion.
Buddhism teaches us to try to look at the world without delusion. It’s not easy to do. So much baggage has accumulated over the years. Conditioning. Self-delusion. Attachments. How do we know when we’re really seeing the world as it is and not our own storyline? It’s hard to strip that away, but through practice, little by little, things change.