The eyes and arms of compassion


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.

Thoughts, for instance. Among other things, we’re to have right action, right speech and right thoughts. Right action and right speech were easy for me to grasp as concepts–although reining in my tongue is something I have to constantly strive for, but I used to think what harm do thoughts do? No one knows what I’m thinking, but me. Yet most of the pain I’ve felt in my life has been the result of my own thinking.  Unless I learn to control my thoughts from negative to positive, unless I learn to look beyond my own judgements, I’m not only in for even more pain, but can never develop either true wisdom or compassion, because they both need clear sight and clear thinking to be real or to go very deep.Of all the forms of compassion, the one I find most difficult is compassion for myself.



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