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Buddhadharma : Spring 2016
I’M SURELY NOT THE ONLY ONE first attracted to Buddhism Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, has undergone many transformations over the centuries, adopting new qualities, names, and even a different gender. kay larson explores the bodhisattva’s journey through time and culture. Enlightened compassion has a face, in Buddhist art, and a Sanskrit name: Avalokiteshvara. This great cosmic being sits in meditation, with lowered eyelids, looking inward into mind and downward to witness the lamentations of the world. Avalok- iteshvara responds to an infinitude of circumstances by acquiring new qualities, putting on new robes, and accepting new names: Guanyin in China, Kan- non in Japan, Karunamaya in Nepal, Lokesvara and Chenrezig in Tibet. The bodhisattva of compassion shows us how to model new ways of acting that enable us to skillfully help other beings. The many forms of the bodhisattva help us visualize aspects of mind, such as enlightenment, which are conveyed through extraordinary beauty. In a finely tuned exhibition devoted exclusively to Avalokiteshvara, curator Karen Lucic, a profes- sor of art and practicing Buddhist, recently looked at the great range of the bodhisattva’s activity and expression in time and space to tell an art-histor- ical story as well as a Buddhist one. Embodying Compassion in Buddhist Art: Image, Pilgrim- age, Practice assembled diverse representations of (Opposite) Nyoirin Kannon Edo period (1615–1868) Japan, dated 1693. Wood with gold, gold leaf, lacquer, and crystal inlay Rogers Fund, 1956 (56.39) The Changing Face of Compassion spring 2 0 1 6 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 59 by hearing a whispered song in an artwork. In 1978, The Snow Leopard, Peter Matthiessen’s searchingly honest tale of his pilgrimage into the Himalayas, left me longing for a clarity hard to name. Later, in the Japanese Galleries at the Met- ropolitan Museum of Art in New York, I was stunned by the Dainichi Nyorai, the Heian-period (794–1185) Supreme Buddha of the Cosmos, whose calm wooden form, subtly shimmering with gold leaf, spoke of a perfect heart of immaculate serenity and love. The Dainichi sits in its own temple enclosure in the museum, and millions of visitors walk by it. Many see it; some really see it. “Liberation through seeing” can send a shock wave to the heart, like clutching a candle at the business end. Padmasam- bhava, by legend, composed instructions on six types of liberation: hearing, seeing, wearing, remem- bering, tasting, touching. In the bardo, hearing can remind us of our true nature. In the form world, seeing can send a flash of enlightenment directly to the liminal mind. (0ppoSitE)photo:©themetropolitanmuseumoFart,neWyork,ny,u.s.a.;source:artresource,ny