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Buddhadharma : Spring 2016
60 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly spring 2 0 1 6 slightly adapted this pose to create a dazzling little seventeen-inch-high Nyoirin Kannon (ca 1693) out of wood with gold paint and gold leaf, lacquer, and crystal inlays. In the exhibition, this magnificent deity, dressed in a bodhisattva’s intricate pendant headdress and necklace, meditates with great grace and gentleness, its right arm so curved as to be almost boneless. Softly saddened by the trouble it sees, Kannon muses in the bodhisattva’s elevated realm, its cast-down eyes bearing witness, its glow- ing golden form invoking the beauty of buddhana- ture. Nyoirin Kannon has a thin black mustache and goatee, suggesting that gender ambiguity had become intolerable in a medieval Japan ruled by shoguns and warlords. The bodhisattva was a familiar figure at Nalanda, the great Buddhist monastery–university founded in northern India early in the Common Era. Books in Nalanda’s well-stocked libraries praised Avalokiteshvara as Lokanatha, “Lord of the Universe, he who protects the world.” Shadakshari Lokeshvara—poised between rows of text from the Ashtasahasrika Prajnaparamita (Perfection of Wis- dom) Sutra—glows in gem-like colors painted with opaque watercolor on a palm leaf. The exhibition displayed five similar palm-leaf pages from a book that migrated to Tibet before Nalanda was looted and burned by Turkish invaders in the twelfth century. In the first 1,500 years of the Common Era, oases such as Dunhuang in the Taklamakan desert west of China became cultural crossroads fre- quented by travelers of many civilizations: Tibetan, Indian, Uyghur, Tangut, Khotanese, Tocharian, Chi- nese, Caucasian. (Marco Polo was neither the first nor the only European to travel to China.) In these Kay larSON is an art critic, columnist, and editor. She is the author of Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists. Avalokiteshvara—paintings, thangkas, sculptures, manuscripts, mandalas, and souvenirs of pilgrim- age—from deep in the Buddhist world. Avalokiteshvara’s history goes way back, to the rise of the Mahayana. Early in the Common Era— as Mahayana texts such as the Lotus Sutra and the Flower Garland Sutra were arriving from the Silk Road—Chinese artists shaped Avalokiteshvara in culturally specific forms: sometimes male or female, but mostly genderless. A spectacular and much- reproduced Chinese Guanyin of the Southern Sea— owned by the Nelson–Atkins Museum of Art and viewable on YouTube—is a beautiful, androgynous bodhisattva with right arm touching right knee in a casually meditative mood. Some six hundred years after Guanyin of the Southern Sea, a Japanese artist in the Edo period (Opposite) White-Robed Guanyin Inscriber: Quanshi Zongle, 1318–1391 China, Ming dynasty (1368–1644) Late 14th century Hanging scroll; ink on paper Edward Elliott Family Collection, Purchase The Dillon Fund Gift, 1982 (1982.3.3) (Below) Shadakshari Lokeshvara Folio from a manuscript of the Ashtasahasrika Prajnaparamita (Perfection of Wisdom), early 12th century Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 2001 (2001.445a) AUthorportrAit|©yumikoizu