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Buddhadharma : Spring 2016
62 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly spring 2 0 1 6 hard-pressed environments, Buddhism was an agent of change. Books and images, as well as Buddhist practices from the monastery–universities, broke through the isolation and insularity of tiny desert communities. The world was clearly bigger than anyone realized. In turn, the Buddha’s teachings on emptiness were evolving in these conditions of intensive practice. Master meditators realized that shunyata (emptiness), so dark to the human mind, is actually populated with subtle energies of enlightenment, wisdom, and compassion—buddha fields filled with sublime beings. The Prajnaparamita Sutra under- went spiritual surgery and became the Heart Sutra. In the first scene of this short but majestic sutra, Avalokiteshvara presents the pith teachings of shu- nyata to the Buddha’s disciple Shariputra. The pres- ence of Avalokiteshvara tempers the Heart Sutra’s overwhelming invocation—“form is exactly empti- ness, emptiness exactly form”—with the suggestion that empty-to-the-mind vastness is filled with the immense compassion of the bodhisattvas. The story of Buddhist art is thus a sophisticated travelogue—much less neat and linear than in Western art, much more conditional and chaotic. As Guanyin evolved during the first millennium in China, the bodhisattva began to exhibit traditional female traits such as kindness and thoughtfulness. A fourteenth-century Chinese ink painting describes her as a ghostly, white, meltingly contemplative figure whose trailing robes drape over a mountain ledge. Gazing at the moon, Guanyin—cat-like and nearly formless in diaphanous garments—seems to The many forms of the bodhisattva help us visualize aspects of mind, such as enlightenment, which are conveyed through extraordinary beauty.