Kannon Bodhisattva at Jōkōji Temple near Nagoya, Japan
The Kannon Buddha, the Dalai Lama and Yoda. Similar views all.
Being invited to a special showing of an historical treasure is an honor.
The 500 year old Kannon Buddha is open for viewing at Jōkōji only once every 12 years. I didn’t want to pass up this opportunity. But, to be truthful, I did not think that I would learn much from this statute hidden in a little temple in a forgotten corner of Japan. I was wrong.
Brought to Japan from India, through China and Korea, the story of the Kannon Buddha was introduced to Japan in the 6th century. Though originally depicted as a male, Kannon in later years was given a gentler face and is dressed in the flowing gowns of a woman. She has become the symbol of the divine mother or the divine feminine.
Kannon is a Bodhisattva (Japanese-Bosatsu). This means that though she has achieved enlightenment, she has decided to wait for full ‘Buddhahood‘ until everyone else in the world can be saved. Though she will be released from suffering at a later date, she has vowed to remain on earth in different reincarnations until all living things reach enlightenment.
I love this idea of the Bosatsu! To be so unselfish to delay your own Buddhahood until everyone else reaches enlightenment. This is the core of my ideal of motherhood, of womanhood, of mankind. Life is not a ‘zero-sum’ game.’ There are no winners and no losers. Life is a journey where all must be valued, all treated with compassion, all find peace and enlightenment.
Oh, and what about those 11 heads? Kannon is the Juichimen Kannon. Juichi [十一」means eleven and men 「面」refers to face or facet.
There are different explanation for the eleven heads. On a simpler level, those heads spread kindness in all directions. Or do the faces see the suffering in the world, and hope to give relief? On a more philosophical level, the 10 heads represent the 10 stages of the path to Bodhisattva needed to reach enlightenment. The 11th head represents Buddhahood. I guess I will have to get back to you on that.
It should be no surprise that the Dalai Lama is believed by the Tibetans to be a reincarnation of the Kannon Budhisattva. Kannon represents compassion and the Dalai Lama’s words, though not scholarly or particularly eloquente, call for mankind to live in kindness, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” “This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.’
I saw the Dalai Lama 12 years ago. I was one of fifty people standing in the early summer chill of the Town Hall Square (Raekoja plats) in Tallinn, Estonia. I listened to his soft voice and his words dotted with laughter. Dressed in long orange robes in contrast to the dour plaza, he reminded me of a real live Yoda, speaking simple words of wisdom. “Kind, you must be.” (That’s Yoda pretending to be the Dalai Lama.)
A few minutes before seeing the Dalai Lama, I was at the Estonian Parliament meeting with Tunne Kelam, who now represents Estonia in the European Parliament. Tunne Kelam was an important Estonian dissident during Soviet occupation. During our numerous meetings, Tunne always made me feel that he had all the time in the world just to sit and chat with me. After about an hour of conversation, I asked Tunne, “How are we doing for time today?” He check his watch and laughed, “Maybe we should quit in 10 minutes, I don’t want to keep the Dalai Lama waiting.”
Tunne Kelam and Dalai Lama
Tunne is an old friend of the Dalai Lama. For decades the Tibetan leader and the Estonian dissident have talked about how to end foreign occupation of their homes. Estonia now celebrates 21 years of freedom.
Perhaps this relationship between Estonia and Tibet is analogous to the Bosatsu ushering others into paradise, yet, staying behind to help others reach enlightenment. Is Tibet and the Dalai Lama helping the rest of us and our nations reach freedom from suffering and a path to enlightenment? And Tibet…