My own first strong awareness of Kwan Yin in the natural world, came on a beach on an island in the South China Sea. The tiny island is called Putuo Shan, or holy mountain, and is dedicated to Kwan Yin. It has been a pilgrimage site for hundreds of years, a place where people come to visit the many temples and sea caves, hoping to receive the bodhisattva’s blessing and even to have a vision of her.
With a Chinese American friend who is devoted to Kwan Yin, I journeyed to this distant site. We hoped to feel Kwan Yin’s presence strongly in a way that was not possible in the West. After all, China is Kwan Yin’s first home, and she must be rooted powerfully there, we thought. We even imagined, in typical pilgrim fashion, that she would show herself to us in a vision. Now I wonder whether my urgency to come to this island had been fueled by an unconscious need to prepare for what awaited me back in the United States. I could not have known then that in a few months I would be diagnosed with third-stage cancer, undergo major surgery and begin a long, debilitating course of chemotherapy, or that I would draw upon my experience on Putuo Shan to meet the daily emergency of serious illness.
After six days of visiting the sites on the humid hills of the little island, I was frustrated. My friend and I were stampeded at every temple by large groups of Asian tourists, often led by a guide shouting through a bullhorn. Our hope of meditating in the temples with the magnificent Kwan Yin statues was dashed when we found that the temples were run like museums, with ropes preventing us from entering and monk-guards watching to make sure we did not trespass. Most of the tourists had come to sunbathe on the long flat beaches, swim in the sea, and eat in the fish restaurants along the shore; only a few sincere pilgrims joined us in offering incense at the temples.
I wanted a closer touch with Kwan Yin, some sign that she really did reside here on her “holy mountain.” So I awoke at 5:30 a.m. in our hotel room and, leaving my friend asleep, I went out to walk to the beach, intuiting that it would be at the water’s edge that I would find her.
The beach swept down the long curve of a bay, its sand barely touched by new light from the eastern horizon, its brownish surf stirred by restless waves. Breathing deeply of the sea air, I went down to the sand, cool under my bare feet, and started my hike all the way to the end of the beach. There I found a shelf of rock that was backed by bushes, so that when the sun rose high in the sky I would be shaded from its violence. I sat down, noting how lovely was the sweep of pale-sand beach and sky filling with dawn light. I looked up the beach to Chaoyin Cave, the first place we had visited on the island, and saw that the few people already out there were far away. I would be alone here for a long time. Finding a flat place on the rock, I sat down cross-legged, closed my eyes, and settled inward.
Just to make sure she knew I was there, I intoned the words “Namo Guan Shih Yin Pusa.” “I call upon you, Kwan Yin Bodhisattva” or “I take refuge in you, Kwan Yin Bodhisattva.” I had learned this chant at a Chinese monastery in California; now it felt right to bring it back to its first home and use it to announce my presence here. Namo Guan Shih Yin Pusa—“Hey Kwan Yin, here I am!” Then I fell silent.
Cicadas buzzed loudly in the bushes behind me; to my left the waves murmured as they pushed up onto the sand. The breeze gently touched me, keeping me cool. Gradually I began to experience each of these as the voice and presence of Kwan Yin. And the rock, and the big brown bugs skittering about. And me, my own body/mind process sitting here, all expressed Kwan Yin. My awareness of her manifested in an utterly physical way—a knowledge felt in the cells, in the blood and lymph—and it was deeply reassuring. This body that unbeknownst to me carried a deadly cancer was telling me, Yes, she will hear your cry. Yes, she inhabits every part of you, even the malignant cells in your gut.
The few people down the beach kept their distance. Now and then I opened my eyes to slap the rock and startle the big bugs away, preventing them from crawling into my bag or up my pantlegs. Very shy, they skittered off. I settled fully into the elements—ocean, rock, breeze, heat of sun—knowing them to be Kwan Yin, that is to say, spirit inherent in all the elements and their motion. I stayed a long time, sitting, until the sun rode its way up the sky and devoured the protective shade of the shrub behind me.
When I made my way back to the hotel room, I found Kwan Yin in the tree outside in the courtyard, in a bird chirping, flowing reflections of light from the surface of the pool up onto the beams of the hotel; the table cluttered with chopsticks, small red biscuit package, plastic bag of almonds; my hand holding the pen and moving across the pale lavender page of my journal; the ticking of the vent through which cool air flowed into the room. My thoughts anchored me in the great web of consciousness that is China, the world; my body was comfortable for the moment, at ease, container for the thread of my human awareness. All this spoke Kwan Yin.
Referred to as the “Celestial Bodhisattva of Compassion,” the Asian Goddess Kwan Yin manifests herself to those in need around the world in myriad forms. Sometimes encountered in the peacefulness of nature, other times seen as a benevolent caregiver, Kwan Yin is vast, yet readily accessible to each and every one of us whether we are experiencing our darkest moment or realizing a rare twinkling of transcendence.
The gorgeous excerpt above is from She Appears! Encounters with Kwan Yin, Goddess of Compassion by Sandy Boucher. Throughout the book, powerful encounters with Kwan Yin are described in essays, poems, stories, and art work from a wide range of contributors. With each page turned, you will find yourself recognizing how Kwan Yin’s wise, compassionate energy has been impacting you all along…and you will be inspired to further look for her in places you have previously discounted, including your own nature.
Sandy is also teaching a guided self-paced course on Mystery School of the Goddess – Kwan Yin Revealed: Embodying and Becoming the Goddess of Compassion
About Sandy Boucher:
Sandy Boucher, writer/teacher/consultant, participated wholeheartedly in the Women’s Liberation and antinuclear movements. Twenty-five years ago she entered upon a Buddhist path and soon became a spokesperson for Buddhist women in America, as well as a teacher and meditation retreat leader. In 2006, she was named an “Outstanding Woman in Buddhism” at the United Nations in Bangkok, Thailand.
Author of nine books and recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in Literature, she earned a Masters degree in the History and Phenomenology of Religion at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. She has traveled widely in Asia, and spent a period as a Buddhist nun in Sri Lanka. She has been pursuing her Vipassana meditation practice for 25 years, and has been teaching writing and meditation almost as long. She was a founding editor for Persimmon Tree, an online magazine on the arts by women over sixty. Her most recent book is She Appears: Encounters with Kwan Yin, Goddess of Compassion .
Having lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for four decades, Sandy offers her expertise and wisdom in retreats and private consultations.
Connect with Sandy via email firstname.lastname@example.org