Maria-Kannon: A Focal Point for Buddhist
© Jason Bartashius
proclaimed in his essay, "The Woman Clothed with the Sun" that a certain
power existed in the fact that we know so little of the Virgin Mary. Merton saw
Mary's non-divinity as virtuous in itself and realized that her humility and "hiddenness"
offered a path to wisdom. Since she lacks, in the New Testament, a definitive
biography or character, she is able to symbolize the merits of the one who is
empty. Merton wrote that by "having nothing of her own, retaining nothing
of a "self" that could glory in anything for her own sake, she placed
no obstacle to the mercy of God and in no way resisted His love and His will.
Hence she received more from him than any other saint."
At this point
I am reminded of sunyata, the Buddhist notion of emptiness, and of the Bodhisattva
ideal. Through self-emptying and becoming liberated from the ego, one achieves
the archetype Bodhisattva status, becomes a teacher, a model, and even a savior
or savioress to those who reside in sorrow and ignorance. In this sense the Bodhisattva
ideal is very similar to that of the "hidden" and mysterious Virgin
Mary. Neither can be solidified by form and both are empowered by their emptied
The Bodhisattva of Compassion, Kuan Yin, "The Divine Who Hears
the Cries of the World" reaching out with a thousand arms to help everyone
is probably the best example of an active feminine deity in Buddhism. Mary, on
the other hand, is often interpreted to be the passive, obedient follower of Christ.
If one were to place the two icons side by side, the thousand-armed deity and
the veiled Mother, it would be like looking at two opposites. The two become much
closer, however, when taking into account Merton's view of the power in Mary's
hidden nature and the reality that six million people visit Lourdes each year,
just one of the many pilgrimage sites dedicated to her.
This essay will attempt
to outline the similarities of these two beings, Mary and Kuan Yin, by examining
instances in which Christianity and Buddhism have interacted utilizing these two
icons. In chronological order it will cover historic meeting points in China,
Japan, Vietnam and America. For the sake of clarity, it should be noted that the
Bodhisattva of Compassion is known throughout Asia by different names. The focus
will be on certain feminine forms of this deity: the Chinese Kuan Yin, the Japanese
Kannon, and the Vietnamese Quam Am. All of these names refer to the same deity.
In addition, Tara, the Tibetan Goddess, who is believed to have been born from
a tear drop that fell from the bodhisattva's eye, will also appear when examining
China Galland's discoveries of connections between the Tibetan goddess and the
Black Madonna. The intention of this essay, then, is to show how these images
provide a diverse history of interactions between religious communities, in different
cases in which religious concepts were shared, transformed, subverted, or accommodated.
The Creation of the Feminine Kuan Yin
When first imported into China,
the Bodhisattva of Compassion was portrayed as a masculine figure called Avalokitesvara.
However, the Chinese feminized the Bodhisattva and named her Kuan Yin. The process
of the gender change of Kuan Yin developed throughout the 10 th and 11 th centuries.
Due to limited evidence, however, scholars cannot be certain of the exact time,
location or even the reason for this change. It has been argued that the conversion
was the result of a transfusion of different religions present on the Silk Road.
It has also been suggested that it is a conflation of an indigenous deity with
the Buddhist bodhisattva.
Throughout history China tended to view itself as
a superior society with a superior culture and frequently denounced anything foreign
as barbarian. Several Tang rulers were an exception to this attitude and were
surprisingly open to foreign ideas with an eccentric taste for the exotic. That
period, therefore, displayed an unusual amount of tolerance towards foreign religions
which were able to practice and intermingle freely with their Chinese counterparts.
In 635 A.D a delegation of Nestorian missionaries led by a bishop named Aluoben
were officially received by the imperial court in the Tang capital of Chang-an.
Emperor Taizong, who "possessed a charisma and personal magnetism attractive
to the finest minds of his time," met Aluoben in the Imperial Library. It
was there that missionaries began to translate their scriptures into Chinese.
Recovered relics provide evidence that the missionaries were influenced by the
Chinese traditions of Buddhism and Taoism. Such is the case with the eight Christian
scrolls that have come to be known as the Jesus Sutras, which were discovered
in a cave at Dunhuang that was unearthed in the late nineteenth century. The sutras
fuse Buddhist, Christian and Taoist teachings together. Christian original sin
is explained in the sutras to have occurred, or rather committed, in "the
garden of seed and fruit bearing trees." This imagery of the Garden of Eden
with "seed and fruit bearing trees" has been said to allude to the Buddhist
teaching of karma to remind the audience that man was responsible for the Christian
fall. Another example of the blend of religious concepts is found in the presentation
in the scrolls of Jesus, who rescues beings from samsara, the Buddhist cycle of
In addition to the sutras a ten foot stone monument from the eighth
century inscribed with teachings and records of the missionaries was discovered
in Xian in 1625. The monument is now on display in Xian at the Forest of Stone
Steles Museum. At the head of the monument is a Christian cross, a Taoist cloud
symbol and the Buddhist lotus.
Martin Palmer, a scholar of Chinese religions,
rediscovered in 1998 a pagoda that the Nestorians had once used, possibly as a
library, called the Da Qin Pagoda. The pagoda, located near Lou Guan Tai, is the
only remaining building of a Nestorian monastery that had been built during the
Tang Dynasty. Inside the pagoda are the remains of what is believed to be the
nativity scene, which shows that the image of Mary was present in the northwest
region of China at approximately the same time that Kuan Yin began to be initially
portrayed in art as a female figure. Palmer contends that Mary did in all probability
have an influence on the feminization process of Kuan Yin. There is no concrete
proof but this is an interesting proposition.
Maria-Kannon A Guise for Japan's
Another instance in which the images of Mary and the feminine
Bodhisattva merged can be seen in a Japanese context. Upon Saint Francis Xavier's
arrival to Japan in 1549, Yajiro, Xavier's companion and translator, visited a
local daimyo, Shimazu Takahisa, who governed over Satsuma. At Takahisa's castle,
Yajiro presented an image of the Virgin Mary painted on a piece of wood. Takahisa's
mother saw the image and asked for a copy of it. This attraction could have possibly
assisted Xavier and Yajiro in establishing relations and gaining access to the
castle. They succeeded in converting many of the occupants of the castle. Some
scholars believe the image of the Virgin may have been mistaken for Kannon (the
Japanese form of Kuan Yin) and was therefore an acceptable icon. In actuality,
Takahisa's mother and the other courtiers would have probably been stunned to
see a foreigner carrying an image of the Japanese bodhisattva. Nonetheless, they
may have been all the more welcoming to such a foreigner, simply because they
would have believed they shared devotion to the same deity.
In 1587, only thirty
eight years after Xavier reached Japan, edicts that banned Christianity began
to be issued. Initially not enforced, laws prohibiting the foreign religion continued
throughout the 1630s. To aid the movement of exterminating Christianity all Japanese
families were ordered in 1659 to register into Buddhist parishes. As a result,
Japanese Christians went into hiding and pretended to be Buddhist laypeople. They
asked monks from the local Buddhist temples to conduct funeral services for their
deceased. Christian icons were often hidden inside Buddhist statues. Amongst the
statues being used for this, Kannon perhaps offered the best disguise. Her likeness
to the Virgin Mary was fitting for the hidden Christians who could use the statue
as an object for veneration. Their devotion to Mary would appear to any outsider
as an act of worship towards the Buddhist Kannon. In the Nagasaki area, Kannon
images were made specifically for this purpose. The archetype in disguise became
known amongst the Christians as Maria-Kannon. Images of the bodhisattva with a
child, such as Koyasu Kannon and Chinese porcelain statues of Kuan Yin, offered
a strong resemblance to Mary with the infant Jesus and thus became popular models
for Maria-Kannon. In other examples, Maria-Kannon was a statue of the bodhisattva
with a cross placed on it.
Matteo Ricci's Challenge to the Buddhist Faith
interaction of Matteo Ricci and Chinese Buddhists presents another historic meeting
point between Mary and Kuan Yin in China throughout the 16 th to early 18 th century.
Images of Mary had been widely disseminated by the Jesuit missionaries. The reason
for Mary's widespread use was that the crucifixion in art seemed to be too gruesome
for many Chinese to bear. They either had not fully grasped the nature of Christ's
death or simply did not find a crucified figure to be an appropriate representation
of God. Jonathan D. Spence illustrates the Chinese emotions towards the crucified
Christ by recounting one occasion in which a crucifix Ricci carried was discovered
by a eunuch, who immediately feared that it was an icon of 'black magic' and had
soldiers search Ricci for other symbols. At another time, Chinese acquaintances
warned Ricci it was unwise to carry such objects. Thus, the missionaries concluded
that the image of Mary was a more appropriate Christian symbol than the crucifix
Ricci employed Jesuit priests to paint images of Mary or carve her
figure on stone. Wherever missionaries in the south traveled to teach they carried
her image. Spence even points out the important role she played for Chinese converts:
"Slowly the Chinese converts began to make their own printed images of the
Virgin, which they stamped on sheets of colored paper and hung outside their door
at the New Year's festival and on other religious or festive occasions. Others
began to invoke the Virgin's name in the exorcism of evil spirits."Marian
solidarities which were centered on charity were founded.At times Mary was even
mistaken to be the Christian God in China.
Since Buddhism was, in the eyes
of the missionaries, a rival religion, a contentious attitude existed that was
prevalent in both the Christian missionaries and the Chinese converts. Ricci engaged
in religious debates with Buddhist scholars in which he made assaults on the heart
of Buddhist teachings. In addition, he encouraged converts to attack the religion
through the destruction of Buddhist imagery. This was done carefully, however,
and converts were cautioned not to make public displays that could potentially
cause local stirs, such as openly destroying temple artwork. Instead, they discreetly
stole and destroyed temple artwork, melted down the Buddhist statues in their
families' homes and burned their Buddhist texts.
There was perhaps a greater
need, however, to eliminate the images of Kuan Yin. Her resemblance to Mary was
strong and the missionaries were not in search of an icon that was compatible
to both traditions. In one instance in Zimz zuen, Chinese people claimed that
a drought had been the result of Jesuits burning the head of a Kuan Yin statue.
When taking into account the important role Mary played in disseminating Christian
teachings and the high position that Kuan Yin possessed in the Buddhist tradition,
it is very probable that an aggressive iconoclasm in which the image of Mary replacing
that of Kuan Yin may have occurred.
Self Immolation and Buddhist Social Engagement
"Joining my hands, I kneel before Mother Mary and Bodhisattva Quam Am.
Please help me to realize my vow."
" Nhat Chi Mai
beginning of the Vietnam War, Catholics in Vietnam were informed that Buddhists
were cooperating with the communists, creating mistrust and tension between the
two religious communities. Thich Nhat Hanh recalls in his published conversations
with Daniel Berrigan "a time when buses loaded with Catholic peasants came
to Saigon, into the Buddhist elementary and high schools, in order to fight us-
fight with whatever weapons they had in their hands, such as sticks and knives
Documents were circulated that created fear of the Buddhists."Nhat Han was
moved to engage in dialogue with Catholics in order to create an understanding
and a cooperative movement for peace. In 1966, he traveled to the U.S to speak
out against the war and visited with Pope Paul VI to encourage him to advise Vietnamese
Catholics "to cooperate with the other religious groups in Vietnam in order
to put an end to this atrocious war."
One of Nhat Hanh's lay disciples,
Nhat Chi Mai may have been trying to voice this need for dialogue through her
own self-immolation. On May 16, 1967 before setting herself on fire outside of
Tu Nghiem Temple, Nhat Chi Mai placed a statue of Mary and Quan Am (the Vietnamese
form of Kuan Yin) before her and prayed to both: "Joining my hands, I kneel
before Mother Mary and Quan Am. Please help me to realize my vow." The act
either revealed a personal spiritual practice in which Nhat Chi Mai summoned both
archetypes for assistance or it was intended to stress a need for cooperation
between Christians and Buddhists. Thich Nhat Hanh later commented on Nhat Chi
Mai's prayer: "In the situation of Vietnam, that meant very much, because
unless the people of the two major religions in Vietnam- Buddhists and Catholics-
cooperate, it will be very hard to alter the course of the war. She saw that."
This example of the use of both the Buddhist Quan Am and the Christian Mary leads
one to see the identification of the two female images and their attributes as
equally powerful and worthy of veneration for this Buddhist woman.
Meditation at the Maria-Kannon Zen Center
A further example of Mary and the
bodhisattva together symbolizing a meeting point for inter-religious dialogue
occurs at the Maria Kannon Zen Center (MKZC) in Dallas Texas. The MKZC is a meditation
center open to people of all faiths. Ruben Habito, the center's founder, was a
Jesuit priest, who left the order in 1989. During his days as a Jesuit seminarian,
Habito studied Zen in Japan under the instruction of the late Yamada Koun Roshi
(1907-1989), who at the time was the second abbot of the Sanbo Kyodan community.
Yamada Roshi had led a liberal Zen practice in the city of Kamakura that made
accommodations for Christians interested in Zen meditation. In 1988, Habito received
transmission from Yamada Roshi. Three years later he established the MKZC in Dallas.
The Zen that Habito leads today is inspired and modeled after the practice that
Yamada Roshi began.
Maria Kannon Zen is not considered a creation of a new
tradition, but rather as a meeting ground between Christians and Buddhists. Habito
received formal training in Catholicism as well as Zen Buddhism and thus has a
thorough understanding of both traditions. He has acknowledged the difficulties
of inter-religious dialogue and has concluded that if the practice evolves, hopefully
it will do so in a fashion that respects the distinct elements of each tradition,
but at the same time activates "their roots and original inspiration."
The following is a koan used by the community, followed by Habito's own interpretation:
is it that in the accomplished saints and bodhisattvas,
Crimson lines (of tears)
never cease to flow?
This koan is not meant to be solved by an intellectual
explanation, but in an experiential grasp of that mystery that being born as a
sentient being in this interconnected universe is all about. It is an expression
of the mystery of the tears of Kannon. We can say also that it is an expression
of the tears of Mary at the foot of the cross, in deepest sorrow and pain as she
stands by her own Son, who bears the wounds of the universe in his very own body.
a discussion I had with Habito he explained how both Mary and the Bodhisattva
of Compassion are depicted as being able to sense the world's sufferings: "Mary
standing at the foot of the cross is Mary in solidarity with the suffering of
creation personified in her son's own suffering
and that precisely is what
corresponds to Kuan Yin," who is "the One Who Hears the Cries of the
World." This connection offers insight into how each figure is perceived
as humanistic. Since devotees are able to identify with each figure's sense of
perception and their emotion of sorrow, Mary and Kannon appear to be very approachable
archetypes within the context of popular religion.
Habito also reflected on
the prominent role Mary and Kannon have played in his own life: "When I was
in high school I would pray the rosary daily and so somehow that devotion to the
Blessed Mother was something that protected me. I feel that it is something that
gave me a sense of direction. Not so much in a kind of blue print way that I knew
exactly where I was going, but a direction that I wanted to live as Mary did,
mainly open to God's will in my own life inspired by her as an example and a guide
and a patroness in that sense." Upon his discovery of Buddhism, Habito recognized
the message expressed through Mary's figure could also be found in the Zen tradition.
He explained, "it is that sense of total surrender to God's will that is
embodied in the life and person of Mary, which can also become a pointer to what
Zen invites us to do." When learning about Kannon he realized "this
is something I know from my own tradition and so I could resonate with that
meditation center he has established is a meeting place that welcomes and encourages
the exchange of religious teachings. Practicing Christians come to the center
to learn Zen Buddhist meditation. At the same time, Buddhists engage with and
relate to the Christian imagery that Habito uses when offering dharma talks on
Zen. An example of this mixed imagery can be found in the case presented above
where Habito explains how Mary is able to sense the world's sufferings just as
the Bodhisattva does in the Buddhist tradition.
The Feminine Divine in the
Works of Frederick Franck, A Transreligious Artist:
"The Original Face"
Frederick Franck is an artist and writer who
teaches his students the importance of seeing and experiencing life rather than
merely looking in order to choose what is beneficial for the self. In drawing
workshops, he has led "seeing/drawing" meditations in which the participants
are asked to sit in silence and see into the eyes of their subject, whether it
be a person or a leave of grass, and to allow that intimate "seeing"
to become one with the act of drawing. This method has been brought to a larger
audience through his book, Zen of Seeing.
As a humanitarian, he volunteered
at Albert Schweitzer's hospital at Lambarene in Africa as a dental surgeon and
recounted his experiences there in the well known narrative Days with Albert Schweitzer.
He has also helped edit and produce a compilation of essays entitled What Does
It Mean to be Human? which examines the thoughts of prominent individuals who
have reflected on this question. As an acclaimed artist, Franck's works are displayed
in permanent collections in a number of museums such as the Museum of Modern Art
in New York and the National Museum in Tokyo.
Many of Franck's paintings and
sculptures express a "trans-religious" message. He explains "trans-religious"
as being "outside the categories of both 'interfaith' and 'ecumenical'
even less a syncretistic scrambling together of symbols, concepts, and rituals
of the various religious traditions." He seeks parallels within religious
icons that convey universal teachings. Such is the case with his depictions of
the feminine divine in his life-size sculptures.
Franck created a seven-foot
steel sculpture of the Virgin Mary which he called "The Original Face."
This statue was inspired by a medieval statue of the Virgin called the "Vierge
Ouvrante," which portrays wooden flaps over the Mother's stomach that open
to reveal the Christian Trinity. Franck's "The Original Face" also has
flaps. The revelation behind the flaps, however, is not the Trinity, but rather
the Franck's interpretation of the "Original Face" from the Zen koan
"show me your original face, the one you had before your parents were born."
The work equates our Original Face, or our Buddha nature, to the Immaculate Conception.
Franck explains, "Christ is the Original Face, the Absolute Human, and this
is what all of us are called to be." It is also interesting to note that
Franck used a well-known term of Zen to refer to Christ. According to Franck,
the Virgin's own face is left blank, "because she is potentially every woman,
Franck created another sculpture called "Maria-Kannon."
Carved from a tree trunk, this "Maria Kannon" emphasizes the power of
mercy or compassion.Mary as Our Lady of Mercy, or the Mother of Mercy, was venerated
in Europe during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries for protection from plague
and disaster. In imagery she towers over men and women and shelters them with
her cloak. The image was banned at the Council of Trent because it advocated Mary
as a singular means to salvation with no inclusion of the Christ. Some images
of Kannon, the Buddhist deity of compassion, have eleven heads in order to perceive
various kinds of suffering. The carving of "Maria-Kannon" has a figure
composed of human faces that may allude to the faces that Maria shelters with
her cloak and also to the eleven faces of Kannon, the bodhisattva of compassion.
It may also be simply an expression of interconnectedness. Franck is well-versed
in both Buddhist and Christian traditions making it plausible to think that this
is an attempt to bring the two together through the medium of his sculptures.
Contemporary Re-envisioning of the Christian Feminine
Lastly, discovered connections
between Mary and the feminine Buddhist archetypes are relayed in China Galland's
book "Longing for Darkness Tara and the Black Madonna." This text is
about a personal spiritual journey that explores feminine deities in both Western
and Eastern cultures. In its conclusion, Galland presents her own view of the
Virgin Mary. The once too-distant and pure Holy Mother becomes close, human and
powerful for Galland. She is led to this new vision of Mary after investigating
Tara, the daughter of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, and the mysterious Black
Madonna. True to its title, the book is filled with connections between Tara and
the Black Madonna found in Galland's journey.
In Switzerland Galland studied
the Black Madonna at the Monastery of Einsiedeln and learned of its origins in
the story of St. Meinrad. St Meinrad had retreated with a statue of the Virgin
to the forest of Finsterwald which means "dark wood" or "dark forest".
This darkness seemed to be the only suitable place for Meinrad to progress spiritually.
There he turned inwards to his own darkness, and confronted his demons and ultimately
transformed them into an experiential surrender to God.
Mary was St. Meinrad's
patron. He built a chapel for her in the forest and the Black Madonna that remains
there today allows his story to live on. The Black Madonna's role in this legend
provides an example of the saving grace she brings to individual personal practices.
This role liberates her from the restricted, supporting role she carries out in
the New Testament. For Meinrad, Mary is the key figure, the one who looks over
When Galland visits Czestochowa, Poland to see the Black Madonna
at Jasna Gora Monastery, she meets with Professor Janusz Pasierb, a Catholic priest
and an art historian who tends to the icon. Pasierb contends that the Black Madonna
is not actually black, but a "cosmic red" which is "the color of
blood, of life!" The color is derived from "the painter's intuition
that as these figures descended from above the earth, they would have to burn
through the atmosphere."This strongly parallels the Bodhisattva in Buddhism.
Bodhisattvas, at the point of final enlightenment, turn away from complete nirvana
in order to remain on earth to aid suffering beings. In a sense, they descend
from a higher realm like the "cosmic red" Madonna for the sake of those
inhibiting earth. One of the primary forms of the feminine goddess in Tibet is
the Green Tara. Green symbolizes active, living energy and in the case of Tara
it is an "awakened activity" of "active compassion."The idea
of the active Bodhisattva and the fierce Madonna burning through the atmosphere
are both a far cry from the passive Blessed Virgin of the gospels. Drawing towards
the end of her book, Galland envisions a dynamic and courageous Madonna:
imagined Mary as a fierce mother one morning in my prayers and meditation. I imagined
her protecting Christ. The Mary I saw stepped in front of his tormentors. She
did not stand passively as he made his way to Golgotha, at first she hurled herself
at the Roman soldiers, "Stop, stop, stop!" trying to wrench their whips
away from them, then to remove his crown of thorns. She was fiercely protective
and she was greatly outnumbered. They shoved her away and formed a phalanx around
She denounced the soldiers, she defied them. She did not faint, she
was not helpless, she did not retreat, she was not polite. She was a tower of
strength, she did not take her eyes off her Christ. She was his most powerful
witness, she suffered with him mentally and physically."
of this new Madonna awakens the same power that Thomas Merton discovered in Mary's
"hiddenness." Although it may be hard to imagine Merton sharing Galland's
unorthodox vision of Mary defending her son, it is clear that they both realized
strength in her that many too often overlook. Galland discovered instances in
two religious cultures that have brought this energy to life through the figures
of Tara and the Black Madonna.
In conclusion, seven different
meeting points between Christianity and Buddhism have been reviewed within this
essay. In each context, a striking similarity between the images of the Blessed
Virgin Mary and the feminine Buddhist deity has been recognized. When each example
is observed closely, it becomes evident that the way in which the images are utilized
reflects the nature of the interactions between religious communities and individuals.
In the case of the Nestorian movement in China during the Tang Dynasty, a
blending and harmonization of religious concepts occurred. The remaining artifacts
of their presence show that they had produced a new tradition. It is not likely
that their texts would be accepted by either orthodox Buddhist or Christian scholars.
But, it was in this context that the image of Mary may have influenced the creation
of the feminine Kuan Yin. It is only a speculative theory and there are other
noted factors that may have contributed to the feminization. If Mary was an influence,
however, the change in gender of Kuan Yin could be seen, like the Jesus Sutras,
as a new religious creation.
The practices of Japan's hidden Christians present
an instance in which the images of Mary and Kannon were merged for the sake of
protection. The practice of Christianity had become illegal in the late 16 th
century and if individuals were discovered offering devotion to Mary they would
have been persecuted by the authorities. Thus, the Christians in hiding disguised
their veneration by creating images of Mary that were modeled after Kannon (the
Japanese form of Kuan Yin) and were called Maria-Kannon.
the same time in China, the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci attempted to evangelize
on a widespread scale. While doing so, he debated with Buddhist priests in order
to deflate the Buddhist religion as much as possible. Chinese Christian converts
were encouraged to destroy their Buddhist icons. On one occasion, it is recorded
that the face of the statue of Kuan Yin was burned by Ricci's followers. Simultaneously,
images of Mary were being widely disseminated. Thus, because Ricci wanted to prove
Christianity to be the one true religion and Buddhism a heresy, it could be argued
that the image of Mary was being used to replace that of Kuan Yin.
times, the recognition of the similarity of the icons has been utilized as a meeting
point for the purpose of establishing inter-religious dialogue. This was the case
during the Vietnam War when Nhat Chi Mai placed statues of both Mary and the Bodhisattva
of Compassion in front of her at the time of her self-immolation. That act has
been interpreted to be an attempt to emphasize the impending need for Buddhists
and Christians to communicate in a peaceful fashion so that their efforts to end
the violence could be united.
Again the images emerge for the sake of dialogue
in the founding of the Maria-Kannon Zen Center in Texas. The sharing of religious
practices at the Center includes Christians practicing Zen meditation and Buddhists
relating to Christian imagery. This phenomenon is presented in Ruben Habito's
dharma talks and writings.
Not only are these images being used together in
a modern setting to create a bridge for inter-religious dialogue but also for
a complete blending of religious concepts. There are cases of individual religious
interpretations today that share the harmonization quality of the Nestorian movement
in ancient China. Frederick Franck universalizes similar philosophical expressions
in Buddhist and Christian icons through the creation of his trans-religious sculptures.
These works are essentially new icons that do not derive from either of the traditions
and at the same time are not constrained by the boundaries of either orthodoxy.
Such is the case with Frank's sculpture of Maria Kannon. His audience cannot recognize
it to be a traditional depiction of Maria or of Kannon. The sculpture is a new
icon that has utilized and harmonized aspects from both figures. In the case of
"The Original Face", Franck has inserted a symbol for the Buddha Nature
into a Christian body, the womb of the Virgin. Thus, the statue creates a conceptual
connection of the potential to be enlightened and an allusion to the Incarnation.
Lastly, in China Galland's book, Longing for Darkness, similar qualities in
the feminine figures of the Dark Madonna and the Tibetan deity Tara are recognized.
Galland is initially turned off by the common conception of Mary as a passive,
supporting character of Jesus as in the New Testament. Through studying the Black
Madonna, however, she begins to realize that Mary is actually a very powerful
icon. She sees this same power in the figure of the Tibetan goddess Tara and decides
to incorporate both figures in her own spiritual practice.
responses to the similarity of qualities found in both Mary and the Bodhisattva
of Compassion has varied in each historic context, and have differed depending
on factors found in the political atmosphere and in the attitudes amongst religious
peoples within those contexts. I believe, together, these cases illustrate several
ways that Buddhists and Christians have chosen to communicate either in peaceful
or destructive contexts and to interact, interpolate, challenge and celebrate
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Riegert, Ray and Thomas Moore. The Lost Sutras of
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Merton, Thomas. "The Woman Clothed
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York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1962.) 360-365.
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Foltz, Richard C. Religions of the Silk Road. (New York:
St Martin's Griffin, 1999.) 71.
Nestorians were a group of Christians who
formed a separate Church after the Council of Ephesus condemned Nestorius as a
heretic in 431. The Nestorian Church was active in missionary work and established
Christian settlements in Arabia, India and China.
Riegert, Ray and Thomas Moore.
The Lost Sutras of Jesus Unlocking The Ancient Wisdom Of The Xian Monks. (Berkeley:
Seastone, 2003.) 7.
Saeki, Yoshiereo. 130.
Palmer, Martin. 137-139.
For discussions on the Nestorian Monument see:
Foltz, Richard C. 71-72, 85.
Palmer, Martin. The Jesus Sutras Rediscovering the Lost Scrolls of Taoist
Christianity. (New York: The Ballantine Publishing Group, 2001.) 4-5.
Yoshireo. The Nestorian Documents and Relics in China. (Tokyo: The Maruzen Company
LTD, 1951.) 11-52.
Cf. Translation of the Monument:
Saeki, Yoshireo. 53-77.
Palmer, Martin. 8-9.
Palmer, Martin, Jay
Ramsay, and Man-Ho Kwok. Kuan Yin Myths and Prophecies of the Chinese Goddess
of Compassion. (London: Thorsons, 1995.) 23-24.
It should be noted that beginning
in the mid 9 th century Christians in China suffered persecution. They were not
able to practice freely again until the late 13 th century under the tolerant
Mongol rule. During his travels in China Marco Polo had discovered Nestorian Christian
communities. His accounts suggest that these Christians had been practicing their
religion in hiding and that the faith had survived. Thus if Mary did have an influence
on the feminization of Kuan Yin, it may have been during a time when Christianity
was present in China, but not officially permitted or recognized by the authorities.
App, Urs. "St. Francis Xavier's Discovery of Japanese Buddhism: A Chapter
in the European Discovery of Buddhism (Part 1: Before the Arrival in Japan, 1547-1549)."
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(May 13, 2005).
Ibid. 238, 241, 250.
Fonti Ricciane. Pasquale M. d'Elia, S.J., ed., Storia dell' Introduzione
del Christianesimo in Cina Vol. II. Rome, La Libreria Dello Stato, 1949. 243
Nhat Hanh and Daniel Berrigan. 76.
King, Robert H. 122.
Maria Kannon Zen Center." Maria Kannon Zen Center, 1999. http://www.mkzc.org/about-mkzc.htm
(9 April 2004).
Habito, Ruben L. F. "Maria Kannon Zen: Explorations in
Buddhist-Christian Practice." Buddhist-Christian Studies 14 (1994): 155.
For an example of Habito's reflections on inter-religious dialogue: see Ibid.
Cf. For an example of Yamada Koun Roshi's reflections on inter-religious
dialogue see: Yamada Koun Roshi. "Zazen and Christianity" Maria Kannon
Zen Center, 1999. http://www.mkzc.org/zazen-and-christianity.htm. (12 April 2004.)
Ruben L.F. 150.
Habito, Ruben L.F. Personal Interview. (6 June 2005.)
Cunneen, Sally. In Search of Mary The Woman And The Symbol.
(New York: Ballantine Books, 1996.) 322.
Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat. "Frederick
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7, 2005.) 1.
Cunnen, Sally. 322-325.
Warner, Marina. Alone Of All Her Sex. (New York: Vintage Books, 1976.)
Bokar Rinpoche. Tara The Feminine Divine. (San
Francisco, Clear Point Press, 1999.) 44.
Galland, China. 275.
"China Galland Interview." Worldguide Interviews, 1996. http://www.worldmind.com/Cannon/Culture/Interviews/galland.html.
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