(Review) She Appears! Encounters with Kwan Yin, Goddess of Compassion by Sandy Boucher; reviewed by Mary Saracino

MS Front_cover-SheAppears_MarySaracino_BookReviewIn She Appears! Encounters with Kwan Yin, Goddess of Compassion, Sandy Boucher has compiled a sustaining feast of personal stories and artwork about the beloved Asian Goddess, the Celestial Bodhisattva of Compassion, Kwan Yin.

Like Boucher, many—but not all—of the contributors to this volume are Buddhists—meditators, Zen priests, nuns, teachers, students. All have been profoundly touched by the very real presence of Kwan Yin in their lives.

The book is divided into eight chapters: “Hearing the Cries of the World,”  “Alive in Nature,”  “When Illness Strikes,”  “Mothers and Daughters,”  “Visitation/Gradual Awakenings,”  “Kwan Yin as Activists,” “Death and Grieving,” and “Final Words.”

Boucher begins each chapter with an introductory note, setting the tone for the poignant stories and vibrant artwork (the color images alone are worth the price of the book!) contained within these pages. In doing so, she provides the context for the text and images that express the textured, deep ways that Kwan Yin has touched the contributors’ lives.

Boucher notes that the book was “born from the urgency of many people who expressed their desire to share their experience of powerful, in some cases life-changing connection with … Kwan Yin” (1).

She shares her own story about her experience of “meeting” Kwan Yin for the first time in 1982 in the form of a statue at an art museum in Kansas City, MO.  Although she had begun practicing Buddhism in 1980, she writes that, at that time, she “was a feet-on-the-ground political activist and writer, exclusively committed to this-world experience and skeptical of anything even faintly redolent of spirituality or religion” (p. 7). Still, something about the statue stayed with her. She bought a postcard of Kwan Yin and took it home with her. She writes: “Something had shifted inside me; a door had opened” (p. 10).

In 1995, she traveled to China to attend the UN Fourth World Conference on Women and visited Kwan Yin’s sacred island, Putu Shan, months before she would receive news about a life-threatening diagnosis of colon cancer. Her encounter there would sustain her through the long haul of cancer treatments and recovery. And it deepened her connection to the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

The power of Boucher’s story is mirrored in the stories and artwork of the other contributors.

Kimberly Eve Snyder’s image of a one-breasted Kwan Yin (p. 47) honors breast cancer survivors. Eleanor Ruckman’s painting (p. 57) “Annunciation” places the Catholic Virgin Mary next to an elder version of Kwan Yin, seated in meditation.  In Mary Cutsinger’s whimsical image, “Kwan Yin and the Inner Child” (p. 91), the Goddess rides a big brown bear, seated beside a young girl.

In Karen Vogel’s carved wooden plaque, “Kwan Yin with Great Mother Headdress” (p. 137), the Goddess is crowned with an image of the Venus of Laussel, connecting her with her Paleolithic foremothers.

Max Dashu’s painting, “Healing Kwan Yin” (p. 51), was inspired by a dream, which she describes as being “an omen of grace and future healing,” which she had when she was leveled by Lyme disease. In that dream, she picked up something from the dirt that turned out to be an ivory Kwan Yin, crowned by a pearl.

Lydia Ruyle’s Goddess Spirit Banner of Kwan Yin (p. 73) depicts the Goddess as a white-robed mother carrying a child in her lap. Of that painting Ruyle writes: “Willows grow around her reaching for water and clouds, a pure lotus flowers from the dark earth below. The Chinese characters are Kwan-yin’s name: Guan Shih Yin, she who hears the cries of the world.”

Lucy Keoni (p. 74) writes about how her first life-saving encounter with Kwan Yin occurred when she was in her mother’s womb, in a boat on the high seas, as her mother and other Vietnamese refugees were trying to escape a boat of marauding pirates. Her mother prayed to Kwan Yin to save them from impending death. She did, and Lucy Keoni memorialized her deep connection to Kwan Yin by having an image of the Goddess tattooed on her back.

Genko Rainwater writes about how her relationship with Kwan Yin unfolded slowly over time and, during a particularly painful and confusing period of her life, the Bodhisattva taught her to direct compassion to herself so that she could heal.

“When I was at my lowest points, I was simply unable to find that power and compassion within myself. I thought if I was having problems, there must be something wrong with me: I was weak, I was fatally flawed. I needed an outside source of compassion (sometimes we call that other-power) in order to believe in it at all. Slowly, over time, with stubborn, consistent practice, I have been gradually able to trust that compassion and power, and to find it in myself so that I can extend it to others” (pp. 123-124).

Florence Caplow writes of her mysterious encounter with Kwan Yin at a meditation center in the darkness of the gratitude hut, long after all the other attendees were fast asleep in their beds. Restless and unable to sleep, she walked in the rain to the hut and slipped inside.

“I stand in front of the altar with my hands together, but the darkness is so absolute that I could be anywhere. I ask for help, silently, but with all my heart. Help me move beyond my narrow view, help me to wake up, help me to know the truth of my life. Half consciously, I notice a slight glow to my right, near one of the benches along the wall. I continue to stand with my silent prayer, I don’t know for how long, but likely many minutes. Then I turn back to the door and open it to the rain. There’s a streetlight outside, and as I open the door, its light shines in across the hut. I notice something out of the corner of my eye. I half-turn, and there, sitting quietly on the bench, is a small, ordinary-looking Asian woman, about my age, with long braids” (pp. 95-96).

Days later, she would ask some of the other people at the center if they had been in the hut that night, but none had.

Others share stories of how Kwan Yin appeared to them in dreams or in the guise of the kindness of chance encounters with strangers on the street. Some write of how she gave them a broader sense of self-acceptance or helped them deal with death and dying, grief and loss.

In “Remembering Kwan Yin,” Laura Amazzone notes that strength and answers can be found in solitude and stillness.

“These days, I am experiencing the strength that comes from calmness and serenity. Once again, Kwan Yin guides me through one of the fiercer of life’s experiences—death and grief—and I am taking notice. I allow myself to open to a compassionate, merciful, loving mother instead of always being ready for warrior mode” (p.  183).

Whether you have long known and loved Kwan Yin or are newly learning about her, She Appears! Encounters with Kwan Yin, Goddess of Compassion will feed your soul. It is an inspiring, thought-provoking, comforting, soothing, clarion call to compassion. Each story, each visual image is imbued with an intimacy that is at once individual and universal.

In the final chapter, Boucher asks: “Why does it matter that you and I care so much about Kwan Yin? Why do we need her example, her arrival in our lives her guidance and wisdom?” (p. 185).

In a world all-too-often devoid of loving-kindness and compassion, Boucher and the contributors in this book remind us of that Kwan Yin “turns toward it all”, modeling “a way to be here, fully, in whatever mode we find ourselves” (p. 185).

Kwan Yin is alive and well—ready to embolden, nurture and sustain us. Blessed be!

She Appears! Encounters with Kwan Yin, Goddess of Compassion (Goddess Ink, Ltd. 2014).

For more information or to order a copy: http://www.goddess-ink.com/aboutus.html

Read Meet Mago Contributor Mary Saracino.

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