Kuan Yin And The Year Of The Snake
Article ID: 3638
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 6,512
Times Read: 20,171
Author: Sia@FullCircle [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: September 23rd. 2001
Times Viewed: 20,171
Some Pagans may have seen this coming. Not me. This was already one of the most difficult years of my life; it can't, I thought, get any worse then this. And then, horribly, and for all of us, it did.
For me this troubled year began with a bad economy and worsened with the serious illness of a dear friend and the failing health of both parents. The year hit it's most painful peak back in spring with the death of my beloved sister. When I could stand again, I looked around and realized that I was not the only one in pain. For some reason I didn't quite understand many of my friends were also having a terrible year. I thought about that and decided to address it. And so I wrote this for the July issue of our Full Circle Newsletter.
"What is it about this year? Almost every person I know (me included) is having a very rough time of it. We're barely halfway through and already I've seen talented, hard working people lose jobs and have trouble finding another one. Many of my friends have become ill, had accidents, or are experiencing trouble with housing or money. Some are working on issues in their relationships while others have had to cope with a serious illness or a death in their families. Many others have worked for years to make a particular dream come true only to be told "not now" or "not this." This year feel volatile, unsafe and strangely troubling."Why all the trouble, grief and pain and why now?" I wondered. Then I ran into my friend Sean. We chatted a bit about some friends and shared a trouble or two of our own. Then I said, "Sean, what is it about this year?". And he looked at me, smiled gently and said, "Well, you know, it is the Year of the Snake."
I realized then that the Chinese calendar might have the right image to explain the difficult changes I'd gone through this year. Towards the end of that essay I wrote this:
"I feel like a snake this year - much of what I've worn emotionally has been scraped away. I don't know what's coming to renew me - I haven't seen that far ahead. But I am trusting that I will be better and stronger then I was before. I can say this because I have learned over the years to trust my friends, my partner and most of all myself. Learning to trust was a hell of a left turn - and it was worth it."
When I read that again, I see now that I only grasped one part of the whole. The snake, as you know, was associated in ancient times with rebirth and with the Goddess. I thought about that this week while rescue crews risked their lives in both disaster areas and while ordinary citizens quietly stepped forward to help in any way they could. As I've watched the TV and listened to the news on NPR I have seen one particular Goddess appear in the aspect of the Firefighters and Police. I saw her in the heart of the gallant Mayor and she was reflected in the heroic actions of all those who attempted to save other lives, both in those planes and on the ground below. I still see her in all the grief, love and courage that boiled up and overflowed this week. Her influence seems to be everywhere. The Goddess I see at every vigil and at every Red Cross center and at every grave is Kuan Yin, the Great Triple Goddess of Mercy and Compassion.
This ancient Goddess is unique in that her worship has never ceased, has never been sent underground, lost or hidden. I guess we needed her too badly for that. She's adapted, of course, but she is the only Goddess who currently appears at the center of three modern world religions. In a book titled "The Heart of the Goddess", Hallie Inglehart Austin writes about this Goddess. She is Tara, Kannon, Kuan Yin; different aspects of the Great Goddess, known in ancient Asia as Guanyin.
As the Green Tara she often shown wearing a snake-like tiara as a crown and holding a lotus flower. Her name translates as "She Who Leads Across". Austin describes her in this way.
As Kannon in Japan, the Goddess is often shown holding a two edged sword and riding a dragon. Austin quotes contemporary artist Mayumi Oda on the meaning of Kannon in this aspect:
If you go back far enough, you will find the Goddess before she became split. At that time, she was known as Guanyin. About Guanyin, "She who hears the cries of all beings", Austin writes:
Her merciful aspect is one of the attributes that make this Goddess so revered. You will sometimes see statues of Kuan Yin in her many-armed aspect, a trait she shares with Kali, another powerful Goddess from India. Kuan Yin is most often shown holding a jar which contains the water of life and compassion. This is how she usually appears in gardens, which are the places she most loves. Austin writes:
Sept. 11th reminded us all how quickly our lives could transform. Back in July I wrote what I knew about change:
"And every time I've needed to be shaken up, whether it be spiritually, emotionally or physically; that has happened. I moved forward in the direction that seems right to me and often, I hit a wall. I wailed at the wall. I resented the wall. I complained bitterly and at length about the wall."I never deserved this" I cried ! (Just between you and me, I sometimes did). Then a friend and teacher said this to me, "You'll always know which direction the universe wants you to take because it will stop you with a wall to get your attention. When you hit that wall, turn left." And so I do."
Don't get me wrong here, I'm not some Guru who sits in a cave and feels no attachment to the things of this world. I'm Pagan and I'm passionately connected to the earth and to the beauty I find here. While I'm glad of that, I also know that I will need to grieve many losses over the course of my life. No human being can escape grief and suffering. When I hit that wall of pain, anger and loss I do what others do; I look to my spiritual practice for comfort and support. And then I take action.
Fire and Air teach me about change, movement, loss and transformation. Water and Earth teach me lessons about healing, cleansing, growth, and rebirth. The wheel turns and turns again and none of us has control. We can only live in this moment and do the good that's in front of us.
I find as I get older that I can live passionately in this world, love it and still work to change it for the better. That's my left turn. You see, for me, achieving spiritual balance means that I need to cry, to let go and to bless that which changes. This includes places, things and people. For this reason I use the Serenity Prayer in my practice. It goes like this:
Grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change
The courage the change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.
I'm still working on that last part. I suspect it's a life long process.
I first met Kuan Yin years ago in a small California mountain town called Weaverville. This historic mining town contains the famous Joss House, one of the oldest active Chinese temples in the United States. It was built in 1874 by the Chinese merchants and miners who lived in the town. All of the artifacts, banners and icons for the temple came from China and it took many years to decorate and build. It is known by the lovely name of "The Temple of the Forest Beneath the Clouds" and it is dedicated to Kuan Yin.
The Chinese settlers who lived in California back then were surrounded on all sides by hostility, prejudice and mistrust. Their complex belief system was thought to be mere "primitive superstition". (5) This temple gave them a place where they could come together as a people, a place where they could share their experience, strength and hope with one another. It also gave them a place where they could seek out and speak to Kuan Yin.
Kuan Yin teaches that mercy and compassion are for everyone. I believe this is why her worship spans centuries, cultures, geography and religions. This Goddess dwells among us here on earth and she understands our grief, anger, fear and hopelessness. She does not preach, she listens. She does not demand our obedience rather she lets her own actions light the way for those that wish to follow her example. She is love, compassion and mercy personified and we need her now more then ever.
Kuan Yin does not pick and choose; her love is for all beings, including those of us who bring our troubles upon ourselves. One great example of this is the Joss House itself, which has been constructed not once, but twice. It was originally built in 1854 and it was destroyed in what is known as the Weaverville Tong War. The Tong War took place over the course of one terrible day in 1854. It involved many of the 2, 000 Chinese people living in and around the town. The war began at dawn. By the sunset, the original temple was burning, ten Chinese miners lay dead and over thirty were wounded. The ironic fact is that the Chinese war was instigated by the white settlers in the town who stood by and watched it all happen. They even took bets on the outcome. You may well ask, "Why would these people allow themselves to be used in this way?" No one knows for sure.
Whenever I am tempted to lash out in anger, I think of that Tong War. It reminds me that compassion is a dynamic force. My tradition teaches that this force must be directed outwardly, as well as inwardly, in order to be effective. For me, this means that I cannot fight intolerance or prejudice directed towards me with more of the same. I can defend myself and my loved ones, never you fear, but I can do so in a way that leaves my integrity intact. More then once the thought of Kuan Yin has kept me from playing the fool in someone else's game. This is what is meant by right action. It does not mean "no action" or "reaction", it means action that is taken from a position of wisdom, understanding and strength.
Human beings tend to react rather then act. They can also mistake kindness and compassion for weakness and gullibility. Kuan Yin teaches otherwise. This is why she is shown with the water of compassion, the sword that cuts through, the dragons of wisdom and the crown of empowerment. All these must all be used together for right action to occur. The fact that Kuan Yin is also portrayed with so many arms does not surprise me. It takes a Goddess of outstanding strength to hold all the grief and love of this world. On those days when I feel fearful, misjudged or under threat I use the various aspects of Kuan Yin to guide me. She stands for courage and the willingness to extend help to those in need, regardless of the cost to ourselves. When a community comes together as we have done, they embody Kuan Yin. Then the whole, as they say, exceeds the sum of all it's parts.
This world we live in is so unsafe and changeable and yet it is also so very beautiful, the beings in it unique and precious. We have good cause today to remember that.
"Snakes also travel into the underworld - they emerge from the dark place into the light and they are comfortable in both worlds - this gives them balance. ... This totem may mean that I have to look into some dark places I've been avoiding. It may be that I have to embrace the light and joy that's already in my life. I don't know, but I'm ready for the process. At this point in my life, not doing the work I have to do is a lot harder then doing it."
"Namaste" is the Sanskrit word which means, 'I bow to the divine in you". One says this holding the two hands together in a gesture of respect and unity. It is often used by Taoist-Pagans as a greeting that honors our connection to the divine, to one another and to all life. To you I say "Namaste". May the blessings of Kuan Yin be with you and yours, 00 size=3>Sia
Location: Portland, Oregon
Author's Profile: To learn more about Sia@FullCircle - Click HERE
Bio: Sia is the Council Leader for Full Circle Events. She lives in Northern California and practices in a Green Tradition.
(1) The Heart of the Goddess: Art, Myth and Meditations on the World's Sacred Feminine by Hallie Inglehart Austin. Windbow Press, Berkeley, 1991. Page 146
(2) Ibid, Page 46
(3) Ibid, Page 44
(4) Ibid, Page 44
(5) The experiences of the Chinese setters in the mining towns of California and in the city San Francisco are vividly portrayed by American writer Jo An Levy in her book of fiction titled "Daughter of Joy" and in her history titled "They Saw the Elephant: Women in the California Gold Rush" An interview with the author can be found here: http://www.goldrush.com/~joann/conversa.htm
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