Guam Buddhist Sangha

American Humanistic Buddhism

FAQ: What do you see when you first walk in the temple? July 9, 2010

Filed under: FAQ — memeandbojo @ 11:20 pm

When first walking through the doors at the Fo Guang Shan temple in Guam, you can see a prominent statue of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, known as Kuan Yin in Chinese. Avalokitesvara can be loosely translated as “the compassionate sage who sees,” referring to this Bodhisattva’s ability to see all the suffering in the world and thus come to people’s aid. She is said to have one thousand eyes and hands with which to save all sentient beings. She is also an attendant to Amitabha Buddha and guides people to his Western Pure Land. A small figure of Amitabha is thus frequently shown in the center of her headpiece. Kuan Yin takes a variety of forms; the Main Shrine’s primary statue portrays her with a third eye in the middle of her brows, and multiple hands. The several postures of the hands, also known as mudra’s, are used in statues to express several Buddhist concepts and episodes in the life of Buddha. Each posture has often a deeper meaning that cannot be expressed in words. Likewise each different body posture of the statues –reclining, sitting or standing– has a symbolic meaning.

Kuan Yin Bodhisattva holds many different attributes in her hands, which all have a symbolic meaning.

A summary of the attributes followed by their meaning:

  • Buddha statues held in upward turned palms: Upholding the way of the Buddha
  • Vase: As water is poured from a vase, so does Kuan Yin pour compassion upon all beings. Also, a vase represents a vehicle capable of holding the Truth, analogous to a devotee’s open heart. It is furthermore significant that the Chinese word for “vase” is a homonym with that for “peace”
  • Willow: The ability to ward off demons and natural disasters. Kuan Yin dips the willow into the water and sprinkles it over sentient beings;
  • Arrow and Bow: The ability to effectively extend one’s reach to others and thereby benefit from many teachers and friends;
  • Axe: The ability to overcome personal disasters;
  • Sword: The strength to render evil beings powerless and likewise help them develop purity and goodness. Also, the triumph of wisdom and knowledge over ignorance and evil, thus leading to enlightenment;
  • Bell: Impermanence, as the sound it makes gradually diminishes. It is held in Kuan Yin’s left hand symbolizing wisdom
  • Trident: The spreading of Kuan Yin’s compassion
  • Lotus flower: Purity, enlightenment, mercy and compassion
  • Sutra Scroll: The teachings of the Buddha. In connection with Kuan Yin, Mahayana Buddhists sometimes specify this as the Lotus Sutra
  • Pestles: The ability to overcome enemies
  • Sistrum (staff with rings): Kuan Yin’s compassion and ability to protect all beings. A ringed staff was traditionally used by monastics as a way to avoid stepping on small creatures. Tapping the sistrum on the ground to make its rings jingle would alert birds, animals and insects to move aside. Because of its benevolent and compassionate function to prevent harm, the sistrum is equated with these virtues
  • Staff: The ability to thwart robbers and subsequently help them change their evil ways;
  • Palms together: Gesture of devotion
  • Curled fingers: Mudra of meditation

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