But later, when I find out more about Kuan Yin, I discover that here is a lady who cannot be pinned down by religion or culture. She slips from one to another, from Buddhism to Taoism to Shintoism. She has connections with Christianity, and the ancient religion of Egypt. She may be revered as a goddess or as a spirit, a bodhisattva (a Buddha-to-be) or an immortal who was once an exceptional human child. Kuan Yin goes by other names, too, but they all mean one thing in essence: She Who Hears the Cries of the World. She is a listening ear, a saving arm, a calming presence.
And she has an oracle. More than that, her temples in the Far East are full of men and women seeking advice on a personal problem or significant question by consulting this oracle. The oracle consists of 100 numbered sticks which are shaken in a brass or wooden cylinder, vigorously and noisily, until at last one jumps out. The number corresponds to a reading, which in turn is a poetic reflection, augmented by an interpretation of what this means in individual life. Here, the seeker hopes, is the wise advice which will help to resolve their query. To me this is an extraordinary validation of divination as a part of spirituality, connecting it to sacred space, whether a temple or a church – something all but lost in the West.
I first ‘met’ Kuan Yin in her famous temple at Penang in December 2011, while Robert and I were working as lecturers on a cruise. I seized the chance to explore her domain, and witness the oracle in action. Then at Singapore, one of our next stops, came this second chance to visit one of her chief temples. Here I tried out the oracle for myself, and was given a copy of it in translation as a gift from the temple, something to be treasured.
I’d had a copy of her Oracle for some years, in fact, in the form of a book by Stephen Karcher, produced in an accessible version for Westerners but faithful to the spirit of the original. But discovering the living tradition in those two temples spurred me on to find out more about her, and to acquire my own set of oracle sticks. This I did in a shop close by to the Singapore temple – but then how on earth was I to decipher the Chinese numbers? A helpful site on the internet finally gave me the tools to do that. http://www.mandarintools.com/numbers.html.
Then I fancied having a statue of Kuan Yin. I was due to present an evening to my current Nine Ladies group (see my book ‘The Circle of Nine’), exploring the Kuan Yin archetype, so there was something of a deadline. Could I find a figure in time that pleased me, and which didn’t cost a vast amount?
Kuan Yin’s chief symbols are the moon, the sea and a dragon. She is a patron of sailors, and there are many temples to her on the sea shore. She is merciful, and it is said that just as her heart is open to all, so should one’s own heart be open when approaching her. Elaborate rituals and paraphernalia are of little importance compared to that. Still, it would be nice to have a visual reminder of her. I hovered over bronze statues of Kuan Yin advertised on the internet, depicted with the crescent moon behind her, and a dragon at her feet, but in the end chose a relatively simple one in white porcelain. The image of her as a ‘white goddess’ has appeal to me, perhaps because it carries a quality of universality, of the archetype behind the archetypes of the feminine. So that’s what I went for – delivered from, of all places, a Bonsai centre! http://www.got-bonsai.co.uk/ For around £45 I received a speedy delivery of my white Kuan Yin, nestling safely in a cheerful Chinese patterned cardboard case.
She was described as ‘blanc de Chine’, which meant nothing to me until I looked it up and found, to my delight, that this figure had been made in Fujian province in China, and stemmed from a centuries-old tradition of making Kuan Yin and other sacred figures there. Ah – the People’s Kuan Yin! Lineage means more to me than lavish originality; this little figure has provenance to me. Excellent essay at http://www.holymtn.com/gods/BlancdeChine.htm!
And she has a secret resource: an internal reservoir which can be filled with water, and which then drips ‘blessed Dew’ for several minutes. It took me a little while to discover that you don’t look for a hole in her head to pour it into – you pour it into the hole at her feet, then turn her upside down to feed the reservoir before setting her the right way up again! That little challenge solved, she became a beautiful and serene model of a spirit, deva or deity – call her what you will – who presided over a very successful evening of discussion, meditation and oracle consultation in our front room last night.
The Kuan Yin Oracle: The Voice of the Goddess of Compassion – Stephen Karcher
Bodhisattva of Compassion: the Mystical Tradition of Kuan Yin – John Blofeld
Kuan Yin: Myths and Revelations of the Chinese Goddess of Compassion – Martin Palmer, Jay Ramsay & Kwok Man-Ho
Divination: The Search for Meaning - Cherry Gilchrist