I admit that the title of this page isn’t quite right, for I didn’t find any statues of my old friend the Virgin Mary in Kyoto. But I did find this one of Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of compassion. I’m more familiar with her in her Chinese form of Quan Yin, but a Buddhist priest at Myoshin-ji confirmed that this is indeed a statue of Kannon/Quan Yin. In Japan she is frequently depicted in a somewhat androgynous form, as this image shows.
This statue stands in a garden at Myoshin-ji. I spent several early mornings with her there, our revery occasionally broken by businessmen who would stop to visit her on their walk to work. They would stand before her for a few moments, briefcase in hand, looking intently at her face. Before they left, they would always bow to her.
Whatever name she is given, this deity is the face of the divine feminine in Buddhism. As a Bodhisattva, she has made a vow to remain on earth until all sentient beings have become enlightened. One of her names is “She Who Hears The Cries of the World.” If that sounds similar to the Virgin Mary, well, it is. I love the way similar symbols and myths and stories weave like a golden thread through many cultures over countless centuries.
A friend passed along this quote to me that I like very much: “Some truths are so large that only a myth can contain them.”
Perhaps one of those truths is that in whatever culture we live, there is a divine presence who watches over us, one that can be expressed in feminine as well as masculine terms. You can find her in a garden in Kyoto as well as in my neighbor’s garden down the street, where the Virgin Mary stands, hands outstretched. I think she would immediately feel a kinship with Kannon, were they to meet.