Tag Archives: Chinese Culture

#Art I Love ~ The #Buddhist Goddess of Mercy

1 Jun

Obtained from ThaiYogaUp.com. Original Artist – I’m Not Sure

The Goddess of Mercy in Chinese Buddhism is named Guanshiyin  (观世音菩萨 — Guān shì Yīn Pú Sà) or Guanyin for short.  The name means “one who always hears the cries of the world. While many of the Buddhist deities are rather frightening (as seen in their paintings and depictions), Guanyin is actually very highly respected for being merciful to her followers. 

There are many legends surrounding the lovely lady.  Apparently, the original story (stemming from India) had her as a man called avalokitasvara. He was extremely kind and worked non-stop reaching out to those who cried out for help.  Some actually claim he was the most powerful of all the Buddhist gods, and certainly most agree he was the nicest. It wasn’t until the Song dynasty (960 – 1279) that the deity was changed into a woman. The Indian name was translated into Guanyin, and the uniquely Chinese feminine version was born to become mother to the world. 

In China, the story is that she was a human who eventually became immortal through her good deeds and worthy heart.  According to one story, she was holy and kind enough to find herself at the gate of Heaven. But, upon hearing the weeping and tragic cries of sorrow and pain from those suffering on earth, her heart was moved. Turning back from her place in the joyous realm, she returned and devoted herself to helping those in need. Thus her name — she always listens to and helps those who call out to her. 

Another story comes from 827-840AD (the Tang Dynasty) in the city of Xi’an.  According to the legend, the Emperor at the time was a man called Wenzong.  Now, Wenzong had the unfortunate love of clams, asking from clams day after day, three meals a day! But, if you’ve ever lived in Xi’an, you would know that it is very far from the sea–so clams were hard to find.  And of course, he was not happy with any clams – they had to be fresh and delicious! So, every day before the light came up, the poor fishermen in Zhejiang’s ports would collect up clams and rush them inland.  Then, finally a miracle happened! One of the clams they found was HUGE (20x the normal clam size).  All agreed, this clam must absolutely go to the emperor.  But when they tried to open it, they found that the clam was shut up and would not budge. When he heard of this strange even, the emperor himself came to see it. At last! Right before his eyes, the clam shell opened and inside was an elaborate carving of Guanyin.  Looking into the statue’s eyes, he heard her beautiful voice echo in his ear — “These poor workers have sacrificed much to satisfy your simple pleasures. You are abusing your people and wasting their money.”  The people had prayed for someone to save them from the painful, meaningless labor and the goddess had responded. The emperor learned his lesson!

As a Buddhist deity, she seems to be an all around lovely person. She is known for reaching out to those who are ill, lost, abandoned, elderly, orphaned, and just generally in a tough spot.  She is recognized for having eternal, unending love for people and the kindest of hearts.  She is often a fertility goddess who gives children to those who need them.  Always there to help, she is the supporter and defender of the unfortunate.  She also helps guide the lost and missing, and has become one of the “sailor’s” deities. The fact that legend has her living on an Island in the South of China has contributed to this theory — thus the frequent depiction of her with pearls from the ocean or rising from a shell or lotus blossom like Venus. Even here in Xinzheng, Henan we have a statue of her–you’ll find them scattered all over China. I’ve been told both the Shaolin Temple (China) and Kiyomizu-dera (Japan) are dedicated to her. 

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My good friend Harry in front of a Statue of Quan Yin in the Zheng Garden.

Most images of Quan Yin show her in bare feet with ancient Chinese-style thin, blowing in the wind kind of clothes.  They always bring to mind the lovely ladies of wuxia (Chinese historical) dramas or the old films. Lithe, graceful, elegant — an all around perfectly kind, beautiful, and gracious woman inside and out.  Usually, the pictures show her alone or with two other people. Sometimes she has a child in her arms. At other times, it is two soldiers who defend the faith. The first is general Guan Yu, a real man made famous in the fictionalized story “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms.” Honored for being very loyal and virtuous, he is still prominent in the Buddhist faith. According to the believers, he not only fought of enemies of the country, he defended the righteous from demons as well. The second is Wei Tuo, a young prince who proved faithful to Buddha by protecting the holy relics. Together they stand guard as the goddess works her wonders. 

Sometimes you’ll see the goddess of mercy in a different way, with several heads and hundreds of arms.  There are several versions of the story as to why she has so many arms and heads. You can read one version here.  Another version says that she dedicated her life to helping people in need, promising that she would not stop until she had helped everyone. Eventually, she realized that no matter what she did, there were still too many people. Frantically thinking about all that was left to be done, her head finally exploded into eleven parts.  Concerned, one of the buddhas came to help her and ended up offering her eleven heads to hold the eleven parts.  But now, hearing the cries so much better with her 22 ears, she became even more upset–pulling herself in many directions trying to read everyone at once.  Reaching. . . reaching . . . finally her arms just shattered.  Again the buddha reached out to the poor, good-hearted goddess and offered her one thousand arms to hold all those pieces so she could help more people.  Thus the statue in Kaifeng has 1000 arms (although they follow the first version of the story instead of the second)!

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The Goddess of Mercy statue in Kaifeng, Henan

#Music I Love ~ “Fire of the Heart” OST of “The Journey of Flower” (Hua Qian Gu)

22 Feb

Life in China ~ Hungry Ghost Festival

17 Aug

My Chinese friend called today asking to hang out. When I asked what was up, she said she intended to go home today but her brother called and warned her not to travel today. Apparently today the province is celebrating the Hungry Ghost Festival.

It falls on the 15th of the 7th lunar month. According to my friend, they believe that today many ghosts are able to travel around the country. This is why my friend couldn’t travel- she has to leave the way clear for the ghosts instead. Instead many adherents will go to the graves and leave lots of food for the hungry wanderers to eat.

Our Delicious Dumplings 🙂 

They also make hand-made traditional dumplings out of long noodles. They are long so you can wrap up your ancestral ghosts in the strand and keep them close to you in the future. Funnily enough, we went to the little Chinese garden here and ran into 5-6 grandfathers out with their grandkids. They had been tasked with entertaining the kids while grandma made the dumplings. To participate, my friend and I had beef dumplings at the local street market and she promised to wait until tomorrow to go home :p

 

 

4 Year old and her 6.5 year old sister. The older sister starts English classes tomorrow, and they both knew the ABC song!

 

 

 

Twin 4-year olds. They start Kindergarten this  year and are excellent Bubble-blowers!

 

Life in China ~ Alternative Babydoll Lifestyles

14 Mar

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DIAPERS v. THE SQUAT & GO

Was sitting at the window in KFC (yes, thank God we have KFC here–our only Western restaurant in the area!) when I saw the funniest “cultural difference” on display.

Growing up, I frequently worked as a babysitter for children in the States. The little girls loved their dolls and treated them like real children.  They dressed them, fed them bottles, rocked them, and–always funny–changed their diapers.

Well little girls in China are the same–sort of.  This local girl was waiting with her mom at the bus stop and playing with her doll.  She rocked the dolly, patted the dolly, played with its dress.  But then, she proceeded sit the dolly in a crouch and teach it how to do its bathroom business out on the sidewalk.

That’s how children go to the bathroom here. The parents take them outside on the sidewalk, they drop trou, crouch, and do their stuff. The babies all have split pants (pants with large holes around the bottom-area), and they don’t even have to pull their pants down.  

Once I though about it, of course that’s their version of changing diapers–it makes total sense! But it was still hilarious to watch. Seriously, she patted it, talked to it, helped straighten its dress when it was finished.  Such a good mommy-to-be!  But talk about cultural differences! 😛

 

Chinese Lunar Calendar

12 Feb

Introduction to the Chinese Lunar Calendar
and Origin of the Zodiac Animals

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Happy Year of the Monkey!

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Discovery of the World’s Oldest Tea

31 Jan

Archaeologists have discovered a huge stash of the oldest tea in the world buried in the tomb of an ancient Chinese emperor. The tea (pictured right) was badly decomposed, but analysis showed only the finest tips (bottom left) had been picked and buried with the emperor. Similar tea was found in a tomb in Tibet (top left) Archaeologists have uncovered the world’s oldest set of tea leaves from the tomb of an ancient Chinese emperor! 

 Living 2,150 years ago in the Western Han Dynasty, Emperor Jing was a major fan of the delicious drink.  Like all the rest of us tea lovers, Emperor Jing understood the power of the tea leaf and its healing/renewing abilities.  

The collection of tea leaves was 42 feet x 8 inches. That is a major tea haul! If you ever tried drinking tea from leaves rather than a lipton bag, you’ll know that it only takes a small amount to go a long way. This amount probably lasted him a long while in the afterworld!  

This particular type of tea, Camellia Sinesis, comes from a type of small evergreen shrub known as a tea tree. The leaves and buds of the tree are used to create a special, expensive green tea.  There are actually two varieties of the tree–one is used to create the Chinese teas (such as White Tea, Oolong, Pu’er, Green Tea, etc.) and the other is used to create Indian Assam teas. The leaves of the tree have long been applied in Chinese traditional medications and as a caffeine provider.  I’m guessing it was pretty easy to bring the emperor over as a tea supporter 🙂

The tomb was located in Xi’an, China. Xi’an is now world-famous due to the discovery of the Terra Cotta army buried under the local hills and is only about an 8 hour drive from where I live!  I’m really excited; maybe I could see this tea pile 🙂 Emperor Jing’s tomb contained “50,000” terra cotta animals and statues, along with other great treasures.

The extra amazing thing about the tea beyond its age is the fact that it is some of the earliest proof that researchers have about the Silk Road.  It is believed that the emperor may have traded his tea with Tibet where similar tea remains were found dating not long after.  This shows the the Silk Road probably moved thorugh Tibet at the time.  

Resources:

  1. Daily Mail
  2. Medicine.Net
  3. Wikipedia (Don’t Shoot Me)
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Festival Carver

5 May

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Stone-Faced Buddha ~ Longmen Grottoes

22 Apr

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Longmen Grottoes

Took a little trip to the Luòyáng , China this past weekend as part of a culture trip hosted by the University! 

Pronounced something like “loi yahng,” this beautiful home to the National Peony Festival (I’ll add an update on the Peony Garden later) is one of the “cradles of Chinese Civiliazation” and one of the ancient capital cities of China (Henan has 2 of them! – Luoyang and Xinzheng).  The city itself is amazingly clean and open, the streets are unlittered and it’s pretty modern.  

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The best part of my visit by far though was the Longmen Grottoes and the Peony Garden.  This week was part of the 2 week festival they have each year for the Peony festival, so people were everywhere despite the rain.  

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The Longmen Grottoes themselves are absolutely mind-blowing ~ an amazing feat of human design and capability. To imagine that such intricate  design, specific carvings, and gentle touch art were feasible so many centuries ago is one of those things that always stops me in my tracks. I know a lot of people aren’t as interested as I in history and stone statues (several of the teachers I was with were fairly denigrating about spending so much time in a “Stone Garden). But to me, standing on the same ground, touching the rocks they touched, seeing the art they created, glimpsing pieces of hearts long past. It’s simply miraculous.

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The Grottoes are home to thousands and thousands of carvings on the stone faces of the mountain cliffs. Most are of Buddha or his followers, some are pagodas, buildings, and other designs. The varying stone colors used to frame and decorate the statues, each one different from the rest.  Carved over a period of centuries (5th – 15th Century AD), each set was designed by a different artist, many from completely different times. You can trace the changes, both in religion and philosophy (skinny to fat Buddhas for example) and in art styles.

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One of the other reasons the grottoes is so stunning is the River Yi (pron. ee) that runs alongside the valley in front of the rocks. The river is clean and beautiful, sweeping along a lovely walkway as antique-style dragon boats float up and down.  Stone bridges line the view, criss-crossing over to the other side that offers views of antique buildings lining the mountain paths.

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 It’s just a beautiful way to spend a day

 

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