Is Avalokiteśvara embodying, or teaching about, compassion?
Avalokiteśvara is a bodhisattva, who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. En route between India and China, the male Avalokiteśvara changed gender and became the female Guanyin (Kanzeon or Kannon in Japan).
We might, of course, consider the sex change as a manifestation of traditional patriarchal sexism, allocating ‘compassion’ to women as a narrative useful to make them take care of / serve others (men, children, elders)…
Or, we might consider that, somehow, the Sacred Feminine was re-made visible into Buddhism, as a welcome evolution / next step of Buddhism's challenge to fixed, rigid conventions1.
Even in narratives where Avalokiteśvara remains male, he's connected to the Sacred Feminine, as the illustrious female bodhisattvas, White Tārā and Green Tārā, arise from his tears2.
And if we're to consider the Sacred Feminine in relation to the embodiment of spirituality and to spiritual service, then it's foundational in Buddhism:
the Middle Way rejects asceticism (the ‘male,’ violent attempt to separate / free the mind from the body);
the ‘female’ energy is crucial to the awareness of the collective (emotional intelligence), and to the well-rounded growth of the individual;
etymologically, from Avalokiteśvara to Guanyin implies a shift from looking —“lord who gazes down”— to hearing —“who hears the cries”— and seeing tends to be directed / focused / chosen by self / ‘male’ while hearing is more open / triggered by others / ‘female’;
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