...life can be translucent

Nearing, Seeing

On my ‘day off’ a couple of weeks ago, I went and wandered round the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, going whereever I felt drawn. Presently I found myself up on the second floor, in front of a huge wooden carving of a seated Guan Yin. There she is in her perspex box, faded cracking wood and bright eyes, hand raised in blessing.

Most statues in museums feel like – well – statues in museums. Guan Yin felt like Guan Yin, and I spent a long time standing and gazing up at her. Then a couple passed by and I stepped to one side out of their way – and then a French family came in. The smallest child, a boy of maybe three, ran straight to Guan Yin and stood at her feet, calling out, ‘Regarde! Regarde!’ (‘Look! Look!’)

The story tells how after a good life, Guan Yin was crossing the threshold of heaven when she heard a cry of suffering from the world, and turned back in compassion. She became the ‘goddess of mercy’, who always hears those who call: her name, 觀音, literally means ‘observes the sounds’ or ‘listens to the cries’. Guan, 觀, is the name of Hexagram 20, Seeing.

The Zagua describes how Hexagrams 19, Nearing and 20, Seeing form a pair:

‘What is right for Nearing and Seeing: someone reaches out, someone seeks.’

Hexagram 19Nearing and Seeing are two aspects of a single relationship, and the boundaries between them blur; the Zagua doesn’t even make any very clear distinction to say which hexagram might mean reaching out or seeking. In fact, Seeing seems to be one of those hexagrams that tacitly includes its pair: between actions, attention opens out a space for seeing where truth can be ‘like a presence’. In Hexagram 19, that presence Nears: it can be seen welling up in the yang lines of the hexagramHexagram 19, and gazing down in the Chinese character (above). Guan Yin’s name shows that she Sees, and she also Nears and looks down over the world.

‘Regarde! Regarde!’

3 responses to Nearing, Seeing

  1. I’ve always had a place in my heart for Guan Yin. Even though my activities in Second Life have always been Confucianist, this one element of the Buddhist tradition has always been a part of my life there. In fact the only Buddhist object a the Temple of the Singularity in Amatsu Shima is a Guan Yin statue that I made a long time ago. It’s right next to the dragon gate in the oracle cave. It used to reside in Guan Yin Garden, the first major design of the talented lady who created Amatsu Shima, Suzanne Logan.


  2. We have a similar statue here in the Metropolitan Museum of Art — the very image of timeless compassion.

    In its presence, one feels one’s difficulties and concerns are made smaller — even negligible —

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