Friday, 22 April 2011

No ivory tower

Ankhor, Apsara
Photo by Rosa Yoskovsky

In the East Grinstead study group last month we looked at Hexagram 20, GUANGuan means to see, to hear, to perceive and understand. The hexagram is formed of Xun (Wind) over Kun (Earth), and has the overall form of the trigram Gen (Mountain).

There are a lot of similarities between Guan and Hexagram 52, Gen, Stillness: they are the two hexagrams of meditation, reflection, contemplation.

But Guan is not exactly the same as Gen. Gen is all about Stillness; it is the essence of stability. Guan has the deep solidity of Earth, but it also has the gentle, penetrating quality of Wind, which can go everywhere; it moves, but nothing is moving it, and it adapts to fit every situation.

Guan means to observe. It can also mean an observatory – for the stars, i.e. the movements of the Dao, or for one's own Dao: a temple or meditation hall is sometimes called dao guan. The form describes a tower, like one of the guard towers along the Great Wall, a place where one can look down “from a height”.

But this hexagram is not about looking down from a height; it's not an ivory tower.

Guan is the same word as the name of the bodhisattva Guanyin, or Guanshiyin, corresponding to the Sanskrit Avalokitasvara, or the Tibetan Tara. Guan Yin, the bodhisattva of compassion, hears the cries of everyone. She is depicted as a thousand-eyed, thousand-armed goddess, the great master of love and sympathy. But Guan Yin not only hears the cries of the world,

... she incorporates them. She quite literally feels them as her own and responds with the all-embracingness of a healing love, a love that mends what has been sundered...What Kuan Yin accomplishes with her wish-fulfilling gem is not necessarily the closing of some objective difference or distance, but the erasure of whatever has been imposed on our relations with others (our narration) to give us the illusion of discontinuity, of painful cleavage, of intractability.” (Peter Hershock, Liberating Intimacy, p104)

In other words, Guan Yin not only sees our suffering, she sees the truth behind our suffering. She dispels the illusion of our separateness, and so dispels our anguish.

When we engage in the kind of spiritual practice that turns, with open eyes, toward life as it is – when we sit down in the middle of our own lives and say “This is me. I am willing to look at what is true, what is real, and what is present”, we are Guan.

The Gua Ci tells us “Being true is as good as majestic” (Brad's translation), or “There is truth and confidence like a presence” (Hilary's translation). The word translated as “true/truth” is Fu, the same word as in the ming gua of Hexagram 61 Zhong Fu; it's a very important word in the Yijing, carrying meanings of not only veracity, but also sincerity and trustworthiness. It is a word that has very little to do with “objective” factuality, and a great deal to do with caring, watchful concern.

When we look with anything but compassionate eyes, we do a kind of violence, perpetuating "the illusion of painful cleavage".  And that is just as much true of our self-regard as in our perception of others.

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