Mizaru Bosatsu

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After struggling to comprehend the needs of so many, his head split into eleven pieces. Amitabha Buddha, seeing his plight, gave him eleven heads with which to hear the cries of the suffering.
Wikipedia, Kuan Yin

The Wikipedia article fails to mention that the eleventh head belongs to none other than Amitabha himself. I suppose you could say it was a meeting of the minds.

In Eurpean mythology, anything with multiple heads is invariably bad news. But then, Europeans were fairly unique; few other cultures were ever quite as removed from, and hostile to, the natural world. To me, the eleven-headed Kuan Yin iconography springs naturally from the botanical metaphor already implicit in the lotus seat.

In Japanese folk religion, though, the many-headed Goddess of Mercy has a Rabelaisian counterpart in the triune Monkey, made famous by its representation at Nikko. Lorianne had some fun with this icon in a recent post:

I had hoped to contribute ten self-portraits to the marathon, so I’m still one shy of my goal…but I have until midnight tonight (or maybe early tomorrow morning?) to post one more attempt.
Until then, though, I’m behaving myself, seeing, speaking, and hearing no evil.
Hoarded Ordinaries (see image)

Seeing a bodhisattva in a thousand-leafed rhododendron — what could be more emblematic of monkey mind?

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7 Comments


  1. For the benefit of the more literal-minded: yes, I realize lotus blossoms don’t form clusters like rhododendron – or the garlic heads that I wrote about in yesterday’s post.

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  2. Yep, those rhodies look just like Kwan Seum Bosal (Korean Kwan Yin) in her eleven-headed incarnation.

    I was tempted to do a self-portrait riff on KSB’s thousand hands & eyes: in eleven headed form, she’s shown with a multitude of arms & hands, each with an eye in the palm. The symbolic import is that as soon as the bodhisattva sees suffering, she has a hand to lend in help. I briefly considered doing a self-portrait that was a montage of my own hands holding various implements, posed in various mudras, etc.

    But I didn’t do it…and I never even *thought* to do an eleven-headed self-portrait. What was (or wasn’t?) I thinking? I guess I need another brain, or maybe even another ten…

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  3. I guess it would’ve been funny if that had been your eleventh self-portrait!

    When i was on my eighth on ninth self-portrait, I briefly toyed with the idea of a “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” portrait, too, so i was happy to see that you’d actually gone ahead and done it.

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  4. I love Lorianne and thinks she’s a smart lady but multiple heads and multiple hands for a self-portrait? Self-portraits tend to be rather gloomy meditations on oneself, or rib-tickling double entendres on the self, a mock-up or make-up, full of illusions or truths too hard to bear but bare them we do. Now the self-portrait got much wider parameters than it’s ever gotten before in Sparky’s Self Portrait Marathon, and even I got chided for not being of the rigorous old school of mirror and pencil only, but a futuristic Quan Yin Buddha of the many-headed/ handed variety would have been quite funny. Now Lorianne and Dave, you guys can go ahead with the many-headed-handed, me, I’m having enough trouble with the multiple perceptions of this one mind: I couldn’t imagine 11 of them!

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  5. I think if I had several more heads, conversation and writing would become more orderly, because instead of going off on multiple tangents as I tend to do now, I could farm each tangent out to a different head. Also, one head could take care of sleeping while the others go on reading, surfing the Internet, nose-picking, etc.

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  6. You mean 11 blogs, one for each head… ? And if you had 11 pairs of hands and 11 computers, why you could write them all simultaneously! If it were me, I’d get into a lot of arguments with myself, though. There’d be one heart, one stomach with 11 mouths, one set of kidneys, one pair of legs. After sleeping on 11 pillows, the race to the loo, and dole-ing out a miniscule bite of breakfast to each of 11 salivating mouths, then we’d have to decide on what to do next, and that could prove to be difficult. Not if I were Kuan Yin, though! I’d head to the hospital with 11 compassionate heads…

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