Friday, May 26, 2006

God = Kanzeon?

[UPDATE: Charles inadvertently reveals to the world the fact that I had not read this essay in any depth before I put up my post. Charles is right: the writer of the essay is at pains to say that "God" does not refer to the traditional God of classical theism. I could attempt to mount a lame defense by saying that the writer is referring to the apophatic "God behind God" found in both Jewish and Christian strains of mysticism, but (1) that would be a phony defense, and (2) given what the author actually says about God, the defense would also be implausible.

While I often engage in post hoc editing of posts to clean up stylistic, mechanical, and factual gaffes, I'll leave my post untouched this time as a reminder to myself to actually read a link thoroughly before pontificating on the linked content. Charles is absolutely right. As for the reason for my negligence, I offer the Air Force Academy cadet's response: "No excuse, sir."]

The Buddhist bodhisattva of compassion is (Skt.) Avalokiteshvara, known in East Asia by three Chinese characters that are pronounced "Kanzeon" (kan-ze-on) in Japanese, "Kuan Shih Yin" in Chinese, and "Kwan Sae-eum" (often misleadingly romanized as "Kwanseum") in Korean.

The name translates literally as "observe-world-sound," and in the Buddhist context is rendered as the English phrase "(She who) hears the cries of the world." You can also refer to this divinity by dropping the middle Chinese character, giving you Kannon (Jpn.), Kuan Yin (Chn.), or Kwan-eum (Kor.).

I stumbled upon an interesting essay by a Buddhist who argues that Kanzeon is the same as the Judaeo-Christian God. Read the essay here. The appropriation of divinities, the transplanting of them from one cosmology to another, is a pretty common occurrence (cf. Jesus as Zen master, as guru, and as avatar of Krsna; cf. also the Buddha as Christian saint); I'm always interested in reading new, creative theologies, especially of the interreligious variety.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Maybe I misread the essay (entirely possible), but the author seems to go out of his way to say that he is not equating the Biblical or traditional God with Gwaneum Bosal. Ultimately, he's just talking about the concept of "God." In other words, it is not that Gwaneum Bosal is the Judeo-Christian God, but that the two figures are different names for the same thing. Similar ideas, perhaps, but semanically very different. The latter idea, for example, is not about one cosmology appropriating deities from another, it's about different cosmologies expressing the ultimate reality in a different way.

Maybe for the author personally, coming from a Judeo-Christian tradition, his idea of God has shifted from the God of the Bible toward Gwaneum Bosal. If I didn't know any better, I would say he is trying to find something to fill the hole left by the God of the Bible (of course, I don't know any better, which is why I said that). For him personally, maybe Gwaneum Bosal has become what the God of the Bible used to be, but that hardly constitutes evidence of cultural appropriation (sorry, that's the folklorist in me getting all spazzy).

At least, this was my reading of the essay.