Finding the Feminine in Buddhism

Finding the Feminine in Buddhism
by Patricia Willoughby
When I was growing up in Ireland, the Catholic nuns who taught me upheld Mary, mother of God, as a figure to emulate. She bore titles such as Our Lady of Succor, Mother of Mercy, Queen of Heaven; she represented mercy, love wisdom and acceptance.
In history class we learned Irish mythology, with heroines of pre-Christian days:
Brigid was the earth goddess and healer, larger than life, vibrant, earthy, vigorous. In the Irish sagas there was Maeve, warrior queen of Connaught. So It is not surprising that in my life-long spiritual quest I have always sought out female images of the devine and I look for them in Buddhism.
I found an image of Kwan Yin, portrayed sitting on a lotus leaf, with left leg drawn up and right leg resting on the ground, ready to come to the aid of all who suffer. Her right hand opens palm-outward over her knee in the gesture meaning “all is well”, and her left hand lifts in the gesture of “all is well, do not be afraid”.
Kwan Yin originated in China and is venerated in Japan, Korea, and throughout south-east Asia. Some scholars believe that she was brought from India in the form of Avalokitesvara, the embodiment of compassion in male form. As she gradually became more Chinese, she took on a complete female character and appearance. She is especially venerated by women who call upon her to grant them children, and ask her to protect them during childbirth. She is also venerated by Chinese seamen who call upon her to protect them on the stormy ocean.
Other scholars believe that Kwan Yin Originated in the Indian, later Tibetan, goddess Tara who attained enlightenment in female form. Her name means “rescuer”. She is known as the “Mother of all the Buddhas”.
Since I find myself in a female form in this lifetime, it is important to me to know that there have been women who attained enlightenment. For me, both Kwan Yin and Tara resonate with my earliest experiences of the divine in female form and embody the qualities of compassion, wisdom and strength.
Sandy Boucher, Opening the Lotus: A Woman’s Guide to Bhuddism: Beacon Press,