Who is Kuan Yin?

Kuan Yin postacardQuan Yin (sometimes spelled Kuan Yin, Kwan Yin or Guan Yin) is the Bodhisattva of compassion, revered by Buddhists as the Goddess of Mercy and by the Taoists as an Immortal,  one who is spiritually accomplished, a transcendent being, not tied to the material world. A Bodhisattva is an “enlightenment being” pledged to universal liberation and happiness.

Her name is short for Guan Shi Yin. “Guan” means to observe, watch, or monitor; “Shi” means the world; “Yin” in this context means sounds, specifically sounds of those who suffer. Thus, Guan Yin is a compassionate being who is the “Hearer of the Cries of the Suffering World”.

Epithets for Quan Yin include The Joyful One, The Pure One, The Light-giver, The Radiant One, Difficult to Conquer, Face to Face with Emptiness, The Far-Going One, The Immovable One, Becoming the Good, and Cloud of the Dharma.

She is considered a gate to the paradise world or “Pure Land”, a clean, bright place full of delight — an oasis, island, mountain, garden or jeweled city that is the source of great rivers and the waters of life. This world is outside of linear time and space and mechanical cause and effect. Souls reborn here are wrapped in a lotus that unfolds to show the truth of their eternal nature and the reality of compassion and joy.

The Pure Land holds Fullness of Being – a flowing abundance of food, life, communication, creativity, space, beauty, intelligence, freedom and spontaneity, along with release from greed, lust, ignorance and compulsion. When aligned with the Body of Light, we exist there, freed from the paradigm of opposites, easily integrating sensuality and spirituality.

The Pure Land is the great enclosure that keeps us safe as we cross what the Buddhists call the Sea of Suffering. We experience the Pure Land from the Hsin (sometimes spelled xin), the Chinese word signifying heart-mind, the uncorrupted, unconditioned thought, spirit and energy of the heart that relates to the “spirit” or divine, sacred capacity of human beings to connect with and manifest the Tao.

Many of us are unable to awaken to this spirit on our own and the figure of the Savior or Redeemer who acts as a bridge or boat that sails the waters between ordinary existence (referred to as the Tomb World) and the Pure Lands is one of humanity’s most powerful archetypes in every religious and mythical tradition.

This is how Quan Yin functions — as a symbolic bridge to the world of the spirit, an experience of the spirit of paradise. She helps us understand ourselves in a new way and redirects our consciousness, freeing us to live compassionately by pointing at the insightful wisdom that reality is actually a symbolic, not a literal experience.

The Chinese word for this is Hsiang. It means “symbolizing”. Hsiang means making images that have the power to connect the visible world of our daily existence to the invisible world of the spirit. We hsiang things by imagining, creating, imitating, acting and acting out, playing, writing, or divining. Qigong and Tai Chi are physical expressions of “Hsiang” (for information about Kuan Yin Standing Qigong, click here).

When we pose a question that expresses a real “cry from the heart”, Quan Yin is there for us. She expresses her compassion through practices, divination, dreams, and visions that affirm the bond between the human realm and the world of what is considered divine. From this connection, flows the experience we call “paradise” or a direct “acquaintance” with the source of reality.

By connecting with Quan Yin in this manner, we acquire what the Taoists called Te This word can be translated as power and virtue, potency, or “Actualizing-Tao”. An ancient word, Te is associated with Tao, as in the Tao-te ching. Te is the power or virtue that allows something to fully exist, a realizing power that can be accumulated, nurtured and acquired by people and objects. In the human world it is the charisma or inner power that makes a ‘great person’ great. Powerful te generates a powerful person; exalted te produces a sage. If we are full of te, we are numinous because we hold the power to realize the way or tao in ourselves. By accumulating and refining te, we both contribute to and partake of paradise.

© Sharon Smith

All rights reserved.

Source Material – The Kuan Yin Oracle, the Voice of the Goddess of Compassion by Stephen Karcher


December’s 2009 – The Astrological Weather

It’s windy and cold here on the East Coast of the U.S. and the astrological weather will prove to be the same no matter where you live.

Changing winds bring energetic reversals as three planets stop and shift direction – Mars goes retrograde in Leo on 12/20, Uranus went direct in Pisces in early December (strongly affecting Aquarians; those born in late Pisces, Virgo, Sagittarius, and Gemini; as well as anyone with strong Uranus), and that old trickster, Mercury retrogrades in Capricorn on the North Node of the Moon on the 27th.

The Mars retrograde period means the warrior planet is in Leo from October 17, 2009 to June 7, 2010 — almost 8 months!  Seven of those months either in retrograde or in the shadow of the retrograde. Mars, a normally externally oriented planet, goes internal. The glorious lion with the beautiful roar has a bad case of bronchitis until mid-March and doesn’t experience a full recovery until early June.

Such a difficult task for Mars in Leo who desperately wants to be the one who comes in to save the day! You’ll find that pushing ahead creates opposition and frustration but on the other hand, internalizing your aggression might be worse — harming your health or sabotaging your relationships or work life. It’s a tough place to be in. If you have planets in Leo, be aware of these tendencies and find ways to channel the aggressive energy. Being sneaky or indirect will not do the trick! Martial arts, boxing, and vigorous exercise can all help channel your energy. And if you are considering any kind of surgery, see if you can postpone it until after Mars turns direct (at least after March 12, 2010) or better yet, the end of the retrograde shadow (June 7, 2010).  Watch the world stage to see how this plays out in Afghanistan and other hot spots.

While Jupiter rules the first part of the month, bringing festivities, celebrations, and a devil-may-care attitude, first fast-moving Mercury, then the Sun and Venus activate Pluto in Capricorn and Saturn in Libra, bringing our attention to the inevitable – the reality principle.  Which is what these days?   There’s not much we can count on right now.  The ground is shifting beneath our feet as we all struggle to find our way in what seems to be a new, but indefinable paradigm.

The period between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve brings this home, with the culmination at a partial lunar eclipse on New Year’s Eve. It’s a chilly time. Economic conditions and pressures in personal relationships will be felt more intensely by all, but especially those born from the 20th to the end of December, March, June, and September and those with planets in early cardinal signs — particularly those with Saturn in Libra, Capricorn, Aries, or Cancer as well as the generation born with Pluto in early Libra (late 1971 – 1974).  See the November weather below for more details on this.

In a recent consultation with the I Ching about my personal financial life, I found the reading I received relevant to the current planetary situation.  Hexagram #47, known as Oppression or Exhaustion (Lake over Water) changing to Hexagram #1 (Heaven over Heaven) – The Creative or Initiating.  A very fortunate reading actually, but not at first glance.   The picture is of difficulty and hardship, a situation where one is tired and exhausted. It is difficult to move forward or to go back. All the yin lines describe the gloom of exhaustion and its antidote – the gaining of enlightenment.  The only choice is to return home to one’s true nature by sincere self-examination.  All the lake’s water has drained leaving it bone dry.

Hexagram #1

Fortunately, all these yin lines change to yang and if one truly is sincere in self-inquiry,  the bankrupt situation by necessity, transforms itself into the creativity necessary to handle current conditions. Heaven is over Heaven.  Often translated as “The Creative”, the first hexagram of the I Ching expresses  perfect yang energy — pure, healthy, firm. The Chinese ideogram is of the rising sun radiating and nourishing chi to the entire world. An expression of health and vitality. Whew! What a relief….

On the 16th, the challenging square of Uranus to the New Moon in Sagittarius is fortunately mitigated by a benefic relationship to the triple conjunction of Jupiter (optimistic expansion), Chiron (healing), and Neptune (spirituality) in Aquarius (friends and community) that’s been blessing us off and on since last May.  This is the hope, healing, and sense of belonging that we all crave at this season when the movement of the sun descends to its nadir in the northern hemisphere and peaks in the southern half of the globe.

Taoists believe that the days before, during, and after every solstice and equinox are portals through which one can walk through the gates of heaven.  They are like the earth’s sunrise, noon, sunset, and midnight — important moments in the movement of chi through its perpetual dance of yin and yang.  Take some time to meditate and contemplate your place in this amazing universe, feeling gratitude for all there is.

Wishing you, your loved ones, and your community,  all the best in this holiday season.

International Tai Chi Symposium – What is the State of the Art????

Master Chen Zhenglei, one of the "4 Tigers"

Master Chen Zhenglei, one of the "4 Tigers"


  • Barack Obama studied with Chen Tai Chi Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei in 1998!
  • According to the latest studies, Tai Chi practitioners were found to be more relaxed than yoga practitioners after one year of practice.  In fact, the yoga practitioners were more stressed than when they started!
  • After just 2 weeks of Tai Chi class, people with osteoarthritis reported major improvements, including weight loss and better pain management.

These are some of the more interesting tidbits of information that I picked up at the International Tai Chi Symposium held in Nashville, Tennessee from July 5-11.  This historic event brought together the grandmasters of the 5 major families of Tai Chi Chuan (Wu, Wu-Hao, Yang, Chen, and Sun for those who might not be aware of the fine distinctions) for the first time in a spirit of education and cultural exchange with 400 Tai Chi practitioners, teachers, students and academic and medical researchers who are committed to bringing Tai Chi into the 21st century.  Given the traditional secrecy associated with the various family styles, sometimes it felt like all of the Mafia dons of New York and New Jersey were having a major pow-wow!

Master Ma Hailong, Master Wu Wenhan, Master Yang Zhenduo, Master Chen Zhenglei, Master Sun Yongtian

Master Ma Hailong, Master Wu Wenhan, Master Yang Zhenduo, Master Chen Zhenglei, Master Sun Yongtian

3 of these guys were elders (75 to mid-80’s) and the other 2 were middle-aged holders of the family lineage.  Having lived and breathed Tai Chi since childhood,  watching them do their forms was witnessing the fruits of years and years of practice. They were inspirational examples of the best that Chinese martial arts offer.

We listened to all the grandmasters hold forth in a keynote speech translated for the audience and then attempted to learn a 16 movement routine in each style; watched beautiful demonstrations by them, their students, and other luminaries of the world of internal arts; heard panel discussions on academic and medical research on Tai Chi; listened to new and creative applications of Tai Chi for special populations, and contemplated the future of the art with new and old Tai Chi friends.

It was a very male, China-centric event with many toasts, speeches, endless clapping and self-congratulation at such a historic moment.  Women took a secondary role throughout the symposium.  Master Helen Wu

Master Helen Wu

Master Helen Wu

and Master Zifang Su Master Zifang Su, the two female masters,  gave pre-conference seminars and most participants did not even know they were there until the last demonstration. Two of the daughters helped their fathers teach and to their credit, did an excellent job, particularly Chen Zhenglie’s daughter, a very fine Chen style practitioner. In a poignant footnote to the value of women in Chinese culture, a local Nashville charity – Annabelle’s Wish – made regular pitches for financial donations to help the orphanages in China that are primarily full of unwanted girls due to China’s family planning policy.

Master Zifang Su

Master Zifang Su demonstrating self-defense applications w/ her son

One Grandmaster stated that one must understand Chinese culture in order to understand Tai Chi.  A Chinese master currently living in Kansas City rebutted this with a statement that I feel is more true at this stage of Tai Chi’s development.  He said the truth was that you couldn’t really understand Tai Chi unless you understand physics.  Ah so!  I can get behind that one.

It’s important to note that Buddhism developed differently in China than it did in Japan or Tibet.  It seems reasonable that Tai Chi will also have its own developmental trajectory and develop a distinctly western (if not American) flavor since it will inevitably be influenced by what’s going on here. This will not be the classicism of the original as represented by these 5 grandmasters, but a meditational movement form that will be influenced by scientific and medical advances, the fitness industry, and all of the so-called New Age movement styles (Feldenkrais, Authentic Movement, etc.).  After all, most people here although they are interested in the self-defense applications, practice Tai Chi for their health.   It seems logical that Tai Chi as well as other practices from the East (yoga included)  will necessarily evolve as the culture does — becoming more nurturing, less hierarchical, and less male-dominated.

©Photographs by Sharon Smith
All rights reserved.

Click here for more pictures of the Grandmasters.

Master Sun Yongtian w/ his student

Master Sun Yongtian (the Fighter) w/ his student

Master Yang Zhenduo, the Dalai Lama of Tai Chi

Master Yang Zhenduo, the "Dalai Lama" of Tai Chi

Master Wu Wenhan, the Intellectual

Master Wu Wenhan, the Intellectual

Master Ma Hailong, the Aesthete

Master Ma Hailong, the Aesthete

Hexagram- #55-“Abundance”

Our I Ching group has been meeting for several years.  Often we come up with a “group” question to pose to the Sage.  Tonight we hemmed and hawed about how to stay positive in a world where most of us are swimming in the negative soup served up the media.  We decided that we all knew the answer to this dilemma and  that it wasn’t quite the right question for the Sage. So the question we finally came up with was, “What is the best way to live with changes?”  We received hexagram #55-“Abundance”-Thunder over Fire with no moving lines.


Thunder (Chen or Zhen) i-ching-thunderis an aspect of the Wood element- the introduction of a new principle springtime energy, upward moving chi.  Its function is to shake things up and find the motivation (the yang line at the bottom) that makes things happen.

Fire is radiant and illuminating.  It creates clarity and is the spirit of warmth.  Mythologically, it is manifested in a shape-i-ching-fire1changing bird with brilliant plumage that comes to rest on things. Its action is to cling to whatever it touches.   It is the single yin line in the middle that holds two strong lines together

Wood produces Fire and Fire exhausts Wood (Thunder).  The I Ching seems to be saying that on an elemental level, change can be either exhausting (fire exhausts wood) or nourishing (wood produces fire).

In the various different texts we use as source material (Wilhelm of course, Deng Ming Dao, Stephen Karcher, Al Huang, Carol Anthony, and Brian Walker among others), the Sage then goes on to talk about independent watchfulness, moving with clarity and grace, and action that creates the expert timing that is derived from the clear understanding of cycles.  In effect, the best way to live with change is to let brightness and awareness stir everything up so that creativity flourishes.

Carol Anthony reminds us that if one receives this hexagram, it is important to delete the negative images that block abundance.  These come in the form of poison arrows and spells that are projected by media, our childhood experiences and even the time before birth. All of these can block our abilities to respond creatively to what life brings to us.

She leaves us with this reminder, “BE NOT SAD.  BE LIKE THE SUN AT MID-DAY!”

The Year of the OX

ox-small-sign PREDICTIONS FOR 2009

“It is better to take many small steps in the right direction than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backward.”

Take note!  The Ox year is now upon us and it is to your advantage to accept that yoke around your neck instead of trying to escape it.

2009 is an Earth Ox Year.  Earth sitting on top of Earth behaves like two siblings – sometimes they are friends, at other times, competitors. The earth energy above is Yin Earth, symbolizing a garden that exudes a sense of harmony, peace and relaxation.  Underneath is the Ox — the work animal whose main pleasure is a dinner of grass after a hard day’s work.  Stay connected to the earth —  grow a garden, eat more vegetables. Simplify your life and your pleasures.

Ox years serve to move us toward slow, steady progress.  No flamboyance here.  The Ox strives hard, challenging and pushing us to get our work done.  In extreme cases, he can go over the edge into despotic behavior but this is unlikely in a yin year like 2009.  Let your splashy dreams rest.  Instead,  recuperate, re-organize, and set your plans in motion with caution and care.  It’s an Earth/Earth year and that means work, work, and more work.  This is great news for those who enjoy it but less than ideal for couch potatoes out there looking for a free ride.

Whatever difficulties years of profligate behavior have created, it’s time to rebuild. Push that stubborn heavy rock slowly and painstakingly up the mountain without complaints. Economize, save, connect with whatever will give you a sense of security.  Meditate, exercise, simplify your life, care for your elders and your children.  Cultivate modesty.  Discipline is the name of this game.

This is a year for healing the earth plane — rebuilding, reconstructing, seeking peace, making some progress in caring for our planet. 1949 was the last Earth Ox Year when the world order settled down.  It saw the creation of NATO and the birth of the Peoples Republic of China. Countries were rebuilding and healing from the devastation of WWII and there were no major conflicts.  The conflicts that did occur signaled the beginning of the Cold War.

Emotionally, people will be very concerned about mother and security issues with so much Earth energy.  This kind of energy relates to the spleen/stomach/pancreas and any sense of insecurity will translate somatically as muscle difficulties, digestion issues, diabetes, and weight problems (both over- and under-).  Embodiment and support in body, mind, and spirit will be major preoccupations. The health of Mother Earth will continue to be worrisome with more concern about climate change and the melting of the polar ice caps.  Earthquakes and other misfortunes related to the earth element could occur – collapse of buildings, landslides, mudslides, etc.

Success happens this year only through a very calm and thoroughly pragmatic approach. There is no fire supporting the earth in 2009 (fire burns to create earth) so gambling and speculation will not be profitable.  Only those who work at tangible results will succeed.  Earth is the ground beneath us.  It’s hard to move and difficult to make a change so don’t expect any radical turnarounds.

Although this seems like a serious time, friends and family will provide the safety valves necessary to release whatever stress accumulates from all work and no play.  Save your wild new concepts for next year’s Tiger.  As much as you would like to loll around and do nothing, don’t resist the energy of the time.  Instead, keep your nose to the grindstone, refrain from rebelling, follow the rules, cooperate with the authorities and prepare for an abundant harvest!