BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

Another "For Review" Book ...

I was pleasantly surprised to get this in the mail last week from Hampton Roads Publishing (, the group that had contacted me via LibraryThing to see if I'd be interested in reviewing some titles outside of Lt's "early reviewer" program. I guess they weren't overly upset by my less-than-rave review of Buddha for Beginners.

Unfortunately, I find many of the same caveats in The Kuan Yin Chronicles: The Myths and Prophecies of the Chinese Goddess of Compassion by Martin Palmer (with Jay Ramsay, poet, and Man-Ho Kwok, translator). It's almost as if there was an institutional (I know, I'm only judging from two books) "anti-Shamanic" bias over there that serves to marginalize (or even outright ignore) traditions with strong Shamanic elements. At least in this book the Tibetan Goddess Tara is mentioned, but in being a female expression of Avalokitesvara (same as Kuan Yin), you'd think she'd rate as much ink as the Japanese Kannon, but Tara doesn't even make it into the Index.

Frankly, I got "faked out" by the sub-title here: "The Myths and Prophesies of the Chinese Goddess of Compassion", and was sort of expecting more of a collection of bits and pieces presented pretty much on their own. This is not the case. If fact, the first third of the book is a historical look at Kuan Yin in China. the second third a discussion and "modern re-telling" of various "Myths & Legends" about Kuan Yin, and the last third an analysis of the "Poems of Kuan Yin", which are used (much like the I Ching) for divination, along with a new translation.

There are some fascinating bits in the fist section, of how the figure of Avalokitesvara (a male bodhisattva) evolved into the female figure of Kuan Yin (again, as happened in Tibet with the manifestation of Tara). One of the factors the authors cite is the presence of Christian missionaries in China, bringing icons of Mary, which (they suggest) served as a template for the eventual representations of Kuan Yin. Another note of interest is that "Kuan Yin" is a shortened version of her original Chinese name, Kuan Shi Yin ...
She is normally only known as Kuan Yin. This is because in the mid-seventh century, it became a capital offense to utter the word "shi". This was because it formed part of the original name of the founder of the Tang dynasty, Li Shi Ning. Eager to forget his poverty-stricken and working-class origins, mention of his original name was banned on penalty of death.
... quite an incentive for a name change!

The "Myths & Legends" section discusses the development of the cult of Kuan Yin through various stories from different areas. These are re-told in a rather conversational way, which would be interesting to see in parallel with a more "linear" translation.

Finally, there is the divinatory aspect where 100 poems (in the original, these have the same format, four lines of seven characters each, the translator opted to go for the "meaning" and let go the formal structure) were used as the answer to a question posed while shaking a container with 100 numbered sticks ... the stick that first fell out was the poem you were supposed to read.

The Kuan Yin Chronicles is an interesting book, it has history, analysis, divination, and just enough devotion to make it seem heart-felt (I, personally, would have preferred to have had more of the latter in the forms of some specific Kuan Yin meditations). It has just been released, and both Amazon and the publisher have it at a discount. If you've ever wondered about Kuan Yin (I grew up with a statue of her in our back-yard garden, and this would have been a handy book to have read back then), this will certainly familiarize you with her!

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Tags: book review
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