Book Review: Bodhisattva of Compassion: The Mystical Tradition of Kuan Yin (John Blofeld)

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Interesting, if a little confusing.

TL;DR – A series of collected stories and information about Kwan Yin, Bodhisattva and Godess.

3.5 Button


Why I read it…

I came across Kwan Yin Bodhisattva some time ago – one of my Buddhist friends introduced her to me. It was interesting to see a prominent Buddhist figure who had gone from a male from (Avalokiteshvara) to female, some trans Buddhist folk I know see that as a really big thing for what I assume should be obvious reasons. Since then I’ve been meaning to research her a bit and this book was on a list of recommendations.

The Book…

This book is more like a collection of anecdotes than anything else. I could be wrong, but it doesn’t appear to have been actually researched. That’s not to say it isn’t accurate, just don’t go into it expecting references or academic stuff.

It follows Blofeld’s quest to discover Kwan Yin. He begins by telling us how his quest began – specifically that a bronze statue addressed him in a temple once. What follows is an examination of Kwan Yin from as many perspectives as possible. We learn about the manifestations of Kwan Yin – from Buddhist figure to Chinese mythical princess. Then we look at her origins in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism and her possible origins and a combination of Tara and Avalokiteshvara. Then we have some chapters on her history as the subject of Chinese folk tales, sacred rites and practices, meditations and so on.

Each chapter is presented as either first hand information or recollection of stories the author was told by people he has discussed the topic with.

What I liked…

I liked the first half of this book or so. The discussion of the theoretical histories, origins and interpretations was really interesting, and the fact that Blofeld provided (what he claims to be) accurate transcripts of discussions he’s had was a peculiar but welcome change from the usual academic non-fiction I read.

I particularly enjoyed the section where Blofeld discussed – at length – the connection between Kwan Yin and Tara. Blofeld treats us to stories of peoples interactions with these figures, without trying to dismiss them automatically as nonsense – and speaks of his own experiences that could be considered ‘supernatural’.

What I disliked…

The last chapter. I really don’t know what happened. I was enjoying the book until the last chapter, at which point it felt like the writing changed and all of a sudden I was reading a different book. For the life of me I couldn’t tell you how this book ended.

Final thoughts…

This book was an interesting read, and the format of collected anecdotes was novel and different – although what the means in terms of accuracy I’m not sure. It was worth reading though, even if I didn’t enjoy the final chapter.

Please note: I am in no way affiliated with the author or publishers. I bought this book with my own money for my own reasons. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

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