Becoming Ourselves: A great read can help us discover our highest self
Becoming Kuan Yin: The Evolution of Compassion
By Stephen Levine (Weiser Books)
Stephen Levine’s Becoming Kuan Yin tells of Miao Shan, the daughter of a spiteful Chinese king. When she wouldn’t yield to his wishes that she become the wife of a military officer, he banished her to a life of hardship and abuse in a convent and threatened to kill the abbess if she did not break his daughter’s will.
The young woman was given a windowless room, a stone floor for a bed, latrines and animal pens to clean, and stone walls to dust, which rained sharp tiny specks into her eyes. To the king’s angry surprise, Miao Shan thrived in caring for the hideously ill and suffering, emerging in history and myth as Kuan Yin, a female Bodhisattva—an enlightened being who turns back from nirvana to serve others on earth.
The first book in a decade for Levine ( Who Dies?, A Year to Live ), Becoming Kuan Yin is more poetic than didactic, an infectious fever dream of images and insights. Reminiscent of St. Francis, Kuan Yin drew wild animals to her even as a young girl, and she fed them by hand. These creatures—tigers, snakes, wild boar, wise carp, even pterodactyls and dragons—offer a menagerie of metaphors.
While her story holds elements of spiritual parable—Cinderella meets Mother Teresa—Levine mines it for contemporary reference points, drawing on the experience of service to the dying for lessons in compassion and forgiveness.
“Becoming” is the key to the reader’s relation to Kuan Yin: her challenges and transcendence a guide for less evolved souls to confront our own pain and doubts, to escape the illusion of our “selves,” to find in our own suffering compassion for the suffering of others.
This is a book you access through intuition as much as intellect, one to read again and again, struck by new awareness each time.
Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography
By Richard Rodriguez (Viking)
In the months after the events of September 11, 2001, the award-winning journalist Richard Rodriguez found himself drawn to learn more about Islam—both the religion and its followers. He began a quest that took him from the old kingdom of Jerusalem to the posh high-tech world of Silicon Valley. Along the way, he examined not only how this religion is so misunderstood by the Western world, but also how he had developed his own relationship with the faith. As a Roman Catholic, he sees himself as a spiritual cousin to both Jews and Muslims, who worship the same God. Yet as a homosexual he feels excluded from all three religions.
Rodriguez suggests that, more than a decade after September 11, we are “at the dawn of a worldwide religious war that Americans prefer to name a ‘war against terror.’” In this collection of provocative and beautifully crafted essays, Rodriguez challenges the reader to move beyond the dialogue of terrorism—and the resulting grief and sadness—to a place of greater understanding and compassion.
He equates the feminist movement of the ’60s with the current movement for gay rights. And he believes that women, in their compassion and wisdom, will play a central role in the future of the desert religions that have treated them as second-class citizens for centuries.
From False Dogma to Life-Affirming Faith: Journalist and author Richard Rodriguez discusses faith, terrorism, and “the age of the woman.”
How does faith play into your personal definition of religion?
There is no “personal definition of religion.” Religion defines itself; religion is creed, it is form, the enumeration of laws and beliefs. Faith, on the other hand, is often idiosyncratic. Faith can be at variance with dogmatism and certitude. Faith is the willingness to trust in the God of the night, to live with a God who remains in mystery.
You’ve said of September 11, 2001: “It worries me that 10 years later, we’re still preoccupied with this one event. We need to move from grief to a different kind of sadness.” What would that entail?
A society that is overwhelmed by grief forbids imagination, which is an understanding of the world beyond itself—and a grief other than its own. I am struck that cultures that are “tragic” in their disposition often are more joyful than a culture like America’s, which is afraid of grief.
Why did you publish this memoir now?
There is an epic change in the world—let me call it “the
age of the woman.” It may be that the male energy is