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Maria-Kannon: A Focal Point for Buddhist Christian Interactions

Thomas Merton proclaimed in his essay, “The Woman Clothed with the Sun” that a certain power existed in the fact that we know so little of the Virgin Mary. Merton saw Mary’s non-divinity as virtuous in itself and realized that her humility and “hiddenness” offered a path to wisdom. Since she lacks, in the New Testament, a definitive biography or character, she is able to symbolize the merits of the one who is empty. Merton wrote that by “having nothing of her own, retaining nothing of a “self” that could glory in anything for her own sake, she placed no obstacle to the mercy of God and in no way resisted His love and His will. Hence she received more from him than any other saint.”

At this point I am reminded of sunyata, the Buddhist notion of emptiness, and of the Bodhisattva ideal. Through self-emptying and becoming liberated from the ego, one achieves the archetype Bodhisattva status, becomes a teacher, a model, and even a savior or savioress to those who reside in sorrow and ignorance. In this sense the Bodhisattva ideal is very similar to that of the “hidden” and mysterious Virgin Mary. Neither can be solidified by form and both are empowered by their emptied natures.

The Bodhisattva of Compassion, Kuan Yin, “The Divine Who Hears the Cries of the World” reaching out with a thousand arms to help everyone is probably the best example of an active feminine deity in Buddhism. Mary, on the other hand, is often interpreted to be the passive, obedient follower of Christ. If one were to place the two icons side by side, the thousand-armed deity and the veiled Mother, it would be like looking at two opposites. The two become much closer, however, when taking into account Merton’s view of the power in Mary’s hidden nature and the reality that six million people visit Lourdes each year, just one of the many pilgrimage sites dedicated to her.

This essay will attempt to outline the similarities of these two beings, Mary and Kuan Yin, by examining instances in which Christianity and Buddhism have interacted utilizing these two icons. In chronological order it will cover historic meeting points in China, Japan, Vietnam and America. For the sake of clarity, it should be noted that the Bodhisattva of Compassion is known throughout Asia by different names. The focus will be on certain feminine forms of this deity: the Chinese Kuan Yin, the Japanese Kannon, and the Vietnamese Quam Am. All of these names refer to the same deity. In addition, Tara, the Tibetan Goddess, who is believed to have been born from a tear drop that fell from the bodhisattva’s eye, will also appear when examining China Galland’s discoveries of connections between the Tibetan goddess and the Black Madonna. The intention of this essay, then, is to show how these images provide a diverse history of interactions between religious communities, in different cases in which religious concepts were shared, transformed, subverted, or accommodated.

The Creation of the Feminine Kuan Yin

When first imported into China, the Bodhisattva of Compassion was portrayed as a masculine figure called Avalokitesvara. However, the Chinese feminized the Bodhisattva and named her Kuan Yin. The process of the gender change of Kuan Yin developed throughout the 10 th and 11 th centuries. Due to limited evidence, however, scholars cannot be certain of the exact time, location or even the reason for this change. It has been argued that the conversion was the result of a transfusion of different religions present on the Silk Road. It has also been suggested that it is a conflation of an indigenous deity with the Buddhist bodhisattva.

Throughout history China tended to view itself as a superior society with a superior culture and frequently denounced anything foreign as barbarian. Several Tang rulers were an exception to this attitude and were surprisingly open to foreign ideas with an eccentric taste for the exotic. That period, therefore, displayed an unusual amount of tolerance towards foreign religions which were able to practice and intermingle freely with their Chinese counterparts.

In 635 A.D a delegation of Nestorian missionaries led by a bishop named Aluoben were officially received by the imperial court in the Tang capital of Chang-an. Emperor Taizong, who “possessed a charisma and personal magnetism attractive to the finest minds of his time,” met Aluoben in the Imperial Library. It was there that missionaries began to translate their scriptures into Chinese. Recovered relics provide evidence that the missionaries were influenced by the Chinese traditions of Buddhism and Taoism. Such is the case with the eight Christian scrolls that have come to be known as the Jesus Sutras, which were discovered in a cave at Dunhuang that was unearthed in the late nineteenth century. The sutras fuse Buddhist, Christian and Taoist teachings together. Christian original sin is explained in the sutras to have occurred, or rather committed, in “the garden of seed and fruit bearing trees.” This imagery of the Garden of Eden with “seed and fruit bearing trees” has been said to allude to the Buddhist teaching of karma to remind the audience that man was responsible for the Christian fall. Another example of the blend of religious concepts is found in the presentation in the scrolls of Jesus, who rescues beings from samsara, the Buddhist cycle of rebirth.

In addition to the sutras a ten foot stone monument from the eighth century inscribed with teachings and records of the missionaries was discovered in Xian in 1625. The monument is now on display in Xian at the Forest of Stone Steles Museum. At the head of the monument is a Christian cross, a Taoist cloud symbol and the Buddhist lotus.

Martin Palmer, a scholar of Chinese religions, rediscovered in 1998 a pagoda that the Nestorians had once used, possibly as a library, called the Da Qin Pagoda. The pagoda, located near Lou Guan Tai, is the only remaining building of a Nestorian monastery that had been built during the Tang Dynasty. Inside the pagoda are the remains of what is believed to be the nativity scene, which shows that the image of Mary was present in the northwest region of China at approximately the same time that Kuan Yin began to be initially portrayed in art as a female figure. Palmer contends that Mary did in all probability have an influence on the feminization process of Kuan Yin. There is no concrete proof but this is an interesting proposition.

Maria-Kannon A Guise for Japan’s Hidden Christians

Another instance in which the images of Mary and the feminine Bodhisattva merged can be seen in a Japanese context. Upon Saint Francis Xavier’s arrival to Japan in 1549, Yajiro, Xavier’s companion and translator, visited a local daimyo, Shimazu Takahisa, who governed over Satsuma. At Takahisa’s castle, Yajiro presented an image of the Virgin Mary painted on a piece of wood. Takahisa’s mother saw the image and asked for a copy of it. This attraction could have possibly assisted Xavier and Yajiro in establishing relations and gaining access to the castle. They succeeded in converting many of the occupants of the castle. Some scholars believe the image of the Virgin may have been mistaken for Kannon (the Japanese form of Kuan Yin) and was therefore an acceptable icon. In actuality, Takahisa’s mother and the other courtiers would have probably been stunned to see a foreigner carrying an image of the Japanese bodhisattva. Nonetheless, they may have been all the more welcoming to such a foreigner, simply because they would have believed they shared devotion to the same deity.

In 1587, only thirty eight years after Xavier reached Japan, edicts that banned Christianity began to be issued. Initially not enforced, laws prohibiting the foreign religion continued throughout the 1630s. To aid the movement of exterminating Christianity all Japanese families were ordered in 1659 to register into Buddhist parishes. As a result, Japanese Christians went into hiding and pretended to be Buddhist laypeople. They asked monks from the local Buddhist temples to conduct funeral services for their deceased. Christian icons were often hidden inside Buddhist statues. Amongst the statues being used for this, Kannon perhaps offered the best disguise. Her likeness to the Virgin Mary was fitting for the hidden Christians who could use the statue as an object for veneration. Their devotion to Mary would appear to any outsider as an act of worship towards the Buddhist Kannon. In the Nagasaki area, Kannon images were made specifically for this purpose. The archetype in disguise became known amongst the Christians as Maria-Kannon. Images of the bodhisattva with a child, such as Koyasu Kannon and Chinese porcelain statues of Kuan Yin, offered a strong resemblance to Mary with the infant Jesus and thus became popular models for Maria-Kannon. In other examples, Maria-Kannon was a statue of the bodhisattva with a cross placed on it.

Matteo Ricci’s Challenge to the Buddhist Faith

The interaction of Matteo Ricci and Chinese Buddhists presents another historic meeting point between Mary and Kuan Yin in China throughout the 16 th to early 18 th century. Images of Mary had been widely disseminated by the Jesuit missionaries. The reason for Mary’s widespread use was that the crucifixion in art seemed to be too gruesome for many Chinese to bear. They either had not fully grasped the nature of Christ’s death or simply did not find a crucified figure to be an appropriate representation of God. Jonathan D. Spence illustrates the Chinese emotions towards the crucified Christ by recounting one occasion in which a crucifix Ricci carried was discovered by a eunuch, who immediately feared that it was an icon of ‘black magic’ and had soldiers search Ricci for other symbols. At another time, Chinese acquaintances warned Ricci it was unwise to carry such objects. Thus, the missionaries concluded that the image of Mary was a more appropriate Christian symbol than the crucifix in China.

Ricci employed Jesuit priests to paint images of Mary or carve her figure on stone. Wherever missionaries in the south traveled to teach they carried her image. Spence even points out the important role she played for Chinese converts: “Slowly the Chinese converts began to make their own printed images of the Virgin, which they stamped on sheets of colored paper and hung outside their door at the New Year’s festival and on other religious or festive occasions. Others began to invoke the Virgin’s name in the exorcism of evil spirits.”Marian solidarities which were centered on charity were founded.At times Mary was even mistaken to be the Christian God in China.

Since Buddhism was, in the eyes of the missionaries, a rival religion, a contentious attitude existed that was prevalent in both the Christian missionaries and the Chinese converts. Ricci engaged in religious debates with Buddhist scholars in which he made assaults on the heart of Buddhist teachings. In addition, he encouraged converts to attack the religion through the destruction of Buddhist imagery. This was done carefully, however, and converts were cautioned not to make public displays that could potentially cause local stirs, such as openly destroying temple artwork. Instead, they discreetly stole and destroyed temple artwork, melted down the Buddhist statues in their families’ homes and burned their Buddhist texts.

There was perhaps a greater need, however, to eliminate the images of Kuan Yin. Her resemblance to Mary was strong and the missionaries were not in search of an icon that was compatible to both traditions. In one instance in Zimz zuen, Chinese people claimed that a drought had been the result of Jesuits burning the head of a Kuan Yin statue. When taking into account the important role Mary played in disseminating Christian teachings and the high position that Kuan Yin possessed in the Buddhist tradition, it is very probable that an aggressive iconoclasm in which the image of Mary replacing that of Kuan Yin may have occurred.

Self Immolation and Buddhist Social Engagement

“Joining my hands, I kneel before Mother Mary and Bodhisattva Quam Am. Please help me to realize my vow.”

* Nhat Chi Mai

During the beginning of the Vietnam War, Catholics in Vietnam were informed that Buddhists were cooperating with the communists, creating mistrust and tension between the two religious communities. Thich Nhat Hanh recalls in his published conversations with Daniel Berrigan “a time when buses loaded with Catholic peasants came to Saigon, into the Buddhist elementary and high schools, in order to fight us- fight with whatever weapons they had in their hands, such as sticks and knives… Documents were circulated that created fear of the Buddhists.”Nhat Han was moved to engage in dialogue with Catholics in order to create an understanding and a cooperative movement for peace. In 1966, he traveled to the U.S to speak out against the war and visited with Pope Paul VI to encourage him to advise Vietnamese Catholics “to cooperate with the other religious groups in Vietnam in order to put an end to this atrocious war.”

One of Nhat Hanh’s lay disciples, Nhat Chi Mai may have been trying to voice this need for dialogue through her own self-immolation. On May 16, 1967 before setting herself on fire outside of Tu Nghiem Temple, Nhat Chi Mai placed a statue of Mary and Quan Am (the Vietnamese form of Kuan Yin) before her and prayed to both: “Joining my hands, I kneel before Mother Mary and Quan Am. Please help me to realize my vow.” The act either revealed a personal spiritual practice in which Nhat Chi Mai summoned both archetypes for assistance or it was intended to stress a need for cooperation between Christians and Buddhists. Thich Nhat Hanh later commented on Nhat Chi Mai’s prayer: “In the situation of Vietnam, that meant very much, because unless the people of the two major religions in Vietnam- Buddhists and Catholics- cooperate, it will be very hard to alter the course of the war. She saw that.” This example of the use of both the Buddhist Quan Am and the Christian Mary leads one to see the identification of the two female images and their attributes as equally powerful and worthy of veneration for this Buddhist woman.

Christian-Buddhist Meditation at the Maria-Kannon Zen Center

A further example of Mary and the bodhisattva together symbolizing a meeting point for inter-religious dialogue occurs at the Maria Kannon Zen Center (MKZC) in Dallas Texas. The MKZC is a meditation center open to people of all faiths. Ruben Habito, the center’s founder, was a Jesuit priest, who left the order in 1989. During his days as a Jesuit seminarian, Habito studied Zen in Japan under the instruction of the late Yamada Koun Roshi (1907-1989), who at the time was the second abbot of the Sanbo Kyodan community. Yamada Roshi had led a liberal Zen practice in the city of Kamakura that made accommodations for Christians interested in Zen meditation. In 1988, Habito received transmission from Yamada Roshi. Three years later he established the MKZC in Dallas. The Zen that Habito leads today is inspired and modeled after the practice that Yamada Roshi began.

Maria Kannon Zen is not considered a creation of a new tradition, but rather as a meeting ground between Christians and Buddhists. Habito received formal training in Catholicism as well as Zen Buddhism and thus has a thorough understanding of both traditions. He has acknowledged the difficulties of inter-religious dialogue and has concluded that if the practice evolves, hopefully it will do so in a fashion that respects the distinct elements of each tradition, but at the same time activates “their roots and original inspiration.” The following is a koan used by the community, followed by Habito’s own interpretation:

Why is it that in the accomplished saints and bodhisattvas,

Crimson lines (of tears) never cease to flow?

This koan is not meant to be solved by an intellectual explanation, but in an experiential grasp of that mystery that being born as a sentient being in this interconnected universe is all about. It is an expression of the mystery of the tears of Kannon. We can say also that it is an expression of the tears of Mary at the foot of the cross, in deepest sorrow and pain as she stands by her own Son, who bears the wounds of the universe in his very own body.

In a discussion I had with Habito he explained how both Mary and the Bodhisattva of Compassion are depicted as being able to sense the world’s sufferings: “Mary standing at the foot of the cross is Mary in solidarity with the suffering of creation personified in her son’s own suffering… and that precisely is what corresponds to Kuan Yin,” who is “the One Who Hears the Cries of the World.” This connection offers insight into how each figure is perceived as humanistic. Since devotees are able to identify with each figure’s sense of perception and their emotion of sorrow, Mary and Kannon appear to be very approachable archetypes within the context of popular religion.

Habito also reflected on the prominent role Mary and Kannon have played in his own life: “When I was in high school I would pray the rosary daily and so somehow that devotion to the Blessed Mother was something that protected me. I feel that it is something that gave me a sense of direction. Not so much in a kind of blue print way that I knew exactly where I was going, but a direction that I wanted to live as Mary did, mainly open to God’s will in my own life inspired by her as an example and a guide and a patroness in that sense.” Upon his discovery of Buddhism, Habito recognized the message expressed through Mary’s figure could also be found in the Zen tradition. He explained, “it is that sense of total surrender to God’s will that is embodied in the life and person of Mary, which can also become a pointer to what Zen invites us to do.” When learning about Kannon he realized “this is something I know from my own tradition and so I could resonate with that…”

The meditation center he has established is a meeting place that welcomes and encourages the exchange of religious teachings. Practicing Christians come to the center to learn Zen Buddhist meditation. At the same time, Buddhists engage with and relate to the Christian imagery that Habito uses when offering dharma talks on Zen. An example of this mixed imagery can be found in the case presented above where Habito explains how Mary is able to sense the world’s sufferings just as the Bodhisattva does in the Buddhist tradition.

The Feminine Divine in the Works of Frederick Franck, A Transreligious Artist:

“The Original Face” and “Maria-Kannon”

Frederick Franck is an artist and writer who teaches his students the importance of seeing and experiencing life rather than merely looking in order to choose what is beneficial for the self. In drawing workshops, he has led “seeing/drawing” meditations in which the participants are asked to sit in silence and see into the eyes of their subject, whether it be a person or a leave of grass, and to allow that intimate “seeing” to become one with the act of drawing. This method has been brought to a larger audience through his book, Zen of Seeing.

As a humanitarian, he volunteered at Albert Schweitzer’s hospital at Lambarene in Africa as a dental surgeon and recounted his experiences there in the well known narrative Days with Albert Schweitzer. He has also helped edit and produce a compilation of essays entitled What Does It Mean to be Human? which examines the thoughts of prominent individuals who have reflected on this question. As an acclaimed artist, Franck’s works are displayed in permanent collections in a number of museums such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the National Museum in Tokyo.

Many of Franck’s paintings and sculptures express a “trans-religious” message. He explains “trans-religious” as being “outside the categories of both ‘interfaith’ and ‘ecumenical’… even less a syncretistic scrambling together of symbols, concepts, and rituals of the various religious traditions.” He seeks parallels within religious icons that convey universal teachings. Such is the case with his depictions of the feminine divine in his life-size sculptures.

Franck created a seven-foot steel sculpture of the Virgin Mary which he called “The Original Face.” This statue was inspired by a medieval statue of the Virgin called the “Vierge Ouvrante,” which portrays wooden flaps over the Mother’s stomach that open to reveal the Christian Trinity. Franck’s “The Original Face” also has flaps. The revelation behind the flaps, however, is not the Trinity, but rather the Franck’s interpretation of the “Original Face” from the Zen koan “show me your original face, the one you had before your parents were born.” The work equates our Original Face, or our Buddha nature, to the Immaculate Conception. Franck explains, “Christ is the Original Face, the Absolute Human, and this is what all of us are called to be.” It is also interesting to note that Franck used a well-known term of Zen to refer to Christ. According to Franck, the Virgin’s own face is left blank, “because she is potentially every woman, every man.”

Franck created another sculpture called “Maria-Kannon.” Carved from a tree trunk, this “Maria Kannon” emphasizes the power of mercy or compassion.Mary as Our Lady of Mercy, or the Mother of Mercy, was venerated in Europe during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries for protection from plague and disaster. In imagery she towers over men and women and shelters them with her cloak. The image was banned at the Council of Trent because it advocated Mary as a singular means to salvation with no inclusion of the Christ. Some images of Kannon, the Buddhist deity of compassion, have eleven heads in order to perceive various kinds of suffering. The carving of “Maria-Kannon” has a figure composed of human faces that may allude to the faces that Maria shelters with her cloak and also to the eleven faces of Kannon, the bodhisattva of compassion. It may also be simply an expression of interconnectedness. Franck is well-versed in both Buddhist and Christian traditions making it plausible to think that this is an attempt to bring the two together through the medium of his sculptures.

A Contemporary Re-envisioning of the Christian Feminine

Lastly, discovered connections between Mary and the feminine Buddhist archetypes are relayed in China Galland’s book “Longing for Darkness Tara and the Black Madonna.” This text is about a personal spiritual journey that explores feminine deities in both Western and Eastern cultures. In its conclusion, Galland presents her own view of the Virgin Mary. The once too-distant and pure Holy Mother becomes close, human and powerful for Galland. She is led to this new vision of Mary after investigating Tara, the daughter of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, and the mysterious Black Madonna. True to its title, the book is filled with connections between Tara and the Black Madonna found in Galland’s journey.

In Switzerland Galland studied the Black Madonna at the Monastery of Einsiedeln and learned of its origins in the story of St. Meinrad. St Meinrad had retreated with a statue of the Virgin to the forest of Finsterwald which means “dark wood” or “dark forest”. This darkness seemed to be the only suitable place for Meinrad to progress spiritually. There he turned inwards to his own darkness, and confronted his demons and ultimately transformed them into an experiential surrender to God.

Mary was St. Meinrad’s patron. He built a chapel for her in the forest and the Black Madonna that remains there today allows his story to live on. The Black Madonna’s role in this legend provides an example of the saving grace she brings to individual personal practices. This role liberates her from the restricted, supporting role she carries out in the New Testament. For Meinrad, Mary is the key figure, the one who looks over his conversion.

When Galland visits Czestochowa, Poland to see the Black Madonna at Jasna Gora Monastery, she meets with Professor Janusz Pasierb, a Catholic priest and an art historian who tends to the icon. Pasierb contends that the Black Madonna is not actually black, but a “cosmic red” which is “the color of blood, of life!” The color is derived from “the painter’s intuition that as these figures descended from above the earth, they would have to burn through the atmosphere.”This strongly parallels the Bodhisattva in Buddhism. Bodhisattvas, at the point of final enlightenment, turn away from complete nirvana in order to remain on earth to aid suffering beings. In a sense, they descend from a higher realm like the “cosmic red” Madonna for the sake of those inhibiting earth. One of the primary forms of the feminine goddess in Tibet is the Green Tara. Green symbolizes active, living energy and in the case of Tara it is an “awakened activity” of “active compassion.”The idea of the active Bodhisattva and the fierce Madonna burning through the atmosphere are both a far cry from the passive Blessed Virgin of the gospels. Drawing towards the end of her book, Galland envisions a dynamic and courageous Madonna:

“I imagined Mary as a fierce mother one morning in my prayers and meditation. I imagined her protecting Christ. The Mary I saw stepped in front of his tormentors. She did not stand passively as he made his way to Golgotha, at first she hurled herself at the Roman soldiers, “Stop, stop, stop!” trying to wrench their whips away from them, then to remove his crown of thorns. She was fiercely protective and she was greatly outnumbered. They shoved her away and formed a phalanx around Christ.

She denounced the soldiers, she defied them. She did not faint, she was not helpless, she did not retreat, she was not polite. She was a tower of strength, she did not take her eyes off her Christ. She was his most powerful witness, she suffered with him mentally and physically.”

The envisioning of this new Madonna awakens the same power that Thomas Merton discovered in Mary’s “hiddenness.” Although it may be hard to imagine Merton sharing Galland’s unorthodox vision of Mary defending her son, it is clear that they both realized strength in her that many too often overlook. Galland discovered instances in two religious cultures that have brought this energy to life through the figures of Tara and the Black Madonna.


In conclusion, seven different meeting points between Christianity and Buddhism have been reviewed within this essay. In each context, a striking similarity between the images of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the feminine Buddhist deity has been recognized. When each example is observed closely, it becomes evident that the way in which the images are utilized reflects the nature of the interactions between religious communities and individuals.

In the case of the Nestorian movement in China during the Tang Dynasty, a blending and harmonization of religious concepts occurred. The remaining artifacts of their presence show that they had produced a new tradition. It is not likely that their texts would be accepted by either orthodox Buddhist or Christian scholars. But, it was in this context that the image of Mary may have influenced the creation of the feminine Kuan Yin. It is only a speculative theory and there are other noted factors that may have contributed to the feminization. If Mary was an influence, however, the change in gender of Kuan Yin could be seen, like the Jesus Sutras, as a new religious creation.

The practices of Japan’s hidden Christians present an instance in which the images of Mary and Kannon were merged for the sake of protection. The practice of Christianity had become illegal in the late 16 th century and if individuals were discovered offering devotion to Mary they would have been persecuted by the authorities. Thus, the Christians in hiding disguised their veneration by creating images of Mary that were modeled after Kannon (the Japanese form of Kuan Yin) and were called Maria-Kannon.

At approximately the same time in China, the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci attempted to evangelize on a widespread scale. While doing so, he debated with Buddhist priests in order to deflate the Buddhist religion as much as possible. Chinese Christian converts were encouraged to destroy their Buddhist icons. On one occasion, it is recorded that the face of the statue of Kuan Yin was burned by Ricci’s followers. Simultaneously, images of Mary were being widely disseminated. Thus, because Ricci wanted to prove Christianity to be the one true religion and Buddhism a heresy, it could be argued that the image of Mary was being used to replace that of Kuan Yin.

In modern times, the recognition of the similarity of the icons has been utilized as a meeting point for the purpose of establishing inter-religious dialogue. This was the case during the Vietnam War when Nhat Chi Mai placed statues of both Mary and the Bodhisattva of Compassion in front of her at the time of her self-immolation. That act has been interpreted to be an attempt to emphasize the impending need for Buddhists and Christians to communicate in a peaceful fashion so that their efforts to end the violence could be united.

Again the images emerge for the sake of dialogue in the founding of the Maria-Kannon Zen Center in Texas. The sharing of religious practices at the Center includes Christians practicing Zen meditation and Buddhists relating to Christian imagery. This phenomenon is presented in Ruben Habito’s dharma talks and writings.

Not only are these images being used together in a modern setting to create a bridge for inter-religious dialogue but also for a complete blending of religious concepts. There are cases of individual religious interpretations today that share the harmonization quality of the Nestorian movement in ancient China. Frederick Franck universalizes similar philosophical expressions in Buddhist and Christian icons through the creation of his trans-religious sculptures. These works are essentially new icons that do not derive from either of the traditions and at the same time are not constrained by the boundaries of either orthodoxy. Such is the case with Frank’s sculpture of Maria Kannon. His audience cannot recognize it to be a traditional depiction of Maria or of Kannon. The sculpture is a new icon that has utilized and harmonized aspects from both figures. In the case of “The Original Face”, Franck has inserted a symbol for the Buddha Nature into a Christian body, the womb of the Virgin. Thus, the statue creates a conceptual connection of the potential to be enlightened and an allusion to the Incarnation.

Lastly, in China Galland’s book, Longing for Darkness, similar qualities in the feminine figures of the Dark Madonna and the Tibetan deity Tara are recognized. Galland is initially turned off by the common conception of Mary as a passive, supporting character of Jesus as in the New Testament. Through studying the Black Madonna, however, she begins to realize that Mary is actually a very powerful icon. She sees this same power in the figure of the Tibetan goddess Tara and decides to incorporate both figures in her own spiritual practice.

In conclusion, responses to the similarity of qualities found in both Mary and the Bodhisattva of Compassion has varied in each historic context, and have differed depending on factors found in the political atmosphere and in the attitudes amongst religious peoples within those contexts. I believe, together, these cases illustrate several ways that Buddhists and Christians have chosen to communicate either in peaceful or destructive contexts and to interact, interpolate, challenge and celebrate each other.


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Ibid. 362. Site internet des Sanctuaires Notre Dame de Lourdes. (June 15, 2005).

Foltz, Richard C. Religions of the Silk Road. (New York: St Martin’s Griffin, 1999.) 71.

Nestorians were a group of Christians who formed a separate Church after the Council of Ephesus condemned Nestorius as a heretic in 431. The Nestorian Church was active in missionary work and established Christian settlements in Arabia, India and China.

Riegert, Ray and Thomas Moore. The Lost Sutras of Jesus Unlocking The Ancient Wisdom Of The Xian Monks. (Berkeley: Seastone, 2003.) 7.

Saeki, Yoshiereo. 130.

Palmer, Martin. 137-139.

Cf. For discussions on the Nestorian Monument see:

Foltz, Richard C. 71-72, 85.

Palmer, Martin. The Jesus Sutras Rediscovering the Lost Scrolls of Taoist Christianity. (New York: The Ballantine Publishing Group, 2001.) 4-5.

Saeki, Yoshireo. The Nestorian Documents and Relics in China. (Tokyo: The Maruzen Company LTD, 1951.) 11-52.

Cf. Translation of the Monument:

Saeki, Yoshireo. 53-77.

Palmer, Martin. 224-232.

Palmer, Martin. 8-9.

Ibid. 31-35.

Palmer, Martin, Jay Ramsay, and Man-Ho Kwok. Kuan Yin Myths and Prophecies of the Chinese Goddess of Compassion. (London: Thorsons, 1995.) 23-24.

It should be noted that beginning in the mid 9 th century Christians in China suffered persecution. They were not able to practice freely again until the late 13 th century under the tolerant Mongol rule. During his travels in China Marco Polo had discovered Nestorian Christian communities. His accounts suggest that these Christians had been practicing their religion in hiding and that the faith had survived. Thus if Mary did have an influence on the feminization of Kuan Yin, it may have been during a time when Christianity was present in China, but not officially permitted or recognized by the authorities.

App, Urs. “St. Francis Xavier’s Discovery of Japanese Buddhism: A Chapter in the European Discovery of Buddhism (Part 1: Before the Arrival in Japan, 1547-1549).” The Eastern Buddhist New Series Vol. 30 No. 1 (1997): 53-58.

“Maria Kannon.” JAANUS Japanese Architecture and Art Net Users System. (May 13, 2005).

Ibid. 246-247.

Ibid. 247.

Ibid. 238, 241, 250.

Ibid. 248-249.

Fonti Ricciane. Pasquale M. d’Elia, S.J., ed., Storia dell’ Introduzione del Christianesimo in Cina Vol. II. Rome, La Libreria Dello Stato, 1949. 243

Thich Nhat Hanh and Daniel Berrigan. 76.

King, Robert H. 122.

“About the Maria Kannon Zen Center.” Maria Kannon Zen Center, 1999. (9 April 2004).

Habito, Ruben L. F. “Maria Kannon Zen: Explorations in Buddhist-Christian Practice.” Buddhist-Christian Studies 14 (1994): 155.

Cf. For an example of Habito’s reflections on inter-religious dialogue: see Ibid. 150-156.

Cf. For an example of Yamada Koun Roshi’s reflections on inter-religious dialogue see: Yamada Koun Roshi. “Zazen and Christianity” Maria Kannon Zen Center, 1999. (12 April 2004.)

Habito, Ruben L.F. 150.

Habito, Ruben L.F. Personal Interview. (6 June 2005.)




Cunneen, Sally. In Search of Mary The Woman And The Symbol. (New York: Ballantine Books, 1996.) 322.

Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat. “Frederick Franck: Painter, Sculptor, Writer, Transreligious Visionary.” Spirituality & Health spiritual practices for human being.

(May 7, 2005.) 1.

Cunnen, Sally. 322-325.

Ibid. 323.

Ibid. 325.

Ibid. 325-326.

Warner, Marina. Alone Of All Her Sex. (New York: Vintage Books, 1976.) 326-328.

Ibid. 288-289.

Bokar Rinpoche. Tara The Feminine Divine. (San Francisco, Clear Point Press, 1999.) 44.

Galland, China. 275.

See also: “China Galland Interview.” Worldguide Interviews, 1996. (May 13, 2005). 9-10.

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