Yesterday, a friend I'd helped with a problem at University came to see me. He wanted to thank me for that help, and gave me a beautifully carved image of the boddhisattva Guan Yin for me to wear around my neck.
I like the Buddhist Guan Yin story. As a story of sacrifice and compassion it beats the similar Jesus myth hands down. Briefly, the Guan Yin mythology originates in India, where the Avalokitesvara, often pictured as a beautiful young male, (known in India as Avalokitesvara) refused to take the final step to Buddhahood until every last human had taken that step before him.
As Buddhism reached China, the boddhisattva started to be seen as a woman - Guan Yin, sometimes seen as the Goddess of compassion. The name is understood as short for Guanshiyin, which means "Observing (seeing/hearing) the sounds (cries of distress) of the World". Whereever you may be, and you sob with emotional or other pain, Guan Yin will hear you and comfort you.
Some Buddhists believe that when one of their adherents departs from this world, they are placed by Guanyin in the heart of a lotus, and then sent to the western pure land of Sukhavati, which as described in Buddhist literature, is so similar to the description of the New Jerusalem in the Revelation. Since this form of Buddhism preceded early Christianity, I wonder whether the author of the Revelation, knew of the 'western paradise'? That author certainly seemed to know about the trading arrangements across Asia (so-called Silk Road) and describes them in Revelation 18:11-20. And, it was over those trade routes that Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity spread, so that person could easily have known about the western paradise and used the information to describe a Christian version.
As a post-Christian I have no problem in wearing my friend's gift, accepting it as an appreciative thought, and liking the mythology associated with the Guan Yin story.
But, there is a problem. The gift is made of ivory, and I have some passionate feelings about the ivory trade. The elephant from which the ivory came is dead. Nothing (neither Guan Yin or Jesus) can change that. And, the friendship associated with the gift is alive.
So I am undecided whether to keep this gift, (which I do treasure) or destroy it as part of my protest at human cruelty, cupidity and stupidity. I feel my attitude to life is under test.
Worse, this is the second time that this has happened to me. A friend in China (a few years ago) gave me a Buddhist symbol as a gift. Since i knew that person was poor (and ivory is not cheap) I persuaded myself that it was made from bone, not ivory. But, I am feeling that this gift is actually ivory, and I hesitate to ask my friend.
Not sure what to do next.
It is generally accepted among East Asian adherents that Guanyin originated as the Sanskrit Avalokitesvara