Memoir excerpt from – Love, Kannon: Our Pilgrimage to Tokyo

By Dr. Ranjini George

A woman, Maria, approached me at the Buddhist temple on Millcreek Drive in Mississauga, Ontario—“I feel I have to talk with you”—and introduced me to a female Buddha with toenails and fingernails painted pink, one foot stepping forward, holding a vase and the wish-fulfilling jewel of the enlightened mind.

“Could you please spell her name?” I asked Maria.  

Guan Yin.

It was love at first sight.

Guan Yin
Guan Yin at the temple at Millcreek

Ever since that day, I’ve been on pilgrimage. At first, I was confused by my overwhelming devotion to an unknown goddess.  One night, I prayed to Guan Yin—“Am I on the right path?”—and I dreamed of her that very same night.

She stood before me. “Hello, I’m Guan Yin.” 

She was in her thirties, medium-height, beautiful, slender, dressed in gray robes, her black hair coiled in a topknot.

“You must be very busy,” I stammered.

“Yes,” she said, smiling as if she were my sister, my friend, before taking off, one leg gracefully folded like an Indian goddess, flying like a dakini into the air.

✤✤✤

The December morning of our first day in Tokyo, Lee and I go down to the lobby of the Grand Prince Takanawa hotel, and see the gardens. We sit in the meditation room, and then walk until we spot her. Here in Japan, her name is Kannon.

Guan Yin
Sakura Gardens

She is in a miniature temple of white walls with red trimmings, green window shutters and silver-gray shingle roof. The sun reflects off the glass, and to see her I have to shield my eyes and press my face to the glass. This is the eleven-headed Kannon, rare in China but more common in Japan.

After lunch, we head to our room. I use the hot water dispenser and make roasted green tea.  At 4 p.m., the gong in the sakura garden sounds—ten chimes—and I am reminded of the words of my spiritual father, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.

Listen to the sound of the bell. It is the voice of the Buddha, inviting us to go home to ourselves.

The sign says that the bell has been rung once each day since April 1, 2009 at the occasion of our hotel’s 55th anniversary: March through October the bell is rung at 5 pm and from November through February at 4 pm. 

4:30 pm and it is already dusk.  I go downstairs and climb the stone steps that lead me to Kannon.  I see that the shrine is lit up. She is so beautiful. My eyes fill with tears. 

When Lee and I return, after dinner with a friend in Ginza, the shrine doors are shut.

Guan Yin

✤✤✤

That night as Lee falls asleep, exhausted by jet lag, I sit on the window ledge of our room, 1256.  Ornamental carp lie still at the edges of the koi pond—silver, orange, red, white skin jeweled with red and blue, sleeping with eyes open: emblems of compassion. The wooden fish drum, mokugyo, is used during the recitation of sutras.

Guan Yin
Ornamental Carp

In this city of the 33-temple Kannon pilgrimage, she is there, hidden, behind red doors.

She Who Hears the Cries of the World

Namo Guan Yin Shih Pusa

Please let me see your temples, Kannon.

✤✤✤

Click here for more on Guan Yin and spiritual journeys: Finding Venerable Mother: A Daughter’s Spiritual Quest To Thailand

Guan Yin

Ranjini George (MA, MFA, PhD) teaches Creative Writing at SCS, University of Toronto, classes such as Pilgrimage to the Sacred Feminine, Meditation and Writing, and Memoir as Spiritual Practice. In 2019, she received the SCS, University of Toronto Excellence in Teaching award. Her book, Through My Mother’s Window was published in Dubai in December 2016.

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