Quan Yin, compassion, and lovingkindness

A while ago I was having tea and knitting time with a school friend of mine and her parents. They’re lovely, amazing people, and I got to talk a lot with them about my work for the Gods — specifically Brighid.

I got an email from my friend’s mother a while after our meeting, and she said that she’d seen a vision of a lotus on my back when I’d turned away for a moment. Her work is with Quan Yin, and she told me she felt that I’d been marked by Quan Yin.

I’m not sure if I have been marked by Quan Yin or not. I spent my childhood being raised with stories and songs of praise for the bodhisattva Tara, who I sort of see as Quan Yin’s spiritual sister. (They are often seen as the same, but I’m a hard (sometimes medium-scrambled) polytheist. Also, there are several different forms that Tara takes, and not all of them are lovingkindness for all beings.)

Mom's altar to Quan Yin, on the stairway. Photo copyright Morag Spinner.
Mom’s altar to Quan Yin, on the stairway. Photo copyright Morag Spinner.

I often think that Quan Yin is far too compassionate a deity for me to work with. I’m more likely to work with or worship deities who tend to equate compassion with “I will kick your ass into gear.” Quan Yin is lovingkindness for all beings. She’s the Goddess of Mercy. She hears the cries of the world.

Maybe I feel I shouldn’t work with that because I don’t have any faith left in humanity. I’m jaded and bitter and I find it really hard to be compassionate in a peaceful, love-radiating way to anybody. The extent of my compassion is generally “Clean up your act before I clean it up for you.”

But then I think about my dog, Major. He died two years ago. I woke up to this horrible crashing noise above my bed, which is located in the library, beneath my mom’s room and the stairs that go up there. I immediately knew it was him. I rushed out of bed to the stairs. He’d fallen — we think he had a heart attack — and he rested on the landing, right below the altar pictured above.

His breathing was labored and it was obvious he didn’t have much time. So I gathered him in my arms, pet him, caressed his ears, and whispered to him that he was the best dog in the world, he was a good dog, we loved him so much, and that it was okay if he needed to go. About twenty minutes later he died in my arms. A family friend and I spent the rest of the day digging his grave. We had a funeral that evening. He’s still in the backyard.

We often say that Major was our bodhisattva dog — a doggisattva. He was the embodiment of compassion.

I keep hoping that maybe he taught me more than I think he did. 

It’s easy to be compassionate for those you love. Holding him while he died was not a huge hardship. It took courage, to not run while a loved one expired, to not run when I felt his spirit leave his body. But it wasn’t difficult. It was just…what I had to do, because I loved him, and he needed the comfort of his pack while he crossed the bridge.

How do I hold compassion for those I dislike? Those who have hurt me? Those I hate? Should I even hold compassion for them — is there a point where I must choose to hold more compassion for myself, where I must choose my own health over trying to hold lovingkindness for the myriad horrible people in the world, who undoubtedly need more compassion than they get?

I still feel sorry for my dad. I still miss him. It’s been over a month since I cut him off, and I catch myself thinking I should take it back. That I should show him some compassion. That it’s not his fault he’s so messed up; he’s a product of his environment — a father who was more or less absent, his mother’s revenge by making my dad the man of the house and subsequently forgetting everyone except him. He’s a product of internalized racism and hatred of his own Native blood.

And he’s an abusive sociopath, who has done nothing but ruin everything in my life for twenty-six years. 

How can I show him any compassion?

The answer is I can’t. I’m not Major, who showed love for my dad. I’m not Quan Yin. I can’t have lovingkindness for all beings. 

I have to be compassionate for myself, and hope that She will take pity on him, instead.

So today I pray to Quan Yin to show compassion for my messed up, abusive, father. Because he’s lost two kids to his horrible parenting now, and I hope that he’s able to keep the last one, or he’ll die sad and alone. And despite all he’s done to me, despite how much he may deserve that fate, I don’t really wish it on him.

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