Welcome Kannon to San Diego!
Bronze Kannon Bosatsu Statue Finds Home In the Japanese Friendship Garden
On December 20, 2018 a small group of distinguished guests attended the dedication of the latest enhancement to the Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park: A beautifully restored statue of Kannon Bosatsu, now installed as a permanent outdoor feature in the northeast corner of the lower garden.
Dedication. To mark this installation the garden’s Executive Director Luanne Kanzawa welcomed guests and called community dignitaries to the lectern. Congratulatory wishes were shared by Supervisor Ron Roberts; a representative for Congressperson Susan Davis; Councilperson Chris Ward; Honorary Consul of Japan, Kate Leonard; representatives of the Gabrych Family (donors of the statue); and Board President Dennis Otsuji. The guest list included a number of Temple members, including Mildred Kawasaki, Roy Murakoka, Ken Muraoka, Tad Muraoka, Lina Muraoka, Trina Muraoka, Dennis Otsuji, Kenji Sensei, and Bill Teague.
The Statue. Dating from 1735, the beautiful statue was cast in bronze by renowned craftsman Tokumi Obata (see below). Currently the restored statue greets visitors with the right hand raised to bestow fearlessness and the left hand resting open to support a long-stemmed lotus blossom, suggesting the peace of enlightenment.
The bronze statue, weighing nearly three tons and standing 12 feet high, depicts Kannon on a lotus throne. It is a bequest of the Marian and Eugene Gabrych Trust.
Statue’s Early Pure Land Home. Before coming to the United States, the statue spent several peaceful centuries at Kotoku-in, the Temple complex in Kamakura Japan. Kotoku-in is the home of the famous outdoor seated Daibutsu (large Buddha), a popular tourist destination. The giant bronze seated Buddha is identifiable as Amida by reason of his hand position (see note below).
Kannon Bosatsu Statue Crosses the Sea. In the early 1900s, an American Business man, Rudolf S. Hecht, purchased the statue from Kotoku-in and installed it as a key feature of the Middlegate Japanese Garden in Mississippi, where it was enjoyed for many decades. Alas, the garden was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Among other damage, the Kannon statue was shattered into pieces. The overall destruction was so severe that the Middlegate garden did not reopen.
Kannon in Disarray. Suffering structural damage from the force of Katrina, the statue remained toppled and in broken disarray for some years, until acquired by the Gabrych Trust with hopes that the Japanese Friendship Garden could provide it a new home to be appreciated and enjoyed.
Kannon Bosatu Comes Cross Country. In 2017 the statue was brought to San Diego. After some discussion, the garden board accepted the bequest and organized funding for the major restoration effort required.
Photos of Before and After
Donors and Artists. To complete the restoration of the statue, and the preparation of the garden setting for the statue, came from the generosity of private donors and funding from the California Natural Resources Agency, the County of San Diego, and the Parker Foundation. The restoration was undertaken by Metals Conservator Jill Hari of Fine Art Conservation.
The next time you visit the Japanese Friendship Garden, be sure to see this important cultural and historical artefact.
About the Sculptor. Takumi Obata, an accomplished Japanese iron smith during the Tokugawa period (1602-1868), created such notable works as the lanterns of the Tokugawa Shogunate mausoleums and the bronze bell of Chosho-ji Temple in Tokyo.
About Kannon Bosatsu, Jodo Shinshu, and BTSD. Kannon is an important bodhisattva in Buddhism, and is known by various names in different traditions, including Avalokiteshvara (India) and Kwan Yin (China and Tibet). All three representations symbolize abiding compassion, which link them indirectly to Amida Buddha. For our Temple in San Diego, there is also this connection: the Kannon statue, now on the JFG grounds, was for several centuries installed on the grounds of the Kamakura Amida Daibutsu ( great Buddha).
In Shin Buddhism we do not traditionally look to Kannon and you are not likely to see Kannon statues in Jodo Shinshu temples. Rather we look to Amida Buddha (embodying wisdom and compassion) and especially his story as Bodhisattva Dharmakara as he became a Buddha for our benefit.
About the Mudra (Hand Position) of Amida Buddha in Meditation
In Japanese Buddhist statuary, Amida Buddha and Shakyamuni Buddha are both plain and unadorned, and look much alike. Often it is the mudra that indicates which Buddha is portrayed. Especially when the Buddha is shown as seated, to denote the historical Buddha, sculptors will use the more traditional meditation mudra with the hands forming a kind of oval. To depict Amida Buddha in a sitting position, the mudra as shown in of the Kamakura Buddha, the variation has the forefingers bend up to touch the thumbs, suggesting the reasoning or teaching mudra (which to us looks like an “OK” sign) seen in statues of the standing Amida Buddha.
General descriptions of this “OK” sign mudra will refer to reasoning or teaching and may use the Sanskrit term vitarka or the Japanese term Raigo-in. Within Pure Land traditions in Japan, the right and left hands may carry further symbolic meaning.
Meanings of Amida Buddha’s Mudra (Right and Left Hands). Staying with the theme of large outdoor statues, for examples of Amida’s mudra here we turn to another large outdoor statue, the Ushiku Daibutsu.
Photo Credits: The three photos above are from the article by Ed, “36 Views of the Ushiku Daibutsu,” Meanwhile in Japan, updated September 8, 2017. All rights reserved. Permission pending. Other photos in this article are identified by source; otherwise they are the property of BTSD members. All rights reserved.