and Dissimilarities between the Blessed Virgin Mary and Gwan-Um
Mary is a historical woman, a Mediterranean woman, who gave birth to Jesus the
Word Incarnate. She is a woman of Nazareth, to whom God's personal presence
descended for the salvation of human beings. Gwan-Um is not a historical
person. However, legend describes her originality as a princess, Miao Shan.
She is a idealized woman who personifies the Buddha in Mahayana Buddhism, so as
to fulfill the Pure Land in this Samsara (earthly world). Historical
records about these two women, Mary and Gwan-Um, are rare within the scriptural
passages, but veneration and devotion dedicated to them are abundant in popular
traditions: prayers and liturgical rites. Both, Mary and Gwan-Um, are not
goddesses. Mary is not a feminine face of God. Neither is Gwan-Um a
goddess, but the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara among the many bodhisattvas.
Mary is an "interior-oriented" woman, who hears God's will, responds
to him with sincere faith, follows her Son's salvific mystery from the beginning
of her vocation. She hides herself in the shade of her Son to glorify the
Father and the Son. Gospel passages show us her humble attitudes, and her
selfless abnegated actions. (cú, MK 3:31-35 par. Mt 12:46-50; Luke 8:19-21;
John 2:1-5) She fulfills her
mission with an exterior act in salvation history through her merciful love as
Mother of the Church (cf., at Cana, foot of the Cross and Upper Room). By
contrast, Gwan Urn is an "exterior-oriented" woman, because of her
"interior reality" as a bodhisattva. She willingly transformed
herself from one of the buddhas in Nirvana to the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara,
Gwan Uum, so as to hear the cries of the world. Thus, her mission begins
with a apparition, an embodiment, wherever and whenever people cry for help.
the ultimate goal of devotion to Mary in Christianity is Jesus: Per Mariam ad
Christum. Christian faith must be rooted only in Christ: per Christum
ad salvationem. There is no salvation without Christ. Faithful people
meet "Christ in faith" through "Jesus in history", for Jesus
is the Word Incarnate. In this context, Mariology belongs within
Christology. Buddhists' devotion to Gwan Um for Nirvana is, so to speak, "per
Gwan-um ad Nirvana." There is no necessity to view Gwan-um as mediatrix.
Rather, Gwan-um is giver of Nirvana, Pure Land.
we learn about Mary and her status through Scriptural passages in the OT and NT.
In other words, it is true that the Scriptures offer us spiritual, prophetical,
prepositional, and sometimes doctrinal teaching on Mary. On the contrary,
Gwan-um-kyong presents no identity for Gwan-um, and begins noting directly her
benefits and graces for crying people. It is very difficult to figure out the
historical identity of Gwan-um through the Buddhist scriptures. Rather,
Gwan-um-kyong is similar to the Marian prayers: "Akathistos Hymn" of the Eastern
Church in style or form of literature, and "Litany of Loreto" of the Western
Church in content (invocatory prayer).
and Gwan-um are both depicted as perfect disciples; Mary is the first disciple
of Christ (cf., Infancy narrative in Luke's Gospel), Gwan-um is one of the
beloved disciples of the Sakyamuni Buddha (cf., Gwan-um-kyong VIII: 1-10).
But Mary reserves herself, as anawim, to respond by her "Yes."
She articulates the promise God made to his people. She prays through her
profound reflection on the events in which she is involved, and prays within
herself and for her community.
was committed to her vocation from the Annunciation to the foot of the Cross,
and, even in the primitive church, was so compassionate that she shared her
faith as Mother of the Church with its first members. She took her part in
the Church as the Mother of All. Gwan-um also took the "vast vow" to
save "countless hundred thousand myriad kotis of living beings" with
her undivided other-centered mind. She committed herself to fulfill her
mission towards suffering people. Both are portrayed as Lady of Mercy,
Mother of Mercy. But, Mary as the Mother of God is more contemplative than
Gwan-um. Their commitments, being with people and of people, are great
exemplars for the faithful to imitate.
Jung-han, A comparative study between the scriptural images of the Blessed Virgin
Mary and Kwan Eum, In Partial Fulfilment of the Requirements for the
Degree Licentiate of Sacred theology, University of Dayton, 1994, pp.181-183.