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By Renée Tillotson

Shortly before Still & Moving Center opened, a refrigerator-sized box arrived at our house. Could this be the mysterious “something green” Cliff told me he had ordered for the Center? With eager hands I made my way through the many layers of protective packaging, more intrigued at every level. When I got to the middle, what I found astonished me.

Let me step back and tell you that since I first read it decades ago, the Kwan Yin Pledge has provided for me the highest aspiration:

Never will I seek nor receive private liberation; never will I enter into final peace alone. But forever and everywhere will I live and strive for the redemption of every creature from the bonds of conditioned existence.

Our lovely Kwan Yin orphan! And now before me, carved in rich, olive-hued wood, stood the most awe-inspiring Kwan Yin I had ever set eyes on – a true embodiment of the goddess of mercy and compassion revered throughout Asia. This statue was so alive that she seemed to have simply shed the excess wood surrounding her and stepped out of the tree, fully formed. Her quiet dignity, her delicacy of line, her presence – seemed to breathe the essence of Kwon Yin’s selfless vow of compassionate, universal service.

The statue was of such artistry, she belonged in a museum. I gazed at her smooth, expressive features and symbolic details – the lotus of enlightenment, the protective dragon of wisdom, the bird of eternity, the devotee at her feet and- but nowhere did I find the artist’s signature. Who on earth could have brought this goddess to life through his carving?

Cliff managed to contact importer, who gave only this information: she was carved over a year’s time in Bali from hibiscus wood by an artist whose name the importer did not know. We seemed to have inherited an orphan.

This exquisite Kwan Yin of unknown origins has graced the entry to Still & Moving Center since we first opened, imparting an abiding sense of calm to all who come through our doors. Although Kwan Yin herself seemed not to care a whit, I kept on wondering.

This spring Cliff proposed that we make a trip to Bali, explaining that we could get materials for rebuilding our house there. He further baited the hook, reminding me that we could spend our 35th wedding anniversary in Bali. I remained unconvinced. Finally, he played his trump card: If we went to Bali, we could find Kwan Yin’s creator. That hit a nerve. I reflected that whoever created such an incredible piece of art must be a human being worth knowing, and that he would probably like to learn where his sculpture had landed and how much she was appreciated. So off we went to Bali to find our orphan’s father!

We had set ourselves a needle-in-the-haystack task, looking for one man on an island of 4 million people. Incredibly, however, this Kwan Yin was so unique that her picture was quickly recognized. By our second day in Bali, we and our astute driver managed to find the village and house where the artist was said to live. Had we really solved the mystery so quickly?

As we got to the door of the small, simple house on the road, a Balinese woman with a beautiful, surprisingly familiar face greeted us. Her eyes widened when we showed her the photo of our Kwan Yin. Through her daughter’s translation, she confirmed that yes, we indeed owned a piece of her husband’s work from many years ago. They then pulled out a smaller, half-finished statue of Kwan Yin, which was definitively a younger sister of our Kwan Yin! Eureka! We had found our statue’s birth home. But where was the artist?

Just then a motor scooter drove up, and a very quiet, brown-skinned man with deep eyes returned to his home to find it filled with unexpected strangers. A small, blue-eyed woman chattering in a foreign language dashed forward to meet him, excitedly gesturing with her hands in gladness (that would be me!) I was in such high spirits, I had trouble conveying how much his work meant to us, and why we had crossed the ocean in search of him.

Eventually, we got to really talk. We learned that our artist had been carving the Hindu heroes and gods that most Balinese craftsmen carve and had gone bankrupt at one point in his career. Then a stranger appeared and showed the artist a picture of the Chinese, Buddhist goddess Kwan Yin, saying that if he were to start carving statues of her, he would once again be able to support his family. With virtually nothing left to lose, the carver took the man’s suggestion, and as a result, is now making a living again. The wife shared with us experiences she had had in dreams and meditation on Kwan Yin.

We gave them a book called “The Voice of the Silence”, based on the same bodhisattva principle as Kwan Yin pledge, and the wife was thrilled to tell us she owned and a cherished book with the same title in Balinese. The daughter confided to me that she had first thought that we were just tourists; so she was gratified and surprised to learn that we had a sincere interest in the subject matter of their family’s statues. Different as our external lives might be, we all made connections at the heart level.

Cliff and I with our new A.A. Putumerta family
As it turns out, the husband finds the wood, then the wife sees the specific subject matter within the piece. Once he’s roughed out the statue, she helps with the simpler parts of the carving, and he completes it with his mastery. As I looked at a photo of her in her youth, I began to realize that our artist has a living model for the lovely faces he carves: his wife! So we had really found both parents of our Kwan Yin! It feels now as if we know another dear part of our family, and they just live across the sea on the island of Bali.

Moving in Stillness and resting in Joy with you,

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This post is also available in: 日本語 (Japanese)