Bodhisattvas are an essential element of the Pure Land branch of Mahayana Buddhism practiced in Vietnam and its diaspora. Many Vietnamese lovingly refer to Bodhisattva Quán Thế Âm as a “gentle mother,” and the circulation of her name and image constitutes a spiritual geography of the transpacific in distinctly Buddhist terms. Through a reading of two miracle tales, I argue that Quán Thế Âm mediates the divergent histories of Vietnamese refugees without dissolving the historical structures of difference that separate the diaspora from the homeland. Devotion to the bodhisattva should thus not be seen only in terms of Mahayana doctrine but also as the embodiment of an alternative ethics of how Vietnamese refugees make sense of their place in the aftermath of war.
Quán Thế Âm of the Transpacific
Allison Truitt is associate professor of anthropology at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana. She has conducted ethnographic research in Vietnam on the social life of money as well as other mediums of value. Truitt is the author of Dreaming of Money in Ho Chi Minh City (University of Washington Press, 2009).
Allison Truitt; Quán Thế Âm of the Transpacific. Journal of Vietnamese Studies 1 May 2017; 12 (2): 83–107. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jvs.2017.12.2.83
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