Honoring Mothers: A Talk by Allison Truitt
Monday, November 21, 2022
12:00 pm - 2:00 pm
This talk expands on a central theme in Buddhist studies–the ambivalence around gender norms and identities. Among Vietnamese practitioners, one of the most familiar and beloved figures is the Bodhisattva Quán Thế Âm, also known as a “gentle mother.” This figure is the focal point of the grounds of many activities, including fundraising events and ritual practices. The Bodhisattva is not the only instance of maternal imagery. The popular Buddhist festival, Vu Lan or Ulambana, depicts another maternal figure but in the guise of hungry ghost who is the mother of a monk who must rely on the prayers of the entire sangha for his mother’s liberation. While both the Bodhisattva figure and Vu Lan are not limited to Vietnamese Buddhist practices, I argue that they hold particular salience for many practitioners insofar as they mediate aspects of diasporic consciousness and refugee nationalism. I examine the stories and legends told by monastics to show how the figure of the mother—both as one who responds to the suffering of others and as one who suffers—provides a way of reframing the political agency of Vietnamese refugees and immigrants.