August 10, 2012

Kuan Yin (Quan Yin) – The Goddess of Compassion & Mercy (Part 1)

Posted in Goddess Project, Goddess Things tagged , , , , , , at 10:13 pm by Babs

Photo is loadingKuan Yin is the Chinese bodhisattva (Buddhist prophet, a true Enlightened One) to whom childless women turn for help.  Kuan Yin, whose name means “Who contemplates the Sound of the World”, is one of the four great bodhisattvas of Buddhism.  She is identified as the male bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, also known as Chenresi in Tibetan, “One Who Hears the Cries of the World.”  In Sanskrit, her name is Padma-pani, or “Born of the Lotus.”

Scholars believe that the Buddhist monk and translator Kumarajiva was the first to refer to the female form of Kuan Yin in his Chinese translation of the Lotus Sutra in 406 A.D.  Of the thirty-three appearances of the bodhisattva referred to in his translation, seven are female.  Devoted Chinese and Japanese Buddhists have since come to associate the number thirty-three with Kuan Yin.

Although Kuan Yin was still being portrayed as a male as late as the tenth century, with the introduction of Tantric Buddhism into China in the eighth century during the T’ang dynasty, the image of the celestial bodhisattva as a beautiful white-robed goddess was predominant and the devotional cult surrounding her became increasingly popular.  By the ninth century there was a statue of Kuan Yin in every Buddhist monastery in China.

Despite the controversy over the origins of Kuan Yin as a feminine being, the depiction of a bodhisattva as both ‘god’ and ‘goddess’ is not inconsistent with Buddhist doctrine.  The scriptures explain that a bodhisattva has the power to embody any form – mail, female, child, even animal depending on the type of being hes is seeking to save.  As the Lotus Sutra relates, the bodhisattva Kuan Yin, “by resort to a variety of shapes, travels in the world, conveying the beings to salvation.”

In the more recent representation, Kuan yin is considered to be the female manifestation of Amida Buddha depicted with distinct feminine features.  Amida Buddha is often rendered as the Thousand Armed, Thousand Eyed bodhisattva, who ‘looks’ simultaneously in a thousand directions for suffering whilst offering a thousand arms of assistance.  Various manifestations of Amida Buddha are known as “The Buddha of Infinite Light and Infinite Life.”  Kuan Yin carries the Goddess and Divine Mother aspect of Buddhism.  The same goddess and Divine energy carried by the Virgin mary in Christianity.  In the Egyptian mysteries it is carried by Isis.  In Hinduism it is carried by Shakti, wife of Vishnu, by Parvati, wife of Shiva, by Radha, wife of Krishna, and by Sita, wife of Rama as well.

The twelfth-century legend of the Buddhist saint Miao Shan, the Chinese princess who lived in about 700 B.C. and is widely believed to have been Kuan Yin, reinforced the image of the bodhisattva as female.  During the twelfth century Buddhist monks settled on P’u-t’o Shan – the sacred island=mountain in the Chusan Archipelago off the coast of Chekiang where Miao Shan is said to have lived for nine years, healing and saving sailors from shipwreck – and devotion to Kuan Yin spread throughout northern China.

This picturesque island became the chief center of worship of the compassionate Saviouress; crowds of pilgrims would journey from the remotest places in China and even from Manchuria, Mongolia and Tibet to attend stately services there.  At one time there were more than a hundred temples on the island and over one thousand monks.  The lore surrounding P’u-t’o island recounts numerous appearances and miracles performed by Kuan Yin, who, it is believed, reveals herself to the faithful in a certain cave on the island.

The name Kuan Shih Yin, as she is often called, means literally “the one who regards, looks on, or hears the sounds of the world.” according to legend, Kuan Yin was about to enter heaven but paused on the threshold as the cries of the world reached her ears.  One of the most universally beloved of deities in the Buddhist tradition, Juan Yin vowed to remain in the earthly realms and not enter the heavenly worlds until all other living things have completed their own enlightenment and thus become liberated from the pain-filled cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.

There are numerous legends that recount the miracles that Kuan Yin performs to help those who call on  Her.  Like Artemis, She is a virgin Goddess who protects women, offers them a religious life as an alternative to marriage, and grants children to those who desire them.  The many stories and anecdotes featuring this Goddess serve to convey the idea of an enlightened being who embodies the attributes of an all-pervasive, all-consuming, unwavering, loving compassion and who is accessible to everyone.  Kuan Yin counsels us by Her actions to cultivate within ourselves those particular refined qualities that all beings are said to naturally possess in some vestigial form.

The Goddess of Mercy is unique among the heavenly hierarchy in that She is so utterly free from pride or vengfulness that She remains reluctant to punish even those to whom a severe lesson might be appropriate.  Individuals who could be sentenced to dreadful penance in other systems can attain rebirth and renewal by simply calling upon Her graces with utter and absolute sincerity.  It is said that, even for one kneeling beneath the executioner’s sward already raised to strike, a single heartfelt cry to Bodhisattva Kuan Yin will cause the blade to fall shattered to the ground.

Photo is loadingIn many images She is depicted carrying the pearls of illuminations.  Often Kuan Yin is show pouring a stream of healing water, the “Water of Life,” from a small vase.  With this water devotees and all living things are blessed with physical and spiritual peace.  She holds a sheaf of ripe rice or a bowl of rice seed as a metaphor for fertility and sustenance.  The dragon, an ancient symbol for high spirituality, wisdom, strength, and divine powers of transformation, is a common motif found in combination with the Goddess of Mercy.

In the Pure Land sect of Buddhism, Kuan Yin forms part of a ruling triad that is often depicted in temples and is a popular theme in Buddhist art.  In the center is te Buddha of Boundless Light, Amitabha (Chinese, A-mi-t’o Fo; Japanese, Amida).  To his right is the bodhisattva of strength or power, Mahasthamaprapta, and to his left is Kuan Yin, personifying his endless mercy.

The iconography of Kuan Yin depicts her in many forms, each one revealing a unique aspect of her merciful presence.  As the sublime Goddess of Mercy whose beauty, grace and compassion have come to represent the ideal of womanhood in the East, she is frequently portrayed as a slender woman in flowing white robes who carries in her left hand a white lotus, symbol of purity.  Ornaments may adorn her form, symbolizing her attainment as a bodhisattva, or she may be pictured without them as a sign of her great virtue.

Kuan Yin’s presence is widespread through her images as the “bestower of children” which are found in homes and temples.  a great white veil covers her entire form as she may be seated on a lotus.  Sometimes to her right and left are her two attendants, Shan-tsiai Tung-tsi, the “young man of excellent capacities,” and Lung-want Nu, the “daughter of the Dragon-king.”

Kuan Yin is also known as patron bodhisattva of P’tu-t’o Shan, mistress of the southern Sea and patroness of fishermen.  As such she is shown crossing the sea seated or standing on a lotus or with her feet on the head of a dragon.

Sometimes Kuan Yin when represented as the Amida Buddha, the many armed figure, is seen with each hand either containing a different cosmic symbol or expressing a specific ritual position, or mudra.  This characterizes the goddess as the source and sustenance of all things.  Her cupped hands often form the Yoni Mudra, symbolizing the womb as the door for entry to this world through the universal female principle.

Contemplating the Goddess of Mercy involves little dogma or ritual.  The simplicity of this gentle being and Her standards tends to lead Her devotees towards becoming more compassionate and loving themselves.  a deep sense of service to all fellow beings naturally follows any devotion to the Goddess.  One need not try to ‘tell’ her what your ‘problem’ is (it may not be your problem anyway!), Kuan Yin knows what it/ they are – even if you don’t!  The traditional form of this invocation is Namu Kuan Shi Yin Pu Sa.  In effect this “Life Giving Phrase” does not need to be translated into any other language or particularly understood on any other level – for it simply is what it is: Unfathomable and Infinite Light and Life.

The first full of the moon following the winter equinox (i.e. 56 days later) is marked in the East (China particularly) with the Lantern Festival.  Small paper boats with candles on board are launched onto rivers as offerings of light to the spirits and ancestors.  Eventually these little boats float on into the vast and unfathomable oceans of our shared world.  Ancient tradition also has it that places of learning and practice (Temple, School and Dojo) would hang poems, calligraphy, art and so on to lanterns outside their buildings so as to continue a form of illuminations as this first full moon of the year began to wane.  During various periods of time in ancient China many of these works of poetry attached to lanterns were eulogies to various manifestations of Kuan Yin.  At around about the 6th Century, in China poetry competitions became fashionable and the predominant theme still was Kuan Yin, her virtues and the advice that she gave.  Over the years these poems were compiled as one complete work of 100.

This volume then came to be used as a medium by fortune tellers.  The services of the soothsayer were settled with a money burning ceremony.  Hard earned money bought valueless paper money to burn.  Via these mediums Kuan Yin’s compassionate advice and assistance – especially to pregnant women – established this figure in countless manifestations in perhaps dozens of eastern cultures as the compassionate Goddess of Love.

The Goddess of Compassion and Mercy is linked with the Sixth Ray – Indigo Ray – Third Eye Chakra.  Other symbols characteristically associated with Kuan Yin are a willow branch, with which she sprinkles the divine nectar of life; a precious vase symbolizing the nectar of compassion and wisdom, the hallmarks of a bodhisattva; a dove, representing fecundity; a book or scroll of prayers which she holds in her hand, representing the dharma (teaching) of the Buddha or the sutra (Buddhist text) which Miao shan is said to have constantly recited; and a rosary adorning her neck with which she calls upon the Buddha’s for succor.

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1 Comment »

  1. phoenixemma said,

    Reblogged this on Emma Phoenix.


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