Kwan Yin
London Calling

Mystery Princess

According to one legend, Kwan Yin, who is often referred to as the female Buddha, was a beautiful Indian princess who forsook marriage and the good life to live in a convent in order to become a truly enlightened human being, or bodhisattva. By turning her back on a life of luxury and seeking out spiritual enlightenment, her life story is similar in theme to that of the historical Buddha, Prince Siddhartha Gautama. Both individuals eventually became thoroughly enlightened and compassionate spiritual beings, who sought to alleviate mankind's sufferings. Talk about more joy in Tushita Heaven!

After having achieved enlightenment and the right to enter Buddhist Heaven or Nirvana, legend has it that at Heaven's gates Kwan Yin heard the despairing cry of someone back on earth. Upon hearing that sad cry, she quickly returned to the earthly plane, and vowed to stay there to help all those who suffer achieve the same level of enlightenment that she had, so that they too could enter Nirvana. Kwan Yin's name means "The one who hears the cries of the world."

She who hears the cries of the world.

Compassionate Goddess

For centuries Eastern cultures have worshipped Kwan Yin as the Compassionate Saviouress of the East. Likened to the great stature of the Virgin Mary in the West, she is the Goddess of Compassion, a motherly figure thought to bestow children on the truly faithful, and to be there for anyone in need of love and sympathy.

All those who needlessly suffer are Kwan Yin's children. She is all-loving, and the perfect embodiment of beauty, grace and enduring compassion.

Kwan Yin holding a twig from a weeping willow. Because 
raindrops trickle like tears down its leafy branches to the ground, the weeping willow is associated with her compassionate nature.

Emotional Rescue

Kwan Yin's appeal is that she responds to the heartfelt needs of ordinary people. She is accessible to anyone, regardless of social status, and will come to the emotional rescue of anyone who calls upon her in a time of crisis. There are many ways to invoke Kwan Yin into one's life. The traditional way is by chanting the mantra OM MANI PADME HUM.

It is further believed that to have a picture or statue of Kwan Yin in one's home brings good luck and protection to the household.

Kwan Yin and Child - Illustrating karuna, the yearning compassion a mother feels for her child. Note the similarity with the Christian Madonna and Child.

The Jewel in the Lotus

Amongst modern Buddhist scholars, Kwan Yin is considered to be the feminine form of Avalokitesvara (Sanskrit), the male bodhisattva of compassion of Indian Buddhism whose worship was introduced into China in the third century. The Buddhist monk and translator Kumarajiva was the first to refer to the female form of Kwan Yin in his Chinese translation of the Lotus Sutra in 406 A.D. Because Kwan Yin's name appears thirty-three times in Kumarajiva's translation, Chinese and Japanese Buddhists have come to associate the number 33 with her radiant identity.

Despite ongoing controversy over the true historical origins of Kwan Yin as a female deity, the depiction of a Buddhist bodhisattva as both 'god' and 'goddess' is not inconsistent with Buddhist doctrine; however, the legendary Buddhist saint Miao Shan, a Chinese princess who lived about 700 B.C., reinforced the image of the bodhisattva as being that of a woman.

The precious vase Kwan Yin often holds in her depictions symbolizes the sacred nectar of compassion and wisdom. She is also frequently portrayed as a slender woman in flowing white robes who carries in her left hand a white lotus, an abiding symbol of purity of heart and spirit.

Kwan Yin's role in Chinese Buddhism is that of a wise and compassionate Madonna. Her embodiment of beauty, grace and compassion still represents the ideal of womanhood in Asia. There was a statue of Kwan Yin in every Buddhist monastery in China by the end of the ninth century. This highly evolved Chinese Buddhist goddess of infinite mercy, this precious jewel in the lotus, has transcended her own origins and is regarded as the female Buddha by the truly faithful all over the world. It is believed one third of the world's population still pray to her on a regular basis.

Avalokitesvara - Tara (Tibet); Miao Shan - Guan Yin - Kuan Yin - Kwan Yin - Quan Yin (China); Kwannon (Japan).

Time to go on a pilgrimage, maybe?
Christmas 2001
notes appended and edited @buddhavision