Guanyin or Guan Yin (/ˌɡwɑːnˈjɪn/) is an East Asian
bodhisattva associated with compassion and venerated by Mahayana
Buddhists and followers of Chinese folk religions, also known as the
"Goddess of Mercy" in English. The Chinese name Guanyin, short for
Guanshiyin, means "[The One Who] Perceives the Sounds of the
Some Buddhists believe that when one of their adherents departs from
this world, they are placed by
Guanyin in the heart of a lotus, and
then sent to the western
Pure Land of Sukhāvatī.
Guanyin is often
referred to as the "most widely beloved Buddhist Divinity" with
miraculous powers to assist all those who pray to her, as is said in
Lotus Sutra and Karandavyuha Sutra.
Several large temples in
East Asia are dedicated to
Sanjūsangen-dō as well as
Guanyin is beloved by all Buddhist traditions in a
non-denominational way and found in most Tibetan temples under the
name Chenrezig, and found in some influential
Theravada temples such
as Gangaramaya and
Kelaniya of Sri Lanka. Statues are a widely
depicted subject of
Asian art and found in the
Asian art sections of
most museums in the world.
Generally accepted among East Asian adherents,
Guanyin originated as
Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara, but in Chinese folk religion, the
mythical accounts about Guanyin's origins do not associate with the
Avalokiteśvara described in Buddhist sutras. Commonly known in
English as the Mercy Goddess or Goddess of Mercy, often depicted as
both male and female to show this figure's limitless transcendence
beyond gender, and revered by Taoists as an immortal.
2 Names in other Asian languages
3.1 Lotus Sūtra
Guanyin and the Thousand Arms
4.2 Legend of Miaoshan
Guanyin and Shancai
Guanyin and Longnü
Guanyin and the Filial Parrot
Guanyin and Chen Jinggu
4.7 Quan Am Thi Kinh
4.8 Journey To The West
5 Association with vegetarianism
6 Role in East Asian Buddhism
7 Role in other religions
8 Similarity to the Virgin Mary
9 In popular culture
10 See also
12 External links
Guānyīn is a translation from the
Sanskrit Avalokitasvara or
Avalokiteśvara, referring to the Mahāyāna bodhisattva of the same
name. Another later name for this bodhisattva is Guānzìzài
(simplified Chinese: 观自在; traditional Chinese: 觀自在;
pinyin: Guānzìzài). It was initially thought that the Chinese
mis-transliterated the word
Avalokiteśvara as Avalokitasvara which
Xuanzang translated it as Guānzìzài instead of
Guānyīn. However, the original form was indeed Avalokitasvara with
the ending svara ("sound, noise"), which means "sound perceiver",
literally "he who looks down upon sound" (i.e., the cries of sentient
beings who need his help). This is the exact equivalent of
the Chinese translation Guānyīn. This etymology was furthered in the
Chinese by the tendency of some Chinese translators, notably
Kumarajiva, to use the variant Guānshìyīn, literally "he who
perceives the world's lamentations"—wherein lok was read as
simultaneously meaning both "to look" and "world" (Skt. loka; Ch. 世,
Direct translations from the
Sanskrit name Avalokitasvara include:
Guanyin (觀音), Guanshiyin (觀世音)
The name Avalokitasvara was later supplanted by the Avalokiteśvara
form containing the ending -īśvara, which does not occur in Sanskrit
before the seventh century. The original form Avalokitasvara appears
Sanskrit fragments of the fifth century. The original meaning
of the name "Avalokitasvara" fits the Buddhist understanding of the
role of a bodhisattva. The reinterpretation presenting him as an
īśvara shows a strong influence of Śaivism, as the term īśvara
was usually connected to the Hindu notion of Śiva as a creator god
and ruler of the world.
While some of those who revered
Avalokiteśvara upheld the Buddhist
rejection of the doctrine of any creator god, Encyclopædia
Britannica does cite
Avalokiteśvara as the creator god of the world.
This position is taken in the widely used
Karandavyuha Sutra with its
well-known mantra Oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ. In addition, the Lotus
Sutra is the first time the
Avalokiteśvara is mentioned. Chapter 25
refers to him as Lokeśvara (Lord God of all beings) and Lokenath
(Lord and Protector of all beings) and ascribes extreme attributes of
divinity to him.
Direct translations from the
Chinese: 觀自在; pinyin: Guānzìzài
Tibetan: སྤྱན་རས་གཟིགས།, THL Chenrézik
Names in other Asian languages
Bodhisattva Guanyin; 11th/12th century A.D.; Polychromed Wood – Wood
with multiple layers of paint, H : 241.3 x L : 165.1 cm.;
Chinese; Shanxi Province;
Liao Dynasty (A.D. 907–1125) Nelson-Atkins
Museum Collection; Kansas City, Missouri
Due to the devotional popularity of
Guanyin in Asia, she is known by
many names, most of which are simply the localised pronunciations of
"Guanyin" or "Guanshiyin":
The name is pronounced Gwun Yam or Gun Yam in
Cantonese Chinese, also
written as Kwun Yam in Hong Kong or Kun Iam in Macau.
In Hokkien, she is called Kuan Im (POJ: Koan-im) or Kuan Se Im (POJ:
Guanyin is pronounced
Kannon (観音), occasionally
Kan'on, or more formally Kanzeon (観世音, the same characters as
Guanshiyin); the spelling Kwannon, based on a premodern pronunciation,
is sometimes seen. This rendition was used for an earlier spelling of
the well-known camera manufacturer Canon Inc., which was named for
Guanyin. When iconography of
Kannon depicts her with the Nyoihōju
(如意宝珠) wishing gem she is known as Nyoirin
観音), which is the Japanese adaptation of the Hindu deity
Guanyin is called Gwan-eum (Hangul: 관음) or
Gwanse-eum (Hangul: 관세음).
In Thai's pronunciation duplicate from
Hokkien Kuan Im
(กวนอิม), Phra Mae Kuan Im
(พระแม่กวนอิม) or Chao Mae Kuan Im (Thai:
In Burmese, the name of
Guanyin is Kwan Yin Medaw, literally meaning
Mother Kwan Yin (Goddess Guanyin)
In Vietnamese, the name is Quan Âm or Quán Thế Âm.
In Indonesian, the name is Kwan Im or Dewi Kwan Im. She is also called
Mak Kwan Im "Mother Guanyin".
In Malaysian Mandarin, the name is GuanYin Pusa (GuanYin Bodhisattva),
Guan Shi Yin Pusa (GuanYin Bodhisattva).
In Khmer, the name is Preah Mae Kun Ci Iem.
In Sinhalese, the name is Natha Deviyo (නාථ දෙවියෝ).
In Tibetan, the name is Chenrézik
In Hmong, the name is Kab Yeeb.
In these same countries, the variant Guanzizai "Lord of Contemplation"
and its equivalents are also used, such as in the Heart Sutra, among
Early Indian statue of Avalokitasvara Bodhisattva; Gandhāra, 3rd
Guanyin, sitting in the lotus position, the damaged hands probably
performing dharmacakramudra, a gesture that signifies the moment when
Buddha put the wheel of learning in motion; painted and gilded wood,
China, Song/Jin period, late 13th century
The Lotus Sūtra (
Sanskrit Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra) is
generally accepted to be the earliest literature teaching about the
doctrines of Avalokiteśvara. These are found in the twenty fifth
chapter of the Lotus Sūtra. This chapter is devoted to
Avalokitesvara, describing him as a compassionate bodhisattva who
hears the cries of sentient beings, and who works tirelessly to help
those who call upon his name. This Chapter also places
Avalokiteshwara as Higher than any other being in the Buddhist
Cosmology stating that "if one were to pray with true
devotion to Avalokiteshwara for one second, they would generate more
blessings than if one worshiped with all types of offerings as many
Gods as there are in the grains of sand of 62 Ganges Rivers for an
entire lifetime". As a result, Avalokiteshwara is often considered the
most beloved Buddhist Divinity and is venerated in many important
temples including Shitennoji, the first official temple of Japan,
Sensoji, the oldest temple of Tokyo,
Kiyomizu-dera and Sanjusangendo
which are the two most visited temples in Kyoto.
Lotus Sutra describes
Avalokiteśvara as a bodhisattva who can
take the form of any type of God including
Indra or Brahma; any type
of Buddha, any type of King or Chakravartin or even any kind of
Heavenly Guardian including
Vaisravana as well as any
gender male or female, adult or child, human or non-human being, in
order to teach the
Dharma to sentient beings. Folk traditions in
China and other East Asian countries have added many distinctive
characteristics and legends to
Guanyin c.q. Avalokiteśvara.
Avalokiteśvara was originally depicted as a male bodhisattva, and
therefore wears chest-revealing clothing and may even sport a light
moustache. Although this depiction still exists in the Far East,
Guanyin is more often depicted as a woman in modern times.
Additionally, some people believe that
Guanyin is androgynous or
perhaps without gender.
A total of 33 different manifestations of Avalokitasvara are
described, including female manifestations, all to suit the minds of
various beings. Chapter 25 consists of both a prose and a verse
section. This earliest source often circulates separately as its own
sūtra, called the Avalokitasvara Sūtra (Ch. 觀世音經), and is
commonly recited or chanted at Buddhist temples in East Asia. The
Lotus Sutra and its thirty-three manifestations of Guanyin, of which
seven are female manifestations, is known to have been very popular in
Buddhism as early as in the Sui and Tang dynasties.
Tan Chung notes that according to the doctrines of the
Mahāyāna sūtras themselves, it does not matter whether
male, female, or genderless, as the ultimate reality is in emptiness
Guanyin as a male bodhisattva. Eleven faced Ekādaśamukha form.
Japan, 12th century
Representations of the bodhisattva in
China prior to the Song dynasty
(960–1279) were masculine in appearance. Images which later
displayed attributes of both genders are believed to be in accordance
with the Lotus Sutra, where Avalokitesvara has the supernatural power
of assuming any form required to relieve suffering, and also has the
power to grant children. Because this bodhisattva is considered the
personification of compassion and kindness, a mother goddess and
patron of mothers and seamen, the representation in
China was further
interpreted in an all-female form around the 12th century. In the
Guanyin is most often represented as a beautiful,
white-robed woman, a depiction which derives from the earlier
In some Buddhist temples and monasteries, Guanyin's image is
occasionally that of a young man dressed in Northern Song Buddhist
robes and seated gracefully. He is usually depicted looking or
glancing down, symbolising that
Guanyin continues to watch over the
Guanyin is generally portrayed as a young woman donned in a
flowing white robe and usually wearing necklaces symbolic of Indian or
Chinese royalty. In her left hand is a jar containing pure water, and
the right holds a willow branch. The crown usually depicts the image
There are also regional variations of
Guanyin depictions. In Fujian,
for example, a popular depiction of
Guanyin is as a maiden dressed in
Tang hanfu carrying a fish basket. A popular image of
Guanyin as both
Guanyin of the South Sea and
Guanyin with a Fish Basket can be seen in
late 16th-century Chinese encyclopedias and in prints that accompany
the novel Golden Lotus.
In Chinese art,
Guanyin is often depicted either alone, standing atop
a dragon, accompanied by a white cockatoo and flanked by two children
or two warriors. The two children are her acolytes who came to her
when she was meditating at Mount Putuo. The girl is called
the boy Shancai. The two warriors are the historical general Guan Yu
from the late
Han dynasty and the bodhisattva Skanda, who appears in
the Chinese classical novel Fengshen Yanyi. The Buddhist tradition
also displays Guanyin, or other buddhas and bodhisattvas, flanked with
the above-mentioned warriors, but as bodhisattvas who protect the
temple and the faith itself.
This wooden statue of Quan Âm Nghìn Mắt Nghìn Tay (Quan Am with
1000 eyes and 1000 hands) was fashioned in 1656 in Bắc Ninh
Province, northern Vietnam. It is now located in the History Museum in
Guanyin and the Thousand Arms
In the Karandavyuha Sutra, Avalokiteshwara is called "The One With A
Thousand Arms and Thousand eyes" and is described as superior to all
Gods and Buddhas of the Indian pantheon. The
Sutra also states that
"it is easier to count all the leaves of every tree of every forest
and all the grains of sand in the universe than to count the blessings
and power of Avalokiteshwara". This version of Avalokiteshwara with a
thousand arms depicting the power of all Gods also shows various
Buddhas in the crown depicting the wisdom of all Buddhas. It is called
Senju Kannon in Japan and 1000 statues of this nature can be found at
Sanjusangendo temple of Kyoto.
One Buddhist legend from the Complete Tale of
Guanyin and the Southern
Seas (Chinese: 南海觀音全撰; pinyin: Nánhǎi Guānyīn
Guanyin as vowing to never rest until she had
freed all sentient beings from saṃsāra or cycle of rebirth.
Despite strenuous effort, she realised that there were still many
unhappy beings yet to be saved. After struggling to comprehend the
needs of so many, her head split into eleven pieces. The buddha
Amitābha, upon seeing her plight, gave her eleven heads to help her
hear the cries of those who are suffering. Upon hearing these cries
and comprehending them,
Avalokiteśvara attempted to reach out to all
those who needed aid, but found that her two arms shattered into
pieces. Once more,
Amitābha came to her aid and appointed her a
thousand arms to let her reach out to those in need.
Many Himalayan versions of the tale include eight arms with which
Avalokitesvara skillfully upholds the dharma, each possessing its own
particular implement, while more Chinese-specific versions give
varying accounts of this number.
In China, it is said that fishermen used to pray to her to ensure safe
voyages. The titles
Guanyin of the Southern Ocean (南海觀音) and
Guanyin (of/on) the Island" stem from this tradition.
Legend of Miaoshan
Kannon statue in Daien'i, Mount Kōya, Japan.
Chinese porcelain statue depicting Guanyin,
Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368
Guanyin statue at
Seema Malaka in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Another story from the Precious Scroll of Fragrant Mountain
(香山寶卷) describes an incarnation of
Guanyin as the daughter of
a cruel king who wanted her to marry a wealthy but uncaring man. The
story is usually ascribed to the research of the Buddhist monk Jiang
Zhiqi during the 11th century. The story is likely to have its origin
in Taoism. When Chiang penned the work, he believed that the Guanyin
we know today was actually a princess called Miaoshan (妙善), who
had a religious following on Fragrant Mountain. Despite this there
are many variants of the story in Chinese mythology.
According to the story, after the king asked his daughter Miaoshan to
marry the wealthy man, she told him that she would obey his command,
so long as the marriage eased three misfortunes.
The king asked his daughter what were the three misfortunes that the
marriage should ease. Miaoshan explained that the first misfortune the
marriage should ease was the suffering people endure as they age. The
second misfortune it should ease was the suffering people endure when
they fall ill. The third misfortune it should ease was the suffering
caused by death. If the marriage could not ease any of the above, then
she would rather retire to a life of religion forever.
When her father asked who could ease all the above, Miaoshan pointed
out that a doctor was able to do all of these. Her father grew angry
as he wanted her to marry a person of power and wealth, not a healer.
He forced her into hard labour and reduced her food and drink but this
did not cause her to yield.
Every day she begged to be able to enter a temple and become a nun
instead of marrying. Her father eventually allowed her to work in the
temple, but asked the monks to give her the toughest chores in order
to discourage her. The monks forced Miaoshan to work all day and all
night while others slept in order to finish her work. However, she was
such a good person that the animals living around the temple began to
help her with her chores. Her father, seeing this, became so
frustrated that he attempted to burn down the temple. Miaoshan put out
the fire with her bare hands and suffered no burns. Now struck with
fear, her father ordered her to be put to death.
In one version of this legend, when
Guanyin was executed, a
supernatural tiger took her to one of the more hell-like realms of the
dead. However, instead of being punished like the other spirits of the
Guanyin played music, and flowers blossomed around her. This
completely surprised the hell guardian. The story says that Guanyin,
by merely being in that Naraka (hell), turned it into a paradise.
A variant of the legend says that Miaoshan allowed herself to die at
the hand of the executioner. According to this legend, as the
executioner tried to carry out her father's orders, his axe shattered
into a thousand pieces. He then tried a sword which likewise
shattered. He tried to shoot Miaoshan down with arrows but they all
Finally in desperation he used his hands. Miaoshan, realising the fate
that the executioner would meet at her father's hand should she fail
to let herself die, forgave the executioner for attempting to kill
her. It is said that she voluntarily took on the massive karmic guilt
the executioner generated for killing her, thus leaving him guiltless.
It is because of this that she descended into the Hell-like realms.
While there, she witnessed first-hand the suffering and horrors that
the beings there must endure, and was overwhelmed with grief. Filled
with compassion, she released all the good karma she had accumulated
through her many lifetimes, thus freeing many suffering souls back
into Heaven and Earth. In the process, that Hell-like realm became a
paradise. It is said that Yama, the ruler of hell, sent her back to
Earth to prevent the utter destruction of his realm, and that upon her
return she appeared on Fragrant Mountain.
Another tale says that Miaoshan never died, but was in fact
transported by a supernatural tiger, believed to be the
the Place,[clarification needed] to Fragrant Mountain.
The legend of Miaoshan usually ends with Miaozhuangyan, Miaoshan's
father, falling ill with jaundice. No physician was able to cure him.
Then a monk appeared saying that the jaundice could be cured by making
a medicine out of the arm and eye of one without anger. The monk
further suggested that such a person could be found on Fragrant
Mountain. When asked, Miaoshan willingly offered up her eyes and arms.
Miaozhuangyan was cured of his illness and went to the Fragrant
Mountain to give thanks to the person. When he discovered that his own
daughter had made the sacrifice, he begged for forgiveness. The story
concludes with Miaoshan being transformed into the Thousand Armed
Guanyin, and the king, queen and her two sisters building a temple on
the mountain for her. She began her journey to a pure land and was
about to cross over into heaven when she heard a cry of suffering from
the world below. She turned around and saw the massive suffering
endured by the people of the world. Filled with compassion, she
returned to Earth, vowing never to leave till such time as all
suffering has ended.
After her return to Earth,
Guanyin was said to have stayed for a few
years on the island of
Mount Putuo where she practised meditation and
helped the sailors and fishermen who got stranded.
frequently worshipped as patron of sailors and fishermen due to this.
She is said to frequently becalm the sea when boats are threatened
with rocks. After some decades
Guanyin returned to Fragrant
Mountain to continue her meditation.
Guanyin and Shancai
Main article: Sudhana
An Altar of
Legend has it that Shancai (also called
Sudhana in Sanskrit) was a
disabled boy from India who was very interested in studying the
dharma. When he heard that there was a Buddhist teacher on the rocky
island of Putuo he quickly journeyed there to learn. Upon arriving at
the island, he managed to find
Guanyin despite his severe disability.
Guanyin, after having a discussion with Shancai, decided to test the
boy's resolve to fully study the Buddhist teachings. She conjured the
illusion of three sword-wielding pirates running up the hill to attack
Guanyin took off and dashed to the edge of a cliff, the three
illusions still chasing her.
Shancai, seeing that his teacher was in danger, hobbled uphill.
Guanyin then jumped over the edge of the cliff, and soon after this
the three bandits followed. Shancai, still wanting to save his
teacher, managed to crawl his way over the cliff edge.
Shancai fell down the cliff but was halted in midair by Guanyin, who
now asked him to walk. Shancai found that he could walk normally and
that he was no longer crippled. When he looked into a pool of water he
also discovered that he now had a very handsome face. From that day
Guanyin taught Shancai the entire dharma.
Guanyin and Longnü
Main article: Longnü
Guanyin statue at Sanggar Agung, Surabaya, Indonesia
Many years after Shancai became a disciple of Guanyin, a distressing
event happened in the South
China Sea. The third son of one of the
Dragon Kings was caught by a fisherman while swimming in the form of a
fish. Being stuck on land, he was unable to transform back into his
dragon form. His father, despite being a mighty Dragon King, was
unable to do anything while his son was on land. Distressed, the son
called out to all of Heaven and Earth.
Hearing this cry,
Guanyin quickly sent Shancai to recover the fish and
gave him all the money she had. The fish at this point was about to be
sold in the market. It was causing quite a stir as it was alive hours
after being caught. This drew a much larger crowd than usual at the
market. Many people decided that this prodigious situation meant that
eating the fish would grant them immortality, and so all present
wanted to buy the fish. Soon a bidding war started, and Shancai was
14th Century Mu Qi Recreation, Chinese, Ming dynasty
Shancai begged the fish seller to spare the life of the fish. The
crowd, now angry at someone so daring, was about to pry him away from
the fish when
Guanyin projected her voice from far away, saying "A
life should definitely belong to one who tries to save it, not one who
tries to take it."
The crowd, realising their shameful actions and desire, dispersed.
Shancai brought the fish back to Guanyin, who promptly returned it to
the sea. There the fish transformed back to a dragon and returned
home. Paintings of
Guanyin today sometimes portray her holding a fish
basket, which represents the aforementioned tale.
But the story does not end there. As a reward for
Guanyin saving his
Dragon King sent his granddaughter, a girl called Longnü
("dragon girl"), to present
Guanyin with the Pearl of Light. The Pearl
of Light was a precious jewel owned by the
Dragon King that constantly
shone. Longnü, overwhelmed by the presence of Guanyin, asked to be
her disciple so that she might study the dharma.
Guanyin accepted her
offer with just one request: that
Longnü be the new owner of the
Pearl of Light.
In popular iconography,
Longnü and Shancai are often seen alongside
Guanyin as two children.
Longnü is seen either holding a bowl or an
ingot, which represents the Pearl of Light, whereas Shancai is seen
with palms joined and knees slightly bent to show that he was once
Guanyin and the Filial Parrot
The Precious Scroll of the Parrot (Chinese: 鸚鴿寶撰; pinyin:
Yīnggē Bǎozhuàn) tells the story of a parrot who becomes a
disciple of Guanyin. During the Tang Dynasty a small parrot ventures
out to search for its mother's favourite food upon which it is
captured by a poacher (parrots were quite popular during the Tang
Dynasty). When it managed to escape it found out that its mother had
already died. The parrot grieved for its mother and provides her with
a proper funeral. It then sets out to become a disciple of Guanyin.
In popular iconography, the parrot is coloured white and usually seen
hovering to the right side of
Guanyin with either a pearl or a prayer
bead clasped in its beak. The parrot becomes a symbol of filial
Guanyin and Chen Jinggu
Dry-lacquer sculpture of the "Water-moon Guanyin" theme. The
Walters Art Museum.
When the people of Quanzhou,
Fujian could not raise enough money to
build a bridge,
Guanyin changed into a beautiful maiden. Getting on a
boat, she offered to marry any man who could hit her with a piece of
silver from the edge of the water. Due to many people missing, she
collected a large sum of money in her boat. However, Lü Dongbin, one
of the Eight Immortals, helped a merchant hit
Guanyin in the hair with
silver powder, which floated away in the water.
Guanyin bit her finger
and a drop of blood fell into the water, but she vanished. This blood
was swallowed by a washer woman, who gave birth to Chen Jinggu
(陳靖姑) or Lady Linshui (臨水夫人); the hair was turned into a
female white snake and sexually used men and killed rival women. The
snake and Chen were to be mortal enemies. The merchant was sent to be
reborn as Liu Qi (劉杞).
Chen was a beautiful and talented girl, but did not wish to marry Liu
Qi. Instead, she fled to
Mount Lu in Jiangxi, where she learned many
Taoist skills. Destiny eventually caused her to marry Liu and she
became pregnant. A drought in
Fujian caused many people to ask her to
call for rain, which was a ritual that could not be performed while
pregnant. She temporarily aborted her child, which was killed by the
white snake. Chen managed to kill the snake with a sword, but died
either of a miscarriage or hemorrhage; she was able to complete the
ritual, and ended drought.
This story is popular in Zhejiang, Taiwan, and especially Fujian.
Quan Am Thi Kinh
Quan Am Thi Kinh (觀音氏敬) is a Vietnamese verse recounting the
life of a woman, Thi Kinh. She was accused falsely of having intended
to kill her husband, and when she disguised herself as a man to lead a
religious life in a Buddhist temple, she was again falsely blamed for
having committed sexual intercourse with a girl named Thi Mau. She was
accused of impregnating her, which was strictly forbidden by Buddhist
law. However, thanks to her endurance of all indignities and her
spirit of self-sacrifice, she could enter into
Nirvana and became
Goddess of Mercy (Phat Ba Quan Am) P. Q. Phan's 2014 opera The
Tale of Lady Thị Kính (de) is based on this story.
Journey To The West
Next to Sun Wu Kong, the monkey king himself, there is no supernatural
entity more important to the famous myths from
China about a strange
mystical monkey, a couple of exiled gods, a dragon, and a priest
trying to bring sacred scrolls back to
China than her. She delivered
the ring that let the priest control the monkey king. She informed all
those involved of their great place in the quest which allowed most of
them to reach enlightenment. When a demon was too powerful or tricky
even for the monkey king she came to their rescue. And when the monkey
king was feeling like abandoning the quest she managed to talk him
Association with vegetarianism
Due to her symbolization of compassion, in East Asia,
associated with vegetarianism.
Buddhist cuisine is generally decorated
with her image and she appears in most Buddhist vegetarian pamphlets
Role in East Asian Buddhism
Guanyin Shan (
Guanyin Mountain) temple in Dongguan, China.
In East Asian Buddhism,
Guanyin is the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara.
Among the Chinese,
Avalokiteśvara is almost exclusively called
Guanshiyin Pusa (觀世音菩薩). The Chinese translation of many
Buddhist sutras has in fact replaced the Chinese transliteration of
Avalokitesvara with Guanshiyin (觀世音). Some
give her the title of
Guanyin Dashi, sometimes informally Guanyin
Guanyin and child, modern Chinese painting theme, similar to the
Madonna and Child
Madonna and Child theme.
In Chinese culture, the popular belief and worship of
Guanyin as a
goddess by the populace is generally not viewed to be in conflict with
the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara's nature. In fact the widespread
Guanyin as a "Goddess of Mercy and Compassion" is seen by
Buddhists as the boundless salvific nature of bodhisattva
Avalokiteśvara at work (in Buddhism, this is referred to as Guanyin's
"skillful means", or upaya). The Buddhist canon states that
bodhisattvas can assume whatsoever gender and form is needed to
liberate beings from ignorance and dukkha. With specific reference to
Avalokitesvara, he is stated both in the
Lotus Sutra (Chapter 25
"Perceiver of the World's Sounds" or "Universal Gateway"), and the
Śūraṅgama Sūtra to have appeared before as a woman or a goddess
to save beings from suffering and ignorance. Some Buddhist schools
Guanyin both as male and female interchangeably.
Mahayana Buddhism, gender is no obstacle to attaining enlightenment
(or nirvana). The Buddhist concept of non-duality applies here. The
Vimalakirti Sutra's "Goddess" chapter clearly illustrates an
enlightened being who is also a female and deity. In the Lotus Sutra,
a maiden became enlightened in a very short time span. The view that
Avalokiteśvara is also the goddess
Guanyin does not seem
contradictory to Buddhist beliefs.
Guanyin has been a buddha called
Tathāgata of Brightness of Correct Dharma"
Given that bodhisattvas are known to incarnate at will as living
people according to the sutras, the princess Miaoshan is generally
viewed by Buddhists as an incarnation of Guanyin.
Ming dynasty porcelain figure of Guanyin.
Guanyin is immensely popular among Chinese Buddhists, especially those
from devotional schools. She is generally seen as a source of
unconditional love and, more importantly, as a saviour. In her
Guanyin promises to answer the cries and pleas of all
sentient beings and to liberate them from their own karmic woes. Based
Lotus Sutra and the Shurangama sutra, Avalokitesvara is
generally seen as a saviour, both spiritually and physically. The
sutras state that through his saving grace even those who have no
chance of being enlightened can be enlightened, and those deep in
negative karma can still find salvation through his compassion.
Pure Land Buddhism,
Guanyin is described as the "Barque of
Salvation". Along with
Amitābha and the bodhisattva Mahasthamaprapta,
she temporarily liberates beings out of the Wheel of Samsara into the
Pure Land, where they will have the chance to accrue the necessary
merit so as to be a
Buddha in one lifetime. In Chinese Buddhist
Guanyin is often depicted as meditating or sitting
alongside one of the Buddhas and usually accompanied by another
bodhisattva. The buddha and bodhisattva that are portrayed together
Guanyin usually follow whichever school of
Pure Land Buddhism, for example,
Guanyin is frequently
depicted on the left of Amitābha, while on the buddha's right is
Mahasthamaprapta. Temples that revere the bodhisattva Ksitigarbha
usually depict him meditating beside
Amitābha and Guanyin.
Even among Chinese Buddhist schools that are non-devotional, Guanyin
is still highly venerated. Instead of being seen as an active external
force of unconditional love and salvation, the personage of
highly revered as the principle of compassion, mercy and love. The
act, thought and feeling of compassion and love is viewed as Guanyin.
A merciful, compassionate, loving individual is said to be Guanyin. A
meditative or contemplative state of being at peace with oneself and
others is seen as Guanyin.
Mahayana canon, the
Heart Sutra is ascribed entirely to
Guanyin. This is unique, since most
Mahayana Sutras are usually
ascribed to Gautama
Buddha and the teachings, deeds or vows of the
bodhisattvas are described by Shakyamuni Buddha. In the Heart Sutra,
Guanyin describes to the arhat
Sariputta the nature of reality and the
essence of the Buddhist teachings. The famous Buddhist saying "Form is
emptiness, emptiness is form" (色即是空，空即是色) comes from
Role in other religions
Chinese folk religion
Chinese folk religion temple devoted primarily to the goddess
Guanyin, in Lahad Datu, Sabah, Malaysia.
Shrine of Kwan Yin inside in the Nam Soon Church at Damzen Lane in
Kolkata. The statue, however appears to actually be Guan Yu, flanked
Guan Ping and Zhou Cang.
Guanyin is an extremely popular goddess in
Chinese folk religion
Chinese folk religion and
is worshiped in many Chinese communities throughout East and South
East Asia. In Taoism, records claim
Guanyin was a
Chinese woman who became an immortal,
Cihang Zhenren in Shang Dynasty
or Xingyin (姓音).
Guanyin is revered in the general Chinese population due to her
unconditional love and compassion. She is generally regarded by many
as the protector of women and children. By this association, she is
also seen as a fertility goddess capable of granting children to
couples. An old Chinese superstition involves a woman who, wishing to
have a child, offers a shoe to Guanyin. In Chinese culture, a borrowed
shoe sometimes is used when a child is expected. After the child is
born, the shoe is returned to its owner along with a new pair as a
thank you gift.
Guanyin is also seen as the champion of the unfortunate, the sick, the
disabled, the poor, and those in trouble. Some coastal and river areas
China regard her as the protector of fishermen, sailors, and
generally people who are out at sea, thus many have also come to
believe that Mazu, the goddess of the sea, is a manifestation of
Guanyin. Due to her association with the legend of the Great Flood,
where she sent down a dog holding rice grains in its tail after the
flood, she is worshiped as an agrarian and agriculture goddess. In
some quarters, especially among business people and traders, she is
looked upon as a goddess of fortune. In recent years there have been
claims of her being the protector of air travelers.
Guanyin is also a ubiquitous figure found within the new religious
movements of Asia:
Within the Taiwan-based
Guanyin is called the "Ancient
Buddha of the South Sea" (南海古佛) and frequently appears in
Guanyin is sometimes confused with Yue Hui
to their similar appearance.
Guanyin is called the "Ancient
Buddha of the Holy Religion"
Zailiism and in the teachings of the Lord of
Universe Church. In
Zailiism she is the main deity worshipped.
Ching Hai initiates her followers a meditation method called the "Quan
Yin Method" to achieve enlightenment; followers also revere Ching Hai
as an incarnation of Guanyin.
Guanyin, known as "Quan Am Tathagata" (Quan Âm Như Lai) in the Cao
Dai religion, is considered a
Buddha and a teacher. She represents
Buddhist doctrines and traditions as one of the three major lines of
Cao Dai doctrines (Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism). She also
symbolizes utmost patience, harmony, and compassion. According to her
Divine messages via seances, her main role is to teach the Tao to
female disciples, and guide them towards divinity. Another of her
well-known role is to save people from extreme sufferings, e.g. fire,
drowning, wrong accusation/ imprisonment, etc. There is even a prayer
named "Salvation from sufferings" for followers to cite in dire
Similarity to the Virgin Mary
Virgin Mary disguised as Kannon, kakure kirishitan (Japanese
hidden Christians), 17th century. Salle des Martyrs, Paris Foreign
Some Buddhist and Christian observers have commented on the similarity
Guanyin and the Blessed Virgin Mary. This can be attributed to
the representation of
Guanyin holding a child in Chinese art and
sculpture; it is believed that
Guanyin is the patron saint of mothers
and grants parents filial children, this apparition is popularly known
as the "Child-Sending Guanyin" (送子觀音). One example of this
comparison can be found in the
Tzu Chi Foundation, a Taiwanese
Buddhist humanitarian organisation, which noticed the similarity
between this form of
Guanyin and the Virgin Mary. The organisation
commissioned a portrait of
Guanyin holding a baby, closely resembling
the typical Roman Catholic
Madonna and Child
Madonna and Child painting. Copies of this
portrait are now displayed prominently in
Tzu Chi affiliated medical
centres, especially since Tzu Chi's founder is a Buddhist master and
her supporters come from various religious backgrounds.
Edo Period in Japan, when Christianity was banned and
punishable by death, some underground Christian groups venerated Jesus
Virgin Mary by disguising them as statues of
Kannon holding a
child; such statues are known as Maria Kannon. Many had a cross hidden
in an inconspicuous location.
It is suggested the similarity comes from the conquest and
colonization of the
Philippines by Spain during the 16th century, when
Asian cultures influenced engravings of the Virgin Mary, as evidenced,
for example, in an ivory carving of the
Virgin Mary by a Chinese
The statue of
Guanyin (Gwanse-eum) in Gilsangsa Temple in Seoul, South
Korea was sculpted by Catholic sculptor Choi Jong-tae, who modeled the
statue after the
Virgin Mary in hopes of fostering religious
reconciliation in Korean society.
In popular culture
In the 1946 film
Three Strangers the titular characters wish for a
shared sweepstakes ticket to win before a statue of Guanyin, referred
to in the film as Kwan Yin.
For a 2005
Fo Guang Shan
Fo Guang Shan TV series,
Andy Lau performed the song Kwun
Sai Yam, which emphasizes the idea that everyone can be like
Fantasy author Richard Parks has frequently utilized
Guanyin as a
character in his fiction, most notably in the short story "The White
Bone Fan" (2009), the novella
The Heavenly Fox (2011), and the novel
All the Gates of Hell (2013).
Mount Putuo, an island famous for pilgrimage to pay respect to Guanyin
Guan Yin of the South Sea of Sanya, the fourteenth tallest statue in
Quan Âm Pagoda, Ho Chi Minh City
Tara (Buddhism), the female aspect of Avalokitesvara in Tibetan
Tieguanyin, a variety of oolong named after Guanyin
Wat Plai Laem, a
Guanyin temple on Ko Samui, Thailand
Avalokitesvara (film), a 2013 Chinese film about
Guanyin and Mount
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Chinese Buddhist pantheon
Amitābha (Āmítuó Fó)
Bhaisajyaguru (Yàoshī Fó)
Vairocana (Pílú Zhēnǎ Fó)
Guānshì Yīn (Avalokiteśvara)
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Religion in China
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Three marks of existence
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