Known more commonly in the West as Kwan Yin, this merciful Goddess is worshipped and revered all through Chinese culture. She is considered a bodhisattva, a being in Buddhism that has achieved a high level of enlightenment. For non-Buddhists, she is simply seen as a Goddess.
In some regions, early images of Guanyin are male though the usual Chinese image of her is female. In modern Chinese culture, she is robed in white and either carrying a jar of water or a willow branch. Her desire to help anyone who is suffering led to one particular incarnation where she has 11 heads and up to 1000 arms so that she can give out more aid. Not only does she seek to help anyone with their difficulties, she also looks to spread knowledge and enlightenment as well.
Aside from her usual image of compassion, she is also closely associated with the water and is particularly worshipped by sailors and fishermen.
Legends of Guanyin
One particular story about Guanyin illustrates her nature perfectly. As a young girl, her father tried to force her marriage to a rich but unloving man. She asked to marry a healer instead, because she only wanted to ease the suffering of her people. He refused and eventually had her executed when she would not submit. Even in the afterlife, she was peaceful and spread joy around her. She couldn’t stay in the land of the dead, and was returned to Earth to continue helping anyone in need. There are a few variations around this story, depending on the region.
In another legend, she tests a young boy who wishes to study dharma. A disabled boy comes to Guanyin to learn, and she decides to test his dedication. Creating an illusion of bandits, she made it look like she was being chased up the mountain and off a cliff. Undaunted, the boy dragged himself up the steep hillside to save his teacher. He even threw himself off the cliff to follow her. Impressed by his faith, Guanyin healed his disability after bringing him safely down from the mountain. She then taught him everything she could about the dharma.
These are just 2 tales of many about her, and they all revolve around her compassionate nature and the teaching of spiritual ideas.
Today, she is honored around the world for her mercy and compassion to all beings of the Earth. Offerings and worship are given to her by anyone who needs help, regardless of their specific spiritual path. Statues of Guanyin are found in many modern homes as a peaceful reminder of her help and there are elaborate temples around the world dedicated to her.
Xiqiao Mountain, near the Chinese city of Guangzhou, is home to the largest statue of Guanyin in the world, and the huge temple complex draws tourists as well as spiritual seekers from far and wide.
For a beautiful and more active demonstration of Guanyin, the dance performance of “Thousand Hand Guan Yin” is performed across Asia. It’s a popular show that highlights the traditional costumes and dance of China, and it is made notable by the fact that all the dancers are deaf.
It is obvious that Guanyin is as loved today as she has always been. Next time you are in need of a little Divine assistance in your life, perhaps you could ask Guanyin for a blessing.