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Pantheon: Kuan Yin

by Selena Fox

Kuan Yin is the Goddess of Compassion and Divine Love. For more than a thousand years, Buddhists in China and other parts of Asia have called upon Her for help. Today, She is honored by people of many religions and spiritual paths the world over. Her images are found in temples, shrines, roadside grottos, sacred gardens, and private homes. Kuan Yin has become a multifaceted, multicultural, and multireligious Goddess that helps individual humans and humankind.

Kuan Yin's name means "regarder of sounds," and She also is known as Kuan Shin Yin, regarder of the world's sounds. Kuan Yin is a fertility Goddess, and called Sung-tzu Niang-niang, the Lady Who Brings Children. In Japan, She is usually called Kwannon or Kannon, and sometimes appears as male or androgynous. Kuan Yin can take a variety of forms and some of Her other names and titles reflect this: Sho (the holy), Senju (thousand-handed), Bato (horse-headed), Juichimen (eleven-faced), and Nyoirin (Goddess of the Wishing Wheel). Variant spellings of Kuan Yin's name include Kwan-yin, Quan Yin, and Guanyin.

Kuan Yin has been linked with other sacred beings. Some call Her "Mary of the Orient." Some suggest She is connected with the Goddess Hariti of India and Isis of ancient Egypt and the Greco-Roman world. Others regard Kuan Yin as a combination of Avalokita, a Bodhisattva of India, and Tara, the Tibetan Star Goddess of Compassion. Some scholars say that Kuan Yin's origins began in ancient India in the form of the young androgynous male Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, born from a ray of light shining from the right eye of Amitabha, the Buddha of Infinite Light. A seventh century Tibetan painting depicts Avalokitesvara-Kuan Yin giving blessings to the world with a thousand arms. In China, beginning in the fifth century, Kuan Yin developed into a Goddess over the course of several hundred years and became known as the Mother of ten million Buddhas. Before the Chinese revolution in the mid-twentieth century, Kuan Yin was the most popular deity in all of China and Her images were found in nearly every home. Kuan Yin continues to be revered by Chinese Buddhists and Taoists, and now also is honored by many peoples in many places, including some American Pagans.

Kuan Yin has been depicted in a variety of ways. She usually is shown as a slender, graceful woman who is barefooted and dressed in long, beautiful, white flowing robes and golden necklaces. She sometimes is standing or sitting on a Lotus flower, and holding one or more of Her other symbols, such as a vial of tears, basket, spray of willows, jar of healing water, and vase of amrita, the holy dew of immortality. In some depictions, She holds a book or scroll, representing truth. In others, she has a magic jewel, symbolizing holy aspirations. Sometimes Kuan Yin is shown nursing a baby or holding a child in Her arms or on Her lap. Two assistants, the Dragon girl Lung Nu and the boy Shan Ts'ai, may flank her. Sometimes Kuan Yin is shown seated on an elephant or standing on a fish or riding a sacred lion. Symbolizing Her omniscience and omnipresence, Kuan Yin may appear as multi-headed and multi-armed.

There are many stories about Kuan Yin and Her beneficence. The one most often told is that as She became enlightened and was about to enter Nirvana, Kuan Yin heard the cries of humanity and then decided to delay Her own buddhahood in order to stay in the world and help people by showing and teaching them mercy and compassion.

Kuan Yin is a friend, guide, and protector to humans. She banishes fear and hardship, and protects people from spiritual and physical harm. She is the patroness of seafarers, farmers, and travelers. She rescues shipwrecked sailors. She is a guardian of women and watches over children. She has helped childless women conceive. Kuan Yin is kind and generous. She is a healer. She is merciful and eases suffering. Kuan Yin helps humans forgive and make amends. She is the Goddess of unconditional love and compassion. She also is an oracular Goddess and a magician.

Kuan Yin is renown for Her ability to answer prayers and work miracles. Placing Her image in your home can bring good fortune. Repeatedly chanting Her name is a powerful and traditional way of praying for Her assistance. Call upon Her for healing, wisdom, peace, forgiveness, compassion, harmony, and protection. Thank Her by embodying and expressing the compassion and spiritual Love that is Her essence.


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